Oakland Code Enforcement Task Force Meeting Minutes Recorded by: R. Ranallo March 21st, 2012 Mission: Oakwatch seeks to improve the quality of life for residents, employees and visitors by enforcing codes on negligent property owners, housing violations, parking violations, disruptive behavior, excessive noise and underage drinking in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. I.
Introductions (Blair Kossis) a. Review mission statement with new members b. In attendance: David Manthei; Sophia Koss; Jean Dlutowski; Kelly Cunningham; Lizabeth Gray; Marjory Lake; Carol Mitchell; Henry Cianciosi; Joan Lally; Kristin Kovacik; Kathy Boykowycz; Mary Ballerini; Haishu Ding; Mark Oleniacz; Ron Bennett; John Wilds; Dan Gilman; Brian Hill; Peg Sedlack; Blithe Runsdorf; Janice Lorenz; Hanson Kappelman; James Williams; Alex Coyne; Mary Mallampalli; Nick Solic; Rebekkah Ranallo; Blair Kossis; Wanda Wilson; Nathan Hart; Geof Becker; Matthew White Top 10 Properties Update: a. Hanson updated group on 4512 Centre Avenue hearing on 3/22/12, in which Judge Ricciardi fined property owner Sophia Edgos $730,000. Dan Gilman (Councilman Peduto’s office) says Edgos doesn’t pay taxes on any of her properties and that Peduto’s office has long been aware of a number of her neglected properties. He says we should expect her to appeal and that he will keep the group updated if and when the appeal is scheduled . b. Brian Hill (BBI) reported that 4504 and 4506 Centre Avenue are scheduled for court. Maintenance and student behavior at these properties have been a problem here for years. c. Dan Gilman reported that 3109 Forbes Avenue site (commonly referred to as “Blvd of Allies gateway project”) filed for legal expansion/court date today. He said we need to continue in efforts to hold them accountable to do the proper landscaping required for the site. It will have to go before the City Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA). d. Dan Gilman reported on 3738 Dawson Street parking lot owned by Peter Teris, which appeared before Judge Ricciardi on 3/8/12. Teris was found guilty on some counts, not on others. In regards to illegally dumping over the hillside, Judge Ricciardi issued a continuance, ordering Teris to consult with a civil engineer/create a plan to remedy the situation prior to the next hearing. He is also going before the ZBA tomorrow morning regarding the parking lot part of the issue—his occupancy permit was revoked and he is trying to re-obtain it. Dan Gilman encouraged community turn out at court and promised to keep us posted on other appeals. e. Brian Hill reported that 3105 Kennet Square has just been condemned in the last few weeks. f. Brian Hill reported that the violations at 3202 Kennet Square were abated. g. Brian Hill reported that the owners of 53 Lawn Street requested an extension to abate violations because they are elderly; the extension was granted by inspector. h. Brian Hill Reported that 319 Lawn Street is owned by an 84-year old owner occupant who needs help rehabilitating the property. OPDC committed to follow up with Community Human Services to see about collaborating to provide him with services and resources.
Brian Hill reported that 3101 Niagara Street was issued a 90 day continuance on the condition that he seek help from community resources to abate the violations at his house. j. Brian Hill reported that BBI has gone into Janet Wang’s 3431/3433 Parkview Ave property several time but was not able to prove over-occupancy—even after reviewing leases. Guest speaker: Judge Gene Ricciardi a. Judge Ricciardi open by telling group this is his 7th year in the job, summarizing his responsibilities and adding that all magisterial judges’ responsibilities are outlined in Statute 42, Section 1515. b. He stated that when it comes to code enforcement cases, the BBI inspector becomes the prosecutor and presents their case. The judge must be fair and impartial—sufficient evidence must be presented. The majority of the time, inspectors have good evidence. The Judge’s goal is abatement and then mitigation, more so than fining the property owner. Fines go to Harrisburg and then we still have the problem in the community. Some offenders actually come to court with cash because it’s cheaper to pay the fine than fix the problem. Even when violations are abated, Ricciardi still fines them because of the time BBI takes to work on these issues which translates into people’s tax dollars. c. He reported that liens used to only be attached to property itself, but now follow the owner. d. He emphasized how important a community presence is in court. Sending letters is not effective because the other side cannot cross-examine that letter. Petitions are also not effective for the same reason. e. His approach to issuing community service and fines for underage drinking violators is different from his predecessor who used to just fine approximately $100. He typically fines a kid $300 plus court costs for first offense plus 20 hours of community service; on the second offense the fine is greater and they contact the university to get them involved; when a fake ID is also involved, the fine increases plus he orders 100 hours of community service; if they’re caught in a bar then the fine amount and number of hours are also increased. Judge says all reports are sent to the University of Pittsburgh judicial board to ensure there is not a substance abuse problem. If everything is abated after the first offense, then the violations are expunged from records. He treats all students equally in his punishments regardless of their status (ex: athlete). Judge has found through his partnership with Pitt that many of these students have substance abuse problems. f. Geof Becker asked if BBI Inspectors can subpoena people. Judge says this is district attorney territory and added that D.A. Zappala is taking a strong stance on many issues. g. He reported that there is a new law that enables the D.A. to extradite out-of-state violators who are not showing up for court repeatedly. He is looking forward to enforcing these laws especially for Oakland properties. He asked Dan Gilman if he can look into this more. h. He reported that BBI inspectors cannot enter a home unarmed because it is too dangerous. This type of case requires coordination with the police department and is still in discussion. i. Regarding trash, Judge says Senator Ferlo used to empower city council to write citations on trash and that it may be an effective model for Oakland. j. He reported that legislation exists that enables community groups to take violators to court, but Brian Hill says no one wanted to deal with the liability. Keep it Clean, Oakland report:
a. Keep it Clean, Oakland (KICO) manager Sam Su told group that since May of 2011, Judge Ricciardi has assigned 1,926 hours of community service to OPDC, most of which have been funneled into our KICO program. b. Sam explained the City Redd Up program. There is now a form for residents to fill out regarding trash-specific complaints and send to Redd Up staff at City. c. Sam told residents to let him know if they don’t feel their block is being efficiently cleaned by the volunteers assigned to it. d. Sam reported that he’s observed that the benefit of a court-mandated volunteer is not only to the community, but to volunteer him/herself—approximately 50% continue to volunteer past their required hours. e. An Oakcliffe resident requested that the Lawn Street/Ophelia Street/Parklet area be included in Adopt-A-Block in spring. Announcements: a. On March 29th there will be three Oakland properties in housing court. b. OPDC is currently accepting applications for the 2012 Residential Façade Grant program. c. Mary Mallampalli of the Pitt Student Government Board gave one more last minute reminder about the upcoming Good Neighbor luncheon to be hosted by Pitt on Saturday 3/24 at 4204 O’Hara street (formerly the Concordia Club). Meeting Adjourned