There are times in some bands’ careers when, in order to take the next step forward, it first has to take a step back.
That is what has occurred with Cincinnati-based desert-rockers Valley of the Sun between the release of 2013’s Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk and the recently-released album Volume Rock. For the new full-length (issued in late April through Swedish-based label Fuzzorama Records), the duo — guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier and drummer Aaron Boyer — has toned down some of Thunderhawk’s more eclectic and intricate tendencies in favor of bombastic and driving rhythms. This has resulted in album that has lost a little musical depth, but has gained a far greater grip on the listener’s ear.
Volume Rock establishes its tonal shift right out of the gate with a trio of absolutely monumental Rock & Roll bangers. “Eternal Forever,” “Wants and Needs” and “The Hunt” showcase the strengths that Valley has spent so much time and effort honing. Ferrier’s soaring vocals have a range and power that commands the listener’s attention, while Boyer hits his cymbals with the strength of a meteor crash, his playing drawing your attention whenever Ferrier isn’t on the mic. Weaving throughout is Ferrier’s clean and infectious guitar work, with riff layered upon riff and crafting an auditory sandwich that headbangers are sure to want of bite of. But VotS retains its deeper side on Volume Rock, with Ferrier’s lyrics carrying many of his ongoing themes of higher consciousness, personal introspection and Earth’s natural beauty. It’s just that on this go around, the lyrics are wrapped in even more hooks, making the tracks more instantly and irresistibly sing-along-worthy.
This isn’t to say that Volume Rock is simple or toned down. It’s just that the flourishes found within seem designed to be more easily replicated (and perhaps more impactful) live, and overall there is a more natural feel to the songs. Hand claps, tambourine, a 12-string guitar interlude in “Land of Fools” and other ornamentation give the album a fresh sound while still keeping the tonal theme running through the entirety of its nine tracks.
Like Thunderhawk, Volume Rock features a reworking of a track from VotS’s first EP, 2010’s five-song Two Thousand Ten. But whereas Thunderhawk’s version of “Centaur Rodeo” added different drumming parts and a few other embellishments, Volume Rock’s re-do of “I Breathe the Earth” is more heavily tweaked, bolstering the song’s strengths and mending some weaknesses, while also adding more than a minute to its original running time. The backing vocals are stronger and more dynamic, the guitar tone has more depth and the drumming sounds fuller. With “Earth,” Valley of the Sun was able to take a song that longtime fans already loved and make it even better.
While Volume Rock is undoubtedly a fast and furious LP, fans of the VotS’s more expansive work will still find plenty to love. Of special note is “Speaketh the Shaman” and album closer, “Empty Visions.” Both songs exceed the five-minute mark (not uncommon for the band), showcasing Ferrier’s guitar work by giving the licks more room to breathe. Ferrier’s vocals also expand to throat-ripping levels, and the combination of his guitar and voice swirl through the tracks like the smoke from a, uh, “cigarette,” filling your speakers with righteous Desert Rock majesty.
In many ways, Volume Rock’s name says it all. This is an album that deserves to be turned to 11. It’s the perfect accompaniment to rolled-down windows, long stretches of highway and summer heat. Valley of the Sun spent three years between releases and the musicians used the time to focus on what made the band what it is, and then pushing those qualities to the forefront. In that respect, Volume Rock is a success — while there may be less going on in each song, there’s more of the band’s essence and identity throughout the album. And that identity is too loud to be snubbed.
Valley of the Sun is currently on another extensive tour overseas promoting Volume Rock, which is available in the States on most major digital platforms (like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Spotify). Certain mail-order services (like Amazon and musicdirect.com) also offer the hard-copy versions on CD and vinyl. You can also stream or purchase the album at Fuzzorama’s Bandcamp site here, or by clicking one of the embedded tracks above.
Hey hey Cincinnati. It’s gorgeous, it’s Friday, it’s spring, so let’s get this news thing over with quickly.
Let’s play good news, bad news, shall we? First, a new ranking puts Cincinnati as the top city in the country for recent college grads when it comes to jobs. That ranking from ZipRecruiter.com, a job-searching site, considered job availability, number of young folks in a city, affordability and a number of other measures when putting together its list. Good news, it would seem.
• Bad news: A program that provides low-cost or free bus fare for the city’s lowest income residents is in danger of disappearing, possibly exacerbating Cincinnati’s already difficult transit situation. Everybody Rides Metro works with 100 social service providers in the area to make sure some 30,000 low-income folks have access to transit so they can get to jobs and other important places. But the nonprofit is facing the loss of $200,000 a year from the federal government, a big chunk of its budget.
• Are you ready for the election? In 2017? Local political players are already gearing up for what is sure to be an intense contest as both Council and mayoral elections jump off. Mayor John Cranley is preparing by… going to Columbus. Cranley made the trip to the capital last week for a Democratic fundraiser for his reelection campaign. “I have to prepare to defend myself,” the mayor told media after the event. Cranley’s had a tough year, with the resounding defeat of a parks ballot initiative he went all-in on, the tumultuous dismissal of Cincinnati Police Department Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and other rocky events over the past 365 days. Cranley doesn’t have any confirmed primary or general election opponents yet, though Councilwoman Yvette Simpson’s name has been floated as a possible challenger.
