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Testimony: Do not strip Wilkinsburg autonomy for developers

Wilkinsburg Future is publishing transcriptions or first-party provided written statements delivered at hearings, such as the Pittsburgh City Council public hearing on annexation on January 11, wherein speakers opposing annexation numbered twice those who supported it.

This testimony was submitted to Pittsburgh City Council at that hearing by Renee Dolney, Director of the Chalfant Run and Thompson Run Watershed Association and Wilkinsburg Shade Tree Committee Chairperson. WF publishes it here in its entirety with her permission.

My name is Renee Dolney and I am a Wilkinsburg resident and I am asking you to vote against annexation.

As an opening, I would like to ask for you to compare and contrast Pittsburgh’s response to the snow late last week versus Wilkinsburg’s—our streets were beautifully cleaned and maintained by our DPW, who are borough residents and care about this community. Pittsburgh was simply chaos and service was ineffectual and people were stranded and inconvenienced.

Whatever numbers get thrown at you by proponents of annexation, I need to say clearly to you that Wilkinsburg is not a failing community. We have a better bond rating than the City of Pittsburgh, with a balanced budget and a prudent surplus every year. Financially, we are doing great—better than ever, and I can share reports from our Finance Department if you are interested.

The main problem Wilkinsburg has is the blight. I need to make something very clear—the blight in Wilkinsburg is caused by title problems, typically dead owners. The blight is not caused by lack of investment. The blight is not caused by noone wanting to move here, our are high taxes or our schools—the blight is caused by tangled titles, typically a dead owner. And Councilman Coghill, we do have a plan.

The worst thing—the very worst thing—that could happen to Wilkinsburg would be to merge with Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has over 11,500 blighted properties that it owns. Pittsburgh is the owner of more blighted properties than any other entity in the state. We DO NOT want to be a part of your mess!

We do have a plan and we want to handle our problems ourselves.

We all can see very clearly that it is the forces of gentrification that are pushing this. There is a vision for East Liberty and Bakery Square to just creep on down Penn Ave and push everyone who currently lives here out. These forces are the developers who will profit from the construction and the federal monies that underwrite their activities. These unelected people should have no say in what happens to an autonomous independent community.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald tipped his hand by headlining the event on the City-County building steps. I know that it cannot be easy or comfortable for you to defy his wishes. But I am asking you to defy him and reminding you that he is already a lame duck. In less than 2 years he will have as much power as Dan Onorato does now. So please, do the right thing. Do not strip Wilkinsburg of its political autonomy for the sake of some developers and all the people they spread their money to.

Tell Pittsburgh City Council that you oppose this annexation. Act now.

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