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by German Lopez 11.11.2013
Posted In: News, Education, Homelessness, Streetcar at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Drop Inn Center

Morning News and Stuff

Winter shelter needs funds, streetcar work could ramp up, school formula hurts minorities

As of Friday, Cincinnati’s winter shelter still needs $43,000 out of the $75,000 required to open from late December through February. That means hundreds of homeless people could be left out in the cold — literally — for at least a month longer than usual if the shelter doesn’t get more donations. According to Spring, the goal each night is to shelter 91 people, although the number can fluctuate depending on the circumstances. For its run between late 2012 and early 2013, the winter shelter housed roughly 600 people, or about $125 a person. Anyone can donate to the winter shelter — and Drop Inn Center — at tinyurl.com/WinterShelterCincinnati. To contribute specifically to the winter shelter, type in “winter shelter” in the text box below “Designation (Optional).”

Officials involved with the $133 million streetcar project are considering around-the-clock work for certain days to speed up delivery of rail and minimize disruptions at busy streets around Over-the-Rhine. The third shifts would reduce the time needed to deliver and install rails around Findlay Market and Liberty Street from one week to a couple days at each location, which would allow the city to avoid closing down surrounding streets beyond a weekend or Monday and Tuesday, according to project executive John Deatrick. He says the extra work is absolutely not related to recent discussions about canceling the project.

The new school funding formula approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly means high-minority schools get less state aid than schools with less diversity. Southwest Ohio’s 10 most diverse school districts will average $3,837 in state aid per student, while the 10 least diverse districts will average $4,027 per student. The finding is just the latest controversy for a school funding formula that is supposed to make state aid to schools more equitable. CityBeat covered some of the prior concerns in further detail here.

Despite Mayor-elect John Cranley’s insistence that the streetcar conversation “is over,” The Cincinnati Enquirer continues getting messages in support of the project. Supporters of the streetcar plan to launch a campaign this week to lobby council members and Cranley to back the project. The campaign will begin on Thursday with a town hall-style meeting particularly aimed at stakeholders along the streetcar route. The location and specific time should be announced later today or tomorrow.

Still, as Chris Wetterich of The Business Courier writes, it is unlikely Cranley will break his promise on the streetcar. That means it might be up to the three swing votes on City Council — P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — or a referendum to save the project.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport spent nearly $120,000 since July on coaching and job evaluation services for its board and CEO, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. That’s on top of the $140,000 the board spent on travel, conferences and expensive dinners since 2011. Following the disclosures, local leaders have called for leadership changes at the board.

Cincinnati-area businesses only have until Nov. 15 to garner enough votes to enter into a competition hosted by Chase Bank that will divide $3 million among 12 small businesses across the country.

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority’s expansion plans already received approval from Hamilton, Brown, Adams, Scioto and Boone counties. The plan expands the Port Authority’s boundaries from 26 miles to 205 miles along the Ohio River, which the Port says will make the agency more attractive to businesses.

At least 41 percent of 1,600 new apartments in and near downtown are receiving aid from the city of Cincinnati. City officials say the aid helps continue Cincinnati’s economic momentum and urban revitalization. But critics say more aid should go to low-income housing and other Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Virtual Community School of Ohio, an online charter school, didn’t follow rules for educating students with disabilities. CityBeat covered online schools and the controversy surrounding them in further detail here.

Ohio gas prices are down 17 cents per gallon this week.

Cranley has inspired some interesting parody accounts on Twitter.

As if they weren’t terrifying enough, drug-resistant “superbugs” can show up in animals.

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by German Lopez 11.08.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Mayor at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

City Considering Around-the-Clock Work on Streetcar

Project executive says third shift would help minimize disruptions to public and traffic

Officials working on the $133 million streetcar project are considering taking up extra shifts to speed up delivery of new rail and minimize disruptions caused by construction, project executive John Deatrick told CityBeat on Friday.

If it goes as planned, the extra shifts would reduce the time needed to deliver and install rails around Findlay Market and Liberty Street from one week to a couple days at each location. That would allow the city to avoid closing down surrounding streets for more than a weekend or a Monday and Tuesday, according to Deatrick.

“The main reason isn’t to speed it up,” he says. “The main reason is it would minimize the impact on the motoring public, walking public and biking public.”

Deatrick insists the move is absolutely not related to recent election results that have called the project’s survival into question.

One of Mayor-elect John Cranley’s top priorities upon taking office in December is canceling the streetcar project, which he says isn’t worth the cost and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. He says the outgoing city administration is continuing construction of the streetcar in “a political manner” and running up the bill to make canceling the project more difficult.

But Deatrick claims the 24-hour shifts won’t add much in the way of new costs. He says contractors currently bill the city about $1.5 million each month and that should continue into the future.

As of September, the city had already spent $23 million and contractually obligated another $94 million to the project. The obligations, along with the threat of litigation from contractors involved in the project and taxpayers and businesses along the streetcar track, have raised concerns about how much canceling the project would cost — and whether it’s even financially prudent at this point.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.08.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Parking, Transportation at 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar fight continues, state evaluating transit services, parking plan moving ahead

A small group of Over-the-Rhine homeowners is preparing for a possible lawsuit and other actions should Mayor-elect John Cranley try to cancel the $133 million streetcar project. Ryan Messer says the fight is about protecting his family’s investment along the streetcar route. Streetcar supporters plan to host a town hall-style meeting in the coming weeks to discuss possible actions to keep the project on track, including a referendum effort on any legislation that halts construction of the ongoing project. While Cranley says canceling the streetcar is at the top of the agenda, questions remain about how much it would cost to cancel the project, as CityBeat covered in further detail here and here.

As Cincinnati debates canceling the streetcar project, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is evaluating transit systems around the state to encourage more efficiency and cost effectiveness. The agency is particularly focused on how different transit services are dealing with rising demand and shrinking budgets. But if that’s the case, ODOT might carry some of the blame: When Gov. John Kasich took office, ODOT’s Transportation Review Advisory Council pulled $52 million from the Cincinnati streetcar project despite previously scoring the streetcar the highest among Ohio’s transportation projects. The Kasich administration also refused $400 million in federal funding for a statewide passenger light rail system, and the money ended up going to California and other states that took on light rail projects.