• Speaking of the mayor of Cincinnati, a major TV show threw a diss our way yesterday. The season finale of Scandal, a political drama that kinda makes hyper-unrealistic House of Cards look like a documentary, got a low blow in during a particularly dramatic moment. The plot points are complicated, but basically, a fictional former GOP president is throwing support behind his ex-wife, the current GOP nominee, after passing on an endorsement in the primary. As he does, though, he tells her he doesn’t get any respect, saying, “You're treating me like an unpopular, first-term mayor of Cincinnati, Mellie.”
Some folks have wondered whether this is a Cranley putdown, but that seems incredibly unlikely. Most viewers of a overheated political soap opera are unlikely to to be aware of a medium-sized city’s mayor, especially one who hasn’t been embroiled in any national controversy. A slightly more likely, but still remote possibility: The line is a crack on former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer, who, well, you know. The most likely possibility, however, is that Cincinnati here is used as shorthand for “unimportant Midwestern city.” It’s a name people know, but don’t really know anything about. It’s in Ohio, perennially the punchline for flyover country jokes (you could fill a book with the slights Cleveland has received in pop culture in the last decade). So, clever joke about our mayor, or lazy joke about our city? I’m betting on the latter.
• The U.S. Department of Education has instructed public schools that they must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms corresponding with their expressed gender identities. Bathroom rights for transgender people have been a big issue since North Carolina passed a law restricting access to bathrooms for transgender people, who the state says need to use restrooms corresponding to their physical sex, not to the gender identity they express. The Department of Education says that such laws, and similar rules created in schools, violate Title IX, the federal government's anti-sex discrimination law.
• Finally, I’ve already taken you ahead to the 2017 election. Let’s press onward to 2018! Why not? God knows this year isn’t providing enough excitement and stress for us all. Anyway, Ohio’s gubernatorial race two years from now may already be lining up, with popular former Democratic state lawmaker Connie Pillich making motions like she’s going to run. Pillich won’t confirm the rumors herself, but many state party officials say she’s considering it. She’s also stacked a large amount of cash — nearly $150,000 — in her campaign fund, even though she doesn’t face reelection this year. Pillich ran for State Treasurer in 2014, but lost to GOPer Josh Mandel during a very, very tough year for state Democrats. Pillich, from Cincinnati, polled a full 10 points ahead of the Democrat gubernatorial candidate that year. The 55-year-old Air Force veteran says she’s focused on aiding Democrats in the 2016 presidential and down-ballot races, but it’s never too early to save for future projects, eh?
Many in the faith and social service communities cheered the move, though some city officials and residents expressed concerns, mostly related to undocumented immigrants.
The IDs, which will be funded by the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati and issued by Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio, aim to give individuals without state IDs a level of dignity while guaranteeing they will be quickly served by first responders, police and other city personnel. MARCC represents 17 religious denominations active in Cincinnati.
Ronnie Phillips, who is a Streetvibes vendor and Cincinnati resident, says the new ID would be vital to daily life for those who don’t have state ID. Phillips said the cards could be a stepping stone toward getting jobs or housing for those who don’t have government-issued ID cards.
Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Josh Spring calls the cards “a first step” toward that larger goal.
The IDs won’t be a replacement for state IDs when it comes to applying for jobs and housing, where federal regulations require government identification. However, city officials including Mayor John Cranley and Democrats on Council hope the cards will still help those without other government IDs, especially when interacting with emergency personnel.
“This resolution is important because our police know that when individual victims fail to report crime, it emboldens criminals to act again without consequence,” Mayor John Cranley said at a news conference before Council’s vote. “Vulnerable citizens, returning citizens, non-driving senior citizens and others who lack the ability to obtain a state-issued ID are often reluctant to report crimes, even when they’ve been victimized personally. Having an ID that will encourage people to report crimes will make our city safer.”
Cranley says the Cincinnati Police Department has been involved in the months-long effort to set up the ID program and has agreed to recognize the MARCC IDs.
The card will cost $15 and be good for a year at a time. Programs will be available to help provide the cards to those who cannot afford the fee.
“The MARCC ID may seem like a little thing if you already have an ID,” said Catholic Charities CEO Ted Berg. “If you don’t have an ID, it’s a way to protect the human rights of the most vulnerable and a way to give someone something that identifies them as part of the community.”
Berg says immigrants fleeing violence in Central America, including many women and children, desperately need measures to keep them safer.
“The need for this is significant. It doesn’t give [legal] status to anyone,” said Kurt Grossman, Immigration Chair for the American Jewish Committee of Cincinnati. Grossman is also a member of Mayor Cranley’s Immigration Taskforce, which generated the ID concept. “The city doesn’t have the authority to do that – that’s a matter of federal law — but it does bring dignity and safety to a broad spectrum of our community.”
Some on Council balked at voting for the resolution, instead abstaining over what they said were lingering questions about the ID program.
Councilman Kevin Flynn said he had reservations because he thought the program created the perception that the cards would solve problems they couldn’t actually tackle, including the need for ID when applying for jobs and housing. Flynn said he supported the idea in theory, but joined fellow council members Amy Murray, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman in abstaining from the vote on the resolution.
Murray said she liked the general idea of the IDs, but was concerned about the vetting process involved in issuing them and what forms of foreign ID would be accepted for undocumented individuals seeking the IDs.
Many crowded into Council chambers to speak about the program. Most expressed support, but some pushed back, citing opposition to undocumented immigrants.
