CAF USA yesterday unveiled new renderings for Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project. The city has hired CAF to supply five cars, which will have four doors on each side and be capable of moving in both directions on a track. The cars are also completely low-floor, which should make boarding, disembarking and moving around the streetcar easier. John Deatrick, the streetcar project’s executive director, told CityBeat on Thursday that he’s been in regular contact with CAF USA since he joined the project in August, and he expects to really test out the cars once the Over-the-Rhine loop is completed in June 2015.
Hamilton County commissioners unanimously agreed the 2014 budget won’t include tax increases. It’s also the first budget in six years that won’t require major cuts. Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman’s budget proposal doesn’t explicitly suggest a tax hike, but it does explain how a sales tax hike could be used to offset other expenditures, such as a cut in property taxes. But commissioners all said they’re opposed to a sales tax hike. Commissioners will likely retool the budget and pass the final version in November.
Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper called on Ohio to restrict access of the state’s facial recognition system to a small group of a couple dozen specially trained law enforcement officers, which would take calls for the system 24/7. Under Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio in June secretly launched a facial recognition program that allows law enforcement to use a photo to search state databases and connect suspects with contact information; previously, searching the databases required a name or address. In his defense, DeWine claimed the system is vital for law enforcement and widely used across the country. But an investigation from The Cincinnati Enquirer found Ohio’s system grants access to thousands more officials than other states’ systems.
The Hamilton County Board of Elections began a hearing yesterday on whether Randy Simes, owner of UrbanCincy.com, can vote in Cincinnati after living in Chicago and moving to South Korea. Simes registered to vote in the mayoral primary election through Travis Estell’s address, where Simes says he stays when he’s in town. Simes’ supporters say the conservative groups behind the hearing are attacking him for political purposes because he supports the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls for mayor, both of which the groups oppose. The attorney for the conservative groups said that he doesn’t want voting “treated as a game.” Some members of the board of elections said they were disturbed by the political undertones of the hearing and a request for emails between Simes and Estell.
Gov. John Kasich yesterday announced voluntary guidelines urging doctors to use caution when prescribing high levels of opioid painkillers for long-term use to patients. The restrictions are in response to a rise in prescription drug abuse and overdoses across the country. Some members of the medical community say they’re concerned the guidelines will lead to temporary disruption in pain care, but others say the kinks should work themselves out in the long term.
Letters from State Treasurer Josh Mandel show he lobbied for Suarez Corp. to seek relief from litigation for the company. The two letters were obtained on Jan. 2 by a federal grand jury that later indicted Benjamin Suarez, owner of Suarez Corp., and Michael Giorgo, chief financial officer of the company, on charges of illegally funneling about $200,000 to Mandel and a Republican congressman’s campaigns in 2011.
Among states and the District of Columbia, WalletHub estimates Ohio is No. 32 most affected by the federal government shutdown. CityBeat covered the shutdown and the local leaders involved in greater detail here.
Ohio gave 23 communities $8 million for local infrastructure improvements, but Cincinnati and Hamilton County were not among the recipients.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino held its spot as Ohio’s top-earning casino in September.
Enrollment to Cincinnati State increased despite a statewide decline. The university also received a $2.75 million manufacturing training grant.
Science confirmed that political extremists think they’re always right and everyone else is wrong.
Watch coffee shop customers freak out at a real-life Carrie:
Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.
The Cincinnati streetcar took another step forward on Monday when car builder CAF USA unveiled renderings for the $133 million project.
The city has hired CAF to supply five cars. The latest details show the cars will have four doors on each side and be capable of moving in both directions on a track. The cars are also completely low-floor, which should make boarding, disembarking and moving around the streetcar easier.
CAF, which is based in Spain, has supplied cars for a few other U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, Houston and Sacramento, Calif.
John Deatrick, the streetcar project’s executive director, told CityBeat on Thursday that he’s been in regular contact with CAF USA since he joined the project in August.
Unlike most other streetcars around the world, the Cincinnati cars are particularly tuned to handle sharp turns, according to Deatrick. That’s because the city didn’t want to expand roads and knock down buildings just to accommodate the transit network.
