January 15, 2008 |

Mayor Ravenstahl touts accomplisments at final community forum

The tenth and final neighborhood forum conducted by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl also garnered the largest turnout, he said.

The gathering on Jan. 9 at St. Mark's Church in Brookline drew about 150 residents from Banksville, Beechview, Bon Air, Brookline, Carrick and Overbrook.

The forum's purpose, said the mayor, was to "give an overview of what we are trying to do in city government."

It also provided an opportunity for residents to sound off, in the latter half of the forum, on their likes, dislikes, and concerns for their neighborhoods.

The forum began with a slide presentation on topics like Financial Stability, City Management, Public Safety, Neighborhood Firsts and Quality of Life.

Regarding financial stability, the mayor said he submitted a balanced budget for the second consecutive year.

City management referred to accountability, customer service, and transparency (ACT); technology; and diversity.

An example of transparency he cited is the 311 line which marked its first anniversary in October. 311 is the city's phone number for government information and non-emergency services.

The number has received 57,000 calls, with the staff responding with 84,000 follow-up calls.

A technological update planned for the Bureau of Building Inspection is hand-held computers for inspectors to issue citations on site. Also, surveillance cameras will be installed in some neighborhoods to help fight crime.

To enhance public safety, eight officers in each zone are dedicated to walking "beats."

As for economic development, an important feature is the CARC buyback of 11,000 liens from Capitol Assets at the end of 2006. Valued at $65 million, the city purchased them for $6.5 million.

It allows the city to negotiate fair prices for sales, such as with a resident who wants to buy and maintain an adjoining abandoned lot, thereby putting it back on the tax rolls.

Neighborhoods are the cornerstone of the city, said the mayor.

Besides the Redd Up campaign, Green Up program, and more, the disruptive property legislation aims to improve neighborhoods.

The legislation holds landlords responsible for the cost of sending police officers, building inspectors, and more to problem properties. Besides making payment, the landlords may have misdemeanor charges filed against them.

At the conclusion of the mayor's presentation, moderator Josette Fitzgibbons, principal planner at the Dept. of City Planning, asked attendees to stand and state what they like best about their neighborhoods.

Brookline residents who volunteered responses cited convenience to downtown, affordable housing, the community center, feeling safe walking the streets, and long-time close-knit neighbors.

Carrick residents said they liked the schools and the community center facilities for youngsters.

A Banksville resident called his neighborhood "a hidden gem," while Bon Air was described as "country living in the city."

A Beechview resident said her "small, friendly community" is convenient to downtown and the airport. It also has great public transportation.

Residents who preferred not to speak publicly could respond to the questions on index-sized cards which were distributed.

When Ms. Fitzgibbons next asked attendees for concerns, Brookline residents cited absentee landlords, lack of a supermarket, dirt on Brookline Blvd., harassment from youngsters, empty houses, high city wage tax, speeding on Pioneer Ave., deterioration of the infrastructure, and a growing drug problem.

A Beechview resident involved with athletics cited the excessive amounts of crime, vandalism, graffiti, and drug paraphernalia on the athletic fields. Another resident said her car and two neighbors' cars were recently broken into.

"It breaks your heart to drive down Brownsville Road," said a Carrick woman about all the graffiti. Other Carrick residents complained of the alienation and apathy of youth, and the low re-sale value of homes due to the area's negative reputation.

A Beechview man noted that south of the rivers lies one-third of the city area and population. "Over the years, we have not gotten one-third of the services," he said. A full complement of police officers would greatly improve the area, he said.

When Ms. Fitzgibbons asked the audience where they would like to see their neighborhoods in the next decade, a Brookline man said he wanted the reconstruction of Brookline Blvd. to begin.

A 56-year Brookline resident wants neighbors to respect one another's property, and not use the streets as dumping grounds for their cars.

"We need local neighborhood businesses," said a Carrick man of what would improve all the South neighborhoods.

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