“I understand Cincinnati wants to be a welcoming city. But there is a legal way for people to get an ID,” said Richard Hahn, who spoke before Council against the resolution. “It’s the Ohio state ID. In the case of an illegal alien or undocumented immigrant, it is against federal law to aid them in this way. What’s to prevent one from obtaining the ID document under different names? Ricardo one day, maybe Jose the next.”
Officials from Catholic Charities say the vetting process for the IDs for undocumented people will include reviewing identification information from other countries, including passports, driver’s licenses and consular IDs. Catholic Charities officials say they expect to issue between 2,000 and 3,000 cards in the program’s first year.
The law, signed by Gov. John Kasich in February, bars any organization from receiving federal funding if it provides abortions that are not medically necessary or from pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. When it goes into effect later this month, Planned Parenthood of Ohio, the largest abortion provider in the state, will lose $1.4 million, which it says does not go to fund its abortion services.
Planned Parenthood of Ohio and Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio Region's lawsuit says the law is unconstitutional, claiming it could affect tens of thousands of Ohioans' access to health care, disproportionally targeting minorities and low-income people.
“We are in court because everyone deserves access to quality, affordable, compassionate care no matter who you are or where you are from," Iris E. Harvey, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, says. "Let’s call this what it is, an attack on people who already have the least access to care, all in the name of politics.”
Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio serves 20 counties and says 75 percent of its patients are low-income.
In an amendment attached to the House bill, lawmakers redirected $250,000 into other community health organizations that do not provide abortions.
But Planned Parenthood claims these clinics aren't immediately in a position to fill the health care gaps it would leave, which would include 70,000 free STD screenings it provides through a Centers for Disease Control program and 5,000 free HIV tests for populations at high risk for the virus.
"Even if other health care providers are eventually able to provide similar services," the lawsuit reads, "many patients’ health care and access to other services will be disrupted because other providers are not prepared to assume responsibility for those services."
On the other hand, if Planned Parenthood chooses to comply with the law to receive funding by ceasing to provide abortions at its Mount Auburn clinic, Cincinnati would become the largest metropolitan area in the country without an abortion provider. The organization argues that this also creates a constitutionally prohibited "undue burden" to obtain the procedure by forcing women to travel as far as Columbus or Cleveland.
The law is the latest in a series of laws passed under the Kasich administration targeting abortion providers. More than half of Ohio's abortion clinics have closed since Kasich took office in 2011.
Good morning, Cincy! Here are your morning headlines.
• Cincinnati City Council is expected to vote today on whether the city will accept a city ID card issued by the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati that is targeted towards homeless individuals, undocumented immigrants and those transitioning back into the community from incarceration. Mayor John Cranley, Councilmembers P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach and Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac, along with other community leaders, are holding a press conference at 11 a.m. in front of City Hall to present the details of the card's plan.
• The former acting chief of staff at the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Clinic is fighting back against recent disciplinary action taken against her by the Feds. Dr. Barbara Temeck was removed from her high-ranking position last February, after the Department of Veterans Affairs said it found that she was unlawfully prescribing medication to another VA employee's spouse. Temeck, who was demoted to a data-entry position, says the move was made in retaliation for her efforts to call out the inappropriate overreach into the clinic by UC Health and medical-school officials that caused a decline in the quality of care and wasted millions of tax dollars in overtime pay. Temeck filed a complaint in March with the Office of Special Council, a federal agency that protects whistleblowers.
• The long-awaited streetcar is inching closer to opening to the public. The contractors who build the streetcar recently pitched in $40,000 for its opening, and Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority says it's been working behind the scenes for four months to the opening that has not been set, but will likely be in the first half of September. SORTA did reveal that it will offer a $10 all-you-can-ride token for the first week of the streetcar's operation and will allow the public to buy streetcar tickets online.
• The Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would legalize medical marijuana—with many, many restrictions. The bill, which lawmakers spent months debating and tweaking in committee, would allow patients with just 20 different diseases to use the drug in a vapor form and would require users with a prescription to have a special state-issued ID. Smoking the plant would remain illegal and plants grown for medicinal use could only contain 35 percent THC. One of bill's more controversial stipulations would still allow employers to fire employees if marijuana is found in their system, even if ingested legally. The bill will now move onto the state's Senate where, it it passes, it will move onto Gov. John Kasich's desk to be signed into law.
For some sufferers of chronic and painful diseases, a new (or at least newly legal) form of relief might be on the way.
After lengthy debate, the Ohio House of Representatives today passed a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in certain, highly specific circumstances and forms.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steven A Huffman (R-Tipp City), would allow patients suffering from 20 diseases including cancer, AIDS and epilepsy to buy and ingest the drug via a vaporizer, which converts the plant into steam instead of smoke. Plants grown for medicinal use could contain only 35 percent THC. Home growing would not be permitted, and smoking marijuana is still illegal, necessitating the other ingestion methods.
Those and a slew of other stipulations, including one that allows employers to discipline or fire employees with marijuana in their systems even if it was ingested legally, are the results of months of wrangling between lawmakers over the bill.
That drew the ire of some state lawmakers, including State Rep. Alicia Reece, a Democrat who represents Cincinnati. Reece expressed concerns that the proviso allowing employers to punish medicinal marijuana use could fall more heavily on African Americans.
