By Kaye Burnet | The Duquesne Duke
Mayor Bill Peduto addressed the concerns of Pittsburgh residents at his first “Mayor’s Night Out” in Beltzhoover Monday night.
Peduto and a panel of city and community officials gathered in the Warrington Community Center to listen to the comments, criticisms and compliments of Beltzhoover inhabitants.
The mayor and his panel spoke with the gathering of nearly 70 citizens for two hours, despite the warmth of the small, stuffy room.
People came from Beltzhoover, a Hilltop Mount Washington community, and nearby neighborhoods to ask the mayor to continue making improvements to city life issues ranging from loitering to prostitution.
John Vlasic, owner of Alla Famiglia restaurant, begged Peduto and the police force to crack down on loiterers.
“These people are hurting my business,” Vlasic said.
Kelli Organ of the Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council said more police are not the answer.
“These kids are not scary,” Organ told the crowd. “They just have nothing to do.”
Organ asked the panel to give more attention to youth programs and jobs, which she thinks would keep loiterers off the street.
Pittsburgh Chief Administration Officer Debbie Lestitian responded to Organ’s concern by explaining the improvements being made to Pittsburgh’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which will provide minimum wage jobs to local teens. The program will offer more jobs and use a stronger marketing campaign to attract more youth.
Vlasic brought forward another criticism, saying, “We are overwhelmed by garbage in the streets.” Vlasic and other citizens expressed their disgust with the amount of litter that plagues the Hilltop.
“I feel like I’m constantly picking up other people’s messes,” Vlasic said.
One attendee asked why the city couldn’t offer more tax credits to encourage more housing and business development in run down parts of the Hilltop.
Deputy Chief of Staff John Fourier said the situation wasn’t so simple.
“Under current law, it’s difficult to do those things,” Fourier said.
Fourier said the city is pursuing the idea of “land banks,” which are legal groupings of abandoned properties that clear titles and resolve ownership issues so the properties can be re-sold.
Other concerns included broken streetlamps, profanity in the streets, slow police response times and even prostitution.
One man was concerned with how difficult it was for minorities to find work. Peduto responded by saying he had moved the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which handles job growth and minority business support, under his office’s management.
“The goal is to be proactive,” Peduto said.
East Hills resident Mike Wilson advocated making non-violent inmates spend time cleaning city streets.
“Why can’t we have them do something useful?” he asked.
Fourier responded that he and the city were bound by the law, which states that failure to pay child support is punished with jail time.
Chief Education and Neighborhood Re-investment Officer Curtiss Porter urged those who were worried about the state of their streets to volunteer in their communities and support non-profits.
“Do something real to benefit somebody,” Porter advised the crowd.
Chief Urban Affairs Officer Valerie Roberts echoed his sentiment, saying “We need to grow this city!”
Peduto closed by saying, “There’s a reason we started [these meetings] in Beltzhoover. This neighborhood is ready for a change.”