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2016 City Council Preview: Gilman, Lavelle And Rudiak On Pursuing A Progressive Agenda

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

This is the third in a three-part web series looking ahead to 2016 with members of Pittsburgh's City Council.

Pittsburgh City Council has pursued a decidedly progressive agenda this year: mandating employers offer paid sick days (later struck down in court), decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and banning housing discrimination against people on government assistance. Next year, council members say they will propose a taxpayer bill of rights, find ways to expand early childhood education to every family in the city and push for more affordable housing.

Councilman Dan Gilman

District 8: Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Oakland, Point Breeze

Gilman said he’s gotten calls from legislators and mayors in other cities who want to learn more about Pittsburgh’s food truck legislation and campaign finance and ethics reforms. He said that kind of collaboration is becoming more commonplace in today’s increasingly connected world.

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Councilman Dan Gilman

“They’re no longer bills that you just pass and they kind of go by the wayside, but they get shopped around the country,” Gilman said.

Next year, he said he’ll introduce legislation to create a taxpayer bill of rights. Gilman said such a document would ensure that the city is welcoming to new residents and fair to existing ones when it comes to tax policy.

He said he also looks forward to working on the city’s Complete Streets plan, which aims to move the city away from a car-centric approach to one that accommodates all forms of transportation. The issue has taken on greater urgency after the deaths of bicyclist Susan Hicks in Oakland and public transit users Henry Walker and Christine Williamson in the Hill District.

“We’ve had a couple of terrible tragedies this year with bikers and pedestrians that have been killed," Gilman said. "That only further highlights the need to move forward as quickly as possible, but at the same time you have to do it in a thoughtful manner and through a community process.”

Councilman Daniel Lavelle

District 6: Hill District, Uptown, Downtown, Oakland, Perry Hilltop, Chateau, Manchester

Two of the most progressive pieces of legislation council passed this year, decriminalization of marijuana and the rental property registry program, came out of the Public Safety Committee, of which Lavelle is chair.

He said in 2016, he’ll focus more attention on affordable housing, or the lack thereof in Pittsburgh.

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Councilman Daniel Lavelle in December 2016

Lavelle said he agrees with the Hill District Consensus Group, which recently filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging that the Civic Arena site redevelopment plan for affordable housing would exclude many African Americans and very low income people.

“I would argue that there isn’t enough affordable housing on the site and throughout this entire city. That’s something we really have to be very diligent on and figure out over the next few months,” he said.

But Lavelle said what people from low-income communities really need are jobs that pay a living wage so they can build wealth and break the cycle of poverty.

Next year, he pledged to introduce a bill that would require developers using public dollars agree to hire workers from the city’s most disadvantaged communities.

“Because the reality is, still within in the city of Pittsburgh and especially within the African-American community, we have poor economics,” he said. “We not only need to fight for affordable housing, but we need to raise the wages of the workers here as well.”

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak

District 4: Beechview, Bon Air, Brookline, Carrick, Mt. Washington, Overbrook

At a recent City Council meeting, dozens of people spoke in favor of a proposal to create an Office of Early Childhood in Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration. Parents spoke about the importance of high-quality childcare for their ability to earn more money and create wealth. Teachers talked about how the achievement gap between children in high-income and low-income families begins to take root as early as age 3. Activists said that people who receive high-quality education early in childhood are less likely to be incarcerated as adults. 

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Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak in December 2015

Rudiak said at that meeting that early childhood education intersects with other social justice issues that council has taken on, such as the now-defunct paid sick days bill.

Last year, she and the Women’s Caucus pushed for the creation of a loan program for childcare providers to upgrade facilities and curricula.

But the $250,000 set aside in the 2015 budget was never spent, in part because the city is waiting on recommendations from a consultant who has spent the last year analyzing the patchwork of programs that provide childcare and early childhood education in Pittsburgh.

“We’re making sure we’re better understanding childcare providers’ needs and those recommendations from that needs assessment are going to inform how those funds get allocated,” she said.

Rudiak said that assessment should be available in the next few weeks and that funds will be allocated in 2016.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.