Hey all. Let’s get straight to the important stuff… Across city, a whole lot of ice cream is melting. Large swaths of the east side seem to be without power right now for an indeterminate reason. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people are without electricity.
• Some of Cincinnati’s city department directors have been caught living outside the city limits. That’s a violation of city regulations, according to the Cincinnati Business Journal, which drew attention to the situation last month. Metropolitan Sewer District Director Tony Parrott and Citizen Complaint Authority Director Kenneth Glenn were disciplined by the city for skirting the residency rules. Glenn, who has been living in West Chester, is retiring in July. Parrott has been living in Butler County; he’s been docked 40 hours of vacation time and has six months to establish residency in the city limits. Now me, I’m from Butler County, and would give up a week’s vacation to not live there, but hey, that’s just me.
• On a note that’s bound to freak some people out, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport will be the first in the country to track the number of travelers in specific parts of the airport by using signals from their Wi-Fi devices. The information will help the airport mitigate congested spots and calculate wait times at security checkpoints. Lockheed Martin owns BlipTrack, the system being used to monitor devices. The company says no personal data is collected by the system, which only looks at the number of signals being emitted from devices. I'm cool with this so long as they aren't keeping track of the embarrassing amount of time I spend on Twitter while waiting for my plane.
• Campaign finance reports filed Friday show council member Charlie Winburn with a big stack of cash going into his run for state Senate. Winburn, a Republican, announced his candidacy last week, and his filings show he’s got more than $50,000 to spend. He’ll be challenging former council member Cecil Thomas, a Democrat. Thomas hasn’t filed a finance report this time around but had $1,500 going into the Democratic primary. He looks to have an advantage, though, due to the ninth district’s highly Democratic tilt. The district stretches across most of Cincinnati and other urban parts of Hamilton County. All statewide candidates filed Friday, and the results are fairly predictable, with Republican candidates getting large contributions and widening fundraising leads over their Democratic opponents. Gov. John Kasich doubled up on Democratic opponent Ed FitzGerald, gaining $1.7 million in contributions this period to FitzGerald’s $800,000. That puts Kasich with more than $9 million overall to spend in the race, compared to FitzGerald’s less than $2 million.
• On the subject of Republicans, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will be in town today. He’s promoting his new solo rap mixtape, which doubles as a campaign tool for his presidential bid. No, actually, that’s completely made up. He’s here to raise money for the Republican National Committee, and you can hear him talk for just $1,000. For that price, he better at least drop a couple freestyle rhymes about his economic policy ideas, though. Bush's name has been floated as a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, though he's a ways down the list.
• On a sad note, Casey Kasem passed away Sunday. He was most famous for his radio show, American Top 40, which millions of people listened to for decades. Closer to my heart, he was also the voice of Shaggy. No, not that Shaggy. Shaggy of Scooby Doo fame, which for you youngsters out there was kind of like Adventure Time before there was Adventure Time. I was a big fan.
Ready for your Friday the 13th morning news? Let’s do this.
As we’ve reported a couple times already, Cincinnati is in a hard spot when it comes to affordable housing. So Rep. Steve Chabot, Republican representing part of the city, did the logical thing recently and tried to push through an amendment to a House bill that would cut $3 billion in funding for Section 8 vouchers. Wait, that doesn't seem logical at all. Keep in mind the Republican-authored bill he was amending already cut $1.8 billion from transportation and HUD programs. But Chabot thinks folks are hanging out in subsidized housing too long, calling the system that keeps people from homelessness “a way of life for too many in this country.” Luckily, even the heavily Republican House said “nah” to Chabot’s cuts. The amendment failed yesterday.
A $2,500 reward offered by Brogan Dulle’s family when the 21-year-old UC student went missing May 19 will be given to the woman whose 911 call lead authorities to his body a week later. The woman, who hasn’t been identified in reports, said she came upon Dulle’s body in the basement of building she works in on East McMillan next door to where he lived. The woman apparently didn’t know he was dead and called 911 reporting an intruder. Authorities found Dulle hanged in the basement, and the Hamilton County coroner later ruled his death a suicide. In total, $20,000 was offered for information about Dulle’s whereabouts. UC offered $10,000, and is still mulling what to do with the money. Local restaurant owner Jeff Ruby gave another $7,500, which he’ll be contributing to tuition at UC for Dulle’s younger brother Tim.
