Pittsburg CARES About Neighborhood Improvement

The City of Pittsburg won an Award for Excellence in the Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics and Community Involvement category of the 2007 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.

Pittsburg is a historic city in the east San Francisco Bay Area with many older established neighborhoods, some of which are showing their age and have fallen into disrepair and blight. In 2004, the city launched a major redevelopment effort aimed at various commercial and industrial areas — but primarily focused on downtown. Longtime residents expressed dismay that they were being left behind and the city didn’t care about their issues or improving older neighborhoods. Although various municipal departments were working to address these issues, there was no uniform action plan among the various departments to effectively demonstrate these efforts to residents.

Staff quickly recognized the need to include all citizens and neighborhoods in the city’s vision for the future and to communicate that vision to them. They also recognized the need to respond to, prioritize and provide results about specific issues identified by residents, involving them in problem identification and resolution, and improving the image of city government.

Led by a new city manager and a newly elected city council, in January 2004 the city developed a plan to include community groups and every facet of city government to address identified neighborhood issues. The result was the creation of Pittsburg’s Neighborhood Improvement Team (NIT).

The NIT mission statement is: “Create partnerships with residents to improve the quality of life in our community by identifying and applying resources in response to neighborhood concerns.” Its goals are embodied in the motto “Pittsburg CARES — Community, Action, Rehabilitation, Education, Support.” The NIT was charged with using existing city assets more effectively and implementing long-lasting positive change.

The NIT holds annual meetings with residents in eight targeted neighborhoods, listens to and documents citizens’ issues and concerns. After each neighborhood meeting, the NIT holds staff meetings to discuss the issues raised and develop an action plan to address the highest priority issues unique to each neighborhood. Where possible, producing immediate results is key to the program’s success.

The NIT received initial funding of $1 million from the city’s redevelopment agency, augmented with existing department operating funds to create programs and projects to address the various issues in neighborhoods.

Producing Noticeable Results

Departments that once tried individually to respond to neighborhood issues now work together, coordinating resources to solve problems in a more effective manner and producing noticeable results. The NIT also partnered with local community leaders, Pittsburg Summer Youth Corp, school districts and the police academy to further coordinate efforts.

From neighborhood cleanups to street lighting to speed bumps, the NIT has delivered impressive results since its inception. The program has increased citizen responsibility, enhanced neighborhood pride, and improved community relations and involvement throughout the city. In 2006, the NIT conducted six neighborhood meetings, inviting close to 3,000 residents in communities targeted by the team. The NIT embarked on many successful projects and programs that were all established based on resident concerns and priorities, including:

Pavement Rehabilitation. City staff learned that repairing broken street pavement was the highest priority for some areas, outranking crime, lighting, security and traffic calming. The NIT funded additional street repairs outside the city’s normal Pavement Management System priorities.

Traffic Calming. Projects included in-stalling speed humps on public streets, speed bumps in public alleys, a flashing crosswalk, permanent speed radar signs in a school zone, street restriping to slow traffic, and the purchase and use of a speed radar trailer.

Illegal Dumping and Littering Program. This effort reclaimed illegal dumpsites and other popular graffiti locations by installing activated, talking “flash cameras,” posting bilingual “No Dumping” signs and enforcing an existing Shopping Cart Ordinance. A “Don’t Trash Pittsburg!” poster and video contest was established to help fight litter around schools. This included a 30-second public service announcement (PSA) directed to-ward middle- and high-school students. The winning PSA aired on local cable channels courtesy of Comcast.

Street Light Installation and Upgrades. The city provided additional street tree pruning to increase lighting levels and improve safety in target neighborhoods.

Street Sweeping Pilot Program. Residents consistently identified parked cars obstructing street sweeping as a problem. When the city established No Parking zones on 27 streets, it helped eliminate neighborhood blight by ensuring that street sweeping is effective and streets remain clean. An additional benefit was the timely identification and removal of abandoned vehicles.

Community Resources and Code Enforcement. Dedicated citizens were assigned to permanent committees to meet with a community resource officer (CRO) once a month. The CRO brings citizen concerns to the NIT to promptly address newly emerging issues. As a result, some of the new “tools” available to staff include the following:

  • A Rental Inspection Ordinance requires landlords to inspect and certify their properties and subject them to a city inspection.
  • An Administrative Citation Ordinance allows building officials, code enforcement and planning departments to issue monetary citations.
  • A Board-Up Ordinance was designed to address the proliferation of vacant and blighted buildings within the community.

Developing Priorities and Solutions

The NIT’s involvement in targeted neighborhoods has significantly improved Pittsburg’s relationship with traditionally disaffected neighborhoods and has improved the overall view of city government. The NIT concept is about partnership between the city and its residents. It is based on the belief that the city can do a better job by engaging residents in developing priorities and solutions. This is justified by the thankful calls, e-mails and letters received and — more significantly — by the calls, e-mails and letters staff no longer receive concerning the city’s lack of services or understanding.

Contact: John Fuller, director of public works, Department of Public Works; phone: (925) 252-4110; e-mail: jfuller@ci.pittsburg.ca.us.

This article appears in the December 2007 issue of Western City
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