Despite disagreement over details, the bill passed easily, 70-25. Even conservative Republican lawmakers wanted to pass some medicinal marijuana legislation ahead of two ballot initiatives that could come before voters in November that would legalize medicinal marijuana. But that was where the agreement ended, at least until today.
As it neared passage, the bill got much stricter and now includes requirements that patients seeking medicinal marijuana have a special state-issued ID card, limiting patients to a 90-day supply of the drug, along with other limitations.
On the other hand, some changes could create more access to the drug. Those include a provision that would find ways to help eligible military veterans afford medicinal marijuana and removing the drug from the most dangerous state drug classification to a lower, less serious one.
The bill now goes on to the state Senate, where lawmakers are expected to make further slight tweaks. Once it passes there, it will go to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s desk. Kasich has expressed openness to giving the green light to limited legalization of medicinal marijuana. Polling in Ohio shows a large majority of citizens here favor the move.
Good morning all. Here’s the news today.
Cincinnati City Council will vote Wednesday on whether the city should accept ID cards for homeless residents and undocumented immigrants. The resolution, which a local coalition of religious groups has been advocating for months, would make Cincinnati the first city in the state to accept the cards issued by the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati, which includes Jewish, Catholic, Islamic, Baptist and other faith groups. The cards are designed to provide an added sense of dignity and ease the process of finding housing, employment and other necessities for immigrants, homeless individuals and those returning from incarceration.
• Former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing is in court this morning for another pretrial hearing related to charges against him in the shooting death of unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose. Tensing’s attorneys say he was afraid of being dragged under DuBose’s car when he shot the motorist in the head. Inititally, Tensing said that DuBose began driving away before he was shot, and that the officer was dragged by DuBose’s car. Body camera footage contradicted those statements, however. Tensing will stand trial on murder and manslaughter chargers in October.
• Former House Speaker and West Chester resident John Boehner might no longer be campaigning for office or directing floor votes in the House, but he does still have some skin in the political game. Namely, he has about $2.5 million in reelection campaign accounts that have few restrictions in terms of usage. Boehner has been using this money to keep in politics from beyond retirement, giving some to Republican colleagues for their own reelection bids and for other political projects. That’s pretty routine, as there are few regulations on how retired politicians spend their campaign funds, so long as they don’t go all Tom Haverford and decide to treat themselves to the cash. Boehner’s leftover funds are noteworthy mostly for the amount of money sitting in those old accounts, the spoils of one of the GOP’s top fundraisers.
• Ohio’s prison population has risen 15 percent in the past decade, according to a report from a committee convened by lawmakers to study possible changes in Ohio’s justice system. That increase has happened despite a decrease in crime rates and almost entirely stems from drug-related incarcerations. Today, Ohio’s prisons are at 132 percent of their intended capacity. Despite continued low crime rates, Ohio’s prison population could hit a record high this summer, experts warn.
• Democrat presidential primary front runner Hillary Clinton will open up a campaign office in Covington, officials with her election bid announced yesterday. The campaign will launch in-person canvassing efforts as well as phone voter engagement efforts from the forthcoming HQ, which will be on Pike Street. Clinton has a big delegate lead over opponent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders ahead of Kentucky’s May 17 Democratic primary.
• Speaking of Clinton, a new poll shows her trailing presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in Ohio, but only by the slimmest of margins. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Trump leading Clinton 43 to 39 among Ohioans, though the poll has a three percent margin of error. That’s in contrast to results for Clinton’s opponent Sanders, who leads Trump in that poll by two points. Clinton leads Trump in that poll in other vital swing states Pennsylvania and Florida by small margins. The Quinnipiac poll contradicts other recent polling showing Clinton leading in Ohio, and national polls show Clinton beating Trump by a larger margin. With or without Ohio, Trump faces a challenging electoral college map this November.
A community group representing Clifton residents has taken issue with a survey sent out by Cincinnati Public Schools that could influence the fate of the embattled Clifton Cultural Arts Center.
CityBeat reported last week on the battle over the Clifton School Building, which is currently occupied by the CCAC. The arts organization has leased the building on Clifton Avenue from CPS since 2008, though CPS recently told the arts center that it is considering terminating its lease and taking the building back.
As part of its outreach to neighborhood residents ahead of the decision about the building, which could come as early as the end of this month, CPS sent out a survey to 11,817 Clifton residents to gauge the neighborhood's interest in the school. The district also sent out a similar version of the survey to 860 families in Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview (CUF) and Spring Grove Village, which would also be using the proposed school.
But in a May 9 letter addressed to the CPS Board of Education members and CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan, CTM President Eric Urbas writes that the organization believes the survey asks confusing and biased questions.
"We warned the Administration that the survey was flawed, but it was sent out anyway," the letter reads. "Now we are alerting you that if the survey results are used, they will only lead to bad decisions."
Results are due back by May 15, according to CPS spokeswoman Janet Walsh. The survey's results will factor into CPS's decision on whether to create a new school in the current home of the CCAC, which the arts center currently leases from CPS for $1 in rent per year along with the cost of the building's pricey upkeep. The arts group has also poured more than $2 million into the building for upgrades and renovations.
Walsh says CPS had discussions with Clifton Town Meeting about the survey, which was written by the CPS Board of Education and CPS staff members, but says community input goes beyond Clifton residents.
"We don't have time to have the world sign on to it," Walsh says. "We're just trying to get information in a timely manner."
