As cities rush to solve major problems with water infrastructure, newer technologies are being touted by city agencies as cheaper, cleaner solutions. In two different local projects, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) and a City Council task force are looking into green ways to solve the city’s water needs.
On Wednesday, CityBeat covered some of the benefits and downsides of green water infrastructure. According to the report reviewed Wednesday, green water infrastructure is cheaper and does create a boon of jobs, but it faces some funding and education problems. However, it was unclear how the green ideas would translate into Cincinnati.
Tony Parrott, executive director of MSD, says despite the challenges, green infrastructure is clearly the cheaper option. The organization is partnering with local organizations to adopt a series of new projects — among them, green roofs, rain gardens, wetlands — to meet a new federal mandate that requires MSD to reduce the amount of sewer overflow that makes it into local rivers and streams.
“That is a very costly mandate,” he says. “Our belief is that green infrastructure and sustainable infrastructure will allow us to achieve a lot of those objectives a lot cheaper than your conventional deep tunnel systems or other gray type of infrastructure.”
Of course, conventional — or “gray” — infrastructure still
has its place, but adopting a hybrid of green and gray infrastructure
or just green infrastructure in some areas was found to be cheaper in
MSD analyses, according to Parrott.
Plans are already being executed. On top of the smaller projects that slow the flow of storm water into sewer systems, MSD is also taking what Parrott calls a “large-scale approach to resurrect or daylight former streams and creeks that were buried over 150 years ago.” This approach will rely on the new waterways to redirect storm water so it doesn’t threaten to flood sewers and cause sewer overflow, Parrott says.
The programs are being approached in a “holistic way,” according to Parrott. MSD intends to refine and reiterate on what works as the programs develop. However, that comes with challenges when setting goals and asking for funding.
“We think that if you’re going to use a more integrated approach, it may require us to ask for more time to get some of these projects done and in the ground and then see how effective they are,” Parrott says.
If it all plays out, the ongoing maintenance required by the green approach could be good for the local economy, according to Parrott: “With the green and sustainable infrastructure, you’re creating a new class of what we call green jobs for maintenance. The majority of those jobs are something local folks can do as opposed to the conventional process.” Additionally, the green jobs also tend to benefit “disadvantaged communities” more than conventional jobs, according to Parrott.
The argument is essentially what Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at Green For All, told CityBeat on Wednesday. Since the green jobs require less education and training, they’re more accessible to “disadvantaged workers,” according to Hays: “They require some training and some skills, but not four years’ worth because it’s skills that you can get at a community college or even on the job.”
While MSD fully encourages the use of rain barrels, recycling will not be a top priority for MSD’s programs. Instead, that priority goes to the Rainwater Harvesting Task Force, a City Council task force intended to find ways to reform the city’s plumbing code to make harvesting and recycling rainwater a possibility.
Bob Knight, a member of the task force, says there is already a model in place the city can use. The task force is looking into adopting the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) in Cincinnati. The code will “prescriptively tell” architects and engineers how to design a rainwater harvesting system. In other words, IGCC would set a standard for the city.
Deciding on this code was not without challenges. At first, the task force wasn’t even sure if it could dictate how rainwater is harvested and recycled. The first question Knight had to ask was, “Who has that authority?” What it found is a mix of local agencies — Greater Cincinnati Water Works, MSD and Cincinnati Department of Planning — will all have to work together to implement the city’s new code.
The task force hopes to give its findings to Quality of Life Committee, which is led by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, by the end of November.
More than half of Cincinnati’s children live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey released Thursday.
The 2012 rate represents a roughly 10-percent increase in the city’s child poverty rate in the past two years. In 2010, 48 percent of Cincinnatians younger than 18 were considered impoverished; in 2012, the rate was 53.1 percent.
If the number was reduced back down to 2010 levels, approximately 4,500 Cincinnati children would be pulled out of poverty.
Overall poverty similarly increased in Cincinnati from 30.6 percent in 2010 to 34.1 percent in 2012.
Black residents were hit hardest with 46.4 percent classified as in poverty in 2012, up from 40.8 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, the poverty rate among white residents went from 19.8 percent in 2010 to 22.9 percent in 2012.
Hispanics of any race were placed at a poverty rate of 51 percent in 2012, but that number had an extraordinary margin of error of 15.5 percent, which means the actual poverty rate for Hispanics could be up to 15.5 percent higher or lower than the survey’s estimate. In 2010, 42 percent of Hispanics were classified as impoverished, but that number had an even larger margin of error of 17.9 percent.