Deatrick says the true test for the cars will come once they’re shipped and tested on a completed Over-the-Rhine loop in June 2015. The streetcar is set to open for use on Sept. 15, 2016.
Check out the renderings here.
The streetcar project is on track for its Sept. 15, 2016 opening date, according to a monthly progress report released by the city yesterday. Through Aug. 31, the city spent $22.1 million on the project, including nearly $2 million in federal funding. In total, the project is estimated to cost $133 million, and about $45 million will come from the federal government. CityBeat covered the project and political misrepresentations surrounding it in further detail here.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners yesterday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative, which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit hardest by vacancy and abandonment. The initiative will work through the Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan guarantees, which would pay for the home loans if a borrower defaulted. Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects. If City Council passes the motion supporting the initiative, the city administration will have 60 days to come up with a budgeted plan, which Council will also have to approve.
A Democratic state legislator used Pure Romance’s troubles to criticize Ohio’s process for granting tax credits. State Rep. Chris Redfern, who sits on the legislature’s Controlling Board, repeatedly brought up Pure Romance when discussing tax credits for three companies supported by Gov. John Kasich’s administration. Redfern ultimately didn’t vote against the tax credits, but he only backed down after getting state officials to say the three companies were meeting all of the state’s priorities. Pure Romance originally planned to move its headquarters and 60 jobs from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati and create 60 jobs in the process. But since the company was denied state tax credits, it’s openly discussed moving to Kentucky to take up a better tax offer. The Kasich administration says it denied the tax credits because Pure Romance isn’t part of a targeted industry, but Democrats argue the administration is killing jobs in Ohio just because of prudish feelings toward Pure Romance’s product lineup, which includes sex toys.
Cincinnati will be honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later today for connecting residents to renewable energy sources, according to a press release from the city. Some environmental groups have already praised Cincinnati for championing solar energy in particular, as CityBeat covered here.
At a City Council forum last night, residents demanded walkable, livable neighborhoods that include grocery stores.
Internet cafes need more than 71,000 signatures to get on the November 2014 ballot. The cafes are attempting to overturn a state law that effectively forces them out of business. State officials argue the law is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafes say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money.
The Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) marketplaces will go live in one week, regardless of whether the federal government shuts down. The marketplaces will allow users to enroll in insurance plans with tax subsidies from the federal government. CityBeat covered the marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here.
A Democratic state legislator is pushing new requirements that would force lobbyists to disclose their annual salaries.
I-75 lanes are temporarily closing for improvements.
Step one to stopping malicious hackers: Learn their ways.
With the backing of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, law enforcement around the state have been secretly using facial recognition software for the past two months that scans driver’s licenses and mug shots to identify crime suspects. In emails and documents obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer, DeWine and other state officials apparently couldn’t agree whether the program is in beta testing or full launch and when they should tell the public about it. The program went live without the attorney general’s initial approval and many protocols that protect Ohioans’ security and privacy, raising concerns about whether law enforcement have been able to abuse the new tool.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Friday acknowledged it will ramp up enforcement and tickets once it takes over Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, but it claimed the move is meant to encourage people to pay up, not raise revenue that will make the parking lease more profitable for the Port or the private operators it’s hiring. The Port also said it had taken steps to make the parking lease a better deal for locals, including a reduction in operation hours in neighborhoods and some downtown areas. The city is leasing its parking assets to the Port for a one-time injection of revenue and annual installments that are supposed to go to development projects that will grow the city’s tax base. But opponents of the lease say it will take away too much control of the city’s parking services and hurt businesses and residents by raising parking rates and hours.
Vacant buildings at the corner of Henry and Race streets will be demolished today to make room for a maintenance facility for Cincinnati’s streetcars — just the latest sign the project is moving forward. Mayor Mark Mallory, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and John Deatrick, streetcar project executive director, will attend the demolition and a press event preceding it, which will take place at 1 p.m.
A new video from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) shows how bad traffic will get if the Brent Spence Bridge isn’t replaced. In the video, OKI claims the current state of the bridge is dangerous and damages the economy. The bridge project is currently estimated at $2.5 billion. At least part of that sum will be paid with tolling if state officials get their way.