A new Pew research project released yesterday tracks the increasing partisanship among American voters. Though hardly surprising, the study quantifies the fact that people are hunkering down in their ideological biases, with more folks crowding to the far left and far right ideologically over the past few years and fewer holding a mix of views in the middle.
Pope Francis just keeps spitting hot fire. The pope said yesterday in an interview with a Spanish-language newspaper that the world’s economic system causes war and imperialism and that it squashes peoples’ individuality. Francis has made a name for himself pushing a relatively more inclusive vision of the Catholic Church and emphasizing its social justice tenets, and his recent eyebrow-raising remarks continue that trend.
Finally, yesterday was National Jerky Day. I know. I missed it, too. But apparently a major jerky company constructed a large model of Mount Rushmore made from a glorious 1,600 pound mix of dried meats. Really gross, but also kind of amazing. The company displayed it in New York yesterday and will now ship it back to headquarters in Wisconsin. It’s probably en route right now, actually. It will have to pass through the Midwest at some point. If you hear about someone hijacking three quarters of a ton of jerky as it makes its way across the Brent Spence Bridge, it totally wasn’t me.
All right, folks. Morning news time again.
The iconic Hudepohl smokestack you see from I-75 could end up in Over-the-Rhine. The city is looking at ways to save the old Hudepohl brewery, which it bought last month. The former Hudepohl headquarters, built in 1946 and used until 1985, includes four buildings on Sixth Street in Queensgate. It's currently abandoned. The complex includes the Hudepohl tower, a 170-foot-tall brick smokestack with the company’s named spelled on it in white bricks that has become a Cincinnati landmark. One set of plans being considered is the relocation of 70 feet of the tower (from just under the L in “Hudepohl” to the top) to Over-the-Rhine, where the company was originally founded in 1885.
• Right across the river, Covington is the eighth most affordable city in the country,
according to a study by finance website NerdWallet.com. The study
looked at a number of cost of living considerations, including housing
costs and average prices for groceries. Columbus (15), Indianapolis
(22), Lexington (53) and Louisville (89) also made the top 100 list,
though Cincinnati is nowhere to be found.
• An article in the new issue of Inc. Magazine prominently features Cincinnati’s startup scene. It highlights the city’s business incubators, co-working spaces, marketers and investors who are boosting the city’s tech profile. The author applauds strides the city has made fostering startups, and concludes that the region is on the right course for expanding innovation and tech-related jobs.
• Procter and Gamble has committed $1 million to the Regional Economic Development Initiative, an organization focused on bringing jobs to the Greater Cincinnati area. REDI is lead by a 15-member board of Cincinnati political and business leaders including Mayor John Cranley, Western and Southern CEO John Barrett and Reds minority owner Tom Williams, the board’s chair.
• The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that payday lenders aren’t subject to a law governing short-term loans and that they can continue making loans to low-income folks at, like, 12 billion percent interest. Great, because that’s totally good for society and our economy.
• The House this week is considering a Republican-drafted spending bill for The Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The appropriations bill contains more than $1.8 billion in cuts to housing programs, commuter rail initiatives and efforts to help the homeless. The White House has slammed the bill, and it will face a tough ride in the Senate.
• The big national story this morning, of course, is that Virginia Republican and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election to tea party challenger David Brat. Brat toppled Cantor even though the seven-term incumbent outspent him twenty five to one and is one of the most powerful Republicans in the country. A majority leader in the House has never lost a primary since the position was created 115 years ago. That's probably good news for House Speaker and everyone's favorite Southwestern Ohio spray tan aficionado John Boehner, who was feeling the heat from far-right Republicans looking to oust him from the speaker's seat. Cantor, who had an often antagonistic relationship with Boehner, was thought to be his strongest possible successor. Or, Cantor's loss may stress Boehner out even more, as the tea party torches get closer to the speaker's office...
• Finally, a newly discovered katydid has the highest-pitched vocalizations of any animal ever recorded. Scientists say the noises help attract the opposite sex, which is weird, because every time I’m in a bar and start hitting the high notes in my silky falsetto the opposite happens.
And that’s every thing that has happened in the past 24 hours, give or take. Follow me on Twitter at @nswartsell, where I retweet Parks and Rec quotes and news stories about appropriation bills. I’m a man of many moods.
Here's what's up today in Cincy, Ohio, and beyond.
Vice Mayor David Mann isn’t super happy about the fact that LumenoCity tickets sold out in 12 minutes yesterday morning and then popped up just as quickly on Craigslist and eBay. He’s requesting an investigation into the ticket giveaway to find out about any illegal sale of the free passes.
