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by Nick Swartsell 07.07.2014
Posted In: News at 09:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_smitherman_ck

Morning News and Stuff

The fight over pitbulls continues, Central Parkway bike lanes progressing, COAST says no way to tax hike

Long weekends mean lots of news. Let's get caught up.

Another incident involving pitbulls this weekend has some in Cincinnati calling for the city to reintroduce a ban on the breed. Over the weekend, a pitbull attacked a Jack Russell Terrier in East Price Hill, which has led its owner and others to demand action. The controversy around the dogs flared up in June when 6-year-old Zainabou Drame was severely injured by two pits in Westwood.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman has said he’s working on ways to address the issue in the Law and Public Safety Committee he chairs. He has yet to decide 100 percent what the right course of action is to address the problem, he says, but seems to believe that an outright ban wouldn’t work. He voted to repeal a ban the city once had. Smitherman has said he believes the problem is with irresponsible owners, not just the breed itself.

• Here’s some great news — work began today on protected bike lanes on Central Parkway. The first phase of the protected lane will stretch from Elm Street north to Marshall Street. Construction happening now includes striping the new bike-only lanes, putting up new signage, building new bus stops that keep buses and bikes separate and eventually installing plastic poles between the bike lanes and the rest of the road.

Local anti-tax group COAST has raised opposition to Hamilton County Commissioners’ proposed plans to raise either sales or property taxes to help pay for renovations to Music Hall and Union Terminal. The group says the city, not the county, owns the buildings and that it’s unfair for the city to ask county taxpayers to foot the bill for their renovations. COAST supports an alternate idea floated by Commissioner Todd Portune that would raise the money by charging a tax on tickets to events held at the buildings. The group opposes putting the tax increase measure on the ballot so that, you know, the majority of taxpayers could decide for themselves the best way to go about paying for the buildings. At least two of the three county commissioners must approve the tax plan by Aug. 6 for it to go on the ballot.

Filming begins today here in town for Miles Ahead, a film exploring Miles Davis’ reclusive period in the 1970s. Don Cheadle is directing the project, as well as starring as Davis. He chose Cincinnati because it has the architecture and vibe of 1950s and '60s-era Manhattan, which the film flashes back to periodically. Cheadle also cites Ohio tax credits, the city’s film support network and the fact that “this town is a music town,” he told The Enquirer.

• Construction began last week on five single-family townhomes in the Pendleton district of Over-the-Rhine. It’s part of a plan to bring suburban-style housing to OTR and the urban core, according to developer Edward Wright of Wright Design. Each of the five houses will have three bedrooms and a two-car garage. Four of the homes are new builds and one is a renovation. All are LEED certified. Five more are planned nearby in the next year.

• Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul continues to position himself for a 2016 presidential run. As he does so, he’s reaching out to minority voters and becoming more and more blunt about what he sees as the GOP’s big problem. Last week, he put it in the starkest terms yet.

“If we’re going to be the white party, we’re going to be the losing party,” he said July 2 at a ceremony in Kentucky honoring the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Paul has made trips to low-income, predominantly minority communities in Kentucky and other states. But Paul has problems of his own to overcome, including past statements expressing doubt about some elements of the Civil Rights Act and the fact that both he and his father have some racially tinged baggage.  Rand will be in Cincinnati July 25 speaking at the National Urban League conference.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.03.2014
Posted In: News at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
greenpeace P&G

Morning News and Stuff

P&G protesters still up for felony charges, Woodward project moves forward and Cincinnati ranks high for the 4th of July

It's almost the 4th of July, and what's more American than protests, historic music venues, under-funding education and weird robot selfies? That's what's on tap for the morning news today.

A Hamilton County judge ruled yesterday that nine Greenpeace protesters who hung huge banners from Procter and Gamble headquarters in March are still on the hook for burglary charges.

Lawyers for the group argued that no other laws were broken when the group trespassed on P&G property to protest the company’s use of palm oil. Felony burglary charges require more than just trespassing, but prosecutors say the group also damaged windows and could also be charged with criminal mischief or disorderly conduct. The distinction matters because trespassing is a minor charge, while the burglary counts carry penalties of up to eight years in prison.

The group was let into the building after one of the protesters posed as a business person. Once inside, they hung the banners from cables that prosecutors say caused damage. The Greenpeace members have said they didn’t damage anything. The group was protesting palm oil because its harvest is destructive to rain forest habitats that are home to many endangered animals, including tigers, which were featured prominently on the banners.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 21.

