WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
Home - Blogs - Users Blogs - Latest Blogs
by Nick Swartsell 10.31.2014 51 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Sen. Mitch McConnell

Morning News and Stuff

Enquirer's innovative new layoffs drive reporter exodus; petition circulated to name the Norwood Lateral after Carl Lindner; Kanye or Cruz?

Halloween is here. I’m taking an informal poll: how many folks are dressing up as Union Terminal and/or Music Hall tonight? I’m not knocking ya. I just wish I’d thought of that in time. Instead I have an Abraham Lincoln mask, American flag aviators, and a bow tie for a costume, so I will probably look like a very unappealing, election-themed male stripper. Procrastination is lame, folks.

These are painful times for the Cincinnati Enquirer. A reorganization has been happening for a while now, but recently, news broke that a number of newsroom veterans are leaving the paper, including No. 2 in command Laura Trujillio and social issues reporter Mark Curnute, whose stories I've always been impressed with. Over the past couple months, employees have been asked to reapply for their jobs under new, more digitally-oriented job descriptions. That's definitely ruffled some feathers, and has caused the biggest shake-up in the paper's history. The departures probably have something to do with the fact Gannett brass have been wrapping layoffs at the Enquirer and other papers in the disingenuous corporate speak of an exciting new opportunity to create "the newsroom of the future", but who knows?

• Right now the Ohio Department of Transportation is having its Southwestern Ohio town hall meeting on the future of public transit in the state. In Lebanon, because everyone knows that is the absolute hub of public transit in the region. You can watch the proceedings live here if you’d like to follow along at home. It’s standing room only there, maybe because I spread a rumor that there’s an ODOT party bus shuttling folks to some killer Halloween parties right after the meeting. That’s false, as far as I know.

• You’ve probably already heard about the controversy over a proposal by outgoing State Sen. Eric Kearney to change the name of State Route 562 from the Norwood Lateral to the Barack Obama Norwood Lateral Highway. I bet you can guess some folks’ reaction to that idea. Norwood Mayor Tom Williams doesn’t want a name change, but did throw out another, much different suggestion: naming it after Norwood-raised business magnate Carl Lindner, who died in 2011. Williams called Lindner, who owned Chiquita, Great American Insurance, and a number of other businesses  “a beautiful individual” and said the several times he got to hang out with him were “an absolute thrill.” Hm. Maybe let’s just keep calling it the Norwood Lateral.

• More than 400 people in eastern Ohio were forced to leave their homes this week after a fracking operation there began leaking and “shooting an invisible gaseous discharge into the air.”

…no, I’m just not even going to go there. The blowout happened about 6 p.m. Tuesday. Homes within a 2 mile radius of the site where evacuated, though officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources say no permanent environmental impact was caused by the leak and residents were back in their houses by midnight. No word on the cause of the accident.

• Is the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party on the way out? Could be. Some say those within the party are furious at the monumental disaster that Dem gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald’s campaign has become, and party chair Chris Redfern could take the heat for that. We’ll see.

• Almost a year exactly after political brinksmanship and partisan wrangling ground the U.S. government to a halt, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says if voters in Kentucky choose him, it’s because “they want divided government.” It may be true, though. New polls heading into the Nov. 4 election show McConnell up five points over his Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

• Finally, I want to introduce you to perhaps the weirdest online quiz ever. Can you distinguish the wisdom passed down by ornery, Texan tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz from the golden, learned lessons of rapper and self-proclaimed genius Kanye West? The Washington Post wants to help you find out.

 
 
by Steven Rosen 10.30.2014 52 days ago
Posted In: Urban Planning at 01:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
annman_northsidemural_jf32

Is Cincinnati America's New Urban 'Sweet Spot'?

That’s the opinion of John Sanphillippo of San Francisco, in this recent article from newgeography.com about how acquaintances from there who, upon finding that city too expensive, moved to Cincinnati and discovered a similar environment, only affordable.

His point is very provocative — young people who want but can’t afford the progressive, stimulating urban life that is such a lure for cities like San Francisco, Brooklyn, N.Y., Seattle or Boston aren’t giving up on their dreams and retreating to the familiar dullness of Great American Suburbia.

Instead, they’re finding that all cities now — and especially what he calls “Rust Belt” cities — are alive with examples of progressive New Urbanism. And he singles out Cincinnati as a choice example.

The photos aren’t marked, but you can see Shake It Records, the Suspension Bridge, East Walnut Hills, Vine Street. And the author doesn’t even mention the streetcar.

This article ran Saturday on the New Geography site, a joint venture of author Joel Kotkin (The City: A Global History) and Praxis Strategy Group devoted to “analyzing and discussing the places where we live and work.”

According to his bio, Sanphillippo “lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at granolashotgun.com. He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for faircompanies.com, and is a regular contributor to strongtowns.org. He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long- term prospects.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.30.2014 52 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council passes a bunch of stuff; Sheriff Jones' not-so-excellent adventure; Grimes hangs out with Hillary

All right! So I’ve got some great Halloween parties lined up and it’s really hard to sit still and focus on important things. But since that’s pretty much what being a grownup is about, and since they pay me to (kind of) be a grownup around here, let’s talk about news for a few.

• Though most of the action happened in committee meetings, City Council made final a bunch of things it has been working on, including funding the mayor’s Hand Up initiative. The jobs program has been controversial since the funding will come in part from other programs. Get the back story on that here.

Council also gave the thumbs up for City Manager Harry Black’s proposals for the city’s $18 million budget surplus. The city will stash most of it away in savings or emergency accounts for weather and such, give some to a new data analysis office, use some to fight infant mortality and to repay neighborhood programs.  

Council also gave final approval to an ordinance that would make getting expungements easier for those convicted under Cincinnati’s old marijuana law. Lingering criminal records for a number of city residents mean difficulty finding jobs and getting school loans, something the new law looks to address.

Finally, council passed new regulations on Uber and Lyft. You can read more about that here. Busy day.

• A while back I told you about outspoken Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones taping an interview for The Daily Show. Well, this probably goes without saying, but… it didn’t go so well. It’s gotta be hard when you’re diametrically opposed to the viewpoints of the show you’re going on, and they have all the editing power, but still. It was rough. Jones, who made his way down to the belly of the liberal beast, Austin, Texas, for the taping, continually insisted that illegal immigrants get all sorts of free stuff the rest of us aren’t privy to. I’ll let you watch the results yourself if you haven’t already.

• Also a while back, and also something you should watch — the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial meeting at which Gov. John Kasich more or less ignored beleaguered challenger Ed FitzGerald. I also, because I’m thoughtful like that, linked you to a page with a video of the exchange, or, well, lack thereof. Only the Plain Dealer later took that video down, which is weird, right? So here it is again. Warning: strong language in the article accompanying the vid, including the terms "douchecanoe" and "asshat."

• Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is getting more help from the Clintons in her nail-biter of a challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell. Hillary Clinton will appear with Grimes today in Louisville and Saturday in Covington at 11th-hour campaign rallies. No word what their Friday plans are, but I’m going to some great Halloween parties if y’all are reading and interested.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.30.2014 52 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
lyft

City Passes Ride Sharing Regulations

Insurance minimums, trip logs and driver background checks among requirements

City Council yesterday voted to approve rules governing ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, the first time since the companies came here in March that they’ve been regulated by the city.

“I don’t know if it will ever be perfect, but in other cities, they’ve outright banned Uber and Lyft,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, the transportation committee chair. “I think we’ve put together a perfect plan for this point in time, where we’re managing safety in Cincinnati without over-regulation. If we don’t have anything, there’s nothing on the books.”

The new regulations classify the ridesharing companies as “transportation network companies” and require them to carry a license with the city costing $10,000 a year. License requirements include $100,000 in liability insurance, keeping trip records for six months, as cab companies must do, requirements for background checks on drivers and minimum requirements for vehicles.

When rideshare companies first came to town, cab companies in the city cried foul at the lack of regulation the tech-savvy newcomers enjoyed. Representatives from cab companies protested outside City Hall and lobbied for rule changes.

Some rules placed on cab companies, like regulations when drivers can wear shorts, are arcane and burdensome, companies say.

Murray said the rules are due for an adjustment.

“Certainly this brought out some things in our taxi regulations right now that have not been updated in a while,” she said. “We need to look at that, and our committee will be doing that.”

Uber and Lyft have said they’re fundamentally different from taxi companies and shouldn’t be regulated the same way.

Uber Ohio General Manager James Ondrey told CityBeat in July that Uber doesn’t oppose all regulations, since the company does some of the things required of cab companies anyway. But he also said the company isn’t the same as a taxi company.

“Uber is a technology company,” Ondrey said. “We’ve built a mobile platform that connects users with drivers giving rides. They’re not employees. They’re independent contractors who pay a small fee to us to use our platform.”

Many of the regulations Council passed yesterday are things the companies already do voluntarily.

Vice Mayor David Mann had some reservations about the regulations and voted against them, saying they didn’t go far enough in terms of insurance and holding ride sharing companies accountable for the fares they’re charging.

He said the $25,000 in insurance the companies will be required to carry for accidents where they’re not at fault is too low and could leave citizens under-covered if an uninsured driver hits a ride share car. He also said the companies aren’t transparent enough with the city about their rates.

“We are letting them operate on our streets under the license we issue,” Mann said, “and we have no way to direct, easy way to make sure we’re comfortable with what they’re charging.”

The companies generally show the rates on their apps, but the rates are variable due to peak pricing schemes, which some have found confusing.

Overall, however, Council was supportive of the regulations, which have been in the works for five months and have gone through six versions in Council’s transportation committee. Mann was the only dissenting vote.

“This is as close as we were going to get to perfect,” Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said. “I think it’s a show that Cincinnati is open to business and that we’re working to be the big, great city we already are.”

Simpson pointed out that cabs still have cabstands and can be hailed. “Uber and Lyft don’t have that,” she said.
 
 
by Steven Rosen 10.29.2014 53 days ago
Posted In: Parks at 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
annman_otr_washingtonparkmusichall_jf01

Cincinnati, Columbus Parks Finalists for Urban Land Institute Award

Washington Park among four finalists

Two relatively new Ohio parks, Cincinnati’s Washington Park and Columbus’ Columbus Commons and Scioto Mile, were among the four finalists for the non-profit Urban Land Institute’s 2014 Urban Open Space Award.

According to the Institute, the award “celebrates and promotes vibrant, successful urban open spaces by annually recognizing and rewarding an outstanding example of a public destination that has enriched and revitalized its surrounding community.”

The 2014 winner was Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, described by the Institute as a “5.2-acre deck park built over a recessed freeway in Texas” (similar to what Cincinnati planners want to do with downtown’s Fort Washington Way). It bridges “the downtown Dallas cultural district with burgeoning mixed-use neighborhoods, reshaping the city and catalyzing economic development.”

The award was made at the Institute’s October meeting.

The two other finalists were Tulsa’s Guthrie Green and Santa Fe’s Railyard Park and Plaza.

To be eligible, parks had to meet these criteria:

    Be located in an urbanized area in North America;

    Have been open to the public at least one year and no more than 15 years;

    Be predominantly outdoors and inviting to the public;

    Be a lively gathering space, providing abundant and varied seating, sun and shade, and trees and plantings, with attractions and features that offer many different ways for visitors to enjoy the space;

    Be used intensively on a daily basis, and act as a destination for a broad spectrum of users throughout the year;

    Have a positive economic impact on its surroundings;

    Promote physical, social, and economic health of the larger community; and provide lessons, strategies, and techniques that can be used or adapted in other communities.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.29.2014 53 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley endorses Thomas; ghosts in Music Hall; more bad news for FitzGerald

Phew! Our election issue is done and out in the world, I just wrapped up a draft of next week’s cover story, and I have literally hours before the next City Council meeting. Let’s hang out for a minute and talk about what’s going on.

Mayor John Cranley has endorsed former City Councilman and Human Rights Commission head Cecil Thomas in his run for state Senate, but it’s understandable if you were thinking otherwise. Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, running against Thomas, has pulled a Cranley quote from a Cincinnati Enquirer article published back in April praising Winburn and put it in campaign material. That kinda, you know, makes it look like Cranley is endorsing him.

Cranley’s standing behind his fellow Democrat, which would be kind of awkward for Winburn if he wasn’t just plowing right on through it.

“His endorsement won't matter at this point," Winburn says. "He has to let everyone know he's a Democrat."

• Iconic Cincinnatian Leslie Isaiah Gaines passed away on Monday. Gaines was a Renaissance man the likes of which we rarely see these days— a larger-than-life lawyer, preacher, songwriter and Hamilton County municipal court judge. Gaines broke down barriers as a black lawyer and judge, as well as standing up for the legal rights of people of all colors.

• The Vatican has removed three Cincinnati catholic priests for sexual abuse offenses involving children. The decision to permanently remove Thomas Kuhn, Thomas Feldhaus and Ronald Cooper from the priesthood was announced yesterday, and while advocacy groups say they’re glad some justice is being done, they also heavily criticize the long, slow nature of the process. The three had been suspended for years and were still collecting paychecks from the church. Feldhaus’ offense dates back to 1979, and Cooper’s to the 1980s. The three are among more than a dozen Cincinnati-area priests investigated following a national scandal involving child abuse in the Catholic church that surfaced more than a decade ago.