In a statement yesterday, Mann said he wants to make sure “all members of the public — including all neighborhoods and income ranges — have an opportunity to avail themselves of any opportunities to get tickets to this extraordinary performance in the future.”
The event was so crowded last year, organizers decided to give out tickets this time around. The tickets were available online and also at several branches of the library. Organizers stress only a small percentage of the available passes were given out online, and that more will be available ahead of the event, which takes place Aug. 1-3.
• Here’s a heartwarming story about a city doing everything it can for its residents. Err, wait, no, this is actually a nightmarish scenario in which the city of Middletown has been working to eliminate a number of its Section 8 vouchers by investigating landlords and tenants and then kicking them out of the program for minor violations of law or policy, including late water bills. An Enquirer investigation found the city was actively working to eliminate many of its more than 1,600 HUD vouchers. HUD is now looking at shutting down the city’s public housing authority.
Nearly a quarter of Middletown residents live below the poverty level, according to 2008-2012 Census data. The city of 50,000 has more than half of the Section 8 vouchers in Butler County.
• Ohio is imposing new requirements on those receiving unemployment benefits, because not having a job is easy and awesome and if the state didn’t impose tons of busy work on those seeking benefits, everyone would crowd around the government teat.
Anyone receiving benefits in Ohio must update an automatic resume made for them on OhioMeansJobs.com, Ohio’s job search site, take three assessments on their skills within 14 weeks and fill out a survey within 20 weeks to figure out careers that might suit them. Recipients will still need to apply for two jobs a week as well. State officials say they hope this will help recipients transition to work more quickly, because clearly most job seekers have no idea what kind of skills they have and just plum forgot to put their resumes online somewhere. Ohio’s unemployment rate hovers around 6 percent. About 67,000 in the state were receiving unemployment benefits in May.
• The Justice Department is giving support to a proposal to shorten the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison. The move could save taxpayers more than $2 billion. Some measures to reduce sentences have already been approved, but the new proposal would make those reduced sentences retroactive, meaning those already imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes may see freedom sooner.
There is a surprising amount of bipartisan interest drug sentencing reform, with libertarian-minded conservatives, rank and file Republican budget hawks and those on the left all calling for a new approach to the drug issue.
The federal government spent more than $25 billion on the drug war in 2013. More than half the inmates in federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes, according to studies by the federal government.
Good morning all. Let’s start out this Monday news rundown by going uptown.
•On Friday, Cincinnati’s Planning Commission passed a sweeping new plan for the area in the coming years. The plan anticipates the upcoming reworking of Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and envisions big changes to the area in Avondale, Corryville, and Mount Auburn.
Planners hope after the new interchange at MLK and I-71 is completed, Reading Road will become a kind of innovation corridor, with new biomedical and other scientific research facilities lining a redesigned, more pedestrian-friendly roadway.
The plan also calls for increased development in neighboring business districts, new construction on the numerous vacant plots in the area and increased housing stock close to the central cores of Clifton, Avondale, Corryville, CUF and Walnut Hills.
•Other changes are coming to Avondale. Four large apartment buildings housing Section 8 tenants and another vacant building in the neighborhood will be renovated, and the owners of the buildings are looking to have them placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Alameda, Ambassador, Crescent, Poinciana, and Somerset buildings, built between 1896 and the 1920s, will be overhauled starting this fall. The Ambassador, currently empty, will be revamped first, and then the other buildings will follow suit. The Community Builders Cincinnati, the buildings’ owners, will help 120 families who will have to vacate during renovations move to other buildings temporarily.
The renovations are expected to cost about $25 million and will finish up sometime in 2016.
• Hey, do you wanna go to LumenoCity? Too late. Tickets sold out in 13 minutes this morning. Yeah, I didn’t get any either, because 8 a.m. is way too early for me to operate a computer. But if you’ve got a hundred bucks to drop, you can still scoop some tickets up on eBay.
• Nationally, the 2016 presidential race is shaping up to be a wild ride. While Democrats so far seem pretty content with Hillary, the GOP is still courting their man (and yes, their nominee will almost assuredly be a man). Lately, Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas has been getting a lot of attention. Cruz handily won a straw poll at the Texas Republican Convention this weekend. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who is often cited as a front-runner, came in third. Chalk it up to home-state advantage. It’s hard to know who to root for in a contest like that, so I’m just going to hope that somehow the GOP jumps on the whole throw-back trend and nominates Abraham Lincoln again.
