CityBeat Blogs - Public Transit <![CDATA[Metro to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits]]> Kim Lahman was doing cartwheels in her mind for Metro this morning.

The organization’s Ridership and Development Director celebrated Metro’s announcement on Thursday that it will provide health and dental benefits to domestic partners of its employees.

Lahman said she has used same-sex partner benefits in the past, when she went back to school.

“[My partner and I] know first-hand what it means to have the flexibility and equality as others do in the workplace,” Lahman said at a press conference at Metro’s office. “This is just a fantastic day and I’m so proud that Metro is able to do the right thing.”

Metro is the first employer to say it will use Cincinnati’s domestic partner registry if the initiative passes next week in City Council. Should it pass, Cincinnati will be the 10th city in Ohio to have a domestic partner registry.

Mayor John Cranley and City Councilman Chris Seelbach attended the press conference and spoke in support of the move.

Cranley called it “symbolically and substantively right” and during   the announcement shared a memory in honor of Maya Angelou, her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

“She ended it with ‘Good morning,’” Cranley said. “I think this is a good morning for Cincinnati, a new day.”

Many of Cincinnati’s major employers, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Macy’s offer same-sex and domestic partner benefits.

Seelbach said while those companies already have systems to evaluate domestic partnerships, the registry will give other companies like Metro an easy way to provide those benefits.

“We are now leaders in the nation and the region to make sure everyone is welcome in our city, regardless of who they love,” Seelbach said. “Everyone should bring their full self to their workplace and be able to do that with health benefits for their partners.”

Seelbach said while Metro is the first to say it will use the registry, other companies like Cincinnati Bell have expressed interest.

Metro is a nonprofit tax-funded public service of the Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) with around 850 employees.

One of SORTA’s executive statements says the organization is committed to a work environment that “promotes dignity and respect for all.”

Board Chair Jason Dunn said SORTA’s commitment to inclusion is a great business decision.

“It shows that we value our employees,” Dunn said. “It shows that not only is Metro on the cutting edge of transportation but also making sure we are open to talent and we are open to retaining great talent in our system.”

Same-sex partners with a valid marriage license, same-sex partners registered by a government entity and same-sex partners with a sworn affidavit will be recognized by Metro for domestic partner benefits, which will take effect January 1, 2015.




<![CDATA[Cincinnati Metro Expands Transfer Time ]]>

If you're a Metro rider and often feel like making your bus transfer on time a little too closely resembles the hell that was your high school gym class, you're in luck: The folks at Cincinnati Metro have answered riders' requests to relax the time limit an issued transfer ticket is valid.

Beginning Friday, Nov. 1, it will extend its transfer time allowance from 90 minutes to two hours without increasing the cost.

Cincinnati Metro Public Relations Manager Jill Dunne says extending transfer times was one of the most-requested changes from readers and drivers in a survey issued earlier this month. The results of that survey, the Metro Report Card, should be issued in a week or so, says Dunn.

Transfers currently cost 50 cents in addition to the cost of fare; they're used on top of regular fares when riders must switch buses and combine bus routes to reach their destination.

<![CDATA[Court to Decide Dispute over Streetcar Utility Lines]]> Another hurdle in the ongoing struggle to make the streetcar a reality was bypassed today, when Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr. announced that after months entangled in a gridlock, Duke Energy and the city of Cincinnati have finally reached an agreement over who will pay for the relocation of utility lines.

Somewhat of an agreement, anyway. Mallory said that the city and Duke will go before a judge in Common Pleas court, who will make the final decision as to who should pay for the utility relocation. According to the agreement, Duke Energy will begin moving its utilities in the next few weeks, and the court decision will determine cost responsibility later. The city and Duke are expected to file in Common Pleas court within the next few weeks, although the court decision could take years to finalize.

The city broke ground on the streetcar nearly a year ago, but the skirmish between Duke and the city delayed further development — Duke refused to begin any kind of construction before financial responsibility was determined.

The reconciliation contains two separate agreements, one of which outlines how Duke will safely operate its utilities once the streetcar is in place. The other demarcates how Duke and the city will resolve the issue of financial responsibility; they've both agreed to abide by the court ruling after any appeals are exhausted.
"The utilities' agreements are in place, the cars are being ordered and the construction bids are coming in," announced Dohoney.

