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March 20, 2008

Community relations: Oakland trash isn't just Pitt's problem

A University Senate committee plans to respond to an Oakland resident’s complaints about trash and litter control in student-heavy off-campus areas.

But the community relations committee (CRC) cautioned that other community groups need to be brought into the discussion.

Oakland resident Carlino Giampolo, in an open letter to Pitt faculty and staff (see March 6 University Times paid advertisement), called for enlisting Pitt employees in taking steps to deal with trash and litter problems in south Oakland.

“I know there’s a concern. It’s not like there isn’t a problem with trash, because there is a problem,” said CRC member Tracy Soska at the March 11 meeting. “But there has already been a lot of work done on this issue, including by the University and a number of community groups” such as Oakland Planning and Development Corp. (OPDC), the Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID) and the Oakland Community Council, he said.

Efforts at cleaning up Oakland include the adopt-a-block program, where Pitt and other volunteers agree to monitor a particular area, and the OPDC-run “Keep it clean Oakland” program.

In addition, each fall Pitt distributes flyers about trash pick-up schedules, methods for containing trash, potential fines for non-compliance and other educational materials to Oakland residences, Soska pointed out.

He noted that Pitt also incorporates related educational programs into its Freshman Studies courses and Student Affairs sponsors student forums on good-neighbor behavior.

“This should not be a one-person crusade, but should be done through the community organizations already involved,” he said. OBID, for example, includes Pitt representatives and has had Pitt financial backing for hiring clean-up crews, although the bulk of OBID’s funding comes from Oakland businesses that voluntarily tax themselves, Soska noted.

Pitt also pays half the salary of a city code inspector whose duties include citing trash violations.

CRC agreed to invite Giampolo and/or City Council representative Bruce A. Kraus (who represents part of Oakland) to a meeting if representatives from relevant Oakland groups also can attend to describe existing clean-up efforts.

“The role of this committee should be to facilitate all those efforts,” Soska said. “It’s mainly an issue of education.”

Committee members noted that the problem of unruly trash is many-faceted: landlords who don’t provide the prescribed lidded trash bins; students and residents who put trash out on days other than the designated pick-up days; lack of violation enforcement by the city, and apathy among short-term residents, among other factors.

“What more can Pitt do? There are litter laws in place,” Soska said.

“Maybe the University police could be enlisted to enforce the litter violations. Maybe students could be subject to judicial review. If residents agreed to tax themselves to pay for clean-up activities, perhaps the University could contribute to that. But, really, the University, particularly through Governmental Relations, is already heavily involved in clean-up efforts in Oakland.”

In other CRC developments:

• The committee is preparing a proposal to create a Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning. Soska said that federal grant funding for Pitt’s Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) ran out in December. Pitt’s administration agreed to continue funding COPC through the summer. “COPC is the foundation upon which the University began to build and coordinate its civic engagement efforts in the Oakland and Hazelwood communities, and an institutionalized center is the next step in civic engagement,” Soska maintained.

The committee will discuss the proposal at its next meeting, set for April 8.

• The committee also plans to investigate ways to alleviate the problem of panhandling in Oakland.

Co-chair Wesley Rohrer said, “It’s my perception that more panhandlers and street people are coming back. People are noticing that, and there is at least the potential for violence. I’m against people sweeps and I recognize that there are people with true mental health problems,” but, he believes, enforcement of panhandling laws has been lax of late.

—Peter Hart

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