South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Crime is 'unusual' on the S.S. Slopes, revenue down in PED

 


The city is facing a $122 million shortfall in its operating budget due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent closures, city Councilman Bruce Kraus announced during the May 12 virtual general meeting of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA).

He was one of the featured speakers in the organization's first ever Zoom video conference which drew about 30 participants.

The meeting began with SSSNA President Blake McLaren detailing the ways to contact the organization: http://www.southsideslopes.org; info@southsideslopes.org; Facebook.com/southsideslopes; or 412-376-7373.

The first speaker was Zone 3 police Commander Karen Dixon, who said Slopes' crime statistics were "unusual" due to the stay-at-home order.

In the first quarter this year there were 28 property crimes and two violent crimes. That represents a decrease of 17.3 percent from 2019.

In April, there was a decrease in calls, which allowed officers to more frequently check those areas where there are spikes.

Two shootings are under investigation: on Saint Paul St., and at Eleanor and Eccles streets. To a question if the shootings are drug related, the commander said she is unsure at this time.

To a question if any zone officers are infected with coronavirus, she said a few are isolated due to potential exposure.

"If we think there is potential exposure, we don't play games," she said of the isolation.

To a question about early morning gunshot firings in the park, Commander Dixon said there were two shooters. Officers caught one, who was charged with reckless endangerment as a person who was camping had a shot fly over their head.

ShotSpotter, gunshot detection technology that alerts law enforcement about gunfire incidents as they occur, correctly pinpointed the location of the shots, she said.

To a question about the morale of officers during the pandemic, she said "They're doing very well." Activities include neighborhood patrols, checking businesses at night, watching employees safely leave grocery stores at closing, and more.

Commander Dixon's remarks concluded with participants alerting her to numerous camp sites under the P.J. McArdle Roadway on the way up to the Liberty Bridge. She will talk to the mayor's office about it.

The next speaker was Mr. Kraus, who said he and Commander Dixon have discussed concerns about Airbnb incidents.

Airbnb is an online company which provides a platform for members to rent out their properties or rooms to guests.

The problem is some venues charge admission and sell alcohol. A group can come in and ruin a house, and leave for a different city and do it again.

Mr. Kraus said he is aware of three shootings in the Slopes related to Airbnb venues.

Regarding the East Carson St. safety improvement project to be carried out by the state Dept. of Transportation [PennDOT], construction has begun, and will last 18 months.

It will start by Station Square, but will not be consistent on how it runs up the street.

The work will include resurfacing, upgrading intersections, ADA ramps and more. 

Mr. Kraus also reported that the Clean Team is in place on Carson St. Block by Block, or the Clean Team, is retained to keep the E. Carson St. corridor maintained. He said $110,000 to $120,000 is spent annually on the Clean Team.

Funding is from the PED, which is the South Side Parking Enhancement District, or the enforcement of South Side Flats parking meters from 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

The revenue from the PED must be invested back in the neighborhood for public safety, cleanliness, and infrastructure improvements.

Mr. Kraus said PED income averaged $4,000 per weekend before the pandemic. A recent weekend netted $13.

Next, he reported that for polling locations in Allegheny County for the June 2 primary election, visit: alleghenyvotes.com .

Regarding the federally-funded 18th St. signals upgrades for pedestrian safety, the RFPs will be completed in early 2021, with an April 2021 project start.

The project involves 18th St. and: Brownsville Rd., Bausman St., Amanda St., Hays Ave., Arlington Ave., Pius St., Mission St., Josephine St., Jane St., and Sarah St. The traffic signal upgrades include: gloss black signal poles; audible countdown pedestrian signals; and more.

To a question about tax revenue declines due to the pandemic, he said this is the easy time now. The hard part will be dealing with budgets, such as the pending $122 million shortfall in the operating budget.

Next, a participant complained about speeding on Barry St. from 3-6 p.m. Three speed humps have been suggested by a city traffic employee, he said.

Mr. Kraus said a problem in the Slopes is the additional vehicles driving through the area due to Google Maps, a web mapping service. Motorists are directed to residential streets to shave time off trips.

He utilizes the Waze app, which delivers real-time road updates related to one's route. It also provides alternative routes to save time.