• I’m only surprised that it took so long for this to happen. Ghost Hunters, the popular SyFy channel TV series, recently filmed an episode, airing tonight at 9 p.m., in Music Hall. The building is supposedly one of the country’s most haunted locations. Music Hall was constructed starting in 1876 on a former orphanage and burial ground for indigent citizens, and thousands of bones were found during the process. More remains have also been found in subsequent updates of the building, as well as in neighboring Washington Park. So if anywhere has ghosts, it’s Music Hall. The only question is whether any of those ghosts have tons and tons of money and want to like, chip in on some home repairs.

• Cincinnati may end up losing a $4.3 million federal grant for a bike trail on the city’s east side if it follows through with a plan to build on a route along an old train line instead of along the river. Part of the Ohio River Trail has already been built, but continuing to build along the river could be complex and expensive, requiring purchasing property from private owners and building a flood wall. Instead, council is considering shifting to the Oasis Line, a stretch of seldom-used train tracks. Supporters say that plan would be much cheaper and faster to build. But that plan has its own complications, including approval from the Federal Transportation Authority and Genesse and Wyoming Railroad, which holds some rights to the tracks. There’s also the fact that the federal grant money at stake can’t be moved from the Ohio River Trail to the Oasis Line.

• As a candidate, this is not the kind of news you want to hear a week from election day. Cuyahoga County Inspector General Nailah Byrd released a report on County Executive and Democratic candidate for Ohio governor Ed FitzGerald yesterday slamming the fact he drove without a driver’s license for 10 months after taking office. Byrd, who was appointed by FitzGerald, said the Democrat committed “a breach of public trust” for driving his own vehicle and county vehicles without a valid license. The inspector general doesn’t have any disciplinary powers over FitzGerald, but it’s the last thing his sagging, ill-run campaign needs at this point. Incumbent Gov. John Kasich has a towering, double-digit lead over his challenger, and has run circles around him in terms of fundraising, which basically means we’re doomed to four more years of having a governor who defends Ohio’s gay marriage ban, pushes abortion restrictions, refuses federal funds for food aid, and so forth. Great.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.28.2014 54 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Super-action-packed Budget Committee thrill ride; Jeff Ruby restaurant sails, err, sinks into the sunset; this porcupine is eating a pumpkin. Nuff said.

Morning y’all. Before we begin, I have to share something only tangentially related to the news. Last night I went and checked out a concert at Union Terminal, which has a 100-year-old organ in house and more than 4,000 pipes for that organ built into the walls. I don’t know a whole lot about baroque and classical music, but I do know a lot about loud music, and it was insanely loud. And awesome. Very recommended. To tie this into newsy stuff, I’ll just say go weigh in one way or the other on Issue 8 (the icon tax) at your local polling place.

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday more or less tied up what the city will do with its $18 million budget surplus. The committee, which is composed of all nine council members basically adopted City Manager Harry Black’s recommendations outright. The decision came with controversy, however, as some on Council again questioned the process by which the recommendations were proposed. Council members Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and P.G. Sittenfeld pushed back on the process, accusing Budget Committee Chair Charlie Winburn of trying to push the proposals through quickly and asking why public input wasn’t sought on the proposals before they were brought before Council for a vote. The three abstained from voting for Black’s recommendations.

• Council also wrangled again over funding for Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Initiative at the committee meeting. Several council members had questions about why some established programs are being cut to fund the $2.3 million jobs initiative, especially when the city is running a large budget surplus. Councilman Chris Seelbach pushed for an amendment to the ordinance funding the program to try and restore some cuts to housing advocacy group Housing Opportunities Made Equal and People Working Cooperatively, which helps the elderly and low-income with home weatherization, maintenance and energy efficiency. Those programs lost federal dollars from Community Development Block Grants that have been diverted to the mayor’s new jobs program. The amendment was voted down, 5-4.

“These programs employ people,” said Councilman Wendell Young, who, along with council members Seelbach, Sittenfeld and  Simpson voted for the amendment. “When these programs take a hit, that impacts their employees. There’s a real paradox there. These programs leverage dollars. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s help everybody.”

Others turned out to either support the mayor’s program or oppose the cuts. Many spoke on behalf of Cincinnati Cooks, which is a Hand Up partner. But some questioned the mayor’s program. Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless Director Josh Spring praised the organization's partnering with Hand Up, but said cutting other programs was counterproductive and unnecessary.

“Are we really going to lower poverty by five percent in five years by serving just 4,000 people? What the mayor has accomplished is that he has forced groups that get along to come down here and fight each other,” Spring said. “We do have a surplus. There are other ways to do this. Things like lead abatement, things like home repair, things like upward mobility so that folks experiencing low incomes can move up economically — those aren’t handouts.”

• One other skirmish broke out at the marathon meeting, which was still going when I stopped watching it on Citicable at about 6 p.m. (yes, I lead an exciting and enviable life). The tussle broke out over money that was once set aside for permanent supportive housing in the city. That money had been earmarked for a prospective 99-unit affordable housing development in Avondale for those recovering from addiction and other issues called Commons at Alaska. However, pushback from some community members there hamstrung that development. Now it will be used for other things.

“Last June, we had money set aside in the budget for permanent supportive housing,” Seelbach said. “I know some people say Alaska Commons doesn’t have enough community buy-in. But permanent supportive housing is an essential part of the equation. We were told we were not going to be eliminating it. And now guess what? We’re eliminating permanent supportive housing. Well, I’m not going to do that.” Seelbach voted against moving the money, along with Simpson, Young and Sittenfeld.

• That’s enough City Council action, at least until Wednesday. Let’s move on. Normally, the words “best” and “suburbs” in the same sentence cause heavy cognitive dissonance in my brain. But this is cool, I guess. Three Cincinnati suburbs have been ranked among the best in America by a new study. Madeira (3), Montgomery (21) and Wyoming (24) were tops in the region and among the best in the country, according to Business Insider. The rankings looked at nearly 300 ‘burbs across the country and took into account housing affordability, commute times, poverty, public school ratings and the number of stifling gated communities, GAP outlets and SUVs with stick figure family stickers on the back window per capita. Just kidding on those last ones, guys. Suburbs can be cool, too.

• The end of a long, watery saga: Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant, a boat that has been basically sinking since August, is being demolished.

• The Ohio Department of Transportation commissioned a study to determine future transit needs, and it found that the state will need to double its funding of transit over the next decade to more than $1 billion due to increasing demand. In 2000, the state spent $44 million for public transit. In 2013, it spent just $7.3 million. ODOT also gets money for transit from the federal government, however. Gov. John Kasich's administration has been especially cold to public transit, calling passenger rail supporters a "train cult" and turning down $400 million in federal funds for a commuter line between Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. He also, you know, withheld state funds for the streetcar. This is why we can't have nice things.