The other local numbers had margins of error ranging from 2.2 percent to 4.9 percent.
The child poverty rates for Cincinnati were more than double Ohio’s numbers. Nearly one in four Ohio children are in poverty, putting the state at No. 33 worst among 50 states for child poverty, according to the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio.
In 2012, the U.S. government put the federal poverty level for a family of four at an annual income of $23,050.
Some groups are using the numbers to make the case for new policies.
“Too many Ohioans are getting stuck at the lowest rung of the income ladder and kids are paying the price,” said Hannah Halbert, workforce researcher for left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement. “Policymakers — at both the state and federal levels — are making a clear choice to not invest in workers, families or kids. This approach is not moving our families forward.”
The federal government temporarily increased aid to low-income Americans through the federal stimulus package in 2009, but some of that extra funding already expired or is set to expire later in the year. The food stamp program’s cuts in particular could hit 1.8 million Ohioans, according to an Aug. 2 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
At a local level, City Council has consistently failed to uphold its commitment to human services in the past decade, which human services agencies say is making the fight against poverty and homelessness more difficult.
Two prominent Democratic congress members say a $3 million settlement between Cintas Corp. and federal workplace safety regulators is insufficient because it downgrades the severity of the company’s violations and gives it two years to install new safety equipment.
As Bernadette Watson decides whether to run for Cincinnati City Council again in 2011, she's keeping busy by helping a former council member get elected to state office.
Watson has been named as campaign manager for Alicia Reece, a Democrat who is seeking to keep the Ohio House 33rd District seat. Reece, an ex-Cincinnati vice mayor, was appointed to the seat in March to replace Tyrone Yates. Yates, who was facing term limits, was appointed to a municipal judgeship.
As expected, the ax fell quickly at The Cincinnati Enquirer this week as its parent company demands mass layoffs before year’s end.
The bloodletting in the newsroom at The Enquirer is over, at least for now.
Editor Carolyn Washburn sent an email to the newspaper’s editorial staff this morning, announcing the names of 12 people who have decided to accept a voluntary “early retirement” severance deal offered by The Enquirer’s parent firm, The Gannett Co.
CityBeat already has reported that political columnist Howard Wilkinson, longtime photographer Michael Keating and Editorial Page Editor Ray Cooklis were among those departing the media company.
Other editorial staffers who are taking the buyout are business reporter Mike Boyer; Features Editor Dave Caudill; news reporter Steve Kemme; Copy Desk Chief Sue Lancaster; Production Manager Greg Noble; Butler/Warren Editor Jim Rohrer; sports copy editor Bill Thompson; Copy Editor Pat Tolzmann; and Copy Editor Tim Vonderbrink.
They join Assistant Managing Editor/Sports Barry Forbis and Deputy Sports Editor Rory Glynn, who announced their resignations in March.
In her email, Washburn wrote that the company will throw a party in its conference room for the departing staffers on April 12.
As one ex-Enquirer reporter said when hearing about the plans, “Some sendoff for those leaving. Washburn is throwing them a ‘proper party,’ whatever that is, for them on the 20th floor, no doubt in the sterile training room where staffers learn about inane new corporate initiatives. A ‘proper party’ for the loss of 350-plus years of experience and institutional knowledge would be an employee tavern of choice with an open bar, but what would Washburn know?”
Gannett announced the buyout offer Feb. 9 and gave employees 45 days to decide whether to apply for the deal.
At the close of the offer period, editors reviewed applications and made final decisions; some people who apply for the deal potentially could've been turned down if their position is deemed essential to the newspaper’s operation.
Under the deal, newspaper employees who are age 56 or older and have at least 20 years of service with Gannett as of March 31 are eligible. Although executives said 785 employees meet the criteria, the deal only is being offered to 665 employees “due to ongoing operational needs at the company.”
As part of reductions mandated by Gannett, The Enquirer has laid off about 150 workers during the past two years. Also, employees have had to take five unpaid furloughs during the past three years.
Gannett recently gave Craig Dubow, its CEO who allegedly left the company due to health reasons, a $37.1 million compensation package. The Columbia Journalism Review examined what Gannett could’ve bought with that money instead, including paying for the starting salaries of 1,474 staffers at The Indianapolis Star or 310,720 annual subscriptions to The Tallahassee Democrat's website.
