South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Public Safety officials questioned about progress in South Side

 

Last updated 7/21/2022 at 10:32am



The ongoing concerns about public safety on East Carson St., such as violence, disruptive behavior, criminal activity, and more, and its overflow into the residential neighborhood, was the main topic of the July 12 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.

Members of the office of Mayor Ed Gainey, and other public safety and city officials, provided input and answered residents’ and business owners’ questions.

Most problematic is the six-block area of 13th to 18th streets which, on weekend evenings, has been marked by shootings, unruly crowds in streets, open consumption of drugs and alcohol, fights, loitering, public intoxication, underage teens, excessive littering, and more. 

Mayor Gainey, who headlined a June 14 town hall on the issue, has expressed his support for a three-pronged approach to the problem involving law enforcement, code enforcement, and fire enforcement.

At the July 12 Planning Forum meeting attendees pointed out other troublesome areas in the South Side Flats requiring police attention.

“It’s a wild west.

“We need a plan,” a resident said.

The meeting began with an update on PennDOT’s $17.54 million ongoing East Carson St. safety improvement project. 

It includes milling and resurfacing, signal and signal upgrades, ADA ramps, pedestrian enhancement accommodations, and more along the 2.5-mile stretch of East Carson St. between the Smithfield St. Bridge and 33rd St.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said the hope is for fall completion.

Also occurring at this time is the $4-6 million 18th St. signals upgrade project for pedestrian safety, with work planned into 2023.

The intersections will be redesigned at Sarah St., Jane St., Mary 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.

There is a big push to have the painted crosswalks done when school starts, Mr. Kraus has stated previously.

“We’re in for a little bit of inconvenience,” he said of both projects’ lane restrictions and other delays.

Next, Zone 3 Commander John Fisher delivered data for June and July, to date, for 10th to 18th streets, side streets, and parking lots.

He said there were 140 calls for service; 8 arrests; 66 parking citations; and 22 summary citations. The latter includes citations for disorderly conduct, intoxication, open containers, and marijuana use.

Ten firearms were seized, including an AR-15 in a vehicle.

The commander said most shootings occur, with arrests made, from 4:30 to 5:00 a.m.

To a question of whether these numbers are going up or down, Commander Fisher said the numbers “are consistent.”

Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt said officials continue to review each weekend the reports, and what is working and is not. Cameras, lighting, and parking is also being looked into.

“We believe a strong police presence has helped,” he said.

To a question if a Zone 3 substation at 18th and Mary streets will reopen, Mr. Schmidt said its feasibility is being reviewed, as is what makes most sense. It currently contains old cells and equipment.

To a question of any walking patrols on weekends, Commander Fisher said he leaves that up to the discretion of the supervisor as sometimes there are calls during the evening requiring officers in vehicles.

But about 1:30 a.m. all officers are on foot, he said, to move people along and show a force of law and order.

Next, a resident complained about Ormsby pool troubles. She said there are no video cameras on the recreation center, and no lights in the evening.

Mr. Schmidt said he will talk to the parks director about lights, and that the city budget is looking to update the camera system. In the meantime, there is a plan to station a guard at the pool soon.

A business owner and resident said her car was shot Sunday morning.

In addition to the expense to repair her car, the area violence has led to low business, and her son being unable to go to the pool. She is also upset about the lack of citations for problem bars.

“I’m really scared about losing this neighborhood,” she said.

As a follow-up to the Mayor’s three-pronged approach to combatting violence, Sarah Kinter, director of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections (PLI), said the agency will enforce licenses and building maintenance; identify fire hazards; conduct safety inspections; and more.

All of PLI’s active inspections can be viewed online.

The city’s nighttime economy manager, Allison Harnden, said officials are looking at several strategies, such as: de-escalation training as patrons leaving bars are often agitated; posting “no loitering” signs to clear areas; network ID scanners to inform other businesses about a troublesome patron; fake ID detectors; and more.

“These are first steps that we can take,” she said.

To a question about shootings and arrests, Commander Fisher said in the majority of shootings, an arrest was made.

To a question about stationing police outside problems bars, he said it is occurring, although there are only 15 officers on site. Last year, there were 30 officers, but there has since been a decrease in manpower.

Next, a resident complained about the chaos from 10th and Carson streets on. Cars gather at the gas station, fires are started, and drag racing up to 100 mph takes place.

Another resident said the parking lot on 10th St. is in front of her home, and she cannot sleep nights with the noise.

While the gas station is private, the owner must secure the lot. Ms. Kinter said the parking lot needs a certificate of occupancy, so the city can move on that.