Roxanne Qualls, city council member and Democratic mayoral candidate, has long been a supporter of the streetcar project, which she values as an indispensable economic investment for the city of Cincinnati. Yesterday, Qualls announced her request for the city to ramp up the streetcar construction timeline in order to have the project completed in time for the All-Star Games, which will take place in Cincinnati July 2015. Her announcement came just weeks after the city revised its timetable to delay project completion until April 2016.

In a letter from Qualls to Mallory and Dohoney, she explains: “This may present a challenge, but it is one I am sure the administration is capable of meeting. The streetcar will serve a critical role in efficiently and effectively moving visitors to and from Great American Ballpark and allowing them to conveniently visit other venues such as Fountain Square, Horseshoe Casino, Over-the-Rhine, Washington Park, etc.”

At the meeting, Mallory announced that the city would shoot for construction to be completed prior to the games, but there were no guarantees. The streetcar builder will ultimately set the timeline for the project, according to Jason Barron, Mallory's director of public affairs.

CityBeat recently covered the streetcar project's delays and how the 2013 mayoral race could affect its progress here.

<![CDATA[Council to Move Funds to Avoid Further Streetcar Delays]]>

Cincinnati City Council plans to move $29 million in funds to avoid further delays for the streetcar project, but the city is still looking at a 2015 opening date. City officials announced Wednesday that a council committee will vote Monday on three pieces of legislation to keep the $110 million project in line with the recently announced delayed opening.

One measure would front $15 million to help Duke Energy move underground utility lines from the path of the proposed streetcar route. That money comes from the recent $37 million sale of land near the former Blue Ash Airport. 

The city thinks it will get this money back once a dispute with Duke is resolved. The city contends that Duke is responsible for moving the lines, which the utility estimates will cost $18.7 million. Duke counters that the lines only have to be moved because of the streetcar construction, so the city should foot the bill.

“We’re fronting money for the Duke work until we can work out who pays for it with Duke,” city spokeswoman Meg Oldberding said. “It’s to keep the project on time and on budget. Delays would escalate the cost.”

Another ordinance would change the municipal code to “confirm the city’s existing rights” and clarify that utilities pay for the cost of relocating facilities unless otherwise negotiated, according to a news release.

Oldberding said Cincinnati has always maintained that it is the utility’s responsibility to relocate their facilities, so it is not a change in the city’s position.

The final ordinance would change the funding source that is repaying $25 million in bonds sold as part of the original plan to fund the streetcar. 

Those bonds were originally being repaid with money coming into city coffers from southern downtown and the riverfront area. 

That area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as expected, so the ordinance would have $14 million of the bonds repaid from a 1995 fund set up to collect service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks.

Oldberding said once the downtown district rebounds — it includes the Banks and the casino — it would repay the other fund.

The ordinances would not add to the project’s cost. Construction is scheduled to begin early next year.

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> The ever-debated, never implemented property tax increase will continue to be nonexistent, as will a new police station, playgrounds, some public pools, Music Hall renovations and certain street repavings and building demolitions, according to The Enquirer. Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan will make the deciding vote against City Manager Milton Dohoney’s proposed tax increase, which would add $46 to the owner of a $100,000. Also against disproportionately taxing rich people are Councilmen Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman and Charlie Winburn. Quilivan says the government isn’t the right size and that the government should make the tougher changes before asking for more revenue.

Here are two ways to report the latest news regarding potential Duke Energy rate hike connected to streetcar construction:

• From The Enquirer:  Duke customers could face streetcar tab

• From The Business Courier: “Cincinnati, Duke making progress on moving utility lines

A 15-year-old girl was killed in Over-the-Rhine around 11 p.m. last night. She was reportedly standing with a group of people, though Police haven’t released any details about the shooter.

A new poll shows support for President Obama’s shift on immigration policy.

More Asians are immigrating to the U.S. than Hispanics these days.

Adult humans are 16.5 million tons overweight, which researchers say will threaten the world’s food security and environmental resources.

Approximately half of all new AIDS cases are occurring in the South, and the region is severely short on HIV specialists.

Attorneys for the Penn State football coach who showered with a bunch of boys are starting their defense by painting him in a positive light.

Spotify will stop charging $10 per month for use on mobile devices. Free now.

Facebook acquires Ha.

Former baseball player Roger Clemens was acquitted of perjury charges, the latest in a bunch of wasted time by the federal government investigating athletes who can afford really good lawyers.