• Finally, a woman in Kentucky was found selling $3 million in ill-gotten Nikes from her front lawn. That’s a lot of stolen shoes. She said she didn’t know they were stolen and was selling them for $5 a piece. Not a bad deal, really.
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It’s that time again when I tell you all about the weird stuff that has happened in the last 24 hours or so. Cincinnati’s a crazy place, and the rest of the world isn’t far behind, so let’s get started.
• Remember those folks who hung the Greenpeace banners off the side of the Procter and Gamble building back in March? You know, the ones protesting P&G’s use of palm oil, the production of which leads to massive deforestation and loss of habitat for a number of endangered animals, including tigers? Of course you do. They were 50-foot banners with tigers on them, for godsakes.
No surprise, the nine activists responsible ended up in Hamilton County Court on felony counts. Today, lawyers for the group asked a judge to dismiss those charges.
The nine were charged with burglary and vandalism. However, there was no breaking and entering. One of the group, dressed in business attire with a fake badge, told security she had a meeting in the building and snuck the others in through a regular old door she unlocked.
The group’s lawyers insist burglary charges would only stick if the group had planned on committing another crime, and they say the political speech inherent in hanging banners off a building doesn’t count. They’re asking the courts to dismiss the charges on First Amendment grounds, saying the group is being punished for its political speech.
If that doesn’t fly, the activists could face up to nine and a half years in jail and/or a $20,000 fine. P&G claims the activists did $17,000 in damage to their windows while gaining access to the outside of the building, a charge the group denies.
• Yesterday, Mayor John Cranley explained his vision for Clifton as a place that pumps out the city’s future CEOs. The mayor said he’d like to make the area appealing to “the future Carl Lindners, the future Dick Farmers, the future folks who will build up business in this city” so they’ll stick around.
At an annual event held by the Uptown Consortium, a non-profit development group for the area, Cranley called the University of Cincinnati “the gateway to the upper-middle class” and Cincinnati State “the gateway to the middle class.” He said he’d like to improve the district, including centerpiece Burnet Woods, which he has descrbed as “creepy” in its current state. Specific ideas include a skywalk between the park and UC; more landscaped, Washington Park-like grounds; and more programing in the park.
• Today's job report shows that more than six years after the worst recession in recent memory we've finally regained number of jobs the country had before the plunge. Except we have 15 million more people now to fill those jobs, and the unemployment rate hasn't really budged much lately.
• But cheer up. It's National Donut Day. If you're me, every day is a donut day, but this donut day you can get some free deep-fried deliciousness down at Fountain Square. I started to ditch this news thing to go grab some, but it doesn't start until noon. Hey, free lunch.
Cincinnati passed its $358 million operating budget yesterday, and it’s great and all, except for the parts that aren’t. Nearly everyone on council applauded the fact that the budget is balanced, or close to balanced, or … well, I won’t replay that argument, but the city is getting close to leveling spending with what it takes in without layoffs or deep cuts to core programs.
But there are big concerns, too. Council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach questioned a few issues surrounding funding of certain non-profits and community redevelopment groups. These included $4 million borrowed from eight neighborhood TIF districts, cuts to the Neighborhood Business District Improvement Program, and some last-minute additions to the budget. Critics of the additions say they’re sweetheart deals built on cronyism. Some of the organizations in question have connections with big political players, including former Mayor Dwight Tillery’s Center for Closing the Health Gap, which will receive $500,000 from one of the Monday add-ons in the budget.
Simpson was the most vocal about the issues surrounding human services and neighborhood redevelopment funding.
“I was committed and part of an administration prior that was really invested in supporting neighborhood development in a significant way,” she said. “And we’ve cut $4.5 million to neighborhood development in this budget, and I think we’re going to regret that.”
• Council also passed Seelbach’s Domestic Partner Registry initiative yesterday, which will allow same-sex couples to register with the city so they can receive equal benefits from participating employers.
“Ten years ago, at this moment … some called this the most anti-gay city in the country, including me,” Seelbach said. “We’ve come a really long way, and this is one of the last pieces of the puzzle. Unfortunately, the state of Ohio doesn’t recognize marriage equality. It will soon, but until then, this is a tool.”
