Mayor updates on more police, asks for Hilltop area priorities
June 12, 2018
“I hope you’ve noticed there are more police in Zone 3,” he told residents at the June meeting of the Allentown Community Development Corp.
He added the city will be graduating another class of police officers in about a week along with a class of veteran officers in about a month.
“We’ll be well over 900 officers for the first time since 2002,” the mayor said. Even with anticipated retirements at the end of the year, he expects the police department to consistently be over 900 officers.
He intends to continue to hire new officers with a goal of 950 police.
“We’ve been budgeting so that we can afford them over the next five to 10 years,” Mr. Peduto continued.
Another goal is to create a seventh police zone to be located in Downtown. The new zone with be comprised of Downtown, South Side, the North Shore, the Strip and the lower Hill where the PPG Paints Arena is located.
“We obviously have more of a nighttime economy in those areas. We can have centralized police that would be basically staffed to accommodate it and then officers wouldn’t have to come off the Hilltop on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights to make up for the officers that are needed to make up for the officers that are needed in the South Side. They would be able to stay here. It would be the same zone, minus the South Side,” he explained.
The mayor said the plan for the new police zone is “on the books,” but it’s anticipated it will take about three years before it is put into place.
In addition to hiring more police and creating an entertainment police zone, the city is also considering creating a state-of-the-art training facility for police, fire and medics. The command staff would also be located at the facility.
He anticipated the city will purchase the land needed for the training center, the former Veterans Hospital off of Washington Blvd., within the next two months.
“If that proceeds, we have the money to start the process in 2019,” Mr. Peduto said.
The mayor segued into talking about development saying part of the city is going very fast and part not at all. In response, OnePGH, has been developed to include all planned development.
He noted billions of dollars will be invested in the city with $2 billion in new development planned by UPMC, $1 billion from Allegheny Health Network, $1 billion into the water system, $1 billion in development at the Allegheny County International Airport, and, $3 billion from the autonomous vehicle companies.
“We see all this money and development happening and then we see parts of the city that are being left behind,” the mayor said.
The OnePGH plan will include nine different areas including pre-K education for every three and four-year-old and having the most per capita affordable housing trust fund.
The affordable housing trust fund will ensure that in rapidly changing neighborhoods homeowners won’t be forced out and will be provided assistance to age in their homes. It also could provide assistance for first-time homebuyers in neighborhoods such as Allentown where a mortgage could be less expensive than escalating rents.
Another goal it to have every lead pipe out of the water system within 12 years.
“We’ll modernize our entire water system to the cleanest water quality you can have in the country,” Mr. Peduto said.
As far as education, beginning as early as seventh grade they would like to get Pittsburgh students into the pipeline for jobs that are needed in the city instead of going outside the area to fill positions.
“All of that can cost a lot of money that we don’t have,” Mayor Peduto said. “Just to be real honest with you, we can’t afford any of it.”
To fund the plan, he said they have begun reaching out to the hospitals, the universities, the corporate community and the foundation community to be partners.
A preliminary report on OnePGH is anticipated by the end of June. Following the release of the report, there will be a series of community meetings to gain input and see where the priorities line up.
As mayor, his job will then be to go out and raise the “hundreds of millions of dollars” needed. “We’re asking for a major commitment for 12 years.”
The plan will sunset with a fixed start and end date.
After opening the floor to questions, the mayor was questioned about UPMC’s $2 billion investment into facilities in relation to the lack of healthcare facilities on the Hilltop. Before the mayor could answer, a second question came concerning the absence of grocery stores in the area.
“You have to use a dollar store as your grocery store, that’s ridiculous,” he was told.
A third concern quickly followed about the non-existent kids’ programing at the Warrington Recreation Center.
“I want to know what that big, huge building is doing and what it’s costing the city for a basketball (court),” the mayor was asked.
“What I can speak to, and it’s a growing conversation, is the availability of food, especially fresh food, local food, and how that whole climate is changing,” the councilman said.
He added it took him ten years to convince Giant Eagle that it was worth investing in the South Side market.
He said it has been a difficult discussion with large providers consolidating and moving their stores out of urban areas and into suburban environments.
“I think the dynamics of this conversation is changing drastically and I think this is the perfect opportunity to reinvent food service in dense urban environments,” he continued saying the market may be ripe for returning to the small neighborhood grocer or meat market.
Mayor Peduto added Giant Eagle has been opening smaller, 17,000 or 18,000 sq. ft. markets which also sell fresh produce and meats. “We, obviously, would partner with them if they were willing to experiment in Pittsburgh.”
The mayor was asked, if there was a footprint big enough in Allentown or the Hilltop for a small grocery store or health care facility, would that be of interest?
“It would make my job 100 times easier,” Mr. Peduto said adding for them to get something together that he could take to a Giant Eagle or UPMC.
Councilman Kraus also wanted people to know that there is a misconception the UPMC Mercy South Side Outpatient Center is closing. He said currently the building is being utilized by not only the outpatient and testing facilities, but also by UPMC IT people.
If UPMC decides to relocate the outpatient and lab testing facilities, they will be moved to a location in the South Side neighborhood. UPMC will also work with the community to determine a reuse for the building should it become necessary.
Hilltop Alliance Executive Director Aaron Sukenik asked about the status of creating a land bank in the city. He said, “on paper” it’s been the best way to get vacant property back into productive reuse.
“September 30 or at least two people lose their job,” the mayor said.
He recommended the Alliance begin identifying priority properties that could go in a Hilltop land trust.
“We have 30,000 thousand empty houses and vacant lots, we’re like Howard Hanna. I can keep them off the tax rolls and they’ll be blight or I can give them, basically, to community groups that will turn them into home ownership opportunities and they’ll come back on the tax rolls,” Mr. Peduto said.