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By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

DA hears there are ‘no repercussions' for bad behavior

 

December 13, 2011



South Side bar owners complain about lack of enforcement —

Multiple shootings on South Side over the Thanksgiving weekend prompted District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. to force the closure of Angel's nightclub on Josephine street and Councilman Bruce Kraus to call a meeting in Council Chambers to hear from bar owners directly.

Among those sitting around the table with the councilman were Mr. Zappala, Deputy Police Chief Paul Donaldson, attorney Christopher Hoel, City Solicitor Dan Regan, PAAR Executive Director Alison Hall, along with the owners of the Carson City Saloon, Marios and Piper's Pub. Also around the table were Tom Kolano of the South Side Community Council and Ken Wolfe, president of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council.

Because of the limited amount of space, the councilman explained only a small number of bar owners were invited to participate. However, because it was a public working meeting, several additional bar and restaurant owners would later join in the discussion at the table.

In an opening statement, Councilman Kraus said he wanted to hear from bar owners about what they saw as problems on Carson Street while they have the attention of the district attorney. He added the kinds of behavior recently seen in the neighborhood will continue to escalate.

While the district attorney said he is not typically in the business of regulating neighborhoods, he will carry out the plan to make a safer place. That plan, he said, could include the use of "virtual check points" or using cameras to read license plates and match them to drivers in vehicles on Carson Street.

Mr. Kraus said a "predatory element" is coming into the neighborhood because the late night bar crowd makes for easy targets for robbery and sexual assault.

He suggested several ways to make the neighborhood safer for bar patrons and residents. The remedies included additional cameras and lighting in the neighborhood and a transportation plan.

One driving factor, he said, was [bars] close at 2 a.m. and the patrons are put on the streets of South Side without public transportation. He suggested they could relieve some of the parking problems and get people out of the neighborhood quicker by utilizing the Second Avenue Parking Plaza and running shuttle buses across the 10

th Street Bridge.

He emphasized his point later by saying after the bars close 20,000 people are put out on the streets at 2 a.m. in South Side a minimum of 104 times a year. Opening of the Second Avenue lot for bar patrons to park at would help to keep some people out of the neighborhood.

Jay Vetere, owner of the Carson City Saloon, agreed there are issues in South Side, one of them being more parking. He suggested instead of using the Second Avenue lot, there is a "huge building" at 10

th Street the city owns that could be used parking.

He also commented "not a thing was done" from the meeting last October when more than 100 bar owners and representatives from South Side met with Police Chief Nate Harper. The meeting took place during the time when the police were operating saturation patrols in the neighborhood resulting in hundreds of citations for parking violations.

"Don't take the police out of South Side and put them in Mount Oliver," he said. "We make the money, bring [them] back to us."

One of the bar owners commented the shuttle may have to go later than what they want it to. Some patrons remain in the neighborhood to have something to eat before they leave. He also wanted to know if everyone is put out onto the street at once and told to go, "where are they going to go to the bathroom?"

Mr. Kraus said there may be a place in the plan for the Allegheny County Health Department.

"There are streets that absolutely wreak of urine," he said.

Several of the bar owners agreed there are no repercussions for those starting fights along Carson Street. They said if police break up a fight on the street, the combatants are separated and let go once they're calmed down. Instead, they suggested putting them in jail for the night, or the weekend.

"People starting fights, people robbing people, we don't need them," one owner said.

Another recommended getting the State Police involved.

"Get the police on horseback, they can cover more ground," he said.

He expressed concern if things continue to escalate, people will stop coming to South Side.

On the subject of utilizing the Second Avenue Parking Plaza, he said, "personally, if I had the choice between parking in a lot and taking a shuttle. I'm going to circle the block looking for a parking spot before I take a shuttle."

To get people to use the parking lot, there would have to be something like a residential permit parking program in South Side, he said. Better lighting at the pedestrian level and more street trees could make Carson Street more appealing he added.

"I see so many thing that happen without repercussions," said Drew Topping of Pipper's Pub. If people start seeing people getting arrested it will stop things from happening."

Aaron Sukinek, business development manager for the South Side Local Development Company, said his "wish list" would include a cop at every intersection.

"When you get off Carson, we can light that up, but will that impact the quality of life for the people living there," he questioned.

One of the owners of Mario's at the table commented there are two hours after the bars close when people are still "hanging out."

"That's where the trash comes from," he said. "There may be a beer bottle of two, but the rest is from them."

Councilman Kraus said they want to make sure "problematic establishments" make it to the district attorney's office in a timely effort. He noted total bar occupancy in South Side is high saying within 500 feet of 16

th and Carson streets there is an occupancy of 3,200 people in the bars and clubs.

With a capacity of around 20,000 bar patrons in the neighborhood, he said last year there were only five liquor violations in South Side.

"How do you have thousands of patrons and only five liquor license violations," he said.

Mr. Zappala said they may have to take a "no tolerance" stance in the neighborhood. He said the tactic worked in New York City.

"There are a couple of bars that aren't responsible and we're looking at them," the district attorney said.

He also recommended the business community should be more organized.

"I think the goals of the business community and the residents are the same," said one of Mario's owners. "If we fail, they fail."

Mr. Kolano said the Community Council isn't an anti-bar group, but they are looking at the occupancy of bars along Carson Street.

"The reason we have 10,000 people too many coming in, is the beer is too cheap," he said. "There's just too many people down there and there's going to have to be a cap on it."

Councilman Kraus thanked the invited bar owners for attending and asked if they would have a seat in the audience to allow the owners of several more South Side bars and restaurants to have a seat at the table. Joining the group were: Pat Joyce, owner of the 17

th Street Café; Joel Doty and Keith Kotara from District 3 and Mike Kotyk from Over The Bar Bicycle Club.

Mr. Joyce said there is "no responsibility" with many of the bar patrons adding "we know what kind of crowd quarter draft night attracts.

He asked why the "duty officers," the off-duty police hired by the bars, couldn't stay on an extra hour to patrol the streets.

Chief Donaldson said the duty officers are supposed to take care of anything within their view. But he also said many of the officers feel responsible to the bar that hired them for the night.

Councilman Kraus said maybe it's time to look at things differently with the duty officers.

"The atmosphere down there has changed so much over the last 18 years," Chief Donaldson said. The assistant chief of police was the commander of Zone 3 for several years.

He said the behavior of the bar patrons is modified by their consumption of alcohol.

"We welcome the bars in the entertainment district," he said. "We want people to come in and spend their money."

"If there is a consensus that we want to move people out after the bars close, we could arrange that," Chief Donaldson said. "Maybe have the detail officers start moving everyone out a half-hour after the bars close. But some people don't want to leave, they want to stick around and get something to eat."

"There's not anyone here that sells alcohol that can't be closed with dedicated enforcement," Mr. Hoel said.

"What's already happened is there's a race to the bottom," he said. "The legitimate owners are being forced out. Eventually they'll close you down and some of you will lose your homes and some will end up in jail."

Mr. Sukenik asked if the dialog between bar owners and city and public safety officials could continue on a regular basis. Mr. Kraus said the group would continue to meet in some manner in the future.

"A lot of this stuff is doable, it's just going to take a while," Mr. Zappata said.

 

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