Malcolm Montgomery, the vice president of Clifton Town Meeting, says CTM's concerns with CPS go beyond just the survey. It would like to see the district host more community meetings and discussions before it goes forward with any plan to build a new school.
ART: PANG JEN AND BRUCE RILEY AT MILLER GALLERYKnown for his soft, bright oil paintings which have the look of pastels, Chinese-born American immigrant and artist Pang Jen’s romantic compositions will be on view at Miller Gallery in Hyde Park beginning Wednesday. Pang’s work often consists of still-lifes and landscapes, which include women and children as well as traditional Chinese boats, and Miller Gallery curators have juxtaposed Pang’s solo show with an exhibition of the equally colorful yet far more conceptual work of Chicago-based abstract artist Bruce Riley. Through June 25. Free. 2715 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, millergallery.com.
MUSIC: PURPLE REIGNS: A CELEBRATION OF THE MUSIC OF PRINCE
The shock of Prince’s sudden death last
month hasn’t waned, and tributes to the iconic musician continue to flow
(most recently, Madonna and Stevie Wonder paid tribute to him at the Billboard
Music Awards). This weekend, a local tribute featuring a diverse array
of artists will honor Prince’s huge contribution to the music world. The
event is hosted by Cincinnati-born Funk legend Bootsy Collins and his
wife Pepperminte Patti, with proceeds going to the Bootsy Collins
Foundation, an umbrella group for Collins’ many charitable undertakings
(from supporting music education to promoting oral health care). The
lineup includes artists who’ve worked with Prince (drummer John
Blackwell and bassist MonoNeon), local singer/songwriters like Jess Lamb
and Kelly Richey and Bootsy’s group, The Rubber Band, among others. 7 p.m. Saturday. $20. Bogart’s, 2621 Vine St., Corryville, bogarts.com.
SPORTS: FC CINCINNATI
After a handful of packed games, it appears that Cincinnati is ready to bleed orange and blue for our hometown futbol team, FC Cincinnati — 23,000-plus fans broke the United Soccer League attendance record at the club’s May 14 home game. Come cheer the boys on at the University of Cincinnati’s revamped Nippert Stadium as they take on the Harrisburg City Islanders. 7 p.m. Saturday. $20-$25; discounts for kids and students. Nippert Stadium, 2700 Bearcat Way, Clifton Heights, fccincinnati.com.
After a nearly four-hour meeting, Cincinnati's Historic Conservation Board adjourned this afternoon without voting on Columbia REI, LLC's application to tear down the historic Dennison building downtown at 716-718 Main St.
That application has caused controversy. Columbia, owned by the powerful Joseph family, says it would be too expensive to save the building and would like to build a headquarters for an as-yet unidentified Fortune 500 company on the site. But preservationists say the building, which was designed by the firm of noted architect Samuel Hannaford, is a vital part of downtown's urban fabric.
Representatives for Columbia and the Joseph family presented their case to five members of the seven-member board. The group called a number of experts they've hired while they've owned the building to give evidence they say shows the building can't be redeveloped in an economically feasible way due to its poor condition and structural attributes.
Most of the presentation restated the key points of this assertion in greater detail, but there was at least one new revelation: how the Cincinnati City Center Development Company, which purchased the building for $1.2 million and then sold it to Columbia for $740,000, recouped money on the deal. Representatives for the Joseph family say the group paid 3CDC further development costs after the initial sale, making up the missing money.
The meeting had its fair share of contention: Columbia's attorney Fran Barrett moved to have Cincinnati Urban Conservator Beth Johnson's testimony stricken from the proceedings. Barrett said that Johnson has shown "extreme prejudice and bias" and that the Josephs "have a stacked deck against us going in" to their demolition application.
Johnson last month wrote a report taking staunch issue with the Josephs' assertion that anything other than demolishing the building would present the company with an economic hardship, pointing out the building's sound structural condition and the fact that studies on the economic feasibility of redevelopment of the building didn't take into account historic state tax credits and other incentives.
Lance Brown, the executive vice president of Beck Consulting, which drew up the economic feasibility report, told the board that no normal type of use — apartments, condos, office space — was feasible for the Dennison. However, when pushed by the board, Brown admitted he wasn't specifically familiar with incentives like state Historic Preservation tax credits, LEED tax credits, or city grants and tax credits that could have made the project more feasible.
Multiple board members also took issue with Brown's use of the term "flophouse" to describe the Dennison's former life as a single room occupancy hotel. Brown cracked that he got his understanding of that term from "extensive research on Wikipedia and Google."
Board member Judith Spraul-Schmidt chided Brown for using the term, saying that such housing was designed to be "decent and safe."
The board will work with attorneys representing the Josephs and opponents of the demolition application to set the next hearing, at which those seeking to save the Dennison will make their case.
The plan would rehabilitate affordable housing at eight sites, many under contracts with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Currently, those sites house 302 units of housing, many of which city officials say are in substandard and neglected condition. The city money would go toward a $135 million effort by developers like Model Group and 3CDC to turn those sites into 304 units of high-quality affordable housing along with 212 market rate units at four of the sites.
Cranley, Vice Mayor David Mann, representatives from Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and developers Model Group and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation unveiled the proposal today at a news conference outside 1525 Race St., which would see 25 units of affordable housing developed by Model along with 85 market rate units.