Cranley’s other major campaign promise is to stop the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but the Port intends to finalize the lease by the end of the month — before Cranley takes office in December — by selling bonds that will finance the deal. The outgoing city administration pushed the parking plan through City Council in a matter of months for an upfront payment of $92 million. But following unsuccessful litigation and a due diligence process, the Port Authority cut the payment to $85 million, and the city is now responsible for paying $14-$15 million to build a new parking garage that the Port was originally supposed to finance under the deal. Cranley and other opponents of the parking plan say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets, while supporters argue it’s necessary to modernize the assets and help fund economic development projects.

Several of Cincinnati’s power brokers and building owners are working on a plan that would create a retail corridor in the city’s center and hopefully keep Saks Fifth Avenue in the city. Some of the efforts apparently involve financial incentives from the city, according to details provided to the Business Courier.

In the past decade, Ohio students have shown limited improvement in reading and math scores.

The Cincinnati area could become the largest metropolitan area without an abortion clinic following new regulations imposed by the state budget signed into law in June by Gov. Kasich and the Republican-controlled legislature. CityBeat covered the regulations and the rest of the state budget in further detail here.

The Hamilton County Association of Chiefs of Police released a report outlining stricter guidelines for Taser use. Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who has led lawsuits on behalf of families who lost loved ones after they were Tased, told WVXU he’s encouraged by the report, but he said he would also require annual tests of the devices and a ban on chest shots.

The Cincinnati branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is filing a federal complaint against the DHL Global Mail facility in Hebron, Ky., after DHL allegedly fired 24 of its employees on Oct. 9 in a dispute over prayer breaks.

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino reported $18.2 million in gross revenue in October, down from $19.8 million in September. The revenue reduction also cost Cincinnati’s casino the No. 1 spot, which is now held by Cleveland’s Horseshoe Casino. For Cincinnati and Ohio, the drop means lower tax revenue.

The Cincinnati Gay and Lesbian Center plans to close its physical space, but it’s sticking around as a virtual organization and will continue hosting Pride Night at Kings Island. A letter from the center’s board of directors stated that the transition was based on a need to “evolve with the times.”

The U.S. Senate passed a bill that would ban discrimination against gay and transgendered workers, but the bill’s chances are grim in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both Ohio senators — Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman — voted in favor of the Senate bill. CityBeat previously covered efforts in Ohio to pass workplace protections for LGBT individuals here.

Watch a homeless veteran’s aesthetic transformation, which apparently helped push his life forward:

The popular video of a baby’s reaction to his singing mom might actually show conflicting feelings of fear and sociality, not sentimentality.

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by German Lopez 11.07.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Transportation at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
odot transit study

State to Evaluate Existing Transit Systems

Study looks at rising demand and shrinking budgets

While Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project remains in limbo, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is taking a deep look at the state’s existing transit systems to encourage more efficiency and cost effectiveness.

Specifically, ODOT says the “Ohio Statewide Transit Needs Study” is necessary to evaluate the performance of different transit systems around the state as demand grows and budgets shrink.

“Travel trends show that there is a definite rise in the need for convenient, affordable public transportation to jobs, medical appointments, shopping and recreational activities. Our transit agencies are struggling to fund this existing service, let alone meet the increased demand,” ODOT’s website states.

Starting the last week of October, ODOT began sending out rider surveys to people who use transit services to collect their thoughts on current services and input on possible improvements. The surveys are being conducted with the help of 61 transit agencies around Ohio, and ODOT expects to complete them in mid-November.

“The rider survey is just the first step of our public outreach and technical effort,” said Marianne Freed, administrator of ODOT’s Office of Transit, in a statement. “Our goal is to evaluate the unique transportation needs for communities statewide, whether it’s a large city or a rural county.”

The ultimate goal, according to ODOT, is “to develop a long-term strategy to determine how to best stretch limited dollars while meeting the demands of Ohios riders today and in the future.”

ODOT will release the study’s findings at www.TransitNeedsStudy.ohio.gov.

If ODOT does find inadequate budgets for rising demand, the agency also might find itself partly culpable.

It was ODOT’s Transportation Review Advisory Council that pulled $52 million in federal funding from the streetcar project once Gov. John Kasich came into office, even though the project previously received the highest score among transportation projects in the state. The massive cut forced local officials to scale back the original streetcar line and seek other federal funds.

Kasich also declined $400 million in federal funds for the 3C passenger rail line, which would have connected Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland. The federal funds ended up going to California and other states that embraced light rail, The Plain Dealer previously reported.

ODOT’s study also arrives as Cincinnati debates its own transit needs. On Tuesday, the city elected a mayor and City Council majority that opposes to the ongoing streetcar project.

If the streetcar project is canceled, it wouldn’t be the first time Cincinnati gave up on a new transit system in the middle of construction. The city also pulled out of building a subway system in the 1920s. The defunct subway tunnels now serve as a tourist attraction.

The subway failure and political threats to the streetcar project are two of the reasons Urbanophile, a national urbanist blog, described Cincinnati’s culture as “one of smug self-regard and self-sabotage” in a blog post on Thursday.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Mayor-elect John Cranley denied that Cincinnati holds an anti-transit mentality. Cranley pointed out that local voters in the 1970s decided to increase their earnings tax to support the Metro bus system. He says it comes down to weighing the costs and benefits.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.07.2013
Posted In: News, Election, Streetcar, Mayor at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley sets agenda, streetcar cancellation costs still unknown, Kasich limits minor parties

Mayor-elect John Cranley laid out his plans and priorities for his first term at his first press conference yesterday. Cranley says two of his top priorities are undoing the $133 million streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. He also spoke on some of his more positive ideas, including the interchange project at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive, 3CDC-style public-private partnerships to revitalize neighborhoods and development of the Wasson Way bike trail, old Swifton Commons and Westwood Square.

It remains unclear how much it would cost to actually cancel the streetcar project. As of September’s monthly progress report, $94 million is tied to contractual obligations, $23 million is already spent and nearly $45 million in federal grants is still attached to the project. And if contractors, subcontractors and taxpayers sue the city to complete the project, it could impose litigation costs on the operating budget instead of the capital budget currently financing construction. Supporters of the streetcar also say cancellation could tarnish relationships with the federal government and contractors, which have a stake in the project’s completion. At his press conference yesterday, Cranley said he’d weigh the costs and benefits of cancellation and would continue the project if he deems it cheaper.

Meanwhile, Cranley might travel to Washington, D.C., to discuss reprogramming nearly $45 million in federal grants from the streetcar project to the I-71/MLK interchange project. In a June 19 letter, the U.S. Department of Transportation claimed it would take back nearly $41 million of the grant money if the streetcar project were canceled. City officials say they’ve already spent $2 million from the grants on the streetcar project, and, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding, that would need to be repaid through the operating budget if the project were terminated.

Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature passed a bill that imposes new restrictions on minor political parties trying to get on the state ballot. The requirements force minor parties to meet higher petition signature and voting thresholds to get and remain on the ballot. Ohio Libertarians say they plan to sue to block the changes from becoming law in 90 days. Democrats and minor parties say the changes are meant to protect Kasich’s chances of re-election in 2014; they argue that, without the new requirements, tea party challengers upset with Kasich over his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion could take away enough votes and spoil the election in favor of a Democrat. CityBeat covered the Senate version of the bill in further detail here.

Hamilton County commissioners yesterday unanimously approved the first budget in six years that didn’t require major cuts or revenue increases to achieve balance, but the budget also had very little in terms of new policies. Commissioners also approved a separate plan from the Port Authority, a city- and county-funded development agency, to expand its borders; the Port now needs to work out agreements with other jurisdictions before the expansion becomes official.

Janitors in Cincinnati are striking against New York City-based ABM in a push for wage hikes and health benefits. In supporting the efforts, Councilman Chris Seelbach says the strike and media attention surrounding it should hopefully put pressure on Cincinnati’s Fortune 500 companies that hire ABM to clean their buildings.

Commentary: “Republicans Continue Denying Social Progress.”

After only 28.8 percent of registered Cincinnati voters participated in the mayoral and City Council elections, The Cincinnati Enquirer asked those who didn’t show up to vote to explain themselves. The answers ranged from total apathy toward the streetcar project to disdain and distrust for the city’s government and political system.

Voters on Tuesday approved more than half of Ohio school levies.

The University of Cincinnati yesterday signed an agreement that will increase collaboration with NASA.

Blockbuster is closing down its remaining company-owned stores in the United States.

Biking in traffic can have some complicated results as bikers breathe in traffic exhaust.

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by German Lopez 11.06.2013
Posted In: News, Mayor, Streetcar at 04:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
john cranley

Mayor-Elect Explains Vision for First Term

Cranley promises to cancel streetcar project and shift city’s priorities

Mayor-elect John Cranley invited reporters to his home in Mt. Lookout on Wednesday to discuss his plan and priorities for his first term as mayor of Cincinnati.

Cranley claims the invitation to his house represents the kind of accessible, transparent leadership he’ll take up when he begins his term on Dec. 1.

Speaking on his immediate priorities, Cranley says he already contacted the nine newly elected council members and intends to build more collaboration with all sides of the aisle, which will include a mix of five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one Independent starting in December.

One of Cranley’s top priorities is to cancel the $133 million streetcar project, which Cranley and six newly elected council members oppose. He also argues that the city should stop spending on ongoing construction for the project.

“Seriously, look at who got elected yesterday. At some point, this is a democracy. We shouldn’t be agitating voters like this,” Cranley says. “Let’s not keep spending money when it looks like the clear majority and the clear mandate of yesterday’s election was going in a different direction.”

But in response to recent reports that canceling the streetcar project could carry its own set of unknown costs, he says he will weigh the costs and benefits before making a final decision. If the cost of cancellation is too high, Cranley acknowledges he would pull back his opposition to the project.

Canceling the streetcar project would also require an ordinance from City Council.

Mike Moroski, who on Tuesday lost in his bid for a council seat, already announced on Twitter that he’s gathering petition signatures for a referendum to prevent the project’s cancellation.

Cranley promises he won’t stop a referendum effort by placing an emergency clause on an ordinance that cancels the project, but he expressed doubt that a referendum would succeed.

On the current city administration’s plan to lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, Cranley says he will work with fellow lawyers David Mann and Kevin Flynn, both of who won seats for council on Tuesday, to find a way to cancel the deal.

But that could prove tricky with the lease agreement already signed by the city and Port Authority, especially as the Port works to sell bonds — perhaps before Cranley takes office — to finance the deal and the $85 million payment the city will receive as a result.

Cranley also promises to make various development projects his top priority, particularly the interchange for Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive. He says he will lobby White House officials to re-appropriate nearly $45 million in federal grant money for the streetcar project to the interchange project, even though the U.S. Department of Transportation told the city in a June 19 letter that it would take back nearly $41 million of its grant money if the streetcar project were canceled.

Cranley vows he will also work with local businesses to leverage public and private dollars to spur investment in Cincinnati’s neighborhoods — similar to what the city did with Over-the-Rhine and downtown by working with 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation).

“We want to have some big early wins,” Cranley says. “We want to get moving within a year on the Wasson Way bike trail, see significant progress at the old Swifton Commons and see Westwood Square developed.”

He adds, “And we intend to reverse the one-trash-can policy, which I think is a horrible policy. … There have been several stories about illegal dumping that have resulted from that.”

Cincinnati’s pension system and its $862-million-plus unfunded liability also remain a top concern for city officials. Cranley says he will tap Councilman Chris Smitherman to help bring costs in line, but no specifics on a plan were given.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.06.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Streetcar at 12:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
streetcar

Streetcar's Fate Still Unknown

New anti-streetcar majority faces unknown costs, hit to operating budget with cancellation

City officials on Wednesday reasserted that it remains unknown how much it would cost to cancel the $133 million streetcar project, and city spokesperson Meg Olberding and project executive John Deatrick agreed the unknown costs are a big concern.

Voters on Tuesday elected John Cranley to the mayor’s office and six council members — out of nine total — who oppose the streetcar project, giving streetcar opponents enough votes to cancel the project once the new government takes power on Dec. 1.

But, as first reported by CityBeat on Oct. 9, cancellation could carry all sorts of costs with $94 million tied to contractual obligations, including supply orders and other expenses from contractors and subcontractors, and $23 million already sunk on the project.

If the city were to cancel, it would also need to return nearly $41 million in grants to the federal government, according to a June 19 letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Canceling the project would cost jobs as well. About 150 laborers are currently working on the project, according to Deatrick. He says there’s also management positions involved, but he couldn’t offer an estimate for those jobs and whether they’re working on the project full- or part-time.

Deatrick says that it’s difficult to pin down how much cancellation would ultimately cost because the issue would likely be worked through litigation as the city tries to minimize cancellation costs and developers — such as Messer Construction, Prus Construction, Delta Railroad and CAF USA — attempt to maximize what they recoup from the project.

Another concern, according to Olberding, is cancellation’s impact on the operating budget. She says the roughly $2 million in federal grant money already spent on the project would have to come out of the operating budget, and litigation costs would come from the operating budget as well.