Qualls and Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan will today discuss a district-wide travel plan that intends to provide safe routes for students walking and biking to school. The plan, which would use Ohio Department of Transportation funds, makes improvements to crosswalks and pedestrian crossing signals, among other changes. Qualls’ office says the plan is timely as CPS today begins its first week back to school.
Cuts in all levels of government, which Republican state officials call “right-sizing,” might be hindering Ohio’s economic recovery. Only California, New York and Florida have cut more public jobs than Ohio. At the same time, Ohio’s job growth over the past year has stagnated at 0.7 percent. The state has cut local government funding by half since Kasich took office, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Ohio gas prices once again increased this week, but they still remain below the national average.
The USS Cincinnati, a Cold War era submarine, is coming to the city. Some locals have been working on getting the submarine’s sail installed along the riverfront as a memorial.
NASA put up a video explaining how it would land on an asteroid.
John Deatrick is taking over as project executive of the Cincinnati streetcar project, moving on from his previous work as project manager of The Banks. Deatrick’s hiring announcement happened in April, but it was delayed while City Council fixed the project’s budget gap. Deatrick and his team previously won an award for their work at The Banks, and he says he will bring the same scrutiny and success to the streetcar project. A new project manager for The Banks is set to be hired in August. Since the streetcar project’s inception, it has been mired in misrepresentations and political controversy, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Local business leaders are calling on the city government to change its contracting policies to target minority- and women-owned businesses. Advocates argue the city’s inclusion rates have greatly dropped since Cincinnati did away with its inclusion program in the 1990s, but the city administration points out the rates are likely understated because women- and minority-owned businesses are no longer required to report themselves as minorities or women. The business leaders say the figures are too low regardless, which could have big implications since minority-owned businesses are more likely to hire minorities, who have twice the unemployment rate as white residents. As a result of court rulings, Cincinnati needs to first conduct a disparity study before it makes any changes that specifically target minorities or women.
Gabrielle Giffords’s anti-gun violence organization is opening an Ohio chapter to promote legislation that intends to protect both the public and the rights of gun owners. Giffords, a former U.S. representative who survived an assassination attempt, has been touring around the country — at one point coming to Cincinnati — to speak out against gun violence. Gun control legislation failed in the U.S. Senate in April after it fell short of getting 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles, even though polling shows a clear majority of Americans favor such legislation.
Local government funding may be further reduced as a result of recent tax cuts because the Local Government Fund traditionally gets a percent of state tax revenue. Specifically, critics are concerned less state tax revenue will slow down “natural growth” in funding to cities and counties. Last week, an analysis from Policy Matters Ohio found the recently passed two-year state budget already reduces local government funding, following even steeper reductions in the previous budget. The cuts since Gov. John Kasich took office have cost Cincinnati more than $22 million.
A traffic camera ban would cost Ohio cities and counties millions of dollars in revenue.
Ohio gas prices are starting down this week.
Home-schooled and private-school students have a right to play on public school teams because of a provision in the recently passed state budget.
Ohio air bases are undergoing review this week as part of Congress’ attempts to gauge whether the nation’s Air Force is prepared for current and future missions and homeland defense.
Slow news day, Enquirer?
Florida researchers found “fat shaming” actually perpetuates obesity.
It would probably take 300 to 500 piranhas five minutes to strip the flesh off a 180-pound human.
In a letter to the city solicitor, a conservative organization is threatening more legal action to stop the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) claims the city manager exceeded his authority when he made two “significant and material” changes to the lease agreement after City Council approved the deal in March. If the city solicitor doesn’t take up the legal challenge, COAST could sue the city by itself. Supporters of the parking lease argue it’s necessary to fund development projects in the city and modernize the city’s parking services, but opponents say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking meters, lots and garages and will hurt businesses downtown.
The Business Courier reports that a critical parking memo was supposed to provide a “strike point” for negotiations between the Port Authority and Xerox, which will manage the city’s parking meters under a lease agreement. But the city administration didn’t begin sharing the June 20 memo with anyone else, including the Port Authority, until July 12, after council members and media outlets began asking the city administration about it. The memo suggested the city is getting a bad deal from the parking lease agreement and overpaying Xerox. Port and city officials argue the memo relied on outdated information and made technical errors.