Here is the full text of Washburn’s email:
From: Washburn, Carolyn
Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2012 8:39 AM
To: CIN-News Users; ohiodaily
Subject: saying thank you to our new retirees
It's official now. In the next couple of weeks we will say thank you and best wishes to these colleagues who have decided to take the company's early retirement offer. The complete group is, in no particular order:
Dave Caudill, Greg Noble, Jim Rohrer, Sue Lancaster, Pat Tolzmann, Tim Vonderbrink, Bill Thompson, Michael Keating, Mike Boyer, Steve Kemme, Howard Wilkinson, Ray Cooklis
Ray will be here until April 27. Greg's last day in the office was a week or so ago, before a furlough and vacation. Everyone else will have their last day next Thursday, April 12.
We will have a proper party in the 20th floor conference room on April 12 at 4pm.
I'll meet with some small groups in the next few days and we'll have a full staff meeting the week of April 16 to talk about what's next, now that we are confirmed on who chose to retire. There is a plan. :)
We will be very sad to say goodbye. But I am happy for these folks who decided this was the right thing for them.
Thanks again to Dave, Greg, JR, Sue, Pat, Tim, Bill, Michael, Mike, Steve, Howard and Ray.
On Monday, Judge Carl Stitch is scheduled to rule on a motion to grant a temporary restraining order to stop the Requiem from being evicted from the building. The complaint states that the Emery Center Corporation asked Requiem to vacate the theater by Aug. 3 and has requested that Requiem return its keys to the building. It asks the court to declare that the Requiem is entitled to a long-term lease of the property based on a 2010 agreement that the two sides would work toward a long-term lease.
The Requiem Project is a nonprofit organization that
formed in 2008 to redevelop the Emery Theater, a 1,600-seat,
acoustically pure concert space on Walnut Street in Over-the-Rhine. The
theater entrance is on the west side of the building at the corner of
Walnut and Central Parkway, which includes Coffee Emporium and about 60
Requiem founders Tina Manchise and Tara Gordon have programmed events at the venue during the past few years under
temporary occupancy permits. The theater is not eligible for a permanent certificate of occupancy because it needs significant renovations — it currently doesn't have working plumbing or heat. Still, organizers have produced individual events, sometimes bringing in portable toilets and taking other measures to make the space functional. In April, the
Emery hosted the Contemporary Dance Theater’s 40th anniversary
celebration. It also hosted three nights of live music during last fall’s MidPoint Music Festival, which is owned and operated by CityBeat. MidPoint organizers were unable to secure the venue for this year’s event.
The theater is operated by the Emery Center Corporation (ECC), a nonprofit organization that subleases the theater from the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP), a for-profit corporation that holds a long-term lease to the building from UC. All three parties — UC, ECC and ECALP — are named as defendants in the complaint.
University of Cincinnati spokesperson Greg Hand declined
to comment, only stating that UC doesn’t have a relationship with the
Requiem Project because Requiem works directly with the ECC, which subleases part of the building from ECALP.
The Requiem Project alleges that the intent all along was for ECC to lease the space to Requiem long-term, not just for Requiem to program events under a management agreement. According to the complaint, the Requiem and ECC in 2010 signed a Letter of Intent, which stated that the ECC would enter into a lease agreement with the Requiem “on substantially similar terms” as the ECC’s current deal with ECALP, the for-profit entity that oversees the rest of the building. That lease, signed in 1999, is for 40-years and renewable for another 40 years after that.
The two sides entered into a management agreement while negotiating the long-term lease, but the lease was never agreed upon. The most recent yearlong management agreement is set to expire Aug. 3.
ECC informed Requiem Jan. 16 that it would not renew the current agreement “for no cause,” according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that the theater cannot obtain a
permanent certificate of occupancy because ECALP removed the heat and
water systems while renovating part of the building into apartments,
which were developed to raise revenue for the eventual renovation of the
theater. The renovations of the apartments left the theater without
running water, heat, bathrooms or fire escapes, according to the
complaint, which notes that ECC let the theater sit empty between the
time it took over its management in 1999 and when the Requiem Project came
along in 2008. A permanent certificate of occupancy would allow regular programming in the theater, but the venue needs considerable
renovations to qualify.
"UC refuses to even meet with the parties to outline its demands," the complaint states. "ECC and ECALP have stopped replying to Requiem's reasonable proposals."
The hearing is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Monday.
In a letter to the Hamilton County Board of Elections, City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld today asked the Board to extend in-person early voting hours in the county. Council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Cecil Thomas, Laure Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young also signed the letter. Council members Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, and Charlie Winburn, a Republican, were notified of the letter Thursday, but they did not agree to sign.
voting will begin on Oct. 2 and run until Nov. 2. If hours are not
extended, polls in Hamilton County will only be open on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. If the Board agrees to Sittenfeld's recommendations,
early voting will be extended to 8 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday
The letter brings home a political controversy that has recently gained national attention. In recent weeks, Democrats have accused state Republicans of extending in-person early voting in predominantly Republican counties and keeping shorter in-person early voting hours in predominantly Democratic counties.