“We’re very excited to be here today to celebrate affordable housing and a diverse community in Over-the-Rhine,” said Over-the-Rhine Community Executive Director Mary Burke Rivers. “People who are working in our city, or retired, or veterans, can’t afford what the market provides for housing. It’s gotten very complicated, but at its core it’s a simple math problem. This money addresses that math problem.”
The developments are designed to help the slide in affordable housing the neighborhood has seen in the past decade, Cranley says. Since 2000, 73 percent of OTR’s lowest-cost housing units have left the neighborhood, according to a study by Xavier’s Community Building Institute. That's caused some displacement of residents.
“We’ve seen here in Over-the-Rhine an extraordinary renaissance that was unthinkable five or 10 years ago,” Cranley said at the news conference. “But I think we all believe it should not come at the expense of the people who have lived here a long time. There have always been HUD contracts that have been extended for 15 or 30 years to preserve affordable housing. But it’s not enough, and we’d like to do more. We want to adjust to changing circumstances. We want a healthy community that is mixed income. I think this is a tremendous opportunity to do that.”
Cranley says the financing is general fund money coming from the city’s sale of the Blue Ash Airport and refinancing of some streetcar expenses.
Model Group CEO Bobby Maly says affordable housing and economic development can go hand and hand.
“Investing in affordable housing can also be investing in economic development and revitalization. That means investing in high-quality affordable housing alongside, adjacent to, high-quality market rate housing. It also means investing in affordable housing next to high-investment community projects. Things like Washington Park and other public investments.”
A focus on mixed-income development is the very deliberate focus of the proposal, Mann says.
“It’s no accident that we’re here,” Mann said about the site of the news announcement, a series of empty buildings on Race Street. “Next door, new, market rate condos are being built. As I understand from (3CDC CEO) Mr. (Steve) Leeper, they’ll be $300,000 and up. Here, because of the affordable housing money that the budget will commit to Over-the-Rhine, there will be about 25 renovated units of affordable housing.”
Mann cited statistics that 50 percent of renters in Cincinnati pay more than 30 percent of their incomes for apartments, the threshold for affordability set by the federal government.
“We hope there are ways that the $2 million can be leveraged,” Mann said, to create more opportunities for affordable housing creation. The other $2 million will be dispersed to developers doing low-income housing projects in other parts of the city through an as-yet-to-be-determined process.
The plan would, in some cases, move affordable units to other buildings and create market rate or mixed-income developments in their place.
As and example: Among the sites involved in the OTR plan are the Jan and Senate Apartments, six buildings containing 101 units of subsidized housing, and the so-called Mercy portfolio, which includes 140 units in 18 buildings in OTR for people making less than 60 percent of the area median income — about $71,000 for a family of four. About 70 of those units are in bad shape, developers say, while another 70 need only minor work.
Developers say the Jan and Senate properties are in danger of losing their rental subsidies due to their poor condition and have begun managing the sites and moving tenants to other, nearby affordable units with the help of the Cincinnati Legal Aid Society ahead of rehab work. The HUD contracts held by the Jan and Senate buildings would then be transferred to a number of other affordable housing sites, 3CDC and Model Group say in an outline of their plan provided by city officials. About 45 units of housing at 60 percent of the area median income will stay at the Jan and Senate as part of a mixed-income development.
NEWSkyline: It’s Skyline’s first year at Taste, which seems weird, right? They’ll be serving Greek salads, along with 3-ways, coneys and chilitos, for people who really enjoy the challenge of trying to walk and eat at the same time.
BEST OF TASTE WINNERS (people sampled, voted and these won)
Good morning, Cincy! A lot is happening around the city so let's get straight to the headlines.
• An off-duty Cincinnati police officer fatally shot a man suspected of robbing a Madisonville bank yesterday afternoon. CPD Chief Eliot Isaac confirmed that the still-unnamed CPD officer fired two shots at 20-year-old Terry Frost in the Fifth Third bank off Madison Avenue shortly after 4 p.m. Frost reportedly claimed to have a gun during the robbery, then, after being shot, stumbled off into the woods behind the bank where he was found dead by CPD officers. Police still haven't said whether Frost had a gun or any other weapon. CPD is planning on holding a press conference this morning to reveal the name of the officer. This is the third fatal shooting by a CPD officer this year.
• Mayor John Cranley says he is not OK with the cuts to human services funding in City Manager Harry Black's proposed budget released last week. Cranley told The Enquirer he wants to bring back 82 percent of the $413,500 Black has proposed cutting, amounting to an 8.5 percent decrease. Under Cranley's proposal, human services funding would account for 1.9 percent of the budget. Black's budget dedicates $4 million to five different agencies with the majority of funds going to nonprofit United Way.
• Mayor Cranley appears to be a busy man at the moment. The mayor will also hold a press conference with Vice Mayor David Mann this morning at 10:30 a.m. in Over-The-Rhine to unveil the details of a $135 million initiative to upgrade and add low-income housing to the neighborhood. The effort reportedly will be led by 3CDC and Walnut Hills nonprofit The Model Group.
• The city is taking Mahogany's owner Liz Rogers to court. Rogers received a $300,000 loan from the city in 2012 to open the soul food restaurant, which went under in September 2014. Taxpayers have forgiven Rogers for two-thirds of the loan, but she is refusing to repay the $96,928 she still owes the city. Rogers missed her $800 loan payments in March and April, and the city filed suit on May 11. Vice Mayor Mann said the city was left with "no choice." She is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 1.
