For many South Side residents, identifying their neighborhood's biggest problem -- East Carson Street's late-night booze-fests -- is easy. But solving it is hard. In fact, some say, the neighborhood may need help from the city's universities or state government.
Roughly 70 residents attended a June 29 South Side Community Council meeting to discuss quality-of-life issues the neighborhood faces. Led by four panelists, including City Councilor Bruce Kraus, the discussion began by focusing on the South Side's legendary rowdiness.
"The nighttime behavior does seem to have gotten worse," said Geof Comings, manager of business development for the South Side Local Development Company. "We need an expectation of good behavior and consequences for bad behavior in this neighborhood."
Most in attendance thought that could only happen with increased code enforcement.
"Instead of us saying, 'This is a good bar, this is a bad bar,'" Kraus said at the meeting, "let's go by the letter of the law."
Ever since Kraus took office in 2008, code enforcement has been at the top of his agenda. Even before his arrival, council passed legislation capping the number of liquor licenses on Carson Street. (The ordinance is currently being challenged in court.). But that hasn't solved the problem.
"The state is dictating our neighborhood," Kraus charged. "The city is managing the negative impact [of the bars] on the back end, but we're looking for the state to control it on the front end."
Specifically, Kraus wants state officers patrolling Carson Street, which is a state highway, on weekends. In addition, he wants more state Liquor Control Board officers enforcing state laws. Kraus laments the fact that there are currently just 23 LCB agents monitoring 4,300 liquor licenses in six counties.
Nearly 90 of those licenses are in the South Side alone, Kraus said, and combined they have an estimated bar occupancy of 20,000. "We're grossly understaffed," he lamented.
In November, Kraus and three other South Side Community Council members attended the Responsible Hospitality Institute Conference in San Francisco, where roughly 130 people from 59 cities discussed effective ways to manage "hospitality districts" like the South Side. At the June 29 Community Council meeting, the panelists outlined some of the most successful practices other cities have implemented.
Seattle, for instance, has created a "Code Cooperation Team" -- including building inspectors, liquor control agents and local police. The team works together to enforce code violations. And cities like San Francisco have successfully staggered closing times for bars, so that every bar in the neighborhood isn't spilling its patrons at the same time.
Such practices, some residents say, could go a long way on the South Side.
"What residents are expecting is compliance of [building] capacity," says Darlene Pilarski, 50.
"There is no enforcement," adds her husband, David, 55.
During the meeting, some residents said that since college students were part of the problem, local universities should help find a solution.
"This is a college town," resident Wanda Jankoski said at the community meeting. "We need to get the universities involved."
Comings says Duquesne University already disciplines students for citations they receive on the South Side. But, he says, the community is still trying to get the University of Pittsburgh and other local colleges to follow suit.
Others say the community and the bars need to find a way to work together. South Side resident Josie Rotolo, 73, says residents and bar owners need to "sit down and hear [each other] out."
But that's easier said than done.
"I don't understand why residents are complaining," says Joel Doty, who owns Town Tavern on Carson Street. "They've been picking on [the bars] for a long time."