• A new national study by Homes for All Alliance to be released Friday shows that Cincinnati, like much of the country, is in an affordable housing crisis. More than 63 percent of households in Cincinnati are renters, not homeowners, according to the study. Of those households, half pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent, the federal threshold for unaffordable housing. Even worse, 30 percent of renters in Cincinnati spend more than half their monthly paychecks on a place to live.
A panel discussion on the study and affordable housing in Cincinnati is being held Friday at 6 p.m. at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. It will feature Vice Mayor David Mann, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing Director Mary Burke Rivers, Bonnie Neumeier from Peaslee Neighborhood Center and other advocates for affordable housing.
• The Ohio House yesterday passed a measure to allow electronic tolling, which could have big implications for the Brent Spence Bridge. The bridge is crumbling, and Ohio and Kentucky are currently working on a way to rebuild it. Engineers believe it will take $2.5 billion for a new bridge, and much of that money may have to come from tolls, lawmakers say. Though Ohio is (reluctantly) on board, voters in Kentucky have voiced strong opposition to tolls.
• In the “news that isn’t really new but that you should keep an eye on anyway” category, fixes for the Voting Rights Act are still stalled in Congress and probably will be for a while. The Supreme Court struck down a segment of the law regarding standards that determine which states will receive close scrutiny due to past voting rights violations. Congress can set new standards, but given that Congress can barely decide where they're all going to grab lunch these days, it looks like it could be a long wait.
• Finally, someone took DNA from a relative of Vincent Van Gogh, and, uh, 3D printed a copy of the artist’s ear, which he is said to have cut off in a fit of mental illness in 1888. It’s on display in a German museum, because paintings are kind of boring but Jurassic Park-like replicas of severed ears from long-dead artists are awesome.
All right. It's morning, it's nasty out, and it's only Wednesday. Let's do this news thing because we've all already uploaded five pics of those ominous clouds to Instagram and doing actual work is hard.
A bill the Ohio House took up yesterday would make it illegal for insurance to cover abortions. House Bill 351, sponsored by State Rep. John Becker, a Republican representing Cincinnati’s suburbs, would ban any insurance coverage for abortion procedures, even in cases of rape or incest. The bill would also keep public employees or those receiving Medicaid from using their insurance to purchase certain kinds of birth control that keep fertilized eggs from maturing, which Becker says is tantamount to abortion.
“This is just my personal view,” Becker said of that scientifically dubious claim. “I’m not a medical doctor.” Just going to leave that quote right there for you to chew on.
• More questions are popping up about Cincinnati’s 2015 operating budget, which City Council is set to pass today. Concerns have emerged about $350,000 in blight removal funds directed last-minute Monday to Bond Hill’s Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, The Enquirer reports. That’s a third of the money budgeted by the city for such work.
One possible way the corporation might use that money is by purchasing Integrity Hall, a banquet hall currently owned by Steve Reece. Reece has strong ties to Cranley, having done work for his mayoral campaign. His nonprofit, Operation Step-Up, also received a $3,700 donation from the campaign. In addition, Reece’s daughter, State Rep. Alicia Reece, endorsed Cranley’s campaign.
The connections between Reece and Cranley have raised questions from some council members. Councilman Chris Seelbach wondered Monday whether the money represents a “pet project.” Cranley says he has nothing to do with the allocation to Bond Hill and denies discussing the sale of Integrity Hall with Reece. Vice Mayor David Mann says there have been no decisions about what the money would be spent on. Reece hopes to sell his building to Bond Hill’s redevelopment corporation for around $335,000.
• Streetcar advocacy group Believe in Cincinnati met last night in Clifton to talk about expanding the streetcar into neighborhoods beyond OTR. About 80 people showed up at the meeting, which focused on uptown, other neighborhoods like Hyde Park and even interest in the streetcar across the river in Northern Kentucky. Ryan Messer, an organizer of the group, said Believe in Cincinnati wants to advocate for all kinds of transit and hopes to expand awareness and get people talking about the issue throughout the region.
Pete Witte, an advocate for transit going to the West Side, spoke about his efforts “in the lion’s den,” as Messer called the city’s western suburbs. Though transit expansion hasn’t been a popular there, Witte says there are a growing number of people there who want something like light rail or the streetcar as an option in the future.
Councilman Kevin Flynn also spoke, reminding the crowd about the realities of funding for streetcar expansion — that basically, the city has no money to pay for it now and that it will take a great amount of political will and support for the current phase of the project to make future expansions a reality.