The capital budget, which is financed through bonds and other forms of debt, pays for capital projects like the streetcar. The operating budget typically goes toward day-to-day operations, including police, firefighters and human services.

The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001. If millions in litigation costs and repayments to the federal government are added to it, the city could be forced to cut services and jobs or raise taxes.

There are also concerns about how the federal government and Cincinnati’s business partners would react to the cancellation of such a major project. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Cranley’s opponent in the mayoral race, previously told CityBeat that pulling back on a commitment could break the faith developers and the feds placed in Cincinnati when they agreed to take on the streetcar project.

Cranley and other anti-streetcar elects argue the long-term costs — the $88 million in the capital budget for the current phase of the project, the cost of future expansion and $3-4 million that it would cost to operate the streetcar annually — outweigh even the costs of cancellation.

Cranley previously told CityBeat that he would help developers involved in the project find other work in the city to recoup the revenue lost from the project’s cancellation. He says Messer and Prus in particular are based in and already work heavily in Cincinnati, so it’s unlikely they would try to cut ties with the city.

Streetcar supporters aren’t convinced. If the city pulls out of such a big commitment, officials argue both the federal government and developers could be compelled to look for a more reliable source for future work.

Meanwhile, Deatrick says current construction work is progressing on time and within budget. He expects the track on Elm Street to be laid down between 12th and Henry streets by the end of the year.

As for the next phase of the project, Deatrick says there’s still no estimated cost. He attributes much of the project’s current political problems to construction bids coming in over budget earlier in the year — a turn of events that led City Council to put another $17.5 million to the streetcar project — so he says the city needs to be really careful with future estimates if it decides to expand the streetcar system.

Despite the fresh political threats, the city still intends to conduct meetings with businesses on Nov. 14 and 18 about the benefits of the streetcar. Deatrick says those meetings should show the economic benefits of the rail line that go beyond the streetcar’s use as a transit network.

Supporters of the streetcar often point to those benefits as their reasoning for backing the project. Citing a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati, supporters say the streetcar project would produce a three-to-one return on investment.

Deatrick acknowledges those projections are now outdated, given all the changes the project has gone through since 2007. He says the city has people working on updating the numbers and looking at other economic effects the HDR study may have missed.

But opponents of the streetcar project say it’s simply too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Still, the potentially high cost of cancellation could prove a bigger fiscal concern.

Either way, Cincinnati should find out the full consequences to the project in December.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.04.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, LGBT, Streetcar at 10:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Last chance to vote early today, gay marriage case proceeds, streetcar workshops this month

With Election Day tomorrow, today is the last chance to vote early. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. If you don’t vote early, you can still vote on Election Day (Nov. 5). Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.

Judge Timothy Black ruled to continue with a lawsuit that will decide whether same-sex marriages conducted in other states should be acknowledged on Ohio’s death certificates. The lawsuit originally appeared to matter only to a Cincinnati gay couple, but it’s been expanded to potentially reflect on the rights of all gay couples in the state. Black is expected to give his final ruling on the lawsuit in December. If Black rules in favor of same-sex couples, it could be the latest step forward in an ongoing line of progress for LGBT rights. Although same-sex marriage remains illegal in Ohio, gay couples can now jointly file for federal taxes.

Local officials plan to host two workshops to show business owners how the streetcar could benefit them. The workshops are set for Nov. 14 at 10 a.m. and Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. Both will be held on the third floor of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County at 800 Vine Street, downtown Cincinnati. Anyone interested can sign up here.

Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the Bureau of Criminal Investigation tested 2,093 sexual assault kits through October, resulting in 688 DNA matches. Each kit represents a sexual assault case in which DNA was taken but not previously submitted for testing. The initiative is meant to speed up the process through which sexual assault kits from around the state are tested.

A teacher with close ties to Gov. John Kasich was promoted to senior policy adviser, a top position, at the Ohio Department of Education.

With financial incentives from the state attached, the film industry is working more and creating jobs in Cincinnati and around Ohio.

A new study, conducted in part by Cincinnati researchers, found obesity contributes to early puberty in girls.

Ohio gas prices slightly increased from one week ago.

Eating too much Halloween candy might make someone really sick, but it usually won’t kill.

Watch kids discuss gay marriage:

And here’s one lady who really loves sponges:

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by German Lopez 10.16.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Homelessness, Health care at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

First streetcar tracks set, homeless to sue county, Medicaid expansion expected to pass

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.

Cincinnati yesterday laid down the first two streetcar tracks, putting the project on a clear path to completion after years of financial and political hurdles. The $133 million project is now expected to continue its construction phase over the next three years, with a goal of opening to the public on Sept. 15, 2016. City officials, including Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney, celebrated the milestone and thanked supporters for remaining committed to the project. Meanwhile, former Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for laying down the tracks instead of delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December. Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.

The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition yesterday announced it’s suing the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department over a new policy that attempts to remove homeless people from courthouse steps with the threat of arrest. The sheriff’s office says it still intends to redirect homeless people to housing and other services, but it told WVXU that clearing out the courthouse is necessary to invoke a “type of immediacy” to encourage homeless residents “to seek housing and a better situation.” Advocates call the policy dangerous and unfair. A press conference will be held later today to discuss the lawsuit.

State Senate President Keith Faber says he expects Gov. John Kasich’s proposal for a two-year, federally funded Medicaid expansion to gain approval from a seven-member legislative oversight panel known as the Controlling Board. Faber, a Republican who opposes the expansion, says it’s now time for the legislature to consider broader reforms for Medicaid, which provides health insurance to low-income and disabled Ohioans. After months of wrangling with legislators in his own political party to approve the expansion, Kasich, a Republican, on Friday announced he would bypass the legislature and instead ask the Controlling Board to approve federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans for two years. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Mayor Mallory says the Millenium Hotel’s owners agreed to conduct a feasibility study to see what kind of renovations the market will support for the hotel. Mallory told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the agreement is the first sign of progress since discussions about overhauling the shabby hotel began.

To tackle concerns about second-hand smoking, one state senator proposed a bill that would ban smoking in a car when a young child is present. It’s the second time in two years State Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) introduced the bill.

Allegiant Air will offer low fares to fly to Florida from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), ending months of speculation over whether the airline would pick CVG or Lunken Airport.

A state audit released on Tuesday found a local water worker was paid $437 in 2001 for work that wasn’t done.

Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel was named the No. 1 hotel in the country and tied for No. 11 in the world in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

Scientists found a way to block the dopamine rush associated with THC and make marijuana un-fun to help people with a psychological dependence on the drug.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.15.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Mayor at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

City Sets First Streetcar Tracks

Project moves forward despite political and financial hurdles

Standing in front of roughly 40 supporters, city leaders gave the order on Tuesday to lay down the first two streetcar tracks.

The milestone has been years in the making for the $133 million streetcar project — ever since City Council approved the streetcar plan in 2008 and the project broke ground in February 2012.

“This is another great day in our great city,” proclaimed Mayor Mark Mallory, a major proponent of the streetcar. “This is the project that will not stop.”

Political and financial hurdles snared the massive project in the past five years, but city officials say the construction phase is so far within budget and on time, putting it on track to open to the public on Sept. 15, 2016.

Until then, City Manager Milton Dohoney asked for patience as construction progresses.

But not everyone was happy with the milestone. Ex-Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for not delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December.

“The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people of Cincinnati from the beginning,” Cranley said in a statement. “To lay track for a project that can’t be completed for three years right before an election that will serve as a referendum on the project is a slap in face to the voters.”

Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.

Multiple streetcar supporters at the event told CityBeat that Cranley’s demands are ridiculous. They say that delaying a project with contractual obligations and deadlines for two months because of a political campaign would cripple the city’s ability to take on future projects as weary contractors question the city’s commitments.

Streetcar supporters back the project as both another option for public transit and an economic development driver. Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati found the Over-the-Rhine and downtown loop will produce a three-to-one return on investment.

Opponents say the project is too costly. They argue the project forced the city to raise property taxes and forgo other capital projects, such as the interchange at Interstate 75 and Martin Luther King Drive.

The project already went through two referendums in 2009 and 2011 in which voters effectively approved the streetcar.

Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in federal funds from the project in 2011 after he won the 2010 gubernatorial election against former Gov. Ted Strickland, whose administration allocated the money to the streetcar.

Earlier in 2013, City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap after construction bids for the project came in higher than expected.

Despite the hurdles, city leaders remain committed to the project. They estimate the first section of the track — on Elm Street between 12th and Henry streets — will be finished in January 2014.

 
 

 

 

Latest Blogs
 
by German Lopez 01.23.2014
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Group protests gentrification, streetcar fares revealed, FitzGerald supports death penalty

An anti-gentrification organization says development in southern Over-the-Rhine and downtown is leaving out low- and middle-income residents. The People’s Coalition for Equality and Justice (TPCEJ) cautions it’s not against development, but it supports policies that would seek to help more people take advantage of the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine and downtown, such as more affordable housing, protections for renters’ rights, rent control and the formation of tenants’ unions. The agency behind much of the development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown, 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation), says “people tend to over-romanticize what this neighborhood was” and points to some examples of 3CDC-developed affordable housing as evidence the agency is trying to keep the neighborhood mixed-income.

Related: Some studies found gentrification could benefit longtime residents.

A two-hour streetcar pass could cost $1.75, and a 24-hour pass could cost $3.50, according to a new model unveiled yesterday by Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager. The same model set streetcar operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-midnight. Under the model, city officials expect 3,000 daily boardings, but Grether cautioned that’s a very conservative estimate and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games.

But the City Council-enforced streetcar delay could cost more than expected after the steel company originally contracted for the $132.8 million project took another job while council members decided the fate of the project. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick told council the company’s decision could push construction of a maintenance facility by two months if the city doesn’t hire a steel supplier from outside the region.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald yesterday clarified he supports the death penalty, which aligns him with his Republican opponent, incumbent John Kasich, on the issue. FitzGerald’s remark comes after the debate over the death penalty re-ignited in Ohio following the execution of convicted killer and rapist Dennis McGuire, who took 26 minutes to die after state officials used a new cocktail of drugs never tried before in the United States. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction told CityBeat it’s reviewing McGuire’s death, as it does following every execution.

Commentary: “Death Penalty Brings More Costs than Benefits.”

After receiving support from family planning services and abortion provider Planned Parenthood, Democrats running for Ohio’s executive offices re-emphasized their support for abortion rights.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune will announce today whether he’ll challenge FitzGerald’s gubernatorial campaign in a Democratic primary. (Update: Despite previously telling The Cincinnati Enquirer he already made up his mind, Portune canceled his announcement and said he has no final decision yet, according to Carl Weiser, politics editor at The Enquirer.)

Hamilton County commissioners showed openness to keeping some early voting downtown even if the county moves its Board of Elections to a Mount Airy facility. Moving the board along with the county’s crime lab would allow commissioners to consolidate government services.

Cincinnati’s economy should grow faster than previously expected, one economist says.

Plan Cincinnati, the city’s master comprehensive plan, won a national planning award. CityBeat previously covered the master plan in further detail here.

Ten major projects worth more than $1.4 billion are in the planning stages or underway in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Ohio meets voting standards set by President Barack Obama’s bipartisan election commission, with the one exception of online voter registration, according to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday announced the creation of a statewide taskforce to combat heroin abuse.

Virtual reality could help people see what gender swaps would be like.

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by German Lopez 01.22.2014
Posted In: City Council, News, Streetcar at 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Two-Hour Streetcar Pass Could Cost $1.75

City officials project 3,000 daily boardings

Riding the streetcar will cost $1.75 for two hours and $3.50 for 24 hours, according to a model unveiled Wednesday by Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager.

The model also set streetcar operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-midnight.

Under the model, the streetcar should sustain 3,000 daily boardings, Grether said. But that estimate is very conservative and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games, he cautioned.

Grether presented the projections during a presentation at City Council’s Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick also released numbers that show the project remains on budget and time.

But Deatrick warned council members of one potential hurdle: The originally contracted steel supplier took another job after City Council delayed the streetcar project for three weeks, which could force the city to delay construction of a maintenance facility for two months or hire a steel supplier outside the region.

City officials also said they are looking at potential funding avenues for the next phase of the streetcar project, which would establish a rail line from Findlay Market up the Vine Street hill. The goal, they said, is to clear up any misconceptions about what the next phase of the project would cost.

The latest federal budget allocated $600 million in TIGER grants and $2 billion in Federal Transit Administration New/Small Starts grants that could go to a future phase of the streetcar project.

