South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

District 3 concerns include public safety, closing of UPMC SS


The traveling town hall meetings of Pittsburgh City Council stopped in South Side on June 26 to hear residents' concerns as the city begins to prepare its 2009 budget.

The two-hour meeting in the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers building on 19th St. drew about 150 attendees. The most often cited complaints of attendees who spoke at the microphone were crime and the planned closing of UPMC South Side within five years as it consolidates with UPMC Mercy.

The meeting was kicked off with a brief presentation by City Planning entitled "A Snapshot of Council District Three." The population of District 3, which includes Allentown, Arlington, Beltzhoover, Carrick, Knoxville, and South Side among others, is 30,729, an 18.5 percent decline since 1990. Of the district's 15,925 units, 77.9 percent are occupied.

Its issues reflect those of the city at large: declining populations, vacant homes, and absentee landlords.

The district's specific issues include nuisance bars on the Hilltop, Carson St. bars and clubs, and an aging infrastructure.

The city's 2008 budget is $423 million. Of that, 31.5 percent goes toward public safety; 20.6 percent is for the debt service; 28.3 percent is for benefits; 7.4 percent is for public works; and all other government services make up 12.2 percent.

Financing for the budget is derived: 51 percent city taxpayers; 24 percent city businesses; 10 percent parking; 1 percent non-profits; 1 percent suburban workers; and 13 percent grants.

Residents who wanted to address council were given three minutes to speak.

The first speaker was a senior speaking on behalf of residents of Carson Towers on East Carson St. She said drunks from the bars in the South Side Flats eat, urinate, sleep on steps, and use foul language outside their building Thursdays through Sundays.

She said she wanted a police officer stationed there from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. "to see what really goes on."

The residents were also upset about the pending closing of UPMC South Side, she said, as it is close and convenient.

Judy Hackel, president of the Allentown Community Development Corp., said she was "demanding that someone pay attention to the Hilltop."

There were three killings in the area last month. Gunshots could be heard outside her front door.

Her top complaints were: the frequent changing of commanders; non-enforcement of the nuisance property legislation which passed last year but has yet to be implemented due to lack of funds; and the need for a paid staff on the Hilltop.

District 3 Councilman Bruce A. Kraus said he spoke with Mayor Ravenstahl repeatedly about having Commander RaShall Brackney reassigned to the area, but to no avail.

He also said he met the prior day with new Commander Catherine McNeilly, who was in attendance.

"We have a great ally on our side," he said.

A South Side Slopes resident spoke out against the closing of UPMC South Side.

She called the hospital "the heart of the community."

"We're trying to make a family community, not a bar community," she said of the South Side. Its closing will result in the decline of property values, she predicted.

A South Side resident and business owner also complained about the loss of the local hospital.

Besides its value to seniors, who depend on the site for doctors' appointments and emergency treatment, its closing means the loss of more than 700 hospital employees to the South Side business district.

Other residents followed on the topic, with someone who lives near the hospital calling it "a great asset to the community."

Council President Doug Shields said that with so many people commenting on the issue, it needs to be addressed at its own meeting.

Mr. Kraus said he is working on setting up a community meeting of all stakeholders to be held soon.

To a question of whether it is a "done deal," Mr. Kraus said it is not. "They haven't heard your voice," he said.

Councilman Bill Peduto said UPMC will be expanding, and it will need council approval for many of its actions. Council can insist that UPMC South Side be on the table, he said.

A 30-year Knoxville resident complained about absentee landlords. An effective tool, she said, would be putting liens on landlords' property and home residences. Absentee landlords should also be barred from buying additional property, she said.

As the meeting winded down, Mt. Washington residents complained about neighborhood shootings, with a murder taking place inside a nuisance property.

One man said he has been "debating moving to the suburbs" following a shooting in front of his house last year, and the overall increase in violence and graffiti. He suggested installing cameras in trouble spots.

Mr. Peduto said a privacy provision will be brought before council in the next few weeks which will allow the city to move forward with cameras.

Mr. Shields said that considering the closed recreation centers, pools, schools and more in communities, the city needs to invest in saving those assets besides adding police officers.

Other South Side complaints included tractor-trailers cutting the corners of property on turns, and motorcycles with loud mufflers.

An Allentown woman said she spent $8,000 on a new deck. But she cannot sleep out there as planned in the summer for fear of being shot at from the nearby park.


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