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

The Enquirer today broke out its Freedom of the Press Card, pressing the city to release details of the bids to build the streetcar's five vehicles. Enquirer Editor and Vice President Carolyn Washburn says the newspaper is being a good watchdog by investigating all the redacted parts of documents released by the city, which reportedly include typical streetcar parts, performance data and personal information of employees. A firm called CAF USA, which won the bid for more than $20 million, is trying to block the release of the data, along with two losing bidders who claim the information is trade secret.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear are considering a private-public partnership that includes tolls to fund renovations to the Brent Spence Bridge.

President Obama enjoyed an enthusiastic welcome from Los Angeles LGBT supporters at an event in Beverly Hills. Republicans are saying Obama is being all glitzy in California so he's out of touch with Americans' struggles.

Russia would like Iran to be involved in forcing a political transition in Syria. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Syrian President Bashar Assad should quit and roll out.

The U.S. is losing patience with Pakistan, too.

George Zimmerman's bond hearing has been set for June 29. He returned to jail on Sunday after a judge revoked his bond for failing to disclose $135,000 in funds raised for his legal defense.

Thousands of homes in the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are at high risk for hurricane damage, and New York City has the highest risk of losses.

Do you use LinkedIn or eHarmony? Well, you shouldn't. Also, both sites were hacked and had user passwords breached.

A car called the Honda Fit EV has earned the highest ever miles-per-gallon equivalency rating from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — 118 mpg.

More than 80 lawsuits by former NFL players have been consolidated and filed in a Philadelphia federal court, accusing the league of hiding details that linked head trauma to permanent brain injuries. The NFL denies culpability.

The Reds are still in first place.



<![CDATA[Rebuilding Cincinnati: City vs. Kasich]]> In his State of the City address last week, Mayor Mark Mallory called on Cincinnati to continue pushing for improvements. After years of stalling, projects like Washington Park’s renovation, the Horseshoe Casino and the streetcar are finally moving forward, and Mallory wants to make sure that work continues.

Politically and economically, it makes sense. Not only have voters approved of both the casino and the streetcar, but the projects will create jobs. Casino developers have already begun to fill what they promise will be 1,700 permanent jobs, and city estimates show the first segment of the streetcar will create 300 construction jobs and 25 permanent jobs.

But while voters and local politicians may approve, some state Republicans are doing their very best to tear the projects down. Gov. John Kasich, who dismantled Ohio’s passenger rail project, tried his hardest to continue his anti-transit rampage by railing against the streetcar in public speeches last year. He even ripped away more than $50 million in state funds from the project.

The casino has been a little luckier, but not by much. Kasich has claimed both neutrality and approval of casinos, but he has made building the Horseshoe Casino more difficult. Despite the fact Ohio has the highest casino tax in the nation, Kasich pushed for renegotiations for higher taxes and fees last year, ultimately delaying the casino’s opening from late 2012 to spring 2013.

For the governor, such actions probably make sense. Kasich has been an ardent supporter of tax cuts — sneaking them into every single budget even when Ohio had a reported $8 billion deficit. When he found massive education and health care cuts weren’t enough to close the gap he helped create, he moved onto casinos and transit projects.

Still, the projects move forward. Kasich and other state Republicans have not been successful in killing them off, largely thanks to local voters and local politicians pushing back.

Last year, voters rejected Issue 48, which tried to ban all investments in rail transportation for the next decade. Last week, Mallory announced CAF USA was already drawing up designs for the streetcar, and the first car could be finished as soon as 18 months from now.

Meanwhile, the casino’s construction is 35 to 40 percent complete, according to developers. This is despite an accident in January that resulted in the injury of 20 workers after a steel beam fell and caused a floor to partially collapse.

But what needs to be clear is that these developments are in spite of state Republicans like Kasich. When these job-creating projects are said and done, it’s important credit goes where credit is due — straight to local voters and local politicians.
<![CDATA[View Renderings of Cincinnati Streetcar]]>

Mayor Mark Mallory last night announced during his State of the City address that the city has chosen the model and vendor for the first batch of streetcars.

The mayor's office today released details about the vendor, along with renderings of the streetcars Cincinnatians can expect to see traversing the 4-mile loop that will cover 18 stops connecting The Banks, Government Square, Fountain Square, Broadway Commons, the Gateway Quarter and Music Hall.

According to the release, the vendor, CAF USA, has produced light rail vehicles for Pittsburgh, Sacramento and Houston and streetcar vehicles for the international cities such as Besançon and Nantes, France; Belgrade, Serbia; Antalya, Turkey; Stockholm, Sweden; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Spanish cities Zaragoza, Granada, Sevilla, Bilbao and Vitoria.