Over-the-Rhine will get a big music venue and a historic building will be rehabbed at the same time. A project to redevelop OTR’s Woodward Theater is progressing with fresh financing. The owners of MOTR Pub, which is right across Main Street, purchased the theater last year. The plan has been to fix up the building, built in 1913, and turn it into a 600-capacity music venue for bands that draw a bigger crowd than MOTR can handle. 

MOTR’s owners announced yesterday that they’ve secured the necessary $1.25 million in financing for the project from two nonprofit lenders. Building plans and permits have already been approved, and work will start soon to renovate the structure, which will include adding bars and a large stage. In the past, the building has been a theater (obviously), a Kroger store and an antique shop.

• Tomorrow when you’re lighting up some explosives and celebrating our founding fathers’ infinite wisdom, think about this: Cincinnati is No. 3 on the list of top places to celebrate the 4th of July. A ranking touted by Parade Magazine and originally put together by finance website WalletHub (sounds totally legit) put the city above Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and other quintessentially American cities. We came in just under Richmond, Virginia and Irvine, California, both of which clearly cheated. The rankings take into account 14 different factors including legality of fireworks, weather, average drink prices, the number of tri-cornered hats per capita and the statistical chance a bald eagle will land on your head while holding roman candles in its talons and screeching the "The Star Spangled Banner." Err, not so much the last two, but I would like to see the data on those. Cincinnati fared especially well in the “most swimming pools per capita” category (we ranked second) and the “most outdoor attractions” category (we ranked third). The worst place to celebrate the fourth? Corpus Christie, Texas. Seems about right.

• Let’s play good news/bad news. The state of Ohio is running a surplus this year, but most of it is already spoken for. The state is $800 million in the black, about 3 percent of Ohio’s total budget. But the majority of that extra money is going to tax cuts and a Medicare savings fund. About $76 million will go to low-income tax credits, $91 million to more general income tax reductions and about $229 million to tax breaks for businesses. The rest gets stashed away for next fiscal year, which starts today. Meanwhile, spending on education and other vital services remains flat, a point Democrats are highlighting as they look to unseat Gov. John Kasich in November.

• Finally, Google recently unleashed its street view cameras to take pictures of the insides of more than 200 museums across the country, including Union Terminal. A strange, postmodern byproduct of this effort is that sometimes these cameras come across mirrors inside the museums and end up taking weird robot selfies. The future is now, and I really don’t know how to feel about it. Questions: Are these robots on Instagram, and how long until Kim Kardashian and Kanye photobomb one of these shots?

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.02.2014
Posted In: News at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gay-marriage-rights

Morning News and Stuff

Kentucky's gay marriage ban unconstitutional, ticket hike to save historic buildings, Kasich and Brown take an usie

Here at the morning news desk (which is really just my desk, only in the morning), we usually lead off with some local news. But the big story of the moment comes from across the river.

Kentucky's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled yesterday. The judge struck down Kentucky’s amendment to its state constitution banning same-sex marriages, though he is holding implementation of his ruling until after hearings here in Cincinnati next month. The next showdown over gay marriage in the region comes Aug. 6, when the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals downtown will hear cases from Ohio, Kentucky and other states about same-sex marriage bans.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pitching user fees for events at Music Hall and the Cincinnati Museum Center as a way to raise funds to renovate the historic buildings. He floated the idea in a letter yesterday, where he also indicated he’s not sold on the idea of a sales tax hike to pay for the renovation projects. Portune said he’s not a flat no on the tax hike but that it will be a tough sell for him without some kind of ticket price increase. The buildings need more than $300 million in repairs.

An Indianapolis-based developer working on rehab projects for three iconic historic buildings in Cincinnati is making progress. Core Redevelopment LLC is redeveloping the former School for Creative and Performing Arts building in Pendleton, the Crosley building in Camp Washington and the old Windsor Elementary School in Walnut Hills. The group was just awarded tax credits on the Windsor project, which will contain 44 units of housing. CEO John Watson indicated that he thinks Walnut Hills is on the verge of a “full scale redevelopment” as a neighborhood. The SCPA project is expected to break ground in September and will be home to 142 units. Finally, the group will develop 238 units in the looming white Crosley building, which was built in the 1920s by the Crosley company as a factory for radios and other items. All three projects will be market rate housing. The group expects the 800-square-foot, one bedroom units at the Windsor building will run a little over $800 a month.