To a question about the criteria for a "no thru" street designation, another participant replied that it is the width of a street, classification of a street, and number of residences on the street.

Next, a participant expressed concern about a condemned house at 18th and Pius streets. She said there is a major gas line there; if it explodes, the fear is the whole corner will go.

Mr. Kraus said a demolition used to cost the city $13,000 to $15,000. Today it costs the city more than $45,000 per unit, mostly due to federal regulations, such as for asbestos.

This year, $2 million was budgeted by the city for demolitions, which covers roughly 10 properties. But the city has hundreds in need of demolition.

"It is an astronomical problem," he said.

He suggested the SSSNA prioritize the Slopes properties in need of demolition, and send him a list of the top five. He will then take that list to the administration.

"Give me something to fight with," he said.

Mr. McLaren told participants to email him the addresses of properties in need of demolition. The top ones will be sent to Mr. Kraus.

The next speaker was Barbara Rudiak, president of the South Side Community Council, who provided an update on South Watch.

Founded in 2017, South Watch works to improve the quality of life on the South Side by bringing people and institutions together to identify code violations, advocate for their remediation and monitor outcomes.

Meetings are held the second Wednesdays at noon or 6 p.m. at the Brashear Center. No meetings are currently scheduled due to the pandemic. 

Ms. Rudiak said attendance at meetings include representatives of: Zone 3 police station, Duquesne University, Parking Authority, city council, Nighttime Economy, mayor's office, state Reps. Harry Readshaw and Jake Wheatley, and more.

The focus is code violations. Violators are given information about their violations and how to remedy them. Letters are sent to trash violators; if there is no improvement, 311 and Environmental Services are contacted.

She said the aim is to educate before doing anything negative.

South Watch is also working with problem properties, which often involves Commander Dixon.

Ms. Rudiak said there is a lot of collaboration among those groups which attend meetings. For example, for troublesome student properties, Commander Dixon may contact Tim Lewis of Duquesne University, who will call in the students.

Mr. Rudiak will also write letters to property owners using information provided by Mr. Lewis.

A challenge for South Watch is the numerous trash issues as the organization "does not have eyes" all throughout the neighborhood. She has areas she tries to check, as does Betty Kripp.

Volunteers are sought to work alongside them.

"It's as simple as just looking at your street," she said.

To a question of how to contact South Watch, Ms. Rudiak said to email her at brudiak@gmail.com, or contact Betty Kripp.

The final speakers were Kristi Rogers and Andrea Matthews of the Brashear Association.

"We're extremely grateful," Ms. Rogers said of the SSSNA's $5,000 matching grant campaign for the Brashear food pantry. 

Ms. Rogers said the total in donations exceeded $5,000: $3,035 through Brashear's Facebook page; $3,625 through its website; and $820 in mailed-in donations. The South Side Community Council added another $1,000. There were also personal donations.

In light of the pandemic, the food pantry was changed to a "Grab-n-Go" pantry.

The average for the pantry was 125 families. In April, 230 families were served for a 54 percent increase.

It used to be that anyone could stop by. Now registration is required. Call the main office at 412-431-2236 to register.

Besides the pantry food, $12,000 in grocery store gift cards have been distributed during the pandemic.

"This work cannot be done without your generosity," Ms. Matthews said.

Canned goods, paper products, cleaning supplies and more are being accepted, but at certain times. Call to make an appointment.

Volunteers are also sought, as are monetary donations.

"If you have a skill set on how to deliver summer programs virtually, contact us. We want to engage kids over the summer in a meaningful way," Ms. Matthews said.

For more on the Brashear Association, visit: www.brashearassociation.org/

The meeting ended with brief updates on South Side Park and StepTrek.

Jamie Balser said the park was awarded a $1500 block grant. He also said he was unsure if urban youth would be taught at the park this summer.

The fate of GoatFest is also unknown for the summer. But the goats are scheduled to arrive in July.

Regarding StepTrek, the annual non-competitive, self-guided walking tour of the Slopes, this will be the 20th year.

Brian Oswald said while it will be held this year, it "will look differently."

While details will emerge closer to the event, there will be social distancing

It is likely no money will be raised this year via StepTrek.

"So, our primary fundraiser will not be a primary fundraiser this year," Mr. Oswald said.

 

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