CMU

Hazelwood, Run Residents React to Announced Playground Funding

On Sept. 2, Four Mile Run resident Barb Warwick found Department of Public Works [DPW] workers at the neighborhood’s playground. “[They were] replacing a lot of the old and rusted parts,” she recalled. “My kids are super happy to have their playground back.” 

OnePGH will rehabilitate playgrounds in The Run and Hazelwood 

For more than three years, neighbors in The Run had pleaded with city officials to repair and reopen their playground. It was plagued by hazards, including deep holes left by missing benches and tables. Concrete chunks had fallen from the Parkway East during PennDOT repairs, and a broken play structure had injured a child. But the sudden appearance of DPW workers was not quite what the community had asked for. 

A Sept. 3 City of Pittsburgh press release announced that “Carnegie Mellon University [CMU] and the City of Pittsburgh have partnered to provide support for the rehabilitation of Four Mile Run playground in Greenfield and improvements at Lewis playground in Hazelwood as part of the OnePGH community investment plan announced earlier this year by Mayor William Peduto.”

The press release characterized DPW’s work on The Run’s existing playground as “short-term repairs” while the new playground is being planned. But residents of The Run say no one was lobbying for a brand-new playground, and that it should be unnecessary once their playground is fully repaired. 

Plan does not include specifics for reflect neighborhood input

The press release did not say how much CMU planned to donate for each playground. OnePGH is a partnership between the city and outside nonprofits, including CMU. District 5 Councilman Corey O’Connor said there is “no set number” for the CMU donation “because we want to do a neighborhood process to see what people want at both playgrounds.”

“For The Run,” Councilman O’Connor added, “[these current repairs were] City money. We requested the repairs last fall, but there was a backlog due to COVID.”

“It’s exciting to see the work happen,” Run resident Ziggy Edwards said, but added, “We learned about these plans the same way we learned about the CMU- and Pitt-proposed Mon-Oakland Connector [MOC]: through press coverage. It’s disappointing that—once again—major decisions affecting our neighborhood came from a partnership between our elected representatives and monied interests that excluded residents.”

Hazelwood and Run residents, along with dozens of social justice and community groups, churches, and others have rejected the MOC—a proposed shuttle road between the Hazelwood Green development and Oakland campuses championed by the public-private partnership formed between CMU, Pitt, and Mayor Peduto’s administration for that purpose. Residents say building a new road through the Junction Hollow section of Schenley Park and The Run will permanently degrade the park and one day erase the neighborhood. Affected communities including The Run, Panther Hollow, Greenfield, South Oakland, and Hazelwood created their own plan for how MOC funds should be spent instead: Our Money, Our Solutions (OMOS).

The city did not seek input from Hazelwood residents on restoring Lewis Playground 

James Cole of Hazelwood said he was unaware of CMU’s playground funding commitment until contacted for this article. “How is it that no one asked the people in the neighborhoods what they want?” he asked. “I have 150 kids up [at Burgwin Field for youth programs] every day, and this is the first I’m hearing about it.”

Three Rivers Village School [TRVS] is planning a move from the Spartan Center into the former YMCA across Chatsworth Avenue from Lewis Playground. Staffer Jason White-Weidow said he had not heard about the plan to improve the playground either. 

“It would definitely be great for TRVS to have an updated park there and it would get a lot of use by our kids, including the Hazelwood residents,” Mr. White-Weidow said. “We agree though, that it is strange that the community wasn’t consulted.” He added that if other parks or community resource priorities would serve more residents, especially kids, then neighbors’ voices should be heard and respected. 

Councilman O’Connor said the community has expressed itself extensively about both playgrounds. “We’ve heard from people for a number of years,” he said, naming the Greenfield Community Association, Hazelwood Initiative, Inc., Center of Life and other community groups. He said other feedback came from community and budget meetings and 311 calls. 

Councilman O’Connor said there is no timeframe yet for the meetings the city wants to hold with residents, but stressed that “there will be opportunities for community input.”