The Hookah bar on 10th St. stays open until 3 a.m., the first resident said.

He has also heard a woman’s terrified screams, for which he called 911.

He asked for a plan for 1 to 4 a.m. away from 15th to 19th streets.

Commander Fisher said to call 911 for screams and fires. But this was the first he heard of the drag racing.

Another resident said there are issues off East Carson St. as revelers roll through the residential neighborhood. What is the plan? she asked.

Mr. Schmidt said the plan is to keep utilizing officers and the disruptive property ordinance. The 15 officers on weekends will not be lessened.

A resident questioned why state police are not patrolling East Carson St. as it is a state road. Commander Fisher said the state police have helped out in the past, but they have staffing issues also, and cannot come every weekend.

Regarding the city police budget, Mr. Kraus said city council faced laying off 600 public safety personnel due to COVID in 2020. But federal money was obtained and no layoffs occurred.

The lifetime cost of one police officer, including retirement, is $1.5 million. So, it costs over $900 million for a force, he said.

A business owner called for a curfew as his business is down 60 to 70 percent.

Why are 16-17 year-olds on Carson St. at midnight? he asked.

Mr. Schmidt said his office is working with the Law Department on how to enforce as a curfew is on the books.

 Next, an attendee said she heard that no parking tickets were written in June. Why won’t enforcement officers come here? she asked.

Mr. Kraus said it is the first he is hearing about this with residential permit parking, and he will look into it. But some Parking Authority agents have been assaulted, and so they want a police officer with them.

But it is difficult to secure the latter due to the police shortage. 

Next, in the meeting agenda items, Barbara Rudiak, president of the South Side Community Council (SSCC), said the South Side is comprised solely of volunteers as there is no paid staff as in, say, Lawrenceville.

“We need a neighborhood plan,” she said, of where the neighborhood wants to be over the next 10 years. The work to develop such a plan will take about two years. For more information, email: info@southsidecommunitycouncil.org .

Next, Ms. Harden delivered the May and June reports of the Parking Enhancement District (PED), or the enforcement of South Side Flats parking meters from 6 p.m. to midnight on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

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

May PED revenue totaled $19,635.44. June PED revenue totaled $17,439.22. The 2022 revenue to date is $92,655.56.

The total revenue since the PED began in April, 2017, is $925,276.41.

The two-person Clean Team, or Block by Block, which is funded by PED funds, maintains the E. Carson St. corridor. A third person was added for the summer.

The Clean Team removes trash and graffiti/stickers, lends hospitality assistance, and more.

Clean Team trash removal for June totaled 16,485 pounds. The Clean Team also collected 227 alcohol containers.

 Mr. Kraus said he cannot imagine what the streets would look like without the Clean Team. He said every weekend a clientele is invited here who then leave a mess.

How can we garner resources to plan for success? he asked. That should be the focus instead of police, he said.

The past weekend a bar invited underage people for an event. They come to energy created by establishments and make the public space their nightclub, Mr. Kraus said, and that must change.

To a question about problem bars, he said there are so many facets to that including the police, district attorney, LCB, and others.

It is hard to shut down a bar unless an act of violence occurs.

“We cannot find commonality on the direction we want to take,” Mr. Kraus said of the safety concerns.

In old business, the SSCC will host a Development Activities Meeting (DAM) Zoom at 6 p.m. on July 21.

A DAM provides an opportunity for citizens, property owners, business owners, and stakeholders to learn about the proposals that affect them and to resolve concerns at an early stage of the application process. 

The July 21 DAM will review proposed changes from the June DAM regarding 1403 and 1405 Sarah St. involving demolition of one of the houses.

The other proposal will be to 24 S. 18th St .: the Stepping Stone Pathways – conversion of the first and second floor into nine two-bedroom apartments with one bath. The basement would be converted into a childcare facility open to the public.

No DAMs are scheduled at the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA).

In organization reports, Ms. Rudiak said the SSCC Garden Tour held on July 10 had more attendees than in 2019.

Goatfest, featuring vendors, entertainment, and more, will be held on July 30 at the Arlington ball field. The purpose of the goats is to eat invasive species and vines.

Next, Candice Gonzalez, of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, reported the annual South Side Golf Classic will be held on Aug. 1 at South Hills Country Club in Whitehall.

A Holiday Mingle is planned for Dec. 7. The Chamber is also planning a 2023 Soup Contest.

The next Planning Forum Zoom meeting will be on Aug. 9.

 

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