• In Ohio and beyond, it’s looking more and more likely that Democrats are going to take a beating this midterm election. That’s especially true in Congress, where once-safely Democratic House seats suddenly seem to be up for grabs. If Dems lose enough of those seats, they may not have any chance of taking back a majority in the House until redistricting rolls around again. Many analysts and some in the party have blamed the potential slide in House seats on the unpopularity of the president.

• Finally, if all this news is just too overwhelming for you (I know how you feel) check out this porcupine. He’s eating a pumpkin. It's adorable. You’re welcome.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.27.2014 55 days ago
Posted In: Marijuana at 02:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

City Council Moves Closer to Marijuana Expungement Ordinance

Law would allow those convicted of minor marijuana possession charges to have their records sealed

If you got caught with a joint that one time in college here in Cincinnati and now you're applying for jobs, that youthful indiscretion can make it much tougher for you.

But that could change. Some of the 10,000 Cincinnatians convicted under an unpopular and now-repealed marijuana law may soon be able to put the past behind them.

City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee today passed an ordinance that, if backed by a full Council vote Wednesday, would allow some city residents convicted of having less than 200 grams of marijuana to have the charges removed from their criminal record.

In 2006, the city passed an ordinance making it a criminal offense to have even small amounts of the drug. A first offense was a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. A second offense could net someone a first degree misdemeanor charge punishable by 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Under Ohio law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor charge akin to a parking ticket. Those charges are much easier to get expunged. But municipalities can pass tougher laws against the drug, leading to a patchwork of penalties from one place to another.

Cincinnati’s law was repealed by City Council in 2011, but the after effects remain for many in the city. The drug charges stay on a person’s criminal record, are difficult to get expunged and could inhibit them from getting jobs or school loans.

“Our goal to seal these records so citizens can get on with their life and get jobs," said Councilman Charlie Winburn at the Monday meeting. Winburn, a Republican, has been pushing the ordinance as he runs for state Senate in Cincinnati’s largely Democratic 9th District.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.27.2014 55 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
greenpeace P&G

Morning News and Stuff

Hand Up funding draws criticism; Greenpeace trial rescheduled; will Ferguson influence elections?

Hey all! We’re hustling this week to put together our election issue, which will be just overrun with everything you need to know before Nov. 4 or, heck, right now if you’re doing the early voting thing. In light of that, I’m going to hit you with a brief, just-the-facts version of morning news.

• Some folks in the city, including advocates for the poor, are upset with the way Mayor John Cranley’s new job training program, called the “Hand Up” initiative, will be funded. That initiative is getting some of its funding from federal grants originally slated for other established programs in the city. Cranley says those programs aren’t the best use of the federal funds, and that his program will help up to 4,000 Cincinnatians reach self-sufficiency. Others, however, challenge that assertion.

• Seven Greenpeace activists were scheduled to stand trial today for hanging a banner protesting P&G’s use of palm oil from the company’s headquarters in March. But that trial has been postponed until Jan. 20. Another activist who was also facing charges died Oct. 6. A ninth took a plea deal Sept. 8 and is awaiting sentencing. The remaining activists could face more than nine years in prison on felony burglary and vandalism charges.

Yet another development deal may be happening soon on Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine. Have you ever driven down Central Parkway near Liberty Street and wondered what the building that says Warner Brothers on the front was all about? Developer Urban Sites is considering turning the 40,000-square-foot historic building, which was used by the film company as a vault, into offices or apartments.

• Democrat Senate candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is still running neck and neck with Sen. Mitch McConnell in one of the country’s most-watched races. Recent polls put the two dead even, and, in a sign that folks who follow such things think she still has a chance, Grimes was endorsed by two of Kentucky’s major newspapers over the weekend. Both the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader have backed Grimes. McConnell’s challenger made a last-minute swoop through Covington over the weekend, showing up to hang out with a few dozen supporters at the MainStrasse Village Dog PawRade.

• Let’s zoom out to the bigger picture on the Senate. This AP story explores how weak Republican governors in some states could hurt the party’s chances of taking back the Senate, which it desperately, desperately wants to do so it can keep President Obama from doing really communistic type things like making sure people have health care and stuff.

• Finally, while we’re talking about elections, could the national attention focused on civil unrest Ferguson, Mo., spur greater black turnout in this midterm election? I normally don’t pay too much mind to the Daily Beast, but this article is thought-provoking.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.27.2014 55 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Cranley's Hand Up Initiative Criticized for Diverting Funding

More than $1 million to come from well-established Cincinnati programs that serve the poor

Remember this summer, when Mayor John Cranley shuffled some money around to nonprofits outside the normal budget process while others got cuts? Get ready for some deja vu.

Cranley’s “Hand Up” job initiative will be funded in part by cuts to other anti-poverty and blight mitigation programs. That has some advocates for the poor up in arms.

The Hand Up program, which has an overall budget of $2.3 million, will provide education, job training and other services for Cincinnatians experiencing poverty. It will fund nonprofit job training organizations Cincinnati Cooks, Cincinnati Works and Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention.

Cranley says the program will eventually provide more than 4,000 Cincinnatians with jobs making at least $10 an hour. But it will do so by redirecting more than $1 million from federal Community Development Block Grants that was budgeted to other well-established Cincinnati programs that serve the poor.

Former City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham, who now works for the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, says the cuts are short-sighted and unfair.

“The programs the mayor has recommended for elimination are the few we have that are able to address systemic discrimination and inequality faced by our citizens,” she wrote in an Oct. 21 editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer. She also noted that there are other more pressing concerns the funds could be used for.

“Block-grant funds could also be used to create more units of affordable housing,” she says, “an especially acute need given than homelessness in the city is increasing and the average age of a person receiving emergency shelter last year here was 9.”

Cranley says the cuts have been vetted by a board that approves the city’s use of CDBG funds. CDBG grants, which come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, allow cities some flexibility in how they’re distributed. But HUD hasn’t prioritized job training over the kinds of programs being cut, critics like Dillingham say.

The cuts include $40,375 from Housing Opportunities Made Equal, which does tenant advocacy work, tenant education and other services. About $152,000 will come from People Working Cooperatively, an organization that provides home repairs, energy efficiency help and other services to low-income people.

Some critics, including Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Ryan Messer, say Cranley’s message of job training over assistance for the poor mirrors regressive conservative talking points about poverty, including Wisconsin Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s infamous budget proposal last year, which slashed spending on food aid and other anti-poverty programs.

Cranley has said that the program is designed prioritize teaching people to provide for themselves over “traditional welfare handouts.”

