South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Blitz finds 25 worst properties for city to focus enforcement on

 


The “Knoxville Blitz” and its list of the neighborhood’s 25 worst properties was a focus of the Sept. 14 community forum of the Knoxville Community Council (KCC) held in the St. Paul AME Church.

There was also a question/answer session with Wendy Urbanic from Pittsburgh’s 311 system, the city’s phone number for government information and non-emergency services.

“I know what this community can be,” said longtime Knoxville resident Charlene Ellison on why she became involved with the KCC.

In attendees’ comments to start the meeting, a resident said there were two raccoons in her house the previous day, for which she blamed the overgrowth in the yard next to hers and the trash in the alleys.

She said Animal Control and, especially, a city police officer, were instrumental in ridding her of the animals.

Another resident said night patrol officers deserve praise, also, as they are in danger from shooters who are not visible in the darkness, and yet they put their lives on the line to keep residents safe.

“We thank you guys all the time. We appreciate what you do,” Ms. Ellison said to the police officers in attendance.

Next, the focus turned to the blitz, which is a community effort to reduce neighborhood crime and blight, and generate community pride and empowerment. In a blitz, city and community groups zero in on hotbeds of crime and blight.

The Knoxville blitz began in May. In the Carrick blitz of the past few years, police presence increased; businesses bought and erected cameras; and residents’ calls to 911 increased with tips on illegal activity.

The aggressive policing resulted in more drug arrests and the lowering of total crime in Carrick compared to a year earlier.

Grant Gittlen, Community & Government Affairs Officer, Office of the Mayor, said he believes the same can be done in Knoxville.

He said the three-point goal of the Knoxville blitz is: getting everyone together; identifying the 25 worst properties; and building a structure so the city can handle the other problem properties.

As a first step, attendees were asked at the last meeting to submit the addresses of problem properties, and their violations.

 Mr. Gittlen distributed a list of the 25 properties residents identified as the worst in the neighborhood. Those properties were located on Arabella, Jucunda, Knox, Marland, Mathews, and Moore streets.

The issues reported about those properties included: overgrowth, abandoned, vacant, weeds/debris, animal infestation, open door, and criminal activity.

He said next month he would have an updated Knoxville list.

Mr. Gittlen said the city thinks a good model is Oakwatch, a public safety/code compliance initiative in Oakland that brings residents and groups together to identify code violations, advocate for remediation, and monitor the outcomes.

Oakwatch compiles a report in which the worst violations/properties are prioritized, and then targeted for code compliance.

The neighborhood’s quality of life is then improved by enforcing codes on negligent property owners, housing and parking violations, disruptive behavior, underage drinking, and more.

To an attendee’s comment that there are more rentals in Knoxville than homeowners, he said a big issue for Oakwatch is dealing with renters, so there are things Knoxville can learn from Oakwatch.

The attendee said renters throw garbage in their yards, which homeowners would not do, among other negative behavior.

Mr. Gittlen said Knoxville makes a lot of 311 and 911 calls, so no one is alone in calling with problems.

 “This problem didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight, but we need to keep at it and be a pest,” Ms. Ellison said of calling and reporting violations.

Mr. Gittlen said the city is trying to narrow the timeline for action on problem properties while respecting the rights of property owners.

“We are trying to speed up the process,” he said.

A resident commented on all of the cans and bottles on the road, and that he picks up the litter as he walks his dog.

A police officer said she will stop drivers she sees throwing trash from a car. “We have to see it happen,” she said. The fine is $300.

To a question about the procedure when a house is reported for strewn trash, Mr. Gittlen said an inspector will visit the property and issue a citation.

He said to always report issues instead of sitting and stewing about them.

Regarding 311, as a general rule, if you need to see or speak directly to a member of public safety, i.e., police, fire, or EMS, call 911.

For ongoing problems like illegal dumping, abandoned cars, potholes, overgrown weeds, broken street light or any non-emergency situation, residents should call 311 or 412-255-2621. Service requests may be submitted at pittsburghpa.gov/311/form, or on the Twitter account of @Pgh311.

Ms. Urbanic said the city lost 25 percent of its workforce with Act 47.

“We have to rely on our citizens to let us know what is going on,” she said.

Callers receive a reference number so they can call back to learn the resolution.

The service is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., which represents an expansion of hours over the years.

Ms. Urbanic said when she started at 311 in 2006, the database being used was from the 1980s. Mayor Peduto arranged for the new software which modernized the system.

Regarding customer service, she said to call if the service is bad. “We appreciate that feedback,” she said.

 To a question about problematic paving by a contractor, she said to call 311, and personnel will check if a permit was filed to open the street.

To a question about cars parked on a sidewalk, Ms. Urbanic said it is illegal, and to call 911. The officers will then tag all of the cars in the block that are parked on sidewalks.

 

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