City Council would need to approve the next phase of the streetcar project before it could move forward.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.10.2014
Posted In: News, Development, Transportation, Streetcar at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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Streetcar Supporters Oppose Oasis Rail Line

HDR study finds low economic development along intercity line

At first glance, it might seem like a rail line between downtown Cincinnati and the city of Milford would earn support from the same people who back the $132.8 million streetcar project, but streetcar supporters, including advocacy group Cincinnatians for Progress, say they oppose the idea and its execution.

Critics of the overall project, called the Eastern Corridor, recently pointed to a November study from HDR. Despite flowery language promising a maximized investment, HDR found seven of 10 stations on the $230-$322 million Oasis rail line would result in low economic development, five of 10 stations would provide low access to buses and bikes, and the intercity line would achieve only 3,440 daily riders by 2030.

HDR’s findings for the Oasis line stand in sharp contrast to its study of Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The firm found the streetcar line in Over-the-Rhine and downtown would generate major economic development and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.

Given the poor results for the Oasis line, streetcar supporters say local officials should ditch the Oasis concept and instead pursue the 2002 MetroMoves plan and an expansion of the streetcar system through a piecemeal approach that would create a central transit spine through the region.

“To have (the Oasis line) be our first commuter rail piece in Cincinnati … just doesn’t make sense to me,” says Derek Bauman, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress.

MetroMoves spans across the entire city and region, with the rail line along I-71 from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to downtown Cincinnati to King’s Island fostering particularly high interest.

Voters rejected the MetroMoves plan and the sales tax hike it involved in 2002, but streetcar supporters say public opinion will shift once the streetcar becomes reality in Cincinnati.

“That’s been proven in other cities, especially ones that have not historically been transit-oriented,” Bauman says, pointing to Houston and Miami as examples of cities that built spines that are now being expanded.

Opposition to the Oasis line is also more deeply rooted in a general movement against the Eastern Corridor project. The unfunded billion-dollar project involves a few parts: relocating Ohio 32 through the East Side, the Oasis rail line and several road improvements from Cincinnati to Milford.

Supporters of the Eastern Corridor claim it would ease congestion, at least in the short term, and provide a cohesiveness in transportation options that’s severely lacking in the East Side.

Opponents argue the few benefits, some of which both sides agree are rooted in legitimate concerns, just aren’t worth the high costs and various risks tied to the project.

“When it comes to widening roads and highways, it’s kind of like loosening your belt at Thanksgiving. Somehow traffic always fills to fit,” Bauman says. “Highway expansion, especially in urban areas, is not the future. It’s not even the present in some areas.”

The big concern is that the relocation of Ohio 32 might do to the East Side and eastern Hamilton County what I-75 did to the West Side, which was partly obliterated and divided by the massive freeway.

“It hurts the cohesiveness of our communities when you create these big divides,” Bauman argues. “You would see that repeat itself.”

Officials are taking feedback for the Eastern Corridor and Oasis rail line at EasternCorridor.org.

This article was updated to use more up-to-date figures for the cost of the Oasis rail line.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.09.2014
Posted In: News, Governor, 2014 election, Mayor, Streetcar at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Economy could hurt Kasich, Cranley sustains attacks on streetcar, busy intersection to close

Ohio's weakening economy could hurt Gov. John Kasich and other Republican incumbents' chances of re-election in 2014, even if they don't deserve the blame for the state of the economy, as some economists claim. For Republican incumbents, the threat is all too real as groups from all sides — left, right and nonpartisan — find the state's economy is failing to live up to the "Ohio miracle" Kasich previously promised. Economists agree state officials often take too much credit for the state of the economy, but political scientists point out that, regardless of who is to blame, the economy is one of the top deciding factors in state elections. For Kasich and other incumbents, it creates a difficult situation: Their influence on the economy might be marginal, but it's all they have to secure re-election.

Despite promising to move on after he failed to permanently halt the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley continues criticizing the streetcar in interviews and social media. In a Sunday appearance on Local 12, Cranley threatened to replace the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board, which manages local Metro bus services, in response to its offer to take up streetcar operating costs. (City Council sets SORTA appointments, not the mayor.) The interview, held within weeks of Cranley mocking and arguing with pro-streetcar critics on social media, comes despite Cranley's promises to move on after City Council agreed to continue the project. "As I tell my son when he doesn't get his way, it's time to move on," Cranley said on Dec. 19.

Streetcar track installation will force the busy intersection at Elm and Liberty streets to close between Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. to Jan. 21 at 7 p.m., city officials announced yesterday. One northbound lane will remain open on Elm Street, but traffic heading east and west on Liberty Street will be redirected.

Commentary: "Bengals Loss Reminds of Terrible Stadium Deal."

Police are investigating three homicides in Avondale and Over-the-Rhine this morning.

Construction crews plan to turn the defunct Tower Place mall into Mabley Place, a new parking garage with several retail spaces on the exterior of the first floor. Across Race Street, other developers will turn Pogue's Garage into a 30-story tower with a downtown grocery store, luxury apartments and another garage.

Hamilton County is dedicating a full-time deputy to crack down on semis and other vehicles breaking commercial laws.

Ohio House Republicans' proposal to revamp the state's tax on the oil and gas industry would not produce enough revenue to cut income taxes for most Ohioans, despite previous promises. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the proposal would only allow for a very small 1-percent across-the-board income tax cut.

Ohio's education system received five C's and an A on a private national report card. The state's middle-of-the-pack performance is largely unchanged from last year's score.

The number of underwater residential properties is declining around the nation, but Ohio remains among the top six states worst affected by the housing crisis, according to real estate analysts at RealtyTrac.

The state auditor's new app allows anyone to easily report suspected fraud.

Macy's plans to lay off 2,500 employees and close five stores to cut costs.

Cincinnati Children's is reaching out to to 10,000 children left without a health care provider after several clinics closed.

Ohio drivers can expect lower gas prices in 2014, according to AAA and GasBuddy.com.

A new glue that seals heart defects could provide an alternative to stitches.

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by German Lopez 01.08.2014
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor, Streetcar at 01:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
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Cranley Continues Anti-Streetcar Rhetoric

Mayor threatens to replace SORTA board over streetcar debate

Despite promising to move on after he failed to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley continues criticizing the project in interviews and social media.

Most recently, Cranley appeared on Local 12’s Newsmakers program and threatened to eventually replace the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board, which manages local Metro bus services, in response to board members’ defunct offer to take up streetcar operating costs. (City Council sets SORTA appointments, not the mayor.)

“The fact is they were willing to cannibalize bus service,” Cranley said, contrary to SORTA’s insistence that their offer would not have affected bus services. “I just felt that was a huge violation of what SORTA is supposed to be about and what Metro is supposed to be about and what public transportation is supposed to be about.”