Councilman Chris Seelbach has been skeptical of the cuts and has drawn up a motion to restore funds to some of the programs. He’s hoping to get the motion before council at its Nov. 3 meeting.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 12.18.2014 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council passes tax deals; big announcement on Music Hall; this coffee has a little something extra

Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things.

• City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.

• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.

• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.

The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market.

"Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.

• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron. 

The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.

UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.

• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further.

“The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”

• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.

“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”

• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.17.2014 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gun

Morning News and Stuff

$3 billion for friendlier flushing; Cleveland Browns wide receiver on Rice/Crawford shirt; state gun laws changing

All right. Since today is a bit of a slow news day and because I’ve spent the past few days working on this week’s cover story and news feature along with several blogs and the trusty morning news, let’s play catch-up today and go through the week’s stories I didn’t get to earlier. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

• What costs more than $3 billion and smells awful? No, it’s not the amount of sauerkraut Cincinnati consumes annually. It’s the city’s sewer system, which is facing a court-ordered upgrade. After a lawsuit by environmental group the Sierra Club and area homeowners tired of sewage in their basements, the city was ordered to revamp its aging sewer system over the next 20 years. That’s going to cost more than the streetcar and the two stadiums. The system is owned by Hamilton County but administered by the city. Upgrades plus normal annual operating costs are expected to cost ratepayers $395 million this year alone. Rates have gone from $250 in 2000 to a projected level of more than $800 in 2015. All that for a bunch of pipes.

• The fastest growing startup in Ohio is right here in Cincinnati. Ahalogy, a firm that helps companies market themselves using Pinterest, has gone from two employees in 2013 to more than 50 today. San Francisco-based Mattermark, which rates startups, gave Ahalogy the top spot in the state for the second year in a row due to its rapid growth. Local startup hubs like The Brandery and Cintrifuse helped the company rise so quickly. Ahalogy founders say the company is a good fit for Cincinnati because of the city’s strong consumer marketing scene.

• On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a controversial t-shirt during warm ups before the team’s home game shellacking by the Bengals. The shirt said simply, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.

Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer slammed Hawkins later that day, calling the shirt “pathetic.”

Follmer demanded Hawkins apologize.

"He's an athlete. He's someone with no facts of the case whatsoever," Follmer said. "He's disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision."

A very similar situation played out with St. Louis Rams players last month who ran out onto the field while imitating protesters’ “hands up, don’t shoot” pose in solidarity for activists. The St. Louis Police Union demanded an apology, while the team stuck behind its players.

Hawkins seems to have gotten the last word in the dispute. The Browns are standing behind him, and he gave this very thought-provoking interview Monday in which he stressed he respects the police, but couldn't stay silent against what he saw as injustice. Hawkins, who was visibly choked up, said he was motivated mostly by the thought of something similar happening to his two year old son.

“The number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said.

• It’s official: former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper is the Ohio Democratic Party’s new chairman. The state party’s executive committee elected Pepper last night after his main competitor, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race. Pepper has indicated he’ll be asking another former statewide candidate, Nina Turner, to join the state’s leadership. Turner ran for secretary of state. The two will have a big job ahead — rebuilding after resounding losses statewide for the party.

• Here’s another catch-up story for you: the Ohio General Assembly has passed some important changes to the state’s gun laws. A new bill passed by both the state house and senate last week would recognize other states’ concealed carry permits without additional permitting, allow silencers on some hunting rifles, give a six-month grace period for military service members’ license renewals and disallow those with non-immigrant visas and dishonorable discharges from the military from getting handgun licenses. The bill does not include an earlier provision that would have set up a “stand your ground” type law in Ohio. The changes are currently awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature.

• 113th Congress, we hardly knew ye. Wait, yes we did, and we hated you. One of the least productive and lowest rated congressional sessions in the country’s history came to end yesterday when Barack Obama signed the body’s controversial $1 trillion “CRominubs” spending plan. At least they got something done. Over the last two years, Congress has passed just 200 laws, the least amount of legislating done in recent memory. For comparison, the last time that number was anywhere near that low was the infamous “do nothing” Congress of 1948-1949, which passed more than 900 pieces of legislation. Way to go guys!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.16.2014 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gilbanecliftondevelopment-600x887

Morning News and Stuff

City tax deals for developers draw scrutiny; streetcar passes selling briskly; Bush vs. Clinton: the rematch?

Good morning all. It’s like, 8 a.m. and I’ve already experienced utter, terrifying confusion today. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least noon. Earlier, I woke up to a loud, continuous peal of thunder, which stupefied me in my half-awake state because it’s, you know, December and that usually doesn’t happen. I thought my house was falling down or exploding or something. Then I fell back asleep.

Anyway, news time. Is the city doing some shady dealing on tax breaks? City Council’s Neighborhood Committee yesterday approved a number of property tax deals city officials say will help spur development and job growth. The committee is made up of all members of Council, so passage here means the measures are pretty much a done deal. Some critics, however, question whether the tax deals are in the city’s best interest.

Drawing special scrutiny was a pair of proposed TIF districts in Queensgate and the West End. The narrowly drawn districts would encompass properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer, which is mulling some as-yet-unnamed but said to be large-scale improvements to the property. The TIF measures would set aside property taxes paid on those improvements for public infrastructure projects within the districts, instead of that money flowing into the city’s general fund. The measures were last minute additions to the agenda, and some, including downtown resident Kathy Holwadel, are suspicious. Holwadel penned an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer pointing out that the city doesn’t have any idea what it will use the TIF money for, which is unusual.

Others have pointed out that various members of the Neyer family were Mayor John Cranley's second-largest donors during last year's mayoral election, kicking him more than $26,000. Critics ask if the administration is giving the developer special deals.

The TIF districts don't represent out-and-out tax exemptions and Council will still have to vote on future uses of the taxes put in the TIF fund.

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson at the meeting yesterday raised concerns that the TIF money would only go toward projects that benefit the developer and suggested a larger TIF district that would allow the city to spend the collected money on a wider area. City officials say state laws have limited the amount of money larger TIF districts can accumulate. Simpson abstained on the vote. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the districts.

• The committee also approved a number of other tax deals, including a 15-year, $12 million tax exemption for Gilbane Development Co. on its proposed development project in Clifton Heights. This project has also been controversial, with residents saying there is already too much student-oriented housing like the Gilbane project in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for our in-depth story on that in the print edition tomorrow.

• The family of John Crawford III will file a lawsuit against the officers involved in his shooting as well as the Walmart corporation. Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying a pellet gun Aug. 5. The family's attorneys, as well as Crawford's father, will announce more details about the lawsuit at a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Dayton.

• The special edition Cincinnati streetcar passes Metro is offering have raised more than $40,000 so far, the department reports. The commemorative metal cards get riders 15, 30 or 60 days of unlimited rides on the streetcar for $25, $50 and $100, respectively. If you’re still thinking about getting one, better hurry — 1,000 of the 1,500 cards produced have already sold.