The city of Middletown is officially dissolving its housing authority after complaints it tried to kick people off Section 8 rolls. The Middletown Public Housing Authority voted unanimously to dissolve itself yesterday. MPHA will shut down by September, turning over 1,662 Section 8 vouchers to Butler and Warren Counties.

Miami University of Ohio is the most expensive public university in the country, a new study finds, and Ohio’s other public universities are also among the priciest. Miami rings up at a net cost of $24,000 a year after financial aid is considered. As an alum, this makes me wonder if the resale value of their degrees is higher, too. I have one recent-model English/Poli Sci double if any one’s interested… rarely used, buyer takes over payments.

It’s not every day you see your state’s Democratic senator take a selfie with your ultra conservative, Republican governor. But Sen. Sherrod Brown and Gov. John Kasich apparently got cozy for the camera yesterday at The Banks while celebrating the new GE deal. Cincinnati, bringing people together.

Finally, scientists are working on breeding bald chickens that can withstand the increased heat caused by climate change in regions near the equator. That's... terrifying. I imagine they'll be able to do it, though, since they've already been able to genetically engineer the spicy and extra crispy varieties.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.01.2014
Posted In: Courts at 12:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Federal Court Building

Federal Judge Strikes Down Kentucky Gay Marriage Ban

Next showdown will happen at federal appeals court in Cincinnati

A federal judge today ruled Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. But same-sex couples in the state can’t get marriage licenses just yet. 

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that a 2004 amendment to Kentucky's state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law found in the U.S. constitution.

It's another sign that the tide may be turning in the region. The decision comes as a similar ban looks to be in serious legal trouble in Indiana, and just before an August federal court date that will decide questions surrounding the issue in Ohio and other states. Since February last year, federal courts have upheld the right to marry for same-sex couples 19 times.

The decision came in response to a challenge to Kentucky’s ban by two same-sex couples. Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James were denied a marriage license on Jan. 2013. They were charged with trespassing after refusing to leave the Jefferson County Clerk’s office after being turned down for their license. A jury eventually found them guilty, though the two were fined only $1. The two other plaintiffs in the case, Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, applied for a license in February 2013. The two have lived together for 34 years.

The plaintiffs and other same-sex couples looking to marry will have to wait a little longer, though. Heyburn has delayed implementation of his decision until after Aug. 6, when a higher court, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, will hear several gay marriage cases from Kentucky, Ohio and two other states. Those cases will be heard in Cincinnati.

Heyburn, who in February also ruled that the state must recognize same-sex marriages from other states, rejected Kentucky’s reasons for its ban. Lawyers hired by the Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear argued that traditional marriage helps ensure economic stability and a favorable birth rate in the state. The state’s Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend the law on behalf of the state.

“These arguments are not those of serious people,” Heyburn said in his decision. He said there is “no conceivable, legitimate purpose” for the ban, which keeps same-sex couples in the state from enjoying the economic, social and emotional benefits of marriage. These include tax benefits, the ability to share insurance, the ability to adopt children as a couple and other rights.

The ruling continues a wave of recent decisions by federal courts upholding marriage rights for same-sex couples. But there’s still uncertainty even as the tide shifts. Most recently, on June 25, a judge struck down Indiana’s ban, allowing same-sex couples to immediately apply for marriage licenses. That decision was overturned a few days later on appeal, and couples who married in the three-day window are now waiting for a final decision to see if their marriages are valid in the state’s eyes. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.01.2014
Posted In: News at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sherrod brown

Morning News and Stuff

Clinic closing, tax burdens shifting and a 250-foot-long bierwurst

Phew. It's only Tuesday and this week is already shaping up to be super intense. Let's get into it.

One of the Cincinnati area’s two abortion clinics must close, a Hamilton County magistrate said yesterday, though his official ruling on the matter will come July 10.  

Magistrate Michael Bachman’s decision is the next step in a long legal process that began in January, when the Ohio Board of Health ordered Women’s Med clinic in Sharonville to close because it did not comply with an Ohio law requiring all outpatient abortion clinics to have the ability to transfer patients to local hospitals. A 2013 Ohio law made complying with that rule more difficult by prohibiting tax-funded public hospitals from entering into such transfer agreements.

