South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Slopes association holds board members election


Last updated 3/17/2021 at 8:48pm

Board elections highlighted the March 9 virtual Zoom general meeting of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA).

It was the organization's first general meeting of 2021.

President Blake McLaren began the meeting detailing the ways to contact the organization:;; or 412-376-7373. The SSSNA can also be found on Facebook.

He reported board members Candice Gonzalez and Donna Tarkett are stepping down.

The new board nominee was Jami Szalla. She and her husband, Dan, opened Hilltop Coffee on the corner of Eleanor and Arlington. Ms. Szalla was born and raised on the Slopes.

The candidates who were then elected are: Mr. McLaren, Kristin Raup, Brad Palmisiano, and Ms. Szalla,

There is one opening for a board position. Contact if you are interested in the board position or to serve on a committee. A person must have attended two meetings or events in the last year to be eligible to join the board.

The meeting began with four guest speakers: Julie Hecker, VP of Operations, UPMC Mercy; Zone 3 Police Commander John Fisher; Rep. Jessica Benham, PA House of Representatives, 36th District; and city Councilman Bruce Kraus.

Ms. Hecker said the pandemic's numbers are "flattening." At one time at Mercy Hospital, there were 60 patients a day with COVID-19. That number has declined to 10 a day currently.

She said UPMC is committed to vaccinating as many people as possible. To register for a COVID-19 vaccine from UPMC, visit:

Ms. Hecker said while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are very effective, a second shot is required. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is slightly less effective but requires only one dose.

Her best advice for dealing with the pandemic is to register on as many sites as possible for the vaccine. Wear masks. Wash hands. Practice social distancing.

Next, Commander Fisher introduced himself as the new Zone 3 commander, replacing the newly-retired Commander Karen Dixon. He has been a Pittsburgh police officer for 34 years. Prior to that, he spent one year on the Mt. Oliver police force.

Commander Fisher reported all crimes in the zone are down 20 to 25 percent the past two years.

The zone today has 115 officers, which is the most in any one zone.

A scam currently being run is mailing unauthorized Chase Bank debit cards to residents. Thirty-seven residents in Zone 3 have reported receiving these unsolicited cards. Call 911 if you receive one.

The commander said a multi-agency task force will be formed to address the scam.

He also reported he is looking at the problem of dirt bikes on streets, which is illegal. Call 911 if you witness this. 

Commander Fisher said the zone police will not tolerate noise, rowdiness, and drinking alcohol on streets. For such quality-of-life infractions, call 911.

Mr. Kraus asked about the 25 percent reduction in crime, and if COVID-19 and the closed businesses are a factor. Commander Fisher said they surely played a role, but the statistics are over two years.

Next, Rep. Benham said budget hearings are on-going in Harrisburg. She is working on "a centralized waitlist" for vaccines.

Call her office at 412-881-4208 for heating assistance or any problems.

She next introduced school board candidate Jamie Piotrowski, who is a social worker, and lives in the Slopes.

Her candidacy is also supported by Mr. Kraus, who said it is "so very exciting" to see young women enter politics.

The final speaker was Mr. Kraus, who said speed bumps, or traffic calming, on Pius St. is a petitioning process. He asked for petitions or letters of support.

Reporting on Dept. of Public Works' (DPW) 4th Division in Knoxville, he said ground is expected to be broken on April 1 for the new facility.

Mr. Kraus said the expectation is that the new facility will open next year.

DPW shut down the former facility five years ago when it became uninhabitable as the building was toxic and unhealthy, and no longer viable. Division 4 responsibilities have since been split between divisions 3 and 5.

Mr. Kraus said the delay in building a new facility was due to a landlord who did not want to sell nearby property, thereby necessitating designing a campus around it. Then, when the landlord had a change of mind and decided to sell to the city, a new campus had to be redesigned.

Regarding the federally-funded 18th St. signals upgrades for pedestrian safety, he said "the project is coming." The project is currently in the requests for proposal (RFP) stage.

The work should begin this summer.

He said there will be new signals at Sarah St., Jane St., Josephine St., Mission St., Arlington Ave., and Amanda St.

The traffic signal upgrades include: gloss black signal poles; audible countdown pedestrian signals; and more.

Regarding lighting for the 18th St. steps, Mr. Kraus said lighting is coming soon. There will be no closure of the steps during that time.

To a question about condemned houses, he said an 18th and Josephine streets property is on the demolition list. Federal regulations hold up the process, like asbestos abatement.

But Mr. Kraus said he expects this property to be demolished in 2021.

It costs $50,000 to $60,000 to demolish each property.

To a question about the 18th St. mural, he said there is a push toward restoration of the mural.

To a question about the future of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Kraus said "what a staggering loss that property was."

On Feb. 8, the historic four-story building in the 1100 block of East Carson St. was destroyed by a massive fire. It housed the Chamber offices (including Welcome Center), barber shop, and six apartments. Everyone escaped safely.

The Chamber's executive director, Candice Gonzalez, said the fire is under investigation as to its cause.

The Chamber has relocated into temporary office space across the street from its former site.

In updates, Phase 1 of the South Side Park master plan will be breaking ground in the spring.

Goats will be coming to the park's Jurassic Valley to eat invasive species and vines.

There will be discussion of the potential of a Goat Fest in September if everything opens up post-pandemic.

In the StepTrek update, last year was the 20th year for the annual non-competitive, self-guided walking tour of the Slopes. A virtual event was held and 350 tickets were sold.

This year will be the 21st year, but it will be celebrated as if it was the 20th.

Email the SSSNA if you are interested in joining the StepTrek committee.

The "adopt a step" program, in which residents adopt a set of stairs and keep it clean, will be conducted again this year.

Mr. McLaren announced that a new SSSNA website and newsletter are in the works.

Gisele Betances, the liaison with the Mayor's Office, said to contact her for any concerns.

Regarding the emergency rental assistance program, there are requirements and income criteria, she said.


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