• Would you kayak in the Ohio River? If so, you’ll be excited about this. The Covington City Commission will decide today whether to enter into a partnership with Queen City Water Sports Club to design and build a facility on the former location of Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant where people can rent canoes and kayaks. The boat that housed Waterfront sank in August, and now the city is looking for new uses for the property where it was docked.

• Former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper looks likely to become the Ohio Democratic Party’s next chairman after his closest opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race yesterday. Pepper ran for attorney general in the last election but was beaten by incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. If he wins, he’ll replace outgoing chair Chris Redfern, who resigned after the Democrats faced big losses in November.

• Nineties nostalgia is so hot right now. Doc Martens are on every foot. People are listening to Soundgarden unironically again. Flannel shirts, etc. If you’re really wanting to party like it’s 1992 again, though, you may soon get your chance. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is looking more and more like he’s going to jump into the race to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. He’s releasing a book. He’s raising some cash. His most likely opponent? Democratic nominee frontrunner Hillary Clinton, of course. If those last names don’t ring a deep, deja-vu inducing bell, don’t worry. Those Bush vs. Clinton tees are going to look great at an Urban Outfitters near you. America: where anyone can become president, but especially anyone from a wealthy political dynasty. Woo!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.15.2014 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 05:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
walmart-john-crawford-mug

Crawford Family to File Lawsuit Over Police Shooting

Suit names officers, Beavercreek police chief and Walmart

The family of John Crawford III, the 22-year-old Fairfield man a Beavercreek police officer shot Aug. 5 in a Walmart, is filing a lawsuit against Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers, officers Sean Williams and David Darkow and the Walmart corporation, the family’s lawyers announced today via a news release.

Officer Williams shot Crawford, a Fairfield resident who grew up in Cincinnati, in the Walmart after another customer, Ronald Ritchie, called 911 to report a man loading a gun and pointing it at customers in the store. Ritchie later contradicted that statement in interviews with the media, stating Crawford wasn’t actually pointing the gun at anyone. The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun sold by Walmart. Video footage of the event released by Attorney General Mike DeWine weeks later does not conclusively show Crawford threatening anyone with the weapon.

A grand jury on Sept. 24 declined to indict Williams for the shooting.

Many have drawn parallels between Crawford’s death and the Aug. 9 police shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was unarmed when officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him. The incident has sparked months of protests and civil unrest in Ferguson and across the country. Those protests intensified when a St. Louis County grand jury announced Nov. 24 that it would not indict Wilson.

The Crawford family’s lawyers, as well as Crawford’s father John Crawford, Jr., will hold a press conference in Dayton tomorrow at 11 a.m. to discuss the details of the lawsuit.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.15.2014 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
protesters washington park

Morning News and Stuff

Greenpeace activists sentenced; 4th and Race development back on, maybe; video shows harsh police interrogation after Crawford shooting

Morning all. Here’s the news today.

Eight Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging huge banners from P&G headquarters in March were found guilty and sentenced Friday after accepting a deal allowing them to plea down to misdemeanor charges. The group will have to perform 80 hours of community service and will be placed on probation for one year. The group was protesting P&G’s use of palm oil and the company’s role in deforestation. Originally, the group faced felony charges that could have meant more than nine years in prison. Prosecutors offered the plea deal earlier this month after P&G officials said they had begun working with Greenpeace on the issue and signaled they’d like to see a lighter sentence for the activists. A ninth protester died in California last month.

• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on. The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have 208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins. Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could go for a full council vote on Wednesday.

• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!

• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year, while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate. That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the alarming increase in abuse of the drug.

• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.

• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.14.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
screen shot 2014-12-14 at 8.19.51 pm

Tape Shows Police Harshly Interrogating John Crawford's Girlfriend

Detective accuses Tasha Thomas of using drugs, waits an hour and a half to tell her Crawford has died

A video released by Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine in response to a public records requests by British site The Guardianshows a Beavercreek Police detective berating John Crawford III’s girlfriend about where Crawford got a gun. You can read The Guardian's story and watch the video here

Police shot Crawford, a 22-year-old from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart after he was sighted carrying a pellet gun he picked up, unpackaged, from a shelf in the store.

Detective Rodney Curd questioned Crawford’s girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately after the incident until she was weeping, then accused her of being on drugs.

“Are you under the influence of anything?” Curd asks as Thomas breaks down. “Your eyes are kind of messed up looking.”

Curd continually suggests that Crawford carried a gun into the store and that Thomas knew about the weapon, despite the fact he was unarmed. He tells Thomas she "may soon be heading to jail."

“You and John went into Walmart, and from my understanding, at some point, he produced a gun. You were with him just moments before that. Tell me where he got the gun from. And the truth is, you knew at some point he did carry a gun, didn’t you?”

“No. I didn’t know. Give me a lie detector test," she says.

Thomas repeatedly asks for a polygraph test in the tape.

Curd continues to badger Thomas throughout the questioning, sometimes slamming his hand on the desk. Curd also suggests that another woman Crawford had been involved with was in the store and that he was plotting to shoot her.

“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or anything like that?”

After an hour and a half of questioning, Curd told Thomas that “due to his actions,” Crawford was dead.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.12.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Faux out as planning commission head; Silicon Cincy; Congressional budget has big deals for big banks, big donors

Morning all. It’s Friday, I’m almost finished with a couple big stories for next week and I’m warm and cozy next to my portable fireplace (read: space heater). Things are looking up.

Let’s talk about news. Mayor John Cranley recently announced he is replacing Planning Commission Chair Caleb Faux with former Pleasant Ridge Community Council President Dan Driehaus. Last month, Faux and Cranley got into a tiff after City Manager Harry Black removed a provision from the planning commission’s agenda that would have preserved the possibility of commuter rail in the city’s plans for Wasson Way on the East Side. Faux accused Cranley, who is no fan of rail projects, of trying to block future light rail along Wasson Way. Cranley said he simply wanted to give more time for consideration of the measure.

Cranley said the move wasn't a reflection on Faux and that Driehaus is simply a better fit for the board. Council voted unanimously to approve Driehaus’ appointment.

Faux fired back yesterday after Cranley announced his replacement. While Faux said Driehaus is capable and will do a good job, he painted the mayor as a foe of city planning attempts to create pedestrian-friendly, walkable neighborhoods and a friend of big developers. Faux and Cranley have been at odds for years on the subject of form-based versus use-based codes, going back to Oakley’s Center of Cincinnati development last decade. That development put a Target, Meijers and other big box stores in the neighborhood. Faux opposed the project.

