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November 24, 2010

Lobby lawmakers for transit action, campus groups urge

EBO busThe University Senate community relations committee (CRC) is urging support for efforts to lobby Harrisburg to solve the county’s looming public transit crisis. Those efforts include emailing legislators through a student-run web site and supporting the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership initiative, which is targeting legislators with information about the effects of transit cuts on the area’s economy.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County board meets today, Nov. 24, and is expected to approve a fare increase and a 35 percent reduction in service, including the total elimination of almost 50 routes as well as the elimination of  weekend service on 13 others. The fare increase is expected to go into effect Jan. 1 and the service cuts March 13, along with more than 550 employee layoffs. The Port Authority, which by law must balance its budget, faces a $47 million shortfall in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

(For more details on the crisis and the proposed service cuts, go to the transit company’s web site,

CRC student representative David Givens said the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), in cooperation with other student groups at Pitt and at other area universities, has launched an online petition to urge state legislators to pump enough funding into the cash-strapped transit company to avoid service cuts and other draconian measures.

“When we had discussions last year on the tuition tax [proposed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl], GPSA was very involved with opposition to that tax,” Givens told the committee at its Nov. 16 meeting.

“When the tuition tax was [being debated], a lot of the student leaders from various colleges and universities in the city came together to coordinate our efforts to oppose this tax,” he said. That led to the formation of the Pittsburgh Student Government Council to mobilize area students against the proposed tax, which eventually was withdrawn from consideration by the mayor’s office. (See Jan. 7 University Times.)

“Once that was finished, we asked how can we continue to move forward with the leadership and the connections we have. So the Pittsburgh Student Government Council ratified its charter last month. They represent every college and university in the city. We have official liaisons to City Council and we have connections to the Pittsburgh Council of Higher Education,” Givens said.

In addition, CRC Governmental Relations liaison John Wilds pointed out, “The city administration was amazed at the amount of volunteerism among the colleges and universities, so much so that they created a new position in the mayor’s office, called the chief service officer, to try to work with colleges and universities.” Rebecca Kottler-Wein has been appointed to the post, he said.

Givens said, “We’re moving that same system, the very effective online registration process for the petition we had created, and using that system to support the Port Authority with their lobbying efforts to Harrisburg. We have had that web site up and running [since mid-October], and we’ve already had about 500 students writing to try and help our state legislators see the importance of the Port Authority.”

The web site ( is open to public participation, he noted. “The web site is designed so that you can put in your zip code and the message will go directly to your legislator,” Givens said.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership has launched a similar web site,, CRC members noted. They urged the University community to lend their voices to the transit cause via the web sites.

In other CRC business:

• CRC co-chair Denise Chisholm urged Pitt employees, particularly faculty members, to participate in the seventh annual community service database project by completing the online survey at by Dec. 17. The project is designed to identify and document the services and benefits that Pitt provides to the broader community, Chisholm said.

Committee members noted that the database is searchable and contains more than 1,800 service projects for those looking to partner in community efforts.

• CRC Community Relations liaison Steve Zupcic is seeking volunteers and donations for Project Bundle-Up, which, in partnership with the Salvation Army, provides winter clothing for needy children and the elderly. Volunteers also are needed for the annual Christmas Day at Pitt, at which the University expects to serve about 1,000 meals to the area’s less-fortunate population.

Ongoing volunteer opportunities also are available. Contact Zupcic at or sign up online at

• The committee heard reports from neighborhood community agencies — the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. (OPDC), Peoples Oakland and Community Human Services (CHS).

Wanda Wilson, OPDC executive director, said her organization has convened a steering committee for the 2011 Oakland Community Plan, with the aim of creating a shared vision for the future of the neighborhood through a broad-based community engagement effort. Stakeholders will include the universities, residents, agencies and businesses.

Wilson said a winter kick-off, a spring action forum and a summer urban design analysis forum are in the planning stages, with the goal of launching the new plan in fall 2011.

Sandy Phillips, executive director of Peoples Oakland ( thanked the University and the community relations committee for their long-standing support.

Peoples Oakland is a recovery and wellness center that assists those with psychiatric disabilities in living, learning and working in the community. The agency partners with several Pitt schools and departments, including the School of Social Work, the School of Nursing, the Department of Psychology and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, which provide professional and volunteer services, Phillips said.

Genevieve Barbee, Community Human Services community organizer, thanked Pitt for its $16,000 donation to build shelves in the Oakland Food Pantry at 370 Lawn Street, which is staffed by Pitt and Carlow students.

CHS executive director Adrienne Walnoha asked CRC members to spread the word that, in addition to food, her organization can provide assistance for the homeless to obtain the necessary entitlements, resources, support and life skills needed to achieve and maintain independent living, as well as provide care for individuals in need of a supervised living arrangement.

More information on CHS is available at

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 43 Issue 7

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