Mayor Mark Mallory will today join fellow streetcar supporters at Rhinegeist Brewery to discuss the streetcar project’s latest news and future. The city on July 15 set an opening date of Sept. 15, 2016 after finalizing a construction contract with Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad, which was made possible after City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap in June. CityBeat recently debunked some of the misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project here.
Public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down following city and state funding cuts. The organization’s demise is a great loss to producers like Rufus Johnson, who used its resources for years. The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the state eliminated a fund that was provided by Time Warner Cable, but even the local funding was fully cut in the budget passed in May. City officials have justified the cuts by pointing to citizen surveys that ranked Media Bridges poorly in terms of budgetary importance, but a CityBeat analysis found the surveys were skewed against the low-income Cincinnatians that benefit the most from public access programs like Media Bridges.
State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, is facing multiple felony charges related to securities fraud. A lawsuit filed in Hamilton County by investors alleges that money invested at the request of Beck and others was used for personal gain — specifically, Beck’s campaign — instead of a business investment as originally intended. Beck has been in power since 2009, and his current term is set to expire in 2014.
A former poll worker was sentenced to five years for voter fraud after she voted twice for herself and three times for her sister, who’s been in a coma since 2003.
The driver who last August accidentally hit and killed a local cyclist is awaiting his sentence. Local bike advocacy groups are asking courts to give the maximum penalty to the driver, who’s facing at most six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The local housing market is rapidly recovering in a continuing good sign for the economy, with single-family home permits up 48 percent in June compared to the year before, according to the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds games are No. 3 for local TV ratings in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.
Xavier University is laying off 31 employees and cutting 20 currently vacant positions.
A Miami University student is getting an astronaut scholarship, making him one of 28 students nationwide to receive the honor.
Entrepreneur says Cincinnati is an “unexpected hub for tech startups.”
A new self-aiming rifle would outshoot human snipers.
Popular Science has a guide for arguing against anti-vaccine crazies here.
Mayor Mark Mallory will join fellow streetcar supporters Thursday to discuss how the project is coming along and where it’s headed.
The event is the monthly streetcar social, hosted by Cincinnatians for Progress. Organizers expect to pull in nearly 100 people from around the city to discuss topics and issues surrounding the project. It will take place on Thursday, July 18, between 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Rhinegeist Brewery, 1910 Elm St., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202. For more information, check out the event’s Facebook page.
Mallory, who’s term-limited from running for reelection this year, has spearheaded efforts to build a streetcar in Cincinnati. He’s been joined by a steady Democratic majority in City Council, which most recently approved $17.4 million more in funding for the project alongside several accountability measures that will require the city manager to regularly update council and the public on the project’s progress.
CityBeat’s cover story for the week of July 10 debunked the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the Cincinnati streetcar project.
Streetcar supporters argue the project will foster economic growth and development in Cincinnati, particularly downtown — a claim backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of Cincinnati.
Opponents claim the project, which now stands at $133 million after recent cost overruns were fixed, is too expensive. They doubt it will succeed in spurring growth and development.
The city administration yesterday disputed the findings of a June 20 memo that suggested the city is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but controversy remains about why the city administration withheld the memo from City Council and the Port Authority for three-plus weeks. Opponents of the parking plan are now attempting to use the memo to convince the Port Authority to reject the lease with Xerox, but the Port Authority insists that the memo is laced with inaccuracies and technical errors. The city is pursuing the lease to obtain a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. The money will be used to pay for future budget gaps and development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
City Manager Milton Dohoney defended the city administration’s decision to withhold the June 20 memo, but several council members are angered by what they call a “lack of transparency.” Still, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls argued the administration’s decision to keep the memo from City Council was understandable because the memo was based on faulty information.The Cincinnati streetcar got an opening date yesterday: Sept. 15, 2016. The grand opening comes after years of political controversy, pulled funding and two referendum efforts nearly killed the project. Ever since it was first proposed, the streetcar project has been engulfed in misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered here.
