City Council member tries to rein in the South Side

By Olivia Garber

Reports of rowdy South Side night life have spurred City Councilman Bruce Kraus to push for… Reports of rowdy South Side night life have spurred City Councilman Bruce Kraus to push for political action that will deter outrageous behavior in the popular Pittsburgh party spot.

That push involves what Kraus is calling a “holistic solution” that addresses a series of concerns with night life in the South Side, including irresponsible party behavior and a lack of transportation.

The South Side has seen only slight fluctuations in crime over the past few years, according to Pittsburgh police crime statistics. In 2009, 1,207 crimes were reported to police in the area.

Kraus has written a 95-page report specifically addressing concerns about the South Side. The report, called “Inviting, Safe and Cohesive: A Proposal for the Management of the the South Side Using Responsible Hospitality Practices,” examines successful strategies other cities have implemented to create a safe night life.

City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak supports Kraus’ initiative. She said that Kraus’ plan does not require any official policy changes to take effect because the City Council doesn’t manage the Department of Public Safety, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl does.

Implementing the plan will require collaborative action from the Council, city department heads and Ravenstahl.

But the mayor has voiced disagreement with Kraus’ plan. His spokeswoman, Joanna Doven, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the administration has already provided garbage receptacles, deployed police bicycle patrols and taken other measures to help the community.

Kraus has also invited local universities, including Pitt, to join in the cleanup effort. It was not immediately clear what role, if any, Pitt will play in the cleanup.

Pittsburgh police officer Christine Luffey, one of the 35 officers who patrols the South Side during weekends, called the situation “pretty bad.”

Public urination and property vandalism are just a few of the illegal activities she encounters while on duty.

Most of the culprits are college students, she said.

But blaming students for the current state of the South Side isn’t a part of Kraus’ plan to renovate the Pittsburgh neighborhood.

“This is not about enforcement and punishment. It’s about compliance,” Kraus said.

He also emphasized that students are not the sole instigators of rowdiness in the the South Side. Calling college students a “huge positive” for the city, he instead blames a lack of political foresight.

As Pittsburgh transitioned from a steel industry to a society supported by education and medicine, no action was taken to prepare the city for the influx of thousands of students.

“We are reaping the effects of that,” Kraus said.

Bar owners in the South Side disagree.

Richard Cupka, owner of Cupka’s Cafe on East Carson Street, believes that Kraus is “sensationalizing” night life in the South Side.

“Do we have problems at two in the morning? Yes. But all we need is one or two more cop cars,” Cupka said.

Kraus doesn’t believe that the problem is so easily solved.

“People want to think that there are very simple answers to complex issues. What is 40 police officers going to accomplish that 35 hasn’t?” Kraus said.

Rudiak added that giving more police officers to the South Side wouldn’t come without a price.

“For every public safety resource that’s being utilized in the South Side, that means less police officers on the streets of Oakland, or Carrick, or any neighborhood,” Rudiak said.

Billie Daft, an employee at Green Front Inn, doesn’t see the South Side that Kraus has described as having a “party time atmosphere.”

Daft, who resides in Mount Washington, said that the behavior in the South Side isn’t restricted to that area, calling it “just normal drunkenness.”

“Anywhere there’s bars, it’s the same atmosphere,” Daft said.

Krista Laurent, a 12-year employee at Cupka’s Cafe, said, “We don’t have any problems.”

Kraus disagrees, challenging anyone who doesn’t believe his portrayal of the South Side to come into his office Monday mornings and listen to residents report about “the carnage of the weekend before.”

What happens in the South Side has a reputation that reaches all the way to Oakland.

Peter’s Pub barman Ben Salem refuses to go to the the South Side.

In Salem’s experience, one of three things will happen if he makes the journey past Birmingham Bridge.

“I’ll lose my wallet or phone, get into a fight or get jumped,” Salem said.