Officials in February broke ground the Cincinnati Streetcar system, and the city hopes to add additional phases connecting the Uptown area near the University of Cincinnati once funding is secured.

The following are renderings released by the city:

<![CDATA[Duke's Streetcar Claim Might be Crumbling]]>

A review of the fine print in Ohio law could spell trouble for Duke Energy in its dispute with Cincinnati about who must pay to move utility lines to accommodate the city’s streetcar project.

Readers of CityBeat’s March 6 cover story know that one of the legal arguments made by Duke Energy is that it said the system qualifies as a utility itself under Ohio law. And one utility has no legal obligation to reimburse another utility, Duke added.

City officials disagree with Duke’s interpretation, and the two sides currently are trying to negotiate a compromise to the impasse.

The city is willing to pay $6 million to relocate Duke’s natural gas, chilled water, fiber and electrical infrastructure along the streetcar route, but the firm insists it will cost at least $18.7 million and possibly more.

A close reading of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC), however, reveals it is unlikely that a streetcar system qualifies as a “public utility.”

Under Ohio law, the following items are defined as public utilities:

“A motor transportation company, when engaged in the business of carrying and transporting persons or property or the business of providing or furnishing such transportation service, for hire, in or by motor-propelled vehicles of any kind, including trailers, for the public in general, over any public street, road, or highway in this state.” ORC §4905.03

But motor-propelled vehicles aren’t defined under Ohio law. The ORC does, however, define “motor vehicle” as:

“(B) “Motor vehicle” means any vehicle, including mobile homes and recreational vehicles, that is propelled or drawn by power other than muscular power or power collected from overhead electric trolley wires. “Motor vehicle” does not include utility vehicles as defined in division (VV) of this section, motorized bicycles, road rollers, traction engines, power shovels, power cranes, and other equipment used in construction work and not designed for or employed in general highway transportation, well-drilling machinery, ditch-digging machinery, farm machinery, and trailers that are designed and used exclusively to transport a boat between a place of storage and a marina, or in and around a marina, when drawn or towed on a public road or highway for a distance of no more than ten miles and at a speed of twenty-five miles per hour or less.” ORC §4501.01(B)

Streetcars operate using overhead trolley wires, thus they aren’t considered motor vehicles under Ohio law. But do they even qualify as vehicles? The ORC defines vehicles as:

“(A) “Vehicles” means everything on wheels or runners, including motorized bicycles, but does not mean electric personal assistive mobility devices, vehicles that are operated exclusively on rails or tracks or from overhead electric trolley wires, and vehicles that belong to any police department, municipal fire department, or volunteer fire department, or that are used by such a department in the discharge of its functions.” ORC §4501.01(A)

Of course, streetcars run on rails and use power from electric trolley wires. So, they aren’t vehicles either.

The conclusion: Either “motor-propelled vehicles” mean the same as “motor vehicles” (in which case it doesn’t apply to streetcars) or “motor-propelled” is an adjective to “vehicle” (which also doesn’t apply, as streetcars aren’t vehicles).

In each instance, a streetcar system doesn’t fall into the legal realm of a “motor transportation company” and therefore isn’t a “public utility.”

<![CDATA[Streetcar Groundbreaking is Next Week]]>

Groundbreaking ceremonies for Cincinnati's long-awaited streetcar project will occur next Friday, Feb. 17, in front of Memorial Hall on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine.

Mayor Mark Mallory announced the ceremony this afternoon. It will launch the first phase of construction, which involves relocating water lines under city streets.

Opening of the streetcar line’s first phase, a 3.9-mile loop between The Banks riverfront district and Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, is scheduled for late 2013.---

The mayor will give some brief remarks inside Memorial Hall beginning at 1 p.m., followed by a short official groundbreaking outside on Elm Street.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is tentatively slated to attend the event, although his appearance still is being finalized. In December, LaHood awarded a $10.92 million federal grant to the project that restored the segment between downtown’s Government Square and The Banks.

That segment and another, from Findlay Market to the uptown area near the University of Cincinnati, had been dropped in spring 2011 after Ohio cancelled about $52 million in state funding due to political pressure from Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who generally opposes mass transit projects.

Besides the federal grant, Cincinnati officials have allocated $99.5 million for the project, which will pay for the first phase.