Residents say Greenfield K-8 needs a playground 

In a similar spirit to the OMOS plan, residents are already identifying and proposing alternatives for the Four Mile Run playground funds. Ms. Warwick says a playground is desperately needed at Greenfield Elementary School. 

“Greenfield is a K-8 school with a special needs program and a Pre-K program. Right now, all they have is a field that’s often too muddy to use and a big parking lot,” Ms. Warwick explained. A group of parents from the Greenfield Community Association and the Greenfield School PTO are working together to raise funds for a playground. “We should build a playground that will improve the lives of kids from all over Greenfield,” she added.

Right-to-Know Request Documents Provide Answers

bad governance and good governance

And Some Answers Raise More Questions

Since 2018, residents of Four Mile Run (The Run) have filed several Right To Know requests with the City of Pittsburgh regarding the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) project. City government eventually gave residents documents that were inadequate in fulfilling the RTK requests. Missing information includes up-to-date engineering documents and large portions of City departments’ correspondence with all private partners in the project. In the city’s response to the requests, they stated that they are not required to share any information, but would do so selectively. Furthermore, they added, “We are prohibited from forwarding records that reflect the attorney-client privilege or the attorney work product privilege.”

But a section of the PA office of Open Records Right–to-Know Law states:

Section 708 of the RTKL places the burden of proof on the public body to demonstrate that a record is exempt. In pertinent part, Section 708(a) states: “The burden of proving that a record of a Commonwealth agency or local agency is exempt from public access shall be on the Commonwealth agency or local agency receiving a request by a preponderance of the evidence.” Preponderance of the evidence has been defined as “such proof as leads the fact-finder … to find that the existence of a contested fact is more probable than its nonexistence.”

The City’s position raises the question: Who is the attorney and who is the client in this case? This is the very same claim that city government made while conducting its infamous secret Amazon deal. The details of that plan, now available after Amazon turned down the bid, reveal the reasons for the secrecy. Pittsburgh promised the world’s richest man one of the most generous corporate welfare giveaways of land and taxpayer money of any city in the U.S. Those promises included the MOC.

At the suggestion of the City of Pittsburgh, residents also filed RTK requests with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), the agency tasked with constructing the Four Mile Run Watershed Plan. The scope of this crucial and technically challenging project was to include fixing The Run’s worsening chronic flooding. But the City is forcing the merger of the MOC with PWSA’s plan. PWSA failed to respond to a resident appeal and the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg ordered PWSA to hand over all documents requested. Those documents contained crucial information including:

A portion of Mayor’s office meeting document listing who attended and Mayor Chief of Staff Dan Gillman’s remarks about the MOC project.

There is more evidence of non-transparency and duplicity by city government regarding the MOC project. Throughout the process, residents have demanded they be informed of what DOMI was planning and when DOMI would be filing grant proposals or other requests for funding. DOMI has refused to do so. They applied for a 1 million dollar grant for the MOC through the Southwestern PA Commission in 2018—while DOMI was holding a series of public meetings about the project. The money was approved, but DOMI failed to notify residents beforehand and afterward. Only dogged research and policing of the project by opponents flushed out the information.

Residents more recently received another document: a 2018 request from DOMI to the City Budget office for funding. That document is mostly blank, but DOMI was nonetheless given 9 million dollars of taxpayer money. One section of the document DOMI did fill out was the section reading: Please identify the source of external funding and how the project adheres to the funding source’s rules and regulations. “Demonstrated support of the public” was a question within that section. DOMI’s response: Depends on which community!

 A section of the City Budget form shows DOMI’s response to whether the project has community support. 

What else are city officials hiding and why? Why are they so determined to bulldoze through two vibrant neighborhoods and Schenley Park when they admit their proposed shuttle road is not a transportation solution and does not serve the affected communities? University expansion through a slow-motion land grab could be the answer.

Opponents of the MOC recognize this issue as much bigger than any individual neighborhood. Our growing coalition of residents, park protectors, neighborhood organizations and other concerned citizens is committed to protecting Pittsburgh’s communities from erasure.

(This article was previously published on February 1, 2020 in the Hazelwood Homepage)