• A University of Cincinnati professor is leading a group of students in drone research and development. So far, the group has made five of the hovering, eye-in-the-sky devices, including one with eight arms called Octorotor. The university is hooking up with the West Virginia Division of Forestry this fall to offer a co-op for students looking to push the boundaries of what drones can do while fighting forest fires. Next up, I hope: a drone that delivers pizza to my window at the CityBeat offices when it's storming and I don't want to leave the building.
• Archeologists in China have found the world’s oldest pants, because, you know, that’s what science does. The pants look suspiciously like something you might grab from an Urban Outfitters, with straight legs and a wide crotch that seem to make them direct ancestor of those dreadful drop-crotch skinny jeans Justin Bieber has taken to wearing. On the plus side, these things lasted 3,000 years. Meanwhile I can’t find a pair of jeans that doesn’t start fading and fraying after six months. They just don't make em like they used to, etc.
The city’s cost of a long-planned piece of cycling infrastructure could more than double if City Council approves a motion Vice Mayor David Mann planned to introduce on April 23.
Mayor John Cranley successfully paused the Central Parkway Bikeway Project for public discourse in response to a handful of business owners and residents taking exception to it, and a spokesman for Mann shared his suggested compromise with CityBeat today.
In response to an April 21 special Neighborhoods Committee meeting, Mann seeks to alter the bike route to appease people who don’t want to see parking spaces removed, but the updated plan will cost an additional $110,00 on top of the $82,600 the city would pay under the original plan, which would create the beginning of a cycling corridor running from Elm Street downtown to Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. The project was supposed to break ground next month and could lose $330,400 in federal money if the contract isn’t awarded by May 1.
“We routinely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars as a city to create new jobs in our community,” Mann said in a statement. “We should not approve a new project that places 60 newly created jobs in jeopardy when such a sensible accommodation is available.”
The planned bikeway is an innovative piece of cycling infrastructure meant to better protect cyclists along a critical thoroughfare that would connect a number of inner-city neighborhoods and business districts. The lane will be protected, meaning cyclists will have their own lane with a buffer separating them from traffic; in some areas plastic bollards will separate the bike and automobile lanes. The street will not be widened, so traffic lanes will be impacted through restriping, and parking will be restricted during peak traffic hours in the morning and evening.
Opponents of the project are concerned about losing public, on-street parking for parts of the day as well as potentially encountering traffic issues from shaving lanes from Brighton Place to Liberty Street. They also worry the bollards will become a blight issue and emergency vehicles will be impeded during one-lane hours.
Mann’s motion supports an alternative plan for a section running from Ravine Street to Brighton Place that would preserve 23 parking spaces full-time, alter 4,300 square feet of greenspace and remove 15 trees at an estimated cost of $110,000. The parking spaces would benefit a building owner and his tenants at 2145 Central Parkway.
City Councilman Chris Seelbach and others demonstrated frustration with the administration’s interest in stepping in at the 11th hour.
“I think we have reached a new era in Cincinnati: two steps forward, pause, lots of long meetings, two steps forward, and I’m convinced after the pause and lots of long meetings, we will continue to go two steps forward today,” Seelbach said at the April 21 meeting.
Mayor Cranley requested City Manager Scott Stiles delay awarding a contract after meeting with local business owner Tim Haines, who purchased a vacant building located at 2145 Central Parkway in 2012 for $230,000. His building now houses 65 employees from 12 different businesses including his own, Relocation Strategies. Haines has become a mouthpiece for the opposition to the bikeway — though he adamantly states he is not against the lane; he is just against the project’s current incarnation as it affects Central Parkway near his business, which utilizes 500 feet of on-street, unmetered parking, which translates to 30 parking spaces.
“If parking wasn’t an issue, I would open up my arms and welcome the bike path,” Haines says. “Parking for my 65 tenants is in jeopardy. As a business owner I have to fight for my tenants. … Could they park and walk a quarter of a mile? They could, but that’s not what they signed up for when they moved in.”
Haines has a 16-space parking lot adjacent to his building that some of his tenants use and also owns a parking lot across the street that is in disrepair. Haines says he already cleared it of underbrush to cut down criminal activity and disposed of dozens of tires and beer bottles. He says it would cost up to $300,000 to upgrade the lot.
During the April 21 presentation, Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) Director Michael Moore presented the committee with an alternative recently developed with Cranley’s office that he said would appease Haines and his tenants but would cost more money. Moore pushed the notion that the alternative creates a more balanced bikeway plan.