Throughout the 24-minute interview, Cranley referenced the streetcar project when discussing the city’s parking meters and other subjects — a continuation of repetitive anti-streetcar tactics Cranley deployed on the campaign trail and in mayoral debates against former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.

“I think the project is wasteful and not worth the investment,” Cranley said when asked about the project. “I think we would have been better off making the hard decision to cut bait.”

Still, Cranley later added, “Obviously, since the supermajority of council went against my wishes, I have to respect the process. So I’m not going to try to sabotage the streetcar.”

The interview also follows comments on social media. After the former head of the Cincinnati Art Museum criticized the streetcar, Cranley tweeted on Dec. 27, “(N)ow some Orwellian commentators will say art director not ‘progressive.’”

The continued anti-streetcar rhetoric comes despite promises to move on that Cranley made after Councilman Kevin Flynn announced he would provide the final vote needed to veto-proof City Council’s decision to continue the streetcar project.

“As I tell my son when he doesnt get his way, its time to move on,” Cranley said on Dec. 19.

But Cranley’s heated rhetoric is nothing new in his campaign against the streetcar project.

After the Nov. 5 election, Cranley told The Cincinnati Enquirer the streetcar debate “is over.” Cranley’s comments marked a high level of confidence after voters elected a mayor and council supermajority that seemingly opposed the streetcar project, but his statement to The Enquirer proved to be wrong after Council Members Flynn, David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld decided to continue the project.

Cranley also called city officials “incompetent” after they projected that canceling the streetcar project would cost nearly as much as completing it. Once again, Cranley’s comments proved to be wrong — an independent audit found city officials were largely correct in their assessment — but still showed the level of confident, heated rhetoric that follows the mayor’s campaign against the streetcar project.

At the very least, Cranley’s rhetoric proves that while the policy debate over the streetcar is over for now, the public discussion is not. The question is whether the messaging will work as the project moves forward and the streetcar becomes a reality of Cincinnati.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.27.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Streetcar at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar construction restarts, minimum wage hike incoming, jobless benefits to expire

Construction on the $132.8 million streetcar project restarted yesterday, marking an end to the nearly two-month drama brought on by Mayor John Cranley’s election and his threats of cancellation. City Council paused the project for a little more than three weeks to conduct an audit on its costs, but the legislative body agreed to restart construction last week after receiving a signed agreement from the Haile Foundation that the philanthropic group will provide $9 million over 10 years to help pay for $3.13-$3.54 million in annual operating costs.

An automatic increase on Ohio’s minimum wage at the start of the new year will benefit 330,000 Ohioans, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). The higher wages should translate to a better economy for all Ohioans: EPI found the automatic increase will generate nearly $39 million in economic impact and 300 full-time jobs. Since a voter-approved measure in 2006, Ohio has been among several states who peg the minimum wage to increases in the cost of living.

More than 36,000 Ohioans will lose emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed tomorrow following a lack of congressional action, according to left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio. The emergency benefits were passed by Congress at the start of the Great Recession to help those hit worse by the economic downturn, but Congress failed to extend the benefits before it recessed for the holidays despite lingering signs of a weakened economy. Without the extension, Ohioans can tap into just 26 weeks of state-provided jobless aid; federally funded emergency benefits give the unemployed another 37 weeks to find work before losing government assistance.

Here are CityBeat’s top stories of 2013.

The annual review of the two-year state budget could include income tax cuts, said Ohio’s tax chief. The statement follows Gov. John Kasich’s announced push for another income tax cut to help spur Ohio’s slowing economy. The Republican governor signed a state budget that reduced taxes — particularly for the wealthy — earlier in the year, but Ohio’s economy still slowed down in the past few months as the state unemployment rate surpassed the national rate for the first time in years.

With the Ohio Supreme Court’s rejection last week of a challenge to the state’s federally funded Medicaid expansion, conservatives are conceding the battle is “over with” for now. Gov. Kasich pursued the federally funded expansion without approval from the General Assembly by going through the seven-member Controlling Board, but Republicans, who largely opposed the expansion of a government-run health care program from the start, fought against the board’s approval in court.

Gov. Kasich was “stingy” with his clemency powers during his third year in office, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Even though a review found Cintrifuse is a “Lead Applicant with strong position within SW Ohio entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Ohio Third Frontier denied state tax credits for the local startup incubator because, according to the state review group, Cintrifuse maintains an unrealistic goal to scale to 60 tenants in its first year and lacks strategy or process for the incubator services, graduation focus, an adequate staffing plan and a defined tenant award process.

Delta briefly provided very low air fares following a technical error yesterday.

Much to scientists’ frustration, 2014 could be a bad year for the flu after the adaptive virus evolves.

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by German Lopez 12.26.2013
Posted In: News, LGBT, Streetcar, Taxes at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
evolution of equality

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio must recognize gay marriages, governor calls for more tax cuts, citizens saved streetcar

A federal judge on Monday ordered Ohio authorities to recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates. Although the ruling was narrow, many advocates of gay marriage argue the merits of the judge’s decision indicate a broader problem with Ohio’s marriage laws following the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling against a federal anti-gay marriage law. The judge’s ruling came just three days after another federal court struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban on similar constitutional grounds.

Gov. John Kasich’s plan to get Ohio’s economy moving again: more tax cuts. But the policy announcement — unsurprising, coming from a Republican — comes on the same year Ohio’s economy slowed down even after Kasich and the Republican legislature passed tax cuts that heavily favored the state’s wealthiest.

Believe in Cincinnati saved the streetcar, argues The Cincinnati Enquirer. The group was formed shortly after Mayor John Cranley won the November election and threatened to halt the $132.8 million streetcar project for good. But the threats inspired a groundswell of streetcar supporters, ranging from concerned businesses to residents. And before City Council agreed to continue the streetcar project, Believe in Cincinnati in just eight days gathered 11,300 petition signatures for a charter amendment restarting the project. CityBeat covered the group in its infancy here.

Cincinnati ranked No. 2 for highest child poverty out of 76 major U.S. cities in 2012, according to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Cleveland and Toledo also made the unfortunate top five, CDF found.

Overtime pay at the Metropolitan Sewer District exceeded $2 million for the third consecutive year in a row, but the number falls below the accepted standard of less than 10 percent of total payroll. MSD Director Tony Parrott says overtime allows the agency to keep staffing numbers in check but still responsive to unexpected situations. Still, the overtime estimate arrives at a time Hamilton County commissioners are raising sewer and water rates to comply with federal mandates.