Of that amount, $25 million comes from an urban circulator grant awarded by the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA); $4 million comes from a congestion mitigation and air quality improvement grant by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments; $6.5 million comes from Duke Energy; and the remaining $64 million will come from construction bonds issued by the city.

Streetcar supporters say the project's primary purpose is as an economic development tool, spurring investment in vacant and dilapidated properties along its route.

Studies have indicated the local streetcar system would spark nearly $1.4 billion in new development along its route. That means it would produce — when adjusted in today's value — up to $2.70 in economic activity for every $1 invested.

<![CDATA[Duke Reaches Standstill with City in Streetcar Talks]]> Duke Energy's approval and cooperation was considered to be essential in advancing the highly anticipated Cincinnati streetcar project, and Wednesday the company announced it isn't willing to cooperate.

In a letter to Mayor Mark Mallory dated Feb. 8, Ohio and Kentucky Duke Energy President Julie Janson stated that Duke changed its mind after a year and a half of negotiations and that it wouldn't cooperate with the city's requests that Duke move utility lines downtown to make way for the streetcar's tracks. According to Janson's letter, the lines must be moved a minimum of eight feet from the edge of the streetcar before any progress can be made in the plan's implementation. Duke estimates that the relocation and replacement of the infrastructure would cost somewhere around $18.7 million, but City Manager Milton Dohoney said that estimate hadn't been verified by anyone else. ---

According to Janson's letter, "the company continues to support the city's effort to construct a streetcar," but Duke admits it won't even consider moving its lines until the city pledges to cover every penny of the $18.7 million investment.

Duke's opposition comes at an interesting time: The city of Cincinnati recently decided to send out requests for proposals (RFPs) to new energy suppliers in hopes of obtaining lower rates and greener emissions in Cincinnati. Read more about that here.

If the city decides to choose another provider and move forward with its energy aggregation plan, that could mean  Duke Energy could lose a good chunk of its customer base — a slice of its 685,000 electric customers and 400,000 gas customers in Ohio alone.

As of December 31, 2010, Duke Energy's total assets were $59 billion.

Despite Duke's resistance on relocating the utility lines, the mayor doesn't think it poses an insurmountable problem.

“It is unfortunate and disappointing that Duke Energy has decided to walk away from their commitment to be a good faith partner with the city," Mallory said. "The streetcar is the new reality for Cincinnati and this project will move forward. It is a transportation investment that will fuel the growth of our economy for years to come. I am calling on Duke Energy to be reasonable and work with the city on a plan that will be best for both citizens and their customers."

Mallory added, "In many of the cities that are developing streetcars or light rail, similar issues about the scope and cost of utility relocation have come up; however, they have never prevented the projects from moving forward. These issues will be resolved one way or another, just as we have resolved previous issues facing the project. The best thing for everyone involved is if Duke is a constructive part of that resolution.” 

<![CDATA[COAST's Latest Apology?]]>

A series of contradictory tweets and blog comments posted by members of an anti-transit group has observers wondering of there is dissension in its ranks — or whether one member simply has anger management issues.

Ever since an initiative put on the Nov. 8 ballot by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) was rejected by voters, someone with the group has vowed on various local blogs that it still would try to block Cincinnati’s streetcar project.---

Last month COAST and the NAACP’s local chapter mounted their second ballot initiative in two years to stop the project. Under the proposal, city officials would’ve been prohibited from spending money on anything related to preparing any type of passenger rail transit, including the streetcar system, through Dec. 31, 2020. Further, it would’ve restricted the city from accepting federal grants for such projects, along with entering into public-private partnerships or even accepting private investment for a passenger rail project within the city’s rights-of-way.

The measure failed, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Earlier this month the Obama administration awarded a $10.92 million transportation grant to the project. The cash means a scuttled connection from downtown to the riverfront will be restored. Construction is expected to begin
in the next few months.

The action prompted someone using COAST’s name to take to the Internet and allege the political and legal battles over the project weren’t over.

"We’re going to make sure this project sees delay after delay after delay until it is back down the toilet where it belongs," someone using the name “COAST” posted Dec. 14 on
the UrbanCincy blog.

The next day, in the same stream of comments, COAST posted, “Horrible waste of taxpayer money. We will see you guys in court soon.”

Although it’s unclear who wrote the comment, Mark Miller, the group’s treasurer, writes many of COAST’s blog comments and tweets. Miller ignited public outrage and apologized after he tweeted on Sept. 11, “3% of FDNY died 10 yrs ago by terrorism. Today Cincinnati lost 17.5% of fire companies by brownout to pay for a streetcar. Which is worse?”