The clinic appealed the decision, asking for a waiver to the rule. That initial request was denied, and as the clinic continues its appeals, a Hamilton County judge ruled it could stay open. Bachman’s ruling, which must be approved by the original judge, would overturn that temporary reprieve. The area’s other clinic is a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn called the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center. If both shut down, Cincinnati will be the largest metropolitan area in the country without access to a local abortion clinic, The Enquirer reports.

• Speaking of questionable decisions regarding women’s health, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine led a group of 19 other Republican AGs who filed a brief supporting Hobby Lobby before the Supreme Court ruled on the recent contraceptive case. The brief likely had little bearing on the final outcome and was more a political gesture from DeWine and others who are dead set against President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The ACA is at the center of the Hobby Lobby case, which involved the company’s refusal to cover under its health insurance plan certain birth control devices it believes cause abortions. Scientists disagree with that assertion, but the court went with Hobby Lobby in a 5 to 4 decision yesterday.

DeWine’s opponent for attorney general, Democrat David Pepper, questioned whether the AG should have been filed the brief on Ohio taxpayers’ dime.

“Hobby Lobby has its own attorneys,” Pepper  said. “They’re good lawyers, some of the best in the country. Let Hobby Lobby make its own arguments.”

* Some of Ohio’s heavy hitters are in town today to celebrate Cincinnati’s new agreement with General Electric. Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Brad Wenstrup and a number of other political and business leaders are set to attend a special ceremony celebrating the deal downtown today. GE’s new site is expected to bring about 2,000 jobs to The Banks when it’s all up and running.

• Also going on downtown today, possibly: I saw a tweet floating around saying that the world’s longest Bierwurst, a 250-foot-long beer-flavored sausage, will be served at Fountain Square at 11:30 am. I haven't been able to confirm that, but you can bet I'll be there to investigate this mysterious meat monstrosity.

A study by State Impact Ohio shows that the tax burden paying for Ohio’s schools has shifted in the past two decades. The business community is paying less and individual homeowners and other small landowners are paying more, according to the study. Individuals paid 46 percent of school taxes in 1991 and now pay 70 percent due to changes in the way businesses are taxed. Ohio schools get much of their operating money from these property taxes.

• This month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was passed July 2 that year. Here’s an in-depth look at how the law came to be and a pretty depressing take on why it probably wouldn’t pass in today’s Congress.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.30.2014
Posted In: News at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pe_streetcar_jf1

Morning News and Stuff

Cincy business leader to head VA, Hobby Lobby wins contracptive case and gangster hippos

The big news this morning is that President Obama will reportedly tap one of Cincinnati’s most prominent business leaders to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been mired in some pretty hefty troubles lately.

Obama is expected to nominate former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald for the post. McDonald has a long military history — he’s a West Point grad and former Army Ranger — as well as having a lot of leadership experience with large, complex organizations. He became just the twelfth CEO at P&G in 2009 and left last year. He’s also the leader of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which has been working to find ways to preserve both Union Terminal and Music Hall.

Despite his impressive resume, McDonald has his work cut out for him. The VA has recently faced a number of charges of mismanagement stemming from botched record keeping and long wait times for care, which critics say have resulted in the deaths of patients.

• In what has to be the biggest national news of the day, the Supreme Court ruled that employers can refuse to offer birth control as part of their insurance packages for religious reasons. The case involves the Hobby Lobby corporation, which refuses to offer contraceptives due to the Christian beliefs of the corporation’s founders. Some polls show that many Americans believe corporations shouldn't be allowed to decide what kinds of items are offered via health insurance, though pro-life groups are applauding the ruling.

The decision split the court 5 to 4, with all five in the majority men. If you're completely befuddled and saddened by the ruling, take heart from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissenting opinion, which truly breathes hot fire. In it, she points out that some forms of contraception can cost a month's wages for minimum wage employees, that the court's ruling opens up a huge grey area about what can and can't be decided by corporations in terms of health care. She also warns that the court has "ventured into a minefield."

• I ride a bike to work so I don’t have to deal with traffic and roads being closed and whatnot. This usually works out great and I get to zip past all the chumps sitting in their idling cars. (Sorry if you drive to work. You’re not really a chump. I just hate driving and am really impatient in the mornings.) Except today. Twelfth and Race is shut down for streetcar work, throwing a serious obstacle in the route I and a lot of other people take. It’s going to be closed for the next six weeks. Also closed for the short-term: 12th and Clay, but that should be back in action Wednesday. Let’s just keep reminding ourselves that this is a sign that progress is happening, and that it’s a good thing. In the meantime, I need to figure out how to build that zip line I’ve been planning from my house to CityBeat’s office.

