Although Mayor Luke Ravenstahl learned the previous day that his only opposition in the May primary (Bill Peduto) has dropped out of the political race, the North Side native found his way to another south Hilltop neighborhood last week.
Mr. Ravensthal addressed a turnout of about 35 residents at the Mount Oliver City/St. Clair Village border block watch at the Potter's House Cathedral Multi-Education Center (formerly St. Joseph's Convent) on Cathedral Avenue.
Block watch facilitator Suzanne N. Photos demonstrated her “Mount Oliver moxie” by asking the mayor if he would make another visit to the neighborhood.
One of the things discussed at the meeting before the mayor's arrival included the possible elimination of the Mount Oliver (51G) bus route that services St. Clair Village along with Penn Avenue and St. Joseph Street in Mount Oliver borough/city.
Potter's House senior pastor, Bishop Otis L. Carswell, expressed his concern over the route cuts because many of his parishioners use the 51G to attend services at his church.
Regarding the public transportation cutbacks, it was announced through the media by Port Authority CEO Steve Bland the day after the block watch meeting that the 51G route would not be eliminated. However, the frequency in which the bus route would travel through the neighborhood is expected to be reduced. Adjustments for the reduced schedule will be announced at a later date.
Other items of concern included over-grown weeds on abandoned properties on Parkwood Road and about the annual “spring cleanup.”
Ms. Photos said that she was not planning the spring cleanup which is usually held on a Saturday in May or June. She cited the reason as being a lack of volunteers for picking up debris and litter.
She said there are no formal plans to conduct another spring cleanup of litter on the streets and hillsides in the neighborhood. Last year, the “cleanup crew” consisted of three people, including Ms. Photos.
However, she was willing to listen to a suggestion from a person in the audience about getting “volunteers” to pick up litter through the community service program initiated by former councilman Gene Ricciardi.
Now a district magisterial judge, Mr. Ricciardi levies penalties against persons found guilty of small-time summary offenses by making these individuals perform community service. The community service often consists of picking up litter in public areas along thoroughfares and hillsides where debris accumulates from thoughtless people throwing litter out of a passing car window.
For a block watch organization to get these “volunteers,” the organization must provide an adult supervisor for the offenders during the clean-up activities. Often the offenders are college-age young people who have been charged with public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, public urination, etc.
Bishop Carswell said he would be willing to recruit people from the Potter's House parish to serve as supervisors for any cleanup crew provided by Judge Ricciardi.
However, the residents in the audience are not asking about picking up the litter on a particular Saturday as an organized volunteer group. They wanted to know if they could drop off hard-to-discard items such as large appliances like refrigerators at the corner of Mountain and Fisher streets as it has been done in the past. Items dropped off at this location during previous spring cleanups are then hauled away by a city work crew.
Bob Weid, a resident of the neighborhood who works for the city, said that it is not likely that hauling away such materials would be done this year because of a decision by the Division 4 department head.
Councilman Jeff Koch interjected that he would direct the municipal public works to haul away the cumbersome items. However, Mr. Koch noted that the public works staff in Division 4 (where he used to work) was down to about 25 employees as of last year compared to double that amount just six years earlier.
As for cutting away dead trees and over-growth on abandoned properties, a Mountain Street resident warned about cutting away too much growth because without the wild trees, shrubs, grass and even weeds, soil erosion could become an even bigger problem for residents. The man said that constant rain water run off from soil erosion could have a catastrophic effect on the foundation of a house so he emphasized to the residents to be careful about their request to cut back any growth.
When Mr. Ravenstahl arrived, he gave a brief presentation about neighborhood quality-of-life issues that he said is among his administration's top priorities. He also fielded questions for more than 30 minutes from the audience. Mr. Ravenstahl said a police presence on neighborhood streets is important to him.
“Police Chief Nate Harper has our officers working 8-hour shifts, working outside of their vehicles walking a beat on the street for at least an hour-and-a-half. It was originally just an hour, but it's been so successful and the community liked it so much, that the chief increased it by 30 minutes per shift. And when we get to [a force] of 900 officers [by the end of the year], we hope to increase our visible police presence in the community.
“Also, we have the CTIP program, Community Technical Investigative and Preparedness program. What CTIP does is it created a department within the police bureau that is responsible for dealing with neighborhood businesses as well as community organizations and block watch organizations. So if an issue comes up in the community, you now have the ability to call the CTIP program and they can track your issue in the community.”
“When I served on city council [representing the North Side from 2004 through 2006], one of my biggest frustrations was when I would go to community meetings in January and they would send a police officer from Zone 1 and then I'd go to the same community meeting in February and they'd have a different officer from Zone 1 and then for the March meeting, there would be a different officer,” Mr. Ravensthal said.
“This was frustrating to me and the residents. The complaints were the same, but the officer was different so there was a disconnection between the police department and the community and that's when nothing got done. That's why the CTIP program was created to have that direct link to the community.”
The mayor indicated that the police have computers in the patrol cars which allow them to spend more time on the street and less time back at the station filling out paper work.
“We have mobile data terminals in the police vehicles that give our officers the ability to plug in a license plate or plug in a name to track a person at the click of a mouse,” Ravenstahl said. “We can type in a plate number and within a few seconds we can gain any information on that vehicle and the owner of that vehicle in a matter of seconds.
“This allows our police to file any complaint and they can file their report without having to go back physically to do it at the zone station. Therefore, this allows them to be out on the street for longer periods of time which is very important.