By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh City Council offered amendments Tuesday to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s 2021 budget proposal. They included allocating $9.4 million dollars away from two contentious sections of the budget: police funding and the Mon-Oakland Connector autonomous vehicle/infrastructure proposal.
According to TribLive, about $5.3 million will be moved from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the Public Safety department to fund a new Stop the Violence initiative spearheaded by city councilors Ricky Burgess (D-Point Breeze) and Daniel Lavelle (D-Hill District).
The $5 million shift from the police budget is not as ambitious has some advocates were hoping, as it only represents about a 5 percent decrease of about $110 million overall that was proposed by the mayor. Advocates were calling for a 50% reduction in police funding, citing Pittsburgh’s relatively high volume of police force compared to other mid-size cities. This summer, police-reform advocates also criticized the Stop the Violence Fund as too weak a measure that doesn’t address the underlying causes of police brutality or provide meaningful cuts to the police.
“I don’t understand how you can hear what everyone is saying and not take action,” Brandi Fisher, of the Alliance of Police Accountability said, according to a tweet from the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. “I don’t understand what you’re not hearing or not understanding.”
City Council member Anthony Coghill has been a stronger defender of the police than other members of council. He reportedly said at the meeting that Pittsburgh’s sports teams require more officers to police sporting events, and that Pittsburgh’s hilly terrain makes it harder to cut police funding.
We will be live tweeting Pittsburgh City Council's hearing this morning. This is a special hearing on taxes and the budget and a lot of public comment is expected!
— Pittsburgh DSA (@pghDSA) December 14, 2020
Lavelle, who backed the creation of the Stop the Violence Fund, was supportive of the shift in funds away from the police.
“This is council doing all we can,” Lavelle said, according to TribLive.
The Stop the Violence Fund is created with $250,000 in seed funding, plus percentages of the police budget that increase gradually from 6 percent in 2021 to 10% in 2026 to pay for programs aimed at prevention and treatment instead of punishment.
City Council Budget Manager Michael Strelic told TribLive the shift in funding will not result in police personnel cuts.
In addition to shifting money from the police budget, council also approved shifting $4.1 million away from the Mon-Oakland Connector proposal. The proposed project would create infrastructure changes in between Hazelwood and Oakland, and ferry passengers on autonomous shuttles, as well as allow cyclists and pedestrians an improved path.
The Mon-Oakland Connector has come under intense criticism from transit advocates and residents of Greenfield’s Four Mile Run neighborhood. Last week, Pittsburgh City Councilor Corey O’Connor (D-Squirrel Hill) proposed shifting the $4 million away from the project and instead fund affordable housing, support for small businesses, and bike-and-pedestrian friendly infrastructure improvements in Hazelwood.
O’Connor’s amendment unanimously passed. Final vote on the budget amendments is expected to come next week.
Pittsburghers for Public Transit have been advocating against the Mon-Oakland Connector for years, believing that those funds would be better suited to help increase bus service and build sidewalks. The group is glad the amendment passed through council and thanked O’Connor for the amendment.
🎉AMENDMENT PASSES!🎉 Council votes UNANIMOUSLY to amend $4.15M away from the Mon Oakland Connector to fund affordable housing, sidewalks, & bike/ped connections!!
THIS IS A WIN FOR TRANSIT JUSTICE! And for all who organized w us for public investment in people not developers!✊
— PGHers for Public Transit (@Pgh4PubTransit) December 14, 2020
“Over the last two years, community members from Hazelwood and Four Mile Run have been advocating for funds from the Mon-Oakland Connector shuttle roadway to be re-allocated towards pressing community needs, laid out in the Our Money, Our Solutions alternative plan,” PPT Director Laura Wiens said. “Taxpayer money should be used to directly address mobility needs and housing insecurity — particularly during the COVID-19 crisis — and not serve developer interests.”
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the $4.1 million from the Mon-Oakland Connector will instead fund $1.9 million for the city’s Housing Opportunity Fund; $1 million for bike and pedestrian infrastructure in Hazelwood; $500,000 to housing in federally designated areas; $420,000 to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s small business programs; and $270,000 to the Avenues of Hope business district funding for historically Black neighborhoods.
Peduto’s administration has long been a champion of the Mon-Oakland Connector, but spokesperson Tim McNulty told the Post-Gazette that the mayor was happy to work with O’Connor on this one-time transfer. McNulty said the administration plans to explore the Mon-Oakland proposal in the coming years.
Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.