The Enquirer today has a piece about “boomerang” residents — folks who move away to big metropolises but come back to the Queen City. As one of those folks myself, I feel fairly certain most people move back for the same reasons I did: easy access to Skyline and Putz’s blue soft serve ice cream. Mystery solved.

• An area man is about to go on trial. In North Korea. Jeffery Edward Fowle of Miamisburg visited the isolated totalitarian country in April and has been detained ever since for “hostile acts” against the state. Rumor has it he made disparaging remarks about North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un’s best friend Dennis Rodman and his rebounding skills.

• The Ohio State University welcomes its new president today. Michael Drake will be the school’s 15th head and the first African American to take the post. Drake was previously chancellor of University of California Irvine.

• ISIS, the brutal insurgent group of militants who have taken over a large swath of Iraq and some of Syria, have declared themselves a religious state governing the territory they’ve captured. That declaration is a challenge to the U.S.-supported Iraqi government's sovereignty and a new level of trouble for the already chaotic country. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is making moves to take back some ground they’ve lost to ISIS, and Iran has pledged to fight the group as well, suggesting no end on the horizon for the bloody conflict.

* Finally, Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar has been dead for two decades, but Smithsonian reports his legacy lives on in the form of the country's hippo infestation. That's gangster.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.27.2014
Posted In: News at 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Not-Quite-Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati startups, downtown grocery and income inequality

So I'm a bit late with news this morning, or the morning was a bit early, one of those. It probably has something to do with CityBeat winning six Cincinnati SPJ awards last night. Though I wasn't part of the team in 2013 when those awards were earned, I did my part by putting in extra hours celebrating.

Anyway, enough about us. Here's what's going on in the world.

Cincinnati’s startup community got some love yesterday when America Online cofounder Steve Case rolled into town with his Rise of the Rest tour, which celebrates entrepreneurs in American cities. Case praised Cincinnati’s progress in bringing vitality back to its downtown area and credited that renaissance at least in part to the city’s startups and young entrepreneurs.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzger, who is riding shotgun on the tour, also praised the Queen City for the level of access startups have to the large corporations in town. She said what the city needs now is a big hit — a startup that really makes it big and shows the world that Cincinnati is a great place to start a business.

Mayor John Cranley was in the mix as well, touting Cincinnati’s strengths as a marketing town. He called the city “the best place in the world” for marketing entrepreneurs. While that’s kind of like your parents talking about how awesome you are to their work colleagues (of course he’s going to say that), Cranley’s point holds some weight — with so many big companies in town needing all sorts of fresh ideas, it can’t hurt to be living at their doorstep if you’re hoping to do some business with them.

One Cincinnati startup, called Frameri, got $100,000 from Case and an invitation to pitch their business in Washington, D.C. Frameri, which makes high-style glasses with interchangeable frames and lenses, beat out seven other local businesses in a pitch competition. The company is an alum of OTR’s business incubator The Brandery. No word from Case yet on my business idea, which involves a food delivery service that launches burritos from those pneumatic tubes you see in old bank building drive-thrus. Still waiting for that call, Steve…

• In other downtown news, Kroger is adjusting its ideas about starting a grocery store in the Central Business District. The Business Courier reports that Kroger CEO Roger McMullen discussed the chain’s plans for a downtown store at yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting, revealing that less may be more in the company’s eyes. Kroger had been mulling a full-size store here but is now considering something smaller and more specialized.

• Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and other Democrats held an event this morning near UC criticizing Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature for the low level of funding for higher education in the state. Democrats also gathered in Columbus to protest dwindling education spending, which they say make college unaffordable for many Ohio families. One talking point — Ohio’s budget spends less than 10 percent on higher education for the first time in four decades. Gov. Kasich has acknowledged that college affordability is a problem but says schools need to do more to cut costs and make sure degrees lead to good-paying jobs.

The Associated Press reports that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is having a difficult time documenting how it goes about choosing law firms for special assignments. DeWine says there’s a rigorous process used to vet firms and decide who gets the lucrative state contracts, but public records request by AP found… nothing. It’s entirely possible that the AG’s dog ate the records or that maybe DeWine just keeps all that info in his head. The revelation comes as allegations are being made that these kinds of contracts are often awarded to firms who donate to the state Republican party. DeWine’s opponent for the AG post, Cincinnati-based lawyer David Pepper, has said DeWine’s office is engaged in a “pay to play” arrangement. DeWine, however, says his office’s choices are transparent and fair.