"What the mayor seems to want is a planning commission that will accept his direction and won't be independent,” Faux told the Business Courier yesterday. “I think he has a philosophy that we need to be friendly to developers and that using land-use regulations as a way to shape the city is not a good idea."

Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne brushed off that criticism. He pointed to Cranley’s involvement in the creation of tax-increment financing districts for Over-the-Rhine and downtown while he was on City Council as evidence the mayor is invested in creating urban spaces.

Pointing to redevelopment in OTR as a sign you’re not cozy with big developers is an interesting way to go. But I digress.

• Also in City Hall news, Cranley announced yesterday he will appoint former congressman and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to the city’s port authority board. Luken, who was instrumental in creating the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, has strong ties in the Cincinnati business community. He’s also close with Cranley, and the move may be a way to improve strained relations between the port and City Hall.

• Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday announced a proposal to add people who are homeless to a list of those protected by the city’s hate crime laws. He also announced a second proposal adding $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter in OTR. You can read more about both here.

• Is Cincinnati the next Silicon Valley? The Huffington Post seems to think it’s possible. The blog cited Cincinnati as one of eight unexpected cities where investors are flocking. OTR-based business incubator The Brandery got a specific shout out, as did the city’s major Fortune 500 companies and its “All American Midwest” feel. Trigger warning: The term “flyover city” is used in reference to Cincy in this article.

• Last night, the Ohio State Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would amend the state’s constitution and change the redistricting process for elections to the Ohio General Assembly. It took until 4 a.m. to reach the agreement, because the Senate parties hard. The amendment would create a seven-member board composed of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two legislators from each party. That is two more members than the current board, which is made up of two statewide office holders and three legislators. The 10-year district maps drawn by the board would need two votes from the minority party or they would come up for review after four years. The bill next goes to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.

• Finally: Congress has agreed upon a budget, it seems, and the government won’t come to a grinding, weeks-long shutdown like it did last year. If you just leave it there and don’t think about it more than that, that’s good news. But looking into some of the budgetary sausage being made is a bit terrifying. Rolled up in the massive “CRomnibus” spending proposal (meaning continuing resolution plus omnibus spending bill) is a measure that would increase rich donors’ ability to give money to political parties. Currently, donors are limited to $97,200 as individuals. The new limit would be a seven-fold boost: $776,000. A married couple would be able to donate a jaw-dropping $3.1 million under the rule changes tucked into the shutdown-averting measure.

Another worrisome measure would dismantle certain parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which holds big banks accountable for reckless, risky financial dealings. In the simplest terms, the rules change would allow banks to keep certain risky assets in accounts insured by the federal government, leaving taxpayers on the hook for huge potential losses. As if we didn’t learn our lesson in 2008.

The measures were last-minute concessions needed to win the votes of a number of conservative congressmen. It’s depressing to think that our options are either a complete lapse into governmental dysfunction or these gimmes to the nation’s most powerful financial interests, but there you have it.

Have a fun Friday!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.11.2014 10 days ago
Posted In: Homelessness, News at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
blog

Seelbach Proposes Protecting Homeless Under Hate Crime Laws

Additional proposal would add $45,000 to winter shelter

A proposed city ordinance could add homeless people to groups protected by hate crime laws, making Cincinnati one of just three cities to do so. The proposal by Councilman Chris Seelbach could add up to 180 days in extra jail time for those convicted of crimes against people because they don't have homes.

“Homeless people are targeted because they’re vulnerable," Seelbach said during a news conference today in Washington Park, during which he also announced a proposal to add money for winter shelters. “This hopefully will send a message to everyone that even though homeless people may seem vulnerable and on the streets, their lives and their safety are just as important as every single person in Cincinnati we live and work with every day.”

Both proposals will need to be approved by Cincinnati City Council, but Seelbach says he's confident a majority of council will support them.

Six-hundred-thousand Americans experienced homelessness last year. One-fourth were children. Many are veterans.  The National Coalition for the Homeless has been tracking homeless hate crimes since 2000. Over a four-year period starting in 2009, there were 1,437 attacks nationally and 357 deaths, according to a report from the coalition.

Currently, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin and disability are protected under hate crime state and federal hate crime laws. Only two cities, including Cleveland, consider crimes against people because they are homeless to be hate crimes. Cincinnati would be the third if Seelbach’s proposal passes. Several states have committed to begin considering such violence hate crimes, including Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington. Legislation has been introduced into the Ohio General Assembly multiple times proposing a similar move but has been voted down.

“It will hopefully send a message to our community that people experiencing homeless do matter and that the city takes this seriously,” said Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Director Josh Spring. “Primarily young people, high school and college age, commit these crimes. And if they’re caught, their response to why they did it is, ‘Why does it matter? It’s just a homeless person. We’re just cleaning up the streets.’ We want the city to say it does matter.’”

Cincinnati has seen a number of incidents of violence against the homeless, and the Coalition here has worked for years to get such actions classified as hate crimes. Four years ago, Robert Mehan was beaten and nearly killed as he was walking on Walnut Street downtown. A young man picked Mehan up and slammed him into the ground. He then beat him with beer bottles. Mehan was in a coma and almost died.

In July, John Hensley, a 49-year-old staying at the Drop-Inn Center, was leaving for work cleaning Great American Ball Park when he was attacked from behind by Alexander Gaines, 19, Brandon Ziegler, 21 and a 17-year-old minor. The three punched, kicked and kneed Hensley for 15 minutes. They’re currently facing charges in Hamilton County courts.

“They didn’t say anything, they were laughing," Hensley told a reporter after the incident. "I feel I was targeted because I am a homeless guy leaving the Drop Inn Center at 4 in the morning and no one was around, they thought they could get away with it and they didn’t.”

While the classification of such violence as a hate crime may make those experiencing homelessness safer in the long term, Seelbach’s other proposal, which would add $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter, will bring more immediate relief. That’s a big change from the situation in the past, advocates say.

“We’re extremely happy about the change over the last several years,” Spring says. “It was not that long ago that the winter shelter did not open until it was 9 degrees wind chill or lower.”

Last night, The Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine housed 292 people, according to Arlene Nolan, the center’s director. The winter shelter opened Nov. 19 this year, much earlier than usual.

“We’ve been able to accommodate well over 30 percent more than our normal capacity,” Nolan said.

Increased funding for the winter shelter “is something that is critical in assuring that we meet our ultimate goal, which is to make sure no one freezes to death on the streets in Cincinnati during the winter,” said Kevin Finn, director of Strategies to End Homelessness.

More than 750 people used the county’s 11 shelters last night, according to Finn. That’s just part of the city’s homeless population — others are staying with other people they may or may not know or sleeping in camps around the city.

Family shelters in the city are receiving about a dozen calls a day, according to Spring, and can only accommodate about 20 percent of the families who need their services.