• A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Ohio in a highly restrictive form is on its way to Gov. John Kasich's desk. The legislation passed the Senate last evening with a margin of just three votes. The bill would still prohibit growing and smoking the plant, but would allow it in a vapor form and would be available for doctors to prescribe to patients with a list of approved medical conditions. The Ohio Department of Commerce would oversee the growth, distribution and testing of the plant. Some Democrats expressed disapproval at the provision that allows employers to fire employees who tested positive for the drug — even if they have a prescription. If Gov. Kasich signs the bill into law, Ohio will become the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana.
Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on in the world today.
The city of Cincinnati has officially announced an opening date for the city’s streetcar. The transit project running through Over-the-Rhine and downtown will take its first passengers Sept. 9, beginning with an opening ceremony at some point mid-day. The project, which has been fraught with political battles and funding concerns, is being financed with increased parking revenues, advertising proceeds and other sources that aren’t part of the city’s general fund budget.
• Mayor John Cranley yesterday rolled out more of his proposals for the city’s budget, which involve some $30 million for neighborhood projects. He spoke at a news conference in Avondale about projects he’d like to see funded in that neighborhood under his proposed fiscal plan, including a renewed Avondale Towne Center with a Save-A-Lot grocery store. Avondale has been trying to get a full-service grocery store since Aldi left the neighborhood about eight years ago. The city would chip in about $2 million to get development started under Cranley’s plan. The mayor did acknowledge that neighborhood activists had hoped for a higher-scale store such as a Kroger but that the Save-A-Lot will be expected to stock fresh produce and other necessities. Cranley yesterday also announced he would provide $3.2 million for a new community development corporation in Bond Hill and Roselawn.
• Cranley is set to pitch another round of investments today in the city’s East Side neighborhoods. He’s also expected to announce that the city will purchase the land necessary to build the Wasson Way bike trail. That $11.8 million, 4.1-mile stretch of former railway is vital to the completion of the trail, which would pass through a number of East Side neighborhoods on its way to Uptown. If the city doesn’t purchase the land by the end of July, the price will jump by nearly $600,000. It’s unclear where the construction money for the project will come from. The city applied for a federal TIGER grant last year to help fund building costs for the bike trail but was turned down.
• Wait. Hold on. Do I agree on something with U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, the tea party crusader from Northern Kentucky? It would… kind of appear so. Massie owes the GOP $24,000 in “party dues,” i.e. money from his fundraising coffers the party expects in order to stay in its good graces. Massie has criticized the practice, which is also used to determine who gets which committee assignment in the House. Particular assignments have particular dollar amounts assigned to them, and the more influential the committee, the more money a House member is expected to kick in. Massie is slamming this system, saying it means the best fundraisers, not the best lawmakers, get oversized influence in the legislative process. In what may be the only example of partisan agreement between a tea party member and the rest of Congress, some Democrats agree with him. I also think it sounds pretty messed up.
• What policies will law enforcement officers and departments have to follow regarding body cameras across Ohio?
Good morning all. Lots to talk about today so let’s get to it!
The 13 children of Samuel DuBose will each receive more than $200,000 as part of a settlement between the family and the University of Cincinnati, a Hamilton County judge ruled yesterday. DuBose was shot and killed by UC police officer Ray Tensing July 19 last year. In addition to the money for his children, DuBose’s mother Audrey DuBose will receive $90,000, his six siblings will receive $32,000 each and his father Sam Johnson will receive $25,000, Judge Ralph Winlker announced yesterday. The settlement, which also includes other elements such as college tuition for DuBose’s children, resolves a civil suit against the university. Criminal proceedings are ongoing against former officer Tensing, who is charged with murder and manslaughter. He’s scheduled to stand trial on those charges in October.
• Cincinnati City Council members are requesting the recently completed audit of the region’s Metropolitan Sewer District ahead of the city's budget process, but City Manager Harry Black says they shouldn't rush. The audit, which resulted from revelations that MSD spent millions on contracts it didn’t properly put through a bidding process, is still with the city’s lawyers in a working draft form, Black says. But with work on the city’s budget looming, council members like Kevin Flynn and Chris Seelbach say the time is now to reveal the results of the audit. Things got testy when Council pushed for more information from the audit at yesterday’s budget and finance committee meeting, with Black resisting requests for that information and Seelbach accusing the city manager of giving him an eye roll. Oh snap.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is at the White House today meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and state and local government officials as part of a discussion on gun violence. Sittenfeld made gun control a big part of his campaign when he was running for Senate against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland. Sittenfeld lost that race but has pledged to continue efforts to curtail shootings. He told WVXU he is there to learn more about strategies for curbing gun violence and that he doesn’t think the invite has anything to do with his former Senate campaign. President Barack Obama and VP Biden endorsed Strickland in that race.
• This is a weird article. Breaking news: The city has a lot of stairs. Some of them are crumbling. More breaking news: The city isn’t exactly rushing to pay to fix them. Thus concludes your breaking news update about something you probably already knew about. The steps are a big part of the city’s walking infrastructure (I take them every day). But they’ve been neglected since, well, probably since people started moving out of the city. The money it would take to fix them is also an infinitesimally small portion of the city’s budget at a time when Mayor John Cranley is discussing throwing $30 million to a few city neighborhoods.
