The city of Pittsburgh continues to resist calls to release its bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, or HQ2. At a protest Thursday skeptics said they worry about Amazon’s potential impact on housing, transit and existing inequities.
While a state office ordered the city to publicize the proposal, officials appealed the matter to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. The matter will be the subject of a court hearing next week.
More than 500 people signed a petition urging city officials to share the bid, and eight organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief to do the same. The amici curiae argues, “the HQ2 proposal presents issues of serious public concern that cannot be researched or properly debated because the Proposal remains secret.”
Several Pittsburgh media organizations, including 90.5 WESA, filed legal requests to see the Amazon proposal, but were rebuffed.
The public has a right to know what was offered because it could impact every aspect of life in the region, said Vic Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“We cannot fathom a single justification under the Pennsylvania Right To Know law which would allow this proposal to remain secret,” he said. “Fear of embarrassment or opposition or people being upset is not a legal justification for censorship.”
The ACLU is not taking a position on whether Amazon should come to Pittsburgh; the issue is the transparency of the process, said Walczak.
People want to be involved in the decision-making, said Connie Totera, an East Liberty resident and member of the Community Power Movement.
“We have a right to know what our government is doing with our monies,” she said. She worries Amazon’s arrival in Pittsburgh would exacerbate the city’s existing housing shortage. A 2016 study of the city's available affordable units found there was a shortage of nearly 20,000 residences.
Several speakers said they were disappointed in Mayor Bill Peduto, who promised to run an open, transparent government during his first campaign.
“The Amazon bid has the potential to displace thousands of Pittsburgh residents, it gives away billions of dollars, probably, in subsidies. It could dramatically affect public transit in this city,” said Jules Lobel, a professor in the University of Pittsburgh's School of Law and a co-founder of the Community Power Movement. “To keep such a bid undisclosed makes a mockery of transparency and democracy.”
Pittsburgh was one of 238 municipalities across North America that submitted proposals to Amazon in October 2017. In January of this year, Amazon placed the city on a shortlist of 20 finalists. Many of those municipalities, including Philadelphia, released all or part of their bids.
Follow all of 90.5 WESA's coverage of Amazon HQ2 here.