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that political polarization, which is at an all-time high, contributes to income inequality. This is kind of like a two-for-one in the “hot political topics” world. The study doesn’t go so far as to nail down why the gap between America’s political ideologies tracks so closely with the gap in rich and poor Americans’ incomes, but it does make a couple guesses, which are worth reading about. Basically, it may have to do with the country’s rightward shift toward policies that tend to benefit more wealthy citizens. Or heck, maybe it’s just a big crazy coincidence and the tea party really will make everything great for everyone if we only embrace their Mad-Max style dreams for a government-less future. Could be.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.26.2014
Posted In: Labor Unions at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Group Asks Kroger to Support Farm Workers

Coalition for Immokalee Workers pushes for higher wages, better treatment

Oscar Otzoy, center left, stands with fellow protesters outside a Kroger shareholder meeting at Music Hall
Nick Swartsell

 A national group working to convince companies to change the way they buy produce picketed Kroger's annual shareholder meeting Thursday.

About 100 activists showed up, holding signs and chanting as shareholders filed into the meeting at Music Hall. Some were local, while others came from Columbus, Florida and elsewhere.

The group organizing the event, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is based in Immokalee, Fla., and pushes for higher wages and improved working conditions for farm laborers. A large amount of produce production takes place in Florida and throughout the South, and the industry is rife with complaints of worker exploitation and mistreatment.

Hundreds of thousands of farm workers labor in Florida, and many make just pennies per pound picked, meaning it can take picking a couple tons a day to make a living wage. That’s if they make any money at all. Florida has prosecuted a number of cases of slave labor in the agricultural industry in the past decade and a half, leading to the discovery of more than 1,000 people being exploited for unpaid slave labor.

The adverse conditions affect people of color disproportionately. A study by the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that 50 percent of low-wage workers in the food industry are people of color, and that 65 percent of low-wage farm workers are Hispanic.

CIW started in 1993 as a small, local coalition working to improve these conditions, specifically working with tomato pickers. The group began near the city of Immokalee in southwest Florida, known as “the tomato capital of the world.” The organization had big success pushing for higher wages and better treatment and has grown to become a national-level organizing group for workers.


Oscar Otzoy picks produce and advocates for farm labor rights. He’s working in Columbus now but lived in Immokalee for eight years before that. He's been involved in the coalition to improve farm workers’ rights that entire time.

He says before the coalition, working days in the fields were long, and workers had little recourse when they were mistreated.

“Back then, you’d work long, hard hours, and if you were abused in the fields, if you were a victim of sexual harassment, as many women are, there was no system,” he said. “If workers wanted to complain, they would be fired on the spot. That’s all changing now.”

Otzoy says the life of a farm laborer can be hard, especially without groups like the CIW.

“You wake up very early in the morning, usually about 4 a.m., and then get on a bus to the field to work,” said Otzoy, describing a typical day before he joined the coalition. “But when you get there, you usually don’t start working until about 10 a.m., when the pesticides have dried and it’s safe to enter. All the time in between is unpaid.”


Protesters picket as Kroger shareholders enter Music Hall
Nick Swartsell
The CIW’s Fair Food Program, an effort to address some of the hardships of work in the produce industry, pushes for an extra cent per pound paid to workers, supports a code of conduct for companies and educates workers about their rights. CIW says the Fair Food Program has resulted in $12 million in extra pay for workers since it was first instituted.

McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Chipotle, Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Wal Mart, among other large companies responsible for billions of dollars in the produce trade, have all participated in the Fair Food Program. Some staunch holdouts include Wendy’s and Publix, a Southern grocery store chain.

Kroger is another company that has yet to join in.

“We’ve been here every year, and we’re trying to grow our numbers,” said Sameerah Ahmad, a local organizer working with CIW at the protest. “We’ve been organizing these protests for a few years. We want to show escalation and pressure and show we’re not going way.

Kroger is the nation’s largest grocer after Wal-Mart, with total sales of more than $34 billion. The chain has not yet responded to calls to join fair food efforts. While the company itself hasn’t participated directly in any known agricultural injustices, Ahmad said that as part of the produce industry, the company should make sure it’s sourcing its food ethically.

