Mayor talks about South Pittsburgh neighborhoods
Recently, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl sat down with The South Pittsburgh Reporter along with Director of Public Safety Michael Huss and Chief of Police Nate Harper to talk about the South Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
Encompassing varied socio-economic neighborhoods, South Pittsburgh incorporates the growing South Side with its trendy boutiques and numerous bars and restaurants (and their associated problems) and the Hilltop neighborhoods with its problems with drugs, prostitution and violence. Echoing many residents from all the communities, the mayor said his biggest concern for South Pittsburgh in general was public safety.
Mr. Ravenstahl said that the Southern communities will be better served by the splitting up of Police Zone 3 and the reopening of the Zone 6 police station in the West End. He cited a move by New York City to go to smaller police zones increasing the efficiency of the police and their ability to protect the public.
He explained that a smaller "footprint" for the individual zones allows the police to better assess the different challenges in the zones and be able to fight them in different ways.
One of those ways the city can increase public safety he continued, was to eliminate the abandoned buildings in the neighborhood. He pointed out the city had 1,400 abandoned properties and that law breakers and others have been using those buildings to conceal weapons and hide from the police.
Currently the city is concentrating on demolishing properties in Hazelwood. According to the Mr. Ravenstahl, the Hilltop communities will be next on the list for the mass demolishing.
As previously reported in The South Pittsburgh Reporter last summer, at times the Zone 3 police station barely had enough officers to have one patrol car to cover the entire Hilltop on some shifts. While at other times, weekend nights mostly, the South Side benefited from "saturation patrols" of more than two-dozen additional officers to cut down on the number of instances of vandalism, noise and public urination.
The mayor was asked if there was sufficient manpower for the residents living within the bounds of Zone 3 to feel safe. Chief Harper responded that there were enough police to cover the zone and that in the event of an emergency the saturation patrol officers would leave the South Side to answer 911 calls in other parts of the zone.
"I don't think that's the case," Mayor Ravenstahl said of the perception held by many on the Hilltop that South Side often benefits from the lion's share of city services. He again noted the expanded demolition program and talked of the Weed and Seed Program uniting many of the neighborhoods. Although he conceded, "there are challenges that we're trying to deal with."
With warmer weather coming and the bar crowd returning to South Side, the mayor was asked if the saturation patrols would be returning to the South Side.
"We all have different challenges," Mr. Raventstahl said of the problems on the South Side with late night partiers. He said the city did an impact study of the cost versus the benefits of the saturation patrols on the South Side and found "our financial situation didn't justify it."
"There's no easy answer to those problems," he added.
Back on the Hilltop, Mayor Ravenstahl was queried on what the city could do to encourage economic growth on the Hilltop. He noted his new housing revitalization initiative offering tax-abatements to new or renovated residential units throughout 20 city neighborhoods, many on the Hilltop.
The mayor hopes to "stimulate growth in communities that haven't seen growth and work with the URA to promote growth."
On the subject of growth, the mayor was asked if there was a policy of "development at any costs" on the South Side. He replied that although the South Side has seen extensive growth and Councilman Bruce A. Kraus often uses the term, that the city hasn't had a policy of unrestricted growth.
He noted that many neighborhoods in the city would "love to have the problems South Side has."
Concerning the South Pittsburgh neighborhoods, the mayor is often seen in South Side for a variety of reasons, but does he get into the other neighborhoods?
Mr. Ravenstahl explained he's "regularly through the neighborhoods and sees what's going on." He pointed out that with the snow plowing issues after a winter snow storm he toured a number of streets in the South Side Slopes and Hilltop. He also said that his staff has their "fingers on the pulse" of the neighborhoods.
Among other things, he was recently in Carrick to announce the purchase of more than $1.6 million in equipment for the fire department.
On a more personal note, he explained that he was recently in Allentown having dinner with family members when a drug bust "literally when down in front of the window." He said the restaurant owner apologized for the scene outside the window, but Mayor Ravenstahl said there was no need to apologize, it showed that the police were doing their job.
Regarding the snow storm and the issue with getting streets cleared on many South Pittsburgh streets the mayor said there needs to be a "mindset change in Public Works."
"The current system isn't working the way it should," the mayor said. The city will be looking at a more efficient system to make sure the employees get out with the plows, spreaders and trucks in a more resourceful system.
"It became clear it didn't work the way it should," he added.
Although South Pittsburgh has city recreation centers in Arlington, Beltzhoover, Carrick, Mount Washington and South Side, there are many residents who feel another rec center in Allentown or Knoxville would help keep some youth off the streets.
"I think it's fair to look for more recreation centers," Mr. Ravenstahl said. But he also noted that it's an issue of fairness with many neighborhoods including his own that don't have a city recreation center nearby. He said given the city's financial condition, that the city and residents may have to "leverage other organizations" in the neighborhoods for recreation opportunities.
Back in February of 2007 after a community meeting where residents complained about problems in the neighborhood, the mayor invited a number of residents, business owners and community leaders to participate as an advisory committee. That committee, the Mayor's Advisory Committee for the South Side (MACSS), recently had its first public presentation at the South Side Planning Forum where they presented a draft of a Goodwill Agreement between residents and businesses for community input.
Although Mr. Ravenstahl hadn't been updated recently on what they have been doing, he's encouraged by the work they have done. "I think it's been productive," he said.
The mayor said he would like MACSS to continue as long as the committee feels that it has been productive.