“There is no silver bullet to ending homelessness or preventing people from attacking people who are experiencing homelessness,” Seelbach said. “This is part of the solution. The other part is strategies to end homelessness and getting people who are experiencing homelessness back into a house. That takes everything from the Drop Inn Center to transitional housing to permanent supportive housing and everything in between.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.11.2014 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gilbanecliftondevelopment-600x887

Morning News and Stuff

Big CUF development gets go-ahead despite controversy; no tax incentives for Ark Park; parking ticket amnesty was on, then off, is now on again

Morning y’all. Let’s get this news thing going.

Cincinnati City Council yesterday approved zoning changes for a major, and controversial, development in the CUF neighborhood just south of UC. The project, done by Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co., will bring 180 apartments mostly for student housing, townhomes, a 380-space underground parking garage and up to 9,000 square feet of retail space to the spot where the historic Lenhardt’s restaurant was located on McMillan Avenue. The plans are a revision of an earlier proposal that called for called for eight stories on the buildings instead of six and an entrance for cars on Lyon Street which was later removed. Some community members say those revisions still don’t help the project fit in with the residential neighborhood.

A group of about 10 residents came to the meeting. They’d like to see something more oriented toward homeowners and long-term renters, they say, instead of students. They’re also highly concerned about parking and traffic in the busy McMillan-Calhoun corridor. Citing these concerns, both council members Yvette Simpson and Christopher Smitherman voted against the zoning changes, though they praised Gilbane for being flexible and taking community opinion into account in revising its plans. The townhomes, for instance, were added by Gilbane as a way to market the development to groups other than students. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at development in CUF next week.

• While we’re talking development: Change in Over-the-Rhine looks to be entering a new stage as more developers start talking about single-family housing instead of apartments or condos. The most recent development in this vein — five townhomes are coming to Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine. Three will be newly built, two will be renovations and one is already sold. The 2,400-square-foot units built by John Huber Homes will cost between $400,000 to $600,000 a piece and will feature posh amenities such as rooftop decks and gated parking.

• City Council yesterday also passed a compromise on a seemingly innocuous parking ticket food drive initiative that had become the subject of some controversy. Originally, the plan, proposed by Councilmembers Chris Seelbach and Amy Murray, would have offered a one-time amnesty for the $90 cost of a single delinquent parking ticket in exchange for 10 canned food items. But that met with resistance from Councilman Kevin Flynn, who balked at the idea that those who don’t pay parking tickets would be able to get off so lightly. Mayor John Cranley also wasn’t into it, calling the idea “reckless.” A compromise was reached in Council’s Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday. The city will still collect the original $45 parking ticket fee but will waive late charges for anyone who brings in the canned goods. The offer is good from Dec. 15-19 and only applies to tickets from 2014.

"This is a one-time chance to clear an old debt and do good for your community at the same time,” Seelbach said.  “In the New Year, the city will begin aggressive collection of delinquent parking tickets under a new contract with Xerox, but this holiday season you can come clean, make a donation and make a difference.”

• University of Cincinnati medical students yesterday staged a “die-in” to protest racial inequality in the nation’s justice system. More than 70 participated. You can read our story on that here.

• The state of Kentucky will no longer throw in tax dollars on religious group Answers in Genesis’ Noah’s Ark theme park project in Grant County. Kentucky Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart sent the group a letter yesterday rescinding the state’s offer of up to $18 million in tax rebates because he says the project has gone from a tourist attraction to a ministry. Answers is known for making employees sign statements of faith pledging adherence to the group’s Christian beliefs. Answers also runs the well-known Creation Museum in Kentucky.

• Overcrowding at the Hamilton County Jail could determine how long former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter stays in jail. Hunter was sentenced to six months for a felony conviction recently and is supposed to report to jail immediately after Christmas. However, the jail is at capacity and first-time offenders who are non-violent are usually the first to be released under such overcrowded conditions.

“I want to make the public aware and everyone aware that this jail is full," Hamilton County Jail Administrator Maj. Charmaine McGuffey told Channel 5 yesterday. "We’ve been full for a number of years. And we’ve been making these hard difficult decisions all along. Tracie Hunter is going to be no different in the decision-making process.”

Fifty-six Hamilton County Democrats asked Judge Norbert Nadel, who sentenced Hunter, to defer her jail time until an appeal she has filed can be heard. Nadel refused that request. Hunter’s felony would usually only result in probation, but Nadel cited her stature as a public figure and judge in his decision to apply the harsher punishment.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.10.2014 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
img_9272

UC Med Students Stage "Die In" to Protest Racial Inequalities

More than 70 students participated in a demonstration mirroring similar events at schools across the country

More than 70 University of Cincinnati medical students today staged a “die in,” lying on the floor of the busy UC Medical Sciences Building to protest what they say are serious racial disparities in the nation’s justice system.

That protest mirrored similar events across the country reacting to police killings of unarmed black citizens and subsequent lack of indictments in some of those cases. Organizers of the event say that students at more than 70 medical schools participated in the noon demonstrations.

In Cincinnati, the medical and pharmacy students spent 20 minutes sprawled out beneath the building's soaring, modern atrium in white lab coats with signs reading “Am I Next?” and “Black Lives Matter." The group was mostly silent, save a  reading of a passage from the Hippocratic Oath about understanding the needs of communities doctors serve.

A protester reads a passage from the Hippocratic Oath at a demonstration in UC\'s Medical Sciences Building Dec. 10.

 

Among them was Zuri Hemphill, a medical student who helped organize the protest.

“This is to stand in solidarity across the nation and to use our platform as medical students, because that’s something we’ve earned and a voice that we have, to call attention to the fact that this is not just a lower socio-economic problem but a problem across the black community and the entire American community,” she said.

The demonstration is the latest in a series that have taken place in Cincinnati and across the country over the issue of police use of force against people of color. That’s a subject especially sensitive to Cincinnati, which experienced days of civil unrest in 2001 after white police officer Stephen Roach shot unarmed 18-year-old Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine.

The latest round of the conversation on race and the justice system was sparked by the Aug. 9 shooting death of 19-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. That shooting sparked waves of protests in the city and around the country and focused attention on similar incidents, including the death of John Crawford of Fairfield, who was killed by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart.

A grand jury’s decision last month not to indict Wilson led to a fresh wave of protests, including one in Cincinnati that drew more than 300 people and briefly shut down I-75.

Beyond solidarity, Hemphill said today’s event was aimed at raising awareness among future healthcare professionals and the general population about the connections between racial disparities and healthcare.

“The reality is, there are 10 black students in my class. We’re not going to be treating all the black patients in Cincinnati. We as physicians need to understand the plights of our communities. We have to be advocates for all our patients of all races.”

 
 
 
Close
Close
Close