The original plan, passed by council last year, restricts parking in front of Haines’ building from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Moore’s alternative, which Mann is on board with, is to ramp the bike lane over the curb adjacent to a sidewalk where there is currently a tree-lined area in front of Haines’ building and another business in order to preserve public parking full-time.
At the meeting, council member Young took exception to the suggestion of changing the project at this point.
“For the life of me, I don’t see where the reasonableness and the balance is with people who come so far after the fact that want us to make these changes and the dollar amount it’s going to cost the taxpayers to get it done,” Young said. “I am appalled that people can come after the fact and tie up all these people down here to simply want accommodations for them.”
Mann shared another perspective.
“There’s a gentleman who has brought 60 jobs to the city, including some folks who have Parkinson’s and use the building, and the proposal that’s being made seems to me to represent balance,” Mann said. “We spend millions of dollars, typically, to support development, to support jobs, and you’re saying that the proposal that was originally approved by this council without a hearing like this is so pristine that it cant be adjusted in any way, and if it’s adjusted that is a statement of imbalance? I just don’t follow that.”
For the past year and a half, DOTE conducted surveys, sought public input and developed plans for the bikeway. After a strong consensus, the department chose the protected bikeway plan. The bikeway is estimated to add just three seconds of motorist commute time by 2030, though some naysayers suggest that delivery trucks will clog the lanes and the turn left from Ravine Street will create an even longer lag.
Community outreach for the design began in March of last year with eight community council meetings. Letters were mailed to residents, businesses and property owners, but Haines and several other business owners stated they didn’t receive any and weren’t aware of the project until late last year.
A website designed for public feedback also garnered about 600 messages mainly supporting the bikeway project. DOTE held an open house last September and the Over-The-Rhine and Northside community councils, Findlay Market and Northside Business Association endorsed the project.
Simpson expressed frustration with halting progress for a last-minute meeting.
“I don’t think that’s an appropriate process,” she said. “Really, technically you can go over everything over the past two years. The reality is we need to look forward. If we want to be less auto-focused and more focused on other types of transit, we’re going to have to ruffle a couple of feathers.”
Supporters — some who biked to the April
21 meeting and utilized a bike valet setup in front of City Hall —
represented various groups of the community from health and community
councils to business owners and cyclists. Their number doubled opponents
— mainly business owners along Central Parkway in the West End and the
West End Community Council, though some West End residents and business
owners supported the original bikeway plan.
The group gave Ohio a “D-” ranking after its government spending transparency website earned 51 points out of 100 in U.S. Public Interest Research Group's fifth annual “Following the Money” report.
“Ohio’s been kind of sinking through the ratings year by year,” says Phineas Baxendall, a U.S. PIRG senior policy analyst and co-author of the report released on Tuesday. “It used to do much better, which doesn’t mean they’re dismantling their transparency systems. It just means our standards get tougher each year and they’re more staying in place while other states are improving.”
Ohio’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t offer certain customizable search options including bid award recipients, keywords, agency and bulk download searches. Ohio’s poor score follows three years of ranking in the bottom half of the study.
Researchers look for transparency websites to be comprehensive, one-stop and offer simple search formats.
The nation as a whole is moving toward a more transparent approach to documenting government spending. Since PIRG began the study, all six categories it uses to compile rankings have shown an increase in states performing specific duties. The largest leaps in the past five years involve showing how a project benefits from taxpayer subsidies, which has seen an increase from two to 33 states, and how tax money is spent with an increase from eight to 44 states. All states now have ledger listings for transactions of any government spending on a website, compared to only 32 five years ago.
Ohio’s score doesn’t reflect Cincinnati’s efforts to be transparent. In a 2013 study in transparency of the 30 largest cities in America, Cincinnati scored a “B+” for providing ledger listings for spending information, allowing Cincinnatians to view where money is spent, specific recipients of tax subsidies and the existence of a service request center allowing residents to notify officials about quality of life issues.
Suggestions for improvement included making checkbook-level spending information searchable by the vendor who received the money and developing a comprehensive transparency website.
“We feel strongly that this isn’t a partisan issue, and the fact that states that do best in our rankings show no political pattern, with Texas and Massachusetts standing side-by-side, sort of speaks that this is one of those issues that should not be politicized,” Baxendall says. “We look forward to advancement in transparency in Ohio regardless of who is in office.”