South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

South Side takes first steps to create a new resident watch group


The new public safety/code compliance initiative of the South Side Community Council (SSSCC) will be its own version of the successful Oakwatch, and with a name all its own.

After city and university representatives agree on a date for a first meeting, the program will be launched.

“It will be part of the Community Council, whose mission is to improve the quality of life in the South Side, and this ties into it,” said SSCC board member Barbara Rudiak, who conducted the March 14 general meeting of the SSCC.

The name the SSCC eventually chooses for its new initiative “will let people know what we’re doing,” she said.

The focus of last week’s meeting was on forming a resident-led group similar to Oakwatch, the Oakland code enforcement project that brings people and institutions together to identify code violations, advocate for their remediation, and monitor the outcomes.

Its mission is to improve the quality of life in Oakland by enforcing codes on negligent property owners, housing and parking violations, disruptive behavior, excessive noise, and underage drinking.

Representatives of the three-year program shared information on launching a similar program in the South Side: Oakwatch chair Hanson Kapelman; Blair Kossis, of the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. (OPDC), which provides administrative support to Oakwatch; and University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) community relations director Kannu Sahni.

Ms. Rudiak began the meeting by telling attendees she attended her first Oakwatch meeting in December.

While the Carrick and Overbrook block watches are “thriving,” and the local 17th St. block watch is “vibrant,” she said, block watches have generally not caught on in the South Side.

An Oakwatch-style program could be successful here, she said, as the group’s agendas cover everything from troublesome properties to nightlife to graffiti and more – all South Side issues – and with interaction from representatives of the city and Pitt police, Pitt Student Government Board, and city departments like the Mayor’s Office, City Council, and the Dept. of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections.

“So in a two-hour period you really accomplish a lot,” she said.

Mr. Hanson said Oakwatch was formed in 2011 as an implementation item of the Oakland 2025 Master Plan, which has strategies for five areas: housing, transportation, business and development, open space and art, and community building.

The problems that gave rise to Oakwatch are disruptive parties, housing code violations, negligent property, nuisance bars, and more.

He said at the program’s launching, attendees discussed the neighborhood problems and who in the city was responsible for them.

Representatives of those agencies were then invited to meetings, which many attended, such as from Pitt, city police, city council, county Health Department, and others.

Mr. Hanson said Oakwatch attendees soon realized that “311 is our friend” as callers to the non-emergency services number are given a tracking number. He asked the callers to send him the tracking numbers to develop a progress report.

If there were numerous calls about say, trash, cleanup officials would be invited to a meeting to address residents’ concerns.

On party weekends, the Zone 4 police will assign a patrol car to travel throughout the neighborhood.

Mr. Hanson said he and other Oakwatch members will do the same, and call 911 when the situation calls for it.

Mr. Sahni said there is outreach to students at the start of the school year, and an enthusiastic reception for student representatives at Oakwatch meetings.

There are also block parties on streets to connect students with neighbors.

He said Zone 4 has three community relations officers who visit some disruptive homes together with Pitt police.

“There is a lot of meat and muscle behind calls,” he said.

Mr. Hanson said pressure must be applied month after month on officials telling them something is not working.

Mr. Kossis said for the city to single out a lone property is difficult, regardless of egregious violations. That is why Oakwatch compiles a Property Progress Report in which the worst violations/properties are prioritized.

From July 2014 to June 2015, 13 properties were removed from the list after returning to code compliance.

Other statistics from that period include: 191 volunteers who gave out Good Neighbor Campaign welcome bags; more than 1,300 flyers for 311 and 911 distributed by the Good Neighbor Campaign; and 149 submissions to 311 that were tracked by Oakwatch.

Ms. Rudiak said when the SSCC holds its monthly Oakwatch-style meeting, residents will know to come and will get in touch with them regarding problem areas.

Mr. Hanson said Oakwatch has a 90-minute monthly meeting, and a secondary meeting to discuss what agency or department should be invited to deal with particular problems.

“It does not take a full-time person. You just need continuous interest,” he said.

Once a startup date is determined, the next steps for the South Side community process is to set up a community 311 account; encourage residents to use 311; choose 10 properties that are of most concern; encourage residents to attend meetings; and choose a name for the initiative.

In announcements of upcoming South Side events, volunteers will be prepping the garden and cleaning up at Bandi Schaum from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 2.

On June 4, volunteers will plant two gardens at the Ormsby Recreation Center, paint a newly installed guide rail, and engage in other basic gardening and clean up from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Orders for the SSCC Plant Sale must be placed by April for pick up on Mother’s Day weekend at the Prince of Peace parish center, 13th St. The order form will be available soon.

The 25th Historic South Side Home Tour will be held on May 14.


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