“Kroger can take a big step by supporting workers’ rights in the fields,” she said.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.26.2014
Posted In: News at 08:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_breweryexhibitatbettshouse_clyffsidebrewery_stevenhampton

Morning News and Stuff

Council goes on summer vacation, Cincy's breweries get some national love and there's a bear out there

Alright, it’s pretty early in the morning for me, so please forgive me for the following hokey, news-related metaphor.

Cincinnati City Council is about to go on summer vacation, but they’ve spent the past few days doing all their homework, including at least one pretty tough math problem. Yesterday they turned their work in, giving final approval for deals that will bring more than 4,000 jobs to the city. These include an eventual 600 new jobs from Cincinnati Bell, which is consolidating its operations downtown, and another 650 new jobs from Catholic Health Partners, which is moving to Bond Hill.

They also made some more controversial decisions, including giving 3CDC preferred developer status over 33 properties north of Liberty Street. The neighborhood’s community council has balked at that idea, saying room needs to be made for independent developers, affordable housing and community input.

The toughest fight came over what to do about two affordable housing projects vying for the same pot of $1.9 million. In the end, council’s Budget and Finance Committee did some subtraction, giving $1.3 million to Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and holding back the rest for supportive permanent housing, possibly in the form a project in Avondale, though that project has received some criticism.

• Mayor John Cranley was scheduled to join U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzger and America Online co-founder Steve Case at Fountain Square this morning to talk about start-ups and entrepreneurialism. The event kicked off at 9:30 a.m. and was part of the “Rise of the Rest” tour, which celebrates start-up culture in America’s cities.

• The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been all over Cincinnati of late. A few days ago, it put two Cincinnati buildings on its list of 11 most endangered in the country. But it’s also given the city some positive attention, penning this blog/love letter to Cincinnati’s brewery scene. Aw shucks, thanks guys.

There’s a bear out there, and he’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. The black bear seemingly wandered into Ohio from Kentucky sometime earlier this week and has most recently been spotted in Montgomery. An Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesperson told WXIX that the bear is “looking for a girlfriend” and that the limited bear population in Ohio means he’ll probably have little luck. Which makes me wonder: Whose job it is to teach this bear how to use Tinder?

Ohio has seen its Hispanic populations grow in every county except one, even as the state’s non-Hispanic population declines. The state gained about 32,000 people who identify as Hispanic between 2010 and now, and lost 7,000 people identifying as non-Hispanic. The ethnic designation is a bit problematic — it has nothing to do with race and identifies people from a range of countries with a range of backgrounds — but in general refers to those who identify with cultures from Mexico, Central or South America. The boost in the Hispanic population isn’t so much due to immigration, demographers say, as it is to birthrate. More American-born Hispanics have recently come of age and started having children, according to the study done by the Census Bureau.

• A recent study suggests America's housing situation is about to change dramatically as more of the Millennial generation surges into the housing market. That could have huge implications for rental costs, housing availability in the city and the supply of affordable housing, experts say.

• Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-West Chester, is threatening to sue the Obama administration over his use of executive orders and his supposed failure at enforcing laws properly. The suit is also rumored to include a dispute over a used 1986 Pontiac Firebird Boehner bought from Obama on Craigslist that Boehner says has a pretty bad oil leak. No, no, it's actually just the first two. Because you know, Congress has been SO SO GOOD at its job lately.

• Finally, it’s been a mixed-up ride for the tea party of late. The insurgent conservative movement gained a huge victory when House candidate David Brat toppled Majority Leader Eric Cantor. But bruising primary results in other states, including Mississippi, haven’t been great for the movement. There, incumbent  Senator Thad Cochran held on to his seat even after he was down in the primary election to tea partier and State Senator Chris McDaniel. But Cochran thumped McDaniel in a runoff election. Other primaries taking place in the past few days have shown similar results. The losses certainly don’t represent the end of the conservative phenomenon, but it seems candidates sponsored by outside groups like Club for Growth and Freedomworks are not gaining the traction conservative activists had hoped for. Which, you know, is great, because these guys are usually pretty nuts.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.25.2014
Posted In: City Council at 11:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
avondale housing

A Win-Win of Sorts for Affordable Housing

Council funds one development and leaves the door open for another

A deal approved by City Council June 25 splits the city’s limited funds among two affordable housing projects, funding one one in Over-the-Rhine and leaving the door open for another that’s been in the works for the last few years in Avondale.