• A federal judge has temporarily blocked an Ohio law that would strip $1.4 million in public money from Planned Parenthood in the state. That money goes to providing health screenings for low-income women, not to providing abortions. The temporary restraining order keeping Ohio from enforcing the law, which passed in February, comes as a larger court fight around the measure continues. You can read more about all of that in our story here.
• Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost yesterday announced the results of surprise headcounts at Ohio charter schools, saying at least some of the schools had very few or no students attending on the days of the unannounced visits. Yost said the extremely low attendance numbers at three charters in the state suggests they might be operating illegally as distance learning schools instead of the brick and mortar schools they’re certified to operate as. It’s the latest revelation in a bad stretch for the state’s charters, which have faced allegations of mismanagement and an Ohio Department of Education data rigging scandal that artificially inflated charter school performance by omitting some low-performing online schools. Yost visited 14 drop-out recovery schools around the state and found an average attendance of just 34 percent.
• The revelations, as well as other frustrations with the state’s public schools, had the auditor spitting hot fire at the ODE yesterday, calling it “among the worst, if not the worst-run agency in state government.” Yost cited poor charter school accountability and performance as well as a slow roll out for ODE’s new data management system as among the sources for his frustration with the agency.
• Finally, more presidential politics, because I know you need more of that in your life. Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump in Ohio, according to the latest polls asking voters about the upcoming general election. But it’s not the blowout you might expect. Clinton’s up 44 percent to Trump’s 39 percent in the Buckeye State — less than her primary opponent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who bests Trump 48 percent to 39 percent in the CBS/YouGov poll. Voters have a pretty negative opinion of both candidates, however — 55 percent view Clinton negatively and 59 percent feel the same about Trump.
That’s it for me. See you tomorrow. Tweet or email in the meantime.
Hey hey Cincinnati. Hope you got outside and soaked up the perfect weather this weekend. Now it’s back to the real world, where news happens.
The directors of every city of Cincinnati department received raises this past year, according to city records reported by The Cincinnati Enquirer. In total, those raises are costing city taxpayers $234,000 more a year. Some of the city’s 25 department heads got those pay bumps despite making few of their stated goals and receiving rather mixed performance reviews. Top salary getters include Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac, whose $162,000 paycheck is 20 percent more than his predecessor Chief Jeffrey Blackwell made. Fire Chief Richard Braun, who is now also making $162,000, saw his pay raised 16 percent. Those raises came during a time when the city projected as much as a $14 million budget deficit. That deficit was cut in half by more recent economic projections, but could still trigger cuts to the city’s human services and economic development efforts, among other services. The city manager’s recently released budget calls for a 1 percent raise for all city employees, and police and fire personnel are negotiating to get a 3 percent bump.
• Speaking of the budget, Mayor John Cranley is set to unveil his ideas for the city’s financial plan today at 11 a.m. at Westwood Town Hall, according to a news release from the mayor's office. On the agenda: $30 million for neighborhood projects in that neighborhood and in places like West Price Hill, North Avondale, Bond Hill and others. City Manager Black released his budget proposal Thursday, and Cranley has two weeks to submit his version to City Council. He’ll be presenting his version of the budget at town halls throughout the week.
• We haven’t even survived 2016 yet, but we’re already talking about the election after it. Last week, we told you about the increasing focus around Cincinnati’s 2017 mayoral and City Council races. Now, after revelations that Councilwoman Yvette Simpson sent out a memo to potential firms that could help her in a bid opposing fellow Dem Cranley, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke is asking party members to focus on this year’s election. Burke has said it’s too early to focus on next year just yet when there are big races at the county level — most notably a pitched fight for control of the Hamilton County Commission. State Rep. Denise Driehaus is running to grab a seat on that body, and if she pulls out a victory against Republican interim commissioner Dennis Deters, the three-member group that oversees the county could have a Democrat majority for the first time in years. But the call for unity from Burke comes as the party is experiencing tension between two factions in the city: younger, more progressive Dems who tended to support the streetcar and who push for items like increases in human services funding, and more established, moderate Democrats like Mayor Cranley.
• That battle continues to shape up: progressive 2013 City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham is launching her bid for a Council seat in the 2017 election tonight at Bromwell’s Harth-Lounge at 6 p.m. Dillingham came in 12th in that race and hopes to turn support for her from progressives into a Council seat this time around.
• A historic building in Covington will get at least a little more time safe from the wrecking ball. Kenton County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Summe told Bavarian Brewery owners Columbia Sussex that they can’t demolish the 100-year-old building. The structure, which sits in a historic district, once held Jillian’s nightclub. Columbia-Sussex originally wanted to put a casino on the property, but Kentucky legislators have yet to pass a law that would allow that to happen. Now, the company says the only way it can see a return on investment is by demolishing the building. Covington’s Urban Design Review Board previously denied a permit application for that demolition, and Judge Summe’s ruling affirms that position. Columbia-Sussex can appeal her decision, however.
• Finally, University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono made big news over the weekend with his admission that he suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts as a younger man. Ono made the revelation at a fundraiser Saturday for mental health-awareness group 1N5, whose name is a reference to research that shows one in five individuals in the United States suffers from mental illness. Ono said that by talking about his past struggles, he hoped to show that mental illness is treatable and nothing to be ashamed of.