A federal judge made permanent his earlier decision that Ohio must count provisional ballots if they’re submitted in the right polling place but wrong precinct. The ruling is being taken as a victory by voting-rights advocates.
Cincinnati is negotiating to claw back its incentive with Kendle International Inc., which agreed in 2008 to keep its headquarters and create jobs at the city’s Carew Tower. The agreement gave Kendle $200,000 over 10 years on the condition it steadily grew jobs. The failure may add further doubt to the value of job deals, which were criticized earlier in the year by a report CityBeat covered here.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital and Bethesda North Hospital are among the best hospitals in the nation, according to U.S. News’s “Best Hospitals” feature.
Here are some of the odd things that made it into the two-year state budget.
Gov. John Kasich signed a Columbus school plan that will allow levy money to be shared with charter schools that partner with the Columbus school district.
The Senate is the best place in the country to eat hot dogs, according to Food & Wine.
More U.S. hospitals now treat gay parents equally.
Dogs apparently can watch television, which is good news for an Israeli channel explicitly aimed at dogs.
The news was unveiled in a city memo this morning, which detailed the streetcar project’s future following a construction deal with Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad.
The news comes after Messer revealed it will need nearly $500,000 more to do construction work, which will be covered by the project’s $10 million contingency funds.
The memo detailed other upcoming milestones for the streetcar project:
• March 1, 2015: Substantial completion of a 3,000-foot test track and maintenance center.
• June 29, 2015: Substantial completion of Over-the-Rhine loop.
• March 15, 2016: Substantial completion of all work.
City Council recently approved $17.4 million in
additional capital funding for the streetcar project, along with various
accountability measures that will require the city manager to regularly update
council and the public on the project’s progress. The project’s estimated cost now stands at $133 million.
Ever since its inception, the Cincinnati streetcar has been mired in political controversies and misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Following Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s announcement Friday to increase city contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses once elected, fellow Democratic mayoral candidate and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls echoed support for the proposals, although she disputed Cranley’s record on the issue. One issue in particular is the Croson study that would allow the city to prepare for a broader inclusion plan for minorities and women. Qualls has repeatedly proposed a Croson study during her time in City Council and previous time in the mayor’s office, but she says Cranley failed to publicly raise the issue at all during his time on council between 2000 and 2009.
Cincinnati’s streetcar project cleared another hurdle Friday when Messer Construction announced it needed $500,000 to carry out construction work, which is easily covered by the project’s $10 million contingency fund. With a construction contract, new funding and accountability measures now moving forward, the only potential issue is who has to pay to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. The city claims Duke Energy does, while the energy company puts the onus on the city. That issue is currently being worked out in court, although the city has already set aside $15 million to carry out the work for now and just in case Duke isn’t forced to carry the costs. Throughout the streetcar’s history, the project has been mired in misrepresentations and exaggerations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
The recently approved two-year state budget provides about $517 million less local government funding than the budget did in 2011, even though it pays for $2.7 billion in new tax cuts. Democrats have been highly critical of the cuts, but the governor’s office says local governments are effectively getting more funding through other sources not particularly geared for city and county governments. CityBeat covered local government funding in greater detail here and the state budget here.
Some state officials are pushing to establish an online, searchable database that would allow Ohio taxpayers to track state spending penny-by-penny. The state treasurer’s office already maintains a database for teacher and state employee salaries.
The Health Careers Collaborative, an organization working to increase health care employment in Greater Cincinnati, has a new leader.
Amish communities in Ohio are questioning whether they should take royalties for land that would be used for fracking, an oil and gas extraction process that environmentalists claim is dangerous for surrounding air and water. For the Amish, the issue is spiritual, rooted in their religious restrictions against technology and many facets of the modern world. CityBeat covered fracking and its ongoing effect on some Ohio communities in greater detail here.
Ohio gas prices are starting up this week.
Twinkies are returning to store shelves today.
HD 189773b, a blue exoplanet, may look hospitable, but the planet has a bad habit of raining glass sideways.