Democrats typically point to Warren County and Butler County — two predominantly Republican counties with extended in-person early voting — and the recent actions of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. In the predominantly Democratic counties of Lucas, Cuyahoga, Summit and Franklin, Husted had to break ties in Boards of Election on the issue of in-person early voting hours. In every case, Husted voted against extending in-person early voting hours.
Jerid Kurtz, spokesperson for Ohio Democratic Party, says the move follows a clear Republican trend: "Every opportunity that presents itself, Republicans take away the right to vote."
Kurtz is referring to Republicans' initial push to end in-person early voting in Ohio. In 2011, Republicans passed two laws — H.B. 194 and H.B. 224 — that ended in-person early voting in the state. After Democrats managed to get enough petition signatures to put the early voting issue on the November ballot, Republicans repealed H.B. 194. However, by not repealing H.B. 224, Republicans have made it so all non-military voters are still disallowed to vote the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. Democrats and President Barack Obama have filed a lawsuit to restore those early voting days for all voters, including military personnel and families.
Democrats like Kurtz argue that in-person early voting is necessary to maintain reliable, efficient elections. In 2004, Ohio did not have in-person early voting in place, and the state drew national attention when its long voting lines forced some people to wait as long as 10 hours to vote. After the debacle, a Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Bob Taft, also a Republican, passed laws allowing in-person early voting.
now Republicans seem skeptical of their own laws.
Republicans say the measures are meant to cut costs and stop voter
fraud, but Democrats say the measures are all about suppressing the vote. In
a moment of honesty, former Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer told
MSNBC that the measures are about disenfranchising demographics that typically side with Democrats. Even Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin has stepped in to criticize Republicans for what he sees as disenfranchisement.
Husted told reporters at Cleveland's The Plain Dealer that he is considering establishing uniform rules. With such rules, every county would have the same in-person early voting hours.But Kurtz says the talk about a uniform rule is "pure silliness." He says counties have differences, so they need different voting times. Instead of worrying about uniformity or what counties can afford, Kurtz says Husted should worry managing elections and "empowering people to vote."
The calls for extended early voting come a time when Hamilton County is facing budget issues. With a $20 million budget shortfall projected for next year, affording more early voting hours might be difficult. No official estimate has been released on how much the extended hours would cost.
The Hamilton County Board of Elections will meet Thursday at 9 a.m. to discuss extending in-person early voting hours.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners on Monday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative, which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit hardest by vacancy and abandonment.
The goal is to establish a residential base that will help jumpstart private redevelopment and revitalize largely abandoned areas of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
“Just about a year ago, we were in Evanston to talk about their housing strategy for the Woodburn Avenue corridor and what to do about the 200 vacant and abandoned properties in the community,” Qualls said in a statement. “The next logical step on the path to revitalization is to incentivize private market investment in the residential core of our neighborhoods and help to fill the once-abandoned homes with new owner-occupants.”
The initiative will work through the Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan guarantees.
Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects.
To qualify for the program, owner-occupants will have to meet minimum credit requirements, agree to live in the rehabilitated home for five years and pay for 5 percent of the total rehabilitation and acquisition costs as a down payment. After five years, the loan will be refinanced at the same or better interest rates to relinquish the city and its partners’ loan guarantee.
The city is eyeing a few potential partners for the initiative, including the Cincinnati Development Fund, Cincinnati Preservation Association, the University of Cincinnati Urban Design Center and neighborhood-specific groups.
The initiative will start with 100 homes in the pilot neighborhoods of Evanston and Walnut Hills, but it will expand to Avondale, College Hill, Madisonville, Northside, Price Hill and South Cumminsville as resources grow. It will work in conjunction with the Moving Ohio Forward demolition grant program, which allows the city and Hamilton County Land Bank to tear down blighted and vacant buildings.
At the same time, three of the neighborhoods — College Hill, Madisonville and Walnut Hills — are currently trying out form-based code, a special kind of zoning code championed by Qualls that allows developers to more easily pursue projects as long as they stay within a neighborhood’s established goals.
City Council will now need to approve a motion that gives the city administration 60 days to develop a plan and budget for the initiative. The city administration’s proposal will also require City Council approval.