Cincinnati will tap into a state program for a major demolition blitz in 2014. The city plans to knock down 240 blighted and condemned buildings next year — far higher than the typical annual rate of 70.

Eight historic buildings in Cincinnati, including Memorial Hall, on Dec. 20 received roughly $6 million in state tax credits for projects totaling $71 million.

Rhinegeist Brewing plans to begin canning its craft beer in January.

Humans were getting the flu as far back as the year 1510, but it’s completely unknown if dinosaurs suffered from similar illnesses.

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by German Lopez 12.20.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor, Health care, LGBT at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati streetcar saved, gay marriage could appear on ballot, Medicaid overhaul signed

City Council yesterday decided Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all. After securing the six votes necessary to overturn a mayoral veto, Mayor John Cranley conceded that the $132.8 million streetcar project will restart following a two-week pause. It was a surprising journey for the project, which largely seemed like the underdog ever since the new mayor and council took office earlier in the month. In the end, the project gained its sixth vote from Councilman Kevin Flynn after the philanthropic Haile Foundation signed onto contributing $900,000 a year for 10 years to help underwrite part of the streetcar’s annual operating costs.

Advocacy group FreedomOhio yesterday announced it has enough signatures to place same-sex marriage on Ohio’s 2014 ballot. The group declined to tell Cleveland.com exactly how many signatures it had collected so far, but the organization says it’s aiming to collect 1 million before the July filing deadline. At the same time, FreedomOhio released a poll that found Ohioans are still split on the issue of same-sex marriage. But the poll also found that a good majority of Ohioans support FreedomOhio’s gay marriage legalization amendment, which provides exemptions for religious groups.

Gov. John Kasich yesterday signed a bipartisan Medicaid overhaul bill that seeks to control costs by establishing an oversight commission and a target for spending growth. The legislation also sets a focus on health care outcomes to ensure quality standards in the government-run program. Both parties pursued the bill to tamp down on health care costs that have been taking up more of the state’s budget in the past few years.

A new report from the state attorney general’s office found nearly half the businesses who received state aid in 2012 did not fulfill their end of the deal in terms of producing new jobs and other promises.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 percent in November, down from 7.5 percent the month before. But the number was well above the 6.8 percent rate from November 2012, indicating a decline in job growth in the past year.

Police arrested the mother of a 3-year-old for falsification and the mother’s boyfriend for accidentally shooting the child on Tuesday.

Today is Homeless Memorial Day, a day meant to commemorate those who died in 2013 while experiencing homelessness. The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is gathering at 5:30 p.m. at the corner of 14th and Elm streets to honor the occasion.

Bike Share plans to come to Cincinnati next summer and allow residents to rent out bikes around multiple parts of town.

Miami University is the second most efficient university in the nation in terms of delivering a good education for relatively low cost, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report.

Cincinnati’s housing market marked 29 consecutive months of increased sales last month with a 5-percent rise. The measure indicates the local economy is recovering after the Great Recession crippled housing markets around the nation.

A new product that claims to translate dogs’ thoughts to human speech is bogus.

After today, Morning News and Stuff will take a vacation until Dec. 26. Happy holidays!

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by German Lopez 12.19.2013
Posted In: Mayor, Streetcar at 02:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
streetcar

Cincinnati Streetcar Saved

Council gets six votes to override mayor's veto and continue project

After nearly two months of ups and downs, city leaders on Thursday announced Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all.

Speaking prior to a council vote, Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Kevin Flynn announced City Council has the six votes to overcome the mayor's veto and restart construction on the $132.8 million streetcar project.

Flynn was the final holdout in what some council members now call the "streetcar six." He was asking for a commitment from private contributors to cover the annual operating costs for the streetcar, which consulting firm KPMG estimated at $1.88-$2.44 million a year after fares and sponsorships.

The philanthropic Haile Foundation lived up to part of the commitment by signing onto $900,000 a year for 10 years, Flynn announced. That was enough of a commitment to move forward as the city makes a broader effort to get all the operating costs off the city's books, he said.

"That is a huge commitment, folks," Flynn added.

Flynn also acknowledged that the streetcar could foster new revenues in the city's operating budget and actually allow the city to take on bigger responsibilities.

Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati found the streetcar project will generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.

Flynn, a Charterite, joined Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young in support of restarting the project. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted against it.

Still, Cranley said he will continue opposing the streetcar project. He repeatedly stated council is making the wrong decision.

"I'm disappointed in the outcome," said Cranley, who ran in opposition to the streetcar.

Flynn reiterated his respect for Cranley, despite effectively dealing a major blow to Cranley's agenda.

Cranley "helped me get elected to this position, and I take that trust seriously," Flynn said.

Others were glad the city can now take on different issues without getting mired down in a contentious streetcar debate.

"I am so glad that this issue is done and over with," said Vice Mayor Mann, who voted in favor of the project.

Mann officially changed his stance on the project after KPMG's audit found canceling the project could cost nearly as much as completing it.

The final decision came at a cost to Cincinnati: The two-week pause of the project, which allowed KPMG to conduct its review, added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to KPMG's audit. The city also allocated $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.

Once it's completed, the streetcar line will run as a 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.

Updated with results of City Council's vote and additional information.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.19.2013
Posted In: Streetcar, City Council, Charter Committee, Mayor at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Decision Day for Streetcar

Councilman Kevin Flynn still undecided on whether to cast deciding vote to restart project

It's decision day for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.

But hours before City Council expects to make a decision, it's unclear whether the legislative body has the six votes necessary to overcome Mayor John Cranley's veto and restart construction for the streetcar project.

The deciding vote will most likely come from Charterite Kevin Flynn, who says he's working behind the scenes with undisclosed private entities to get the streetcar's operating costs off the city's books. If that deal pulls through, Flynn would provide the sixth vote to keep going.

The project already has five votes in favor: Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young. 

Three council members have long opposed the project: Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman.

It's a big financial decision for the city.

If the city goes forward with the project, it would cost $53.9-$68.9 million, depending on whether the city convinces courts Duke Energy should pay for $15 million in utility costs, according to an audit from consulting firm KPMG.

If the city cancels, it will incur $16.3-$46.1 million in additional close-out costs, the same audit found. But it will get nothing for those tens of millions spent and could face costly litigation in the future. 

Council expects to make a final decision at Thursday's 2 p.m. meeting. Follow @germanrlopez on Twitter for live updates.

 

 
 
 
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