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Petition results in (street) sweeping changes

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Ira Katz is irritated. He believes his street deserves at least an occasional scrubbing.

Katz recently observed city of Pittsburgh workers taking down the street sweeping signs that long were affixed to the telephone poles on Burchfield Avenue in Squirrel Hill. By calling the city's 311 response line, he learned why.

“They told me there was no more street cleaning on my street,” said Katz, 55, whose family has lived on the quiet, tree-lined avenue for decades. “They said a majority of people who lived here had signed a petition to discontinue it. I don't understand why anyone in their right mind would want to discontinue something like that.”

Street sweeping is an issue profoundly lacking in both excitement and importance. Owing to budget cuts and aging equipment, the city scaled back the program in recent years to the point that it clears many residential streets only on a monthly basis between April and November.

But Katz would prefer having the street swept infrequently to not having it swept at all. He has contacted city Public Works Director Ralph Kaczorowski and City Councilman Corey O'Connor attempting to reverse a decision based on just 21 petition signatures from the street's 27 residences. Whether that constitutes a majority of Burchfield residents is unclear, as several of the street's houses are divided into apartments.

Katz is irked that he is denied a service readily available to other city residents and paid for in part by his tax dollars.

“Can this happen on any city street?” he asked. “Can anyone present a petition to the public works department and get their street cleaning stopped?”

Can anyone do that?

“That's what we're trying to figure out,” said O'Connor, forced into the role of reluctant referee in the dispute between neighbors.

O'Connor said he is researching the issue and would like to develop a citywide policy governing street sweeping, perhaps similar to the one overseeing residential permit parking. Inclusion in that program requires at least one member of 70 percent of a block's households to sign a petition requesting permit parking on their street.

“We don't have the answer today,” O'Connor said. “But we have to figure out a policy that works and is fair to everyone, a policy that hopefully could be a pilot program for the city.”

Robert Mariano, 65, who has lived on Burchfield since 1976, initiated the petition drive. He said Burchfield residents were weary of getting a ticket for forgetting to move their vehicles on street sweeping days. He added that it has been difficult for everyone to find a place to park on the other side of the street on those days.

Mariano is surprised over the consternation the petition drive caused.

“We don't have a lot of pop cans or litter on the street, never have,” he said. “So what are we gaining by the street cleaning?”

Katz places considerably more value on the service.

“If the streets aren't cleaned, we're going to have more mice, more rats,” he said. “If they aren't going to do it anymore, I'd like some relief on my taxes.”

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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