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June 12, 2008

Senate committee looks at Oakland quality of life

The University Senate community relations committee (CRC) is tackling quality-of-life issues in Oakland with the goal of educating the Pitt community.

CRC co-chair Wes Rohrer and member Tracy Soska reported to the June 3 Faculty Assembly on their committee’s recent discussions about concerns raised by an Oakland activist. Rohrer termed the report a preface to a longer written report that CRC will present in the fall.

Carlino Giampolo, whose paid advertisement in the March 6 University Times questioned Pitt’s level of commitment to neighborhood problems, was invited to speak at CRC’s April meeting, which was attended by staff from the Office of Community and Governmental Relations and representatives from the Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID) and the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. (OPDC).

Rohrer said, “Mr. Giampolo’s concerns really focus on trash and litter, and community maintenance of common areas and residential and business properties.” Giampolo also urged the committee to pressure Pitt into doing more to alleviate trash and litter in the Oakland community, he said.

“We tried to indicate that the University has had an ongoing and active role in addressing some of these issues,” Rohrer said.

As examples, he cited the fact that for a number of years Pitt has provided 50 percent of the salary for a city building inspector for Oakland; that Pitt has been providing its fair share in tax assessment in support of OBID’s daily maintenance and cleaning of the sidewalks and common areas, and that Pitt participates in OPDC’s “Keep It Clean Oakland” campaign, an ongoing effort that includes the dumpster project, which provides extra dumpsters in central and south Oakland during student move-out periods, and the “adopt-a-block” program.

“One of the nice things about the ‘adopt-a-block’ program is we regularly have had many student organizations involved in that for community clean-up,” Rohrer noted. “So we have been an active partner in those initiatives, to endorse them, engage in joint planning and implementation and provide funding. It is also important to point out that not only the University but these other active groups are addressing these issues.”

Giampolo also displayed photos at CRC’s April meeting, Rohrer said. “He showed some of the problem spots or ‘horror stories’ as he regards them. But most of them were actually of private grounds: trash piled up in and around basements, garages and lawns on private properties. The point we made, which is an obvious one, is that this is a set of problems that requires joint accountability and joint effort” among landlords and tenants, Rohrer said.

“We as individuals or as a University are not authorized to camp out on private property and do a clean-up effort,” he noted. “However, efforts we engage in on public common areas we think will provide a good demonstration of what can be done, for example with our United Way Day of Caring. Beyond that, the University has a role in encouraging values of good citizenship, and that includes clean-up and maintenance of the areas where our students live and recreate and shop and so on.”

Soska told Faculty Assembly that Giampolo had two basic issues on his agenda. “His bottom line is: The University and UPMC should pay for daily maintenance and clean-up of all streets in Oakland. The other issue is there really needs to be enforcement of regulations. There’s no argument about that [latter issue],” Soska said.

He noted that University officials, including Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, have toured Oakland residential areas with the mayor and city building inspectors. “They have stressed not only building code enforcement but also trash and litter code enforcement,” Soska said. “But that’s only as good as the system works. We’ve learned through articles in the paper there are a lot of flaws in that system to enforce trash and litter codes.”

Soska’s committee stressed to Giampolo that there are community organizations addressing the problems, including the Oakland Community Council and the Oakland Task Force. “We did want to underscore that our students are out there volunteering, the University is involved — not that there isn’t more to be done. Our committee was pleased to learn that the University and UPMC are going to support summer work students in a new program to do clean-up work in Oakland,” he said.

Rohrer said, “My sense is that we had respect for Mr. Giampolo, but respectfully disagreed. But, based on this discussion, which went beyond trash and litter pick-up, for example, to the issue of panhandling and a separate issue, the homeless in Oakland, we decided to focus on quality-of-life issues this term and going into next year.”

Rohrer also lobbied for a Senate plenary session to focus on quality-of-life and related issues to educate the Pitt community and solicit suggestions for neighborhood improvements. “The issue is timely with recent media treatments of landlords being fined and building lockouts and so forth, and we’ve had safety concerns in terms of fires in the area,” Rohrer said. He said a plenary session would include representatives of community organizations as presenters.

Topics for plenary sessions are decided by the Senate’s executive committee.

In other business:

• Assembly heard a report from Stephen Carr, who chairs the Senate budget policies committee (BPC). Carr reiterated the discussion at the May 23 BPC meeting on the annual faculty salary comparison report provided by Pitt’s Management Information and Analysis staff.

(See May 29 University Times.)

• Faculty Assembly’s next meeting is set for Sept. 2.

—Peter Hart

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