Peduto hears Pittsburgh concerns during first 'mayor's night out'



Loitering and litter. Prostitution and public urination. Shuttered neighborhood schools. Open drug dealing and drug use. The deep need for jobs that can support families, for educational programs, for more police officers patrolling the streets, for lighting that works and for debris to be removed.

These concerns were among the many issues raised by dozens of city residents attending Mayor Bill Peduto's first "mayor's night out" Monday night at the Warrington Community Recreation Center in Beltzhoover, attracting a crowd of approximately 100 people who quickly filled all the available chairs and then settled for places along the walls. The mayor, accompanied by several directors of city departments among other administrators, plans to hold similar public meetings in neighborhoods around the city once a month. He will also open his office to the public once a month from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on dates that have yet to be announced.

Although a few residents traveled from neighborhoods including the North Side and the East Hills to discuss their communities' problems, most were "Hilltop" residents asking the mayor for help with quality of life issues facing Beltzhoover and its neighbors. For one thing, loitering in front of businesses such as those on Warrington Avenue discourages potential customers, said Judy Hackel, president of the Allentown Community Development Corp..

"You have to literally walk around those people," she said. "Why can't those people be removed from the business district?"

City officials would send more police officers to keep loiterers moving along, Public Safety Director Mike Huss assured Ms. Hackel. After a hiatus due to bad winter weather, periodic bike patrols and foot patrols will resume in just a few weeks, Zone 3 Lt. Larry Scirotto said.

But wait a minute, said Kelli Organ, a community organizer from Beltzhoover who said she mentors many of the area's teenagers. Isn't there some way to involve those loiterers in something productive, rather than just sending in police officers who will simply take them off to Shuman Juvenile Detention Center or to the county jail? she asked.

"They are not scary, they do not mean to disrupt your business, they just have nothing to do," Ms. Organ said of the teenagers with whom she works. "We're dying out here."

Can't the city offer tax credits to encourage would-be entrepreneurs to invest in Hilltop communities such as Beltzhoover, potentially creating both training opportunities and jobs? asked Jonathan Vlasic, executive chef and owner of Alla Famiglia, an Italian restaurant on East Warrington Avenue.

"The Hilltop is very conveniently located," Mr. Vlasic said. "I feel like we have a lot to offer."

Pittsburgh City Council is considering legislation that would allow the city to gather abandoned properties into "land banks" in which those properties could have their titles cleared so they could be sold for redevelopment, said Mr. Peduto's deputy chief of staff, John Fournier.

With a land bank to process abandoned, legally encumbered properties back into use, communities such as Beltzhoover, Allentown and other neighboring communities can better use the strength of Mount Washington's business district and stable housing stock to leverage their own improvements, the mayor said.

"Once this is passed, it's going to be a really powerful tool," Mr. Peduto said.

Other Hilltop communities include Knoxville, Bon Air, the South Side Slopes, Arlington, Arlington Heights, Mount Oliver, Mount Oliver Borough and St. Clair, according to the Pittsburgh Hilltop Alliance.

What about the $900 still owed to her mother by the owner of a pit bull that killed her mother's Pomeranian nine years ago, and dragged her mother into nearby McKinley Park? asked Jacqueline Wilson, Beltzhoover resident and chief executive officer of the Three Rivers Adoption Council. And by the way, can former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl be charged for the damage and lost property he is costing city residents? she asked.

"I don't think that should be on our shoulders as residents," she said.

For the former problem, she should call her local magistrate, Mr. Peduto said. For the latter, he said, the property damage and loss have been inventoried and he's leaving the rest to the "guys with guns and badges."

Mike Wilson, who drove from the East Hills to attend, said he has seen a blatant problem with the prostitution of teenage girls as young as 15 at a business along Library Road. And trash litters the streets and sidewalks in the East Hills, even as taxpayers are paying for able-bodied inmates of the Allegheny County Jail to lie around and do nothing, he said.

The vast majority of those inmates are in jail for failure to pay child support, which they do not ever intend to pay, Mr. Wilson said.

"Have them get out there and clean these neighborhoods up," he said.


Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com.

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