When snow storms and half-plowed streets cut the number of parking spaces along Pittsburgh’s streets, turning “neighbors into fierce competitors,” Mayor Bill Peduto is prepared.
He owns a lime green parking chair, that infamous Steel City mainstay, to save his spot near his Point Breeze home.
In an interview with PublicSource, Peduto discussed some of the city’s quirks, including the parking chair and the Pittsburgh left, as well as important policies such as affordable housing, disputes over bike lanes and the ongoing problems with lead in the water.
Ahead of Pittsburgh’s May 16 mayoral primary election, PublicSource is conducting interviews with each candidate. We want you to have as much access to the candidates running for mayor as possible. Check back next week for our interviews with City Councilwoman Darlene Harris and Rev. John Welch. Here, you can find the video of the full, unedited interview with the mayor as well as a few excerpts from the discussion.
First, here are some key takeaways:
- Peduto said he is committed to fixing the problems with the PWSA and removing all lead from the drinking water. However, the mayor said that it will take more than a decade and cost billions of dollars to mitigate the financial and structural issues, in the meantime your water bills could go up.
- The mayor stands by his investment in bike lanes and hopes to expand them throughout the city. He said Councilwoman Darlene Harris’ and Rev. John Welch’s criticisms on bike lanes are “wrong.” Bike lanes are a cheap way to make Pittsburgh safer and a modern city, Peduto said.
- Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods need a mix of market rate, affordable and subsidized housing in order to revitalize and attract new people to move to the city. Low income tax credits, an affordable housing trust fund, a city-wide land bank and community run land trusts are all critical components to make that happen.
On lead in the water and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority:
Peduto: “They [Pittsburgh voters] should know right now that Pittsburgh is one of 5,336, I believe, water systems in the United States that are above 15 parts per billion for lead and that’s the federal guideline at which the EPA becomes involved. We’re working with the EPA, we’re working with the state DEP, we’re working with the county health department in order to be able to constantly monitor the water. Unlike Flint, MI, this wasn’t an issue that sort of spiked all at once, we’ve been on a 30-year trajectory of lead increasing in our water and that’s because we have a system that’s over 100 years old that hasn’t been adequately addressed, we have not put the money into replacing lead lines at all, zero.
“So we’ve begun, under a federal consent order, the replacement of lead lines. We will be doing a major capital campaign but it will take at least a decade to be able to remove what is expected to be 20 to 25 percent but again PWSA doesn’t have any records of where the lead pipes are, how many there are, it’s expected there are 20 to 25 percent, we could see more, we have a price tag of $441 million dollars to do so. People should know two things: number one, that we’re not going to kick the can down the road any longer, we are going to take on the issue, we’re not going to take a band aid approach to the issue, which means we’re not going to just use water filters or filters at the point of entry, which would just ignore the problem and the lines themselves will simply get worse.
“We’re going to fix the problem but it’s going to take time and it’s going to cost money and the money part of it means our water bills will go up. And I remind people all the time, if you’re willing to pay $110 for a cable bill and put an extra $20 in every month to get the Showtime package, an extra $10 to $20 dollars in your water bill is a good investment not only for you, but for the future.
“Within Pittsburgh, we know from science that lead affecting children is not coming from the water, it’s coming from paint, it’s coming from older homes that when someone opens windows in the springtime and those chips fall, one small chip to a child can cause lead poisoning If you go back 20 years, it’s not like in Flint where it went like that [shows a drastic increase with a hand gesture] where they went into the Flint river. You have a steady increase in the amount of lead in PWSA water.
On bike lanes
“We have spent exactly one tenth of one percent of our budget on bike lanes, on entire bike infrastructure. We have spent $400,000 out of this year’s more than $500 million budget. So if you take one tenth of one percent and apply it to something where people are being killed - not harmed, killed - by walking and cycling and you think that’s too much to spend, that you shouldn’t spend one tenth of one percent on trying to make our streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, I would say to Reverend Welch and Darlene Harris that you’re wrong.
“I think the same people who comment negatively about [bike lanes] are the same ones who complain about bikes in the roads, who complain they have to slow down to 10 miles per hour because there’s a bike in front of them. And then, when we make it so the cars are in one lane and the bikes are in another, they still complain. You can’t satisfy everybody and if you try to, you can’t govern.
On affordable housing
“The best way is to empower neighborhoods to create their own master plans, like we’ve done in the Hill, like we’ve done in Homewood, like we’ve done in Larimer and Uptown. But to say to places like Beltzhoover and Knoxville and Elliot: We will provide you the resources, you tell us what you want to see happen …
We basically have two tools, we have the Low Income Tax Credit and there’s a 9 percent low income tax credit that’s very competitive, we usually get about two of those per year from the state and there’s a 4 percent low income tax credit and we usually get three or four, so we see about six projects happening per year. … Instead of just using low income tax credits in order to be able to spur affordable housing we’re going to come with a second approach which is the affordable housing trust fund and a third approach which is the land bank and land trust. And between those three efforts, areas that have been ignored because the market hasn’t been strong, that’s it’s weak market area, will be incentivized to see development occur … you can build community but it has to come from the bottom up.
“We have to understand that it needs to be a dual development strategy. One part of it needs to be a continuation of market rate housing, you have to build market rate housing; if you don’t, you have what happened in California where there’s a limited supply and the demand keeps growing and the price keeps growing higher and higher and higher. You want to have enough market rate housing that they’re competing against each other and keeping rents at a moderate level. The other thing with market rate housing is that it provides the two critical elements of keeping a city and a school district running: property taxes and wage taxes. You won’t be able to keep schools open or pave streets or have police officers if you don’t have the tax base to do it The second tract has to be on affordability, you can’t let people be pushed out because of the market which means you need to incentivize the opportunities so developers are willing to build affordable and then give communities the tools to do it themselves. Both of those tracts have to run at the same time.
On diverse city hires
“We hired a person to be in charge of personnel in inclusion and diversity - in a senior role - and this person’s job is to not only look at the higher administrative roles the Rooney Rule will apply to, but really to look at all roles within city government. We have budgeted and will be hiring this year a gender-wage equity person who will be working in my office and they’ll be looking throughout the city for areas where wage inequity still exists between men and women and we’ve taken this very seriously. <…> I’d like to have a city government that reflects the city, across the board. Not just the police but my office.”