The compromise didn’t come without contentiousness, though.

A 100-unit permanent supportive housing project called Commons of Alaska first proposed in 2008 for Avondale has received support from the majority of council in the past, including indications it would get $500,000 in funding toward the facility. But the project has also been delayed as some in Avondale have protested the plans by Columbus-based National Church Residences.

As controversy stalled the Avondale project, Over the Rhine Community Housing put together an unrelated plan to buy up and rehab affordable housing in the Pendleton District in eastern Over-the-Rhine. The city administration indicated to OTRCH that it would be able to use $1.9 million in federal grant money the city holds to help purchase and restore the properties.

Just a couple catches — that’s all the grant money the city has for affordable housing and it’s the same pool of money that would have gone to NCR for Avondale. The NCR project has been around longer, but some council members are adamantly against it and groups in Avondale opposed to the Commons are vocal and active, continually voicing their opposition to the project.

The Pendleton plan has its own drawbacks. Originally, the plan called for all the available grant money for just 40 units of housing. NCR’s plan called for just a quarter of the funds. OTRCH says the properties in question are very neglected, despite having been rehabbed in the 1990s. They must also be purchased first, which accounts for much of the big price tag.

As City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee met June 23, it looked like a battle was shaping up over the money. But it wasn’t to be, and compromise won the day.

“Affordable housing and permanent supportive housing are in our heart, they’re what we do,” said Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of OTRCH. “It’s a really difficult position to be in right now, because we support the NCR project.”

Rivers asked the Budget Committee to work with both developers to figure out a way to do both projects.

Vice Mayor David Mann offered an amendment to give $1.3 million to OTRCH and hold the other $500,000 or so in grant funds until the NCR project can be sorted out or until another supportive housing project can be worked out. The Budget Committee, and subsequently council, passed that deal.

OTRCH, which had looked likely to get all the $1.9 million it requested, agreed to scale back plans and make the lower funding work so both projects could be done. That doesn’t mean the NCR project has a green light, however.

An alternate site in another part of Avondale is under consideration, but there are a number of procedural hurdles and opposition is still loud against the project.

Some resident groups there say Avondale already has a high concentration of low-income housing, a result of historic inequalities in city planning going back to the 1960s.

Ruth Johnson Watts said she’s lived in North Avondale since 1963.

“When will we stop this trend of keeping crime and poverty concentrated in one or a few neighborhoods?" she asked. "We’re saying that Avondale has reached the capacity for poverty and crime without the necessities of life in our community, like grocery stores, a pharmacy and jobs.”

At least part of the objection to the project is the nature of permanent supportive housing, which provides affordable housing and recovery resources for those who would otherwise be homeless due to addiction problems, mental health issues or disabilities.

Advocates say the housing is a necessary step in a multiple-tiered path out of homelessness, starting when an individual enters a temporary shelter and ending when they are able to achieve independent housing. The city’s Homeless to Homes program calls for supportive housing like the Commons at Alaska would provide, but currently the city only has about 15 percent of the units called for in the plan.

NCR has won national recognition for its work with rehabilitative housing, but the group has caught flack for lack of community outreach in Avondale.

Councilmember Christopher Smitherman lambasted the developer during the Budget Committee meeting, saying the group’s efforts to inform Avondale residents about their plan wasn’t good enough and that NCR should be sending letters to every property owner in the area.

“This isn’t complicated, this community engagement,” he said. “It really frustrates me that we’re here talking about a project where those community stakeholders haven’t even been properly identified and communicated with."

Amy Rosenthal of NCR said the group has reached out to half a dozen key individuals and groups in the area and will continue to work with the community.

During council’s final vote on the compromise yesterday, Councilmember Yvette Simpson suggested that instead of simply opposing more affordable housing in the neighborhood, other council members and Avondale residents should oppose those who aren’t doing the job well.

She said her mother had once been placed in what she called sub-standard permanent supportive housing in Avondale.

“The reality is, when you have a great provider for the people who need it, it can be a stability point for the community as opposed to the many facilities in Avondale and throughout our city that are taking a check from people, and people are wandering off,” Simpson said.

She recalled a personal experience.

“My mother walked home from Avondale to Lincoln Heights and nobody knew she was gone. As someone who has lived with this my entire life, evaluating, trying to find a safe place for a parent, it’s real — you know the difference.”
 
 

 

 

 
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