So, crazy, over-the-top invective is nothing new for the group.

On Dec. 21, after a fire at a Westwood apartment building killed 2-year-old Tristen Sanders,
COAST tweeted, “2 year old dead in fire. City brown outs to blame; no doubt City Mgr will deny. Tragedy of misdirected funds continues.”

Kevin LeMaster, who operates the 
Building Cincinnati blog, checked with city officials and learned that the closest fire stations weren’t shut during the Westwood incident, making COAST’s tweet inaccurate.

During last fall’s campaign for Issue 48, COAST made multiple allegations on a near-daily basis of blaming the "browning out" of certain Fire Department companies on the streetcar project. It has made similar claims on the campaign trail. “Companies” is firefighter lingo for a ladder track, a pumper or a heavy rescue unit and the four people who work on each. During a brownout, those workers are transferred to other duties. City administrators have said the actions are needed to reduce the department's soaring overtime costs and help avoid a projected deficit for 2012 that could reach $33 million.

But the brownouts were unconnected to the streetcar project, city administrators said. The project is funded through state and federal grants, along with construction bonds from the city's Capital Improvements budget. The brownouts are needed to cut costs in the city's General Fund budget, which covers daily operations.

This week, after
CityBeat published its annual “Year in Review” article that mentioned the streetcar project’s progress, someone using the name “COAST” posted online, “Forget Detroit. We are the next Moscow. Fountain Square is now Red Square with Liberal Marxist Communists running amuck fleecing the taxpayers to pay for amusement park rides through the ghetto. The Mayor's Trolley Folly will never see the light of day.  We'll make sure of that Yups.”

“Yups,” apparently, refers to “yuppies.”

Less than 24 hours later, however, COAST posted the following comment, “We respect the outcome of the recent vote. We live in a democracy and the people have spoken. COAST wishes the City and its residents the best of luck as it builds the streetcar. While you won't see us turning shovels, we recognize what the people want and will get out of the way.”

We’re awaiting clarification from COAST on exactly what its plans are. If, in fact, members actually know.

<![CDATA[Streetcar Gets Grant for Riverfront]]>

It will be headed to the riverfront, after all.

U.S. Transportation Ray LaHood will hold a conference call Thursday afternoon with media to announce that Cincinnati's planned streetcar system is getting a $10.92 million grant. The announcement is set for 12:15 p.m.---

The money will allow Cincinnati officials to build a loop to downtown's riverfront area during phase one of the project, which is expected to begin construction next year and open in late 2013. Segments to the riverfront and to the uptown area near the University of Cincinnati were initially included in phase one, but were dropped after the state of Ohio cancelled about $52 million in funding due to political pressure from Gov. John Kasich.

The latest funding is part of the federal Transportation Department's TIGER III Discretionary Grants Program. TIGER — or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery — is designed to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve “critical national objectives.”

“The TIGER program enables (the Transportation Department) to use a rigorous process to select projects with exceptional benefits, explore ways to deliver projects faster and save on construction costs, and make investments in our nation's infrastructure that make communities more livable and sustainable,” according to a federal website.

Prior to the grant, Cincinnati officials had allocated $99.5 million for the project, which will pay for the first phase. Of that amount, $25 million comes from an urban circulator grant awarded by the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA); $4 million comes from a congestion mitigation and air quality improvement grant by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments; $6.5 million comes from Duke Energy; and the remaining $64 million will come from construction bonds issued by the city.

Sources with Congressional offices have confirmed the news, which also has been reported by The Enquirer and The Business Courier. The grant's advance notice was published Monday on a federal website.

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Streetcar proponents have spent considerably more on their campaign than the anti-streetcar people, probably because Issue 48 is so wide-reaching it has brought out people concerned with things way more important than the streetcar such as regional planning, commuter rail and making Cincinnati not look like it totally sucks.

Also being outspent are the SB 5 supporters, who have seen support decline dramatically in recent weeks as people look around their neighborhoods and see a bunch of regular people whose rights would be taken away. And Building a Better Ohio does unethical things like this, which makes people think they are meanies.

Here's a blog about City Council candidate Chris Smitherman arguing against all the legal experts who say Issue 48 will block all rail construction through 2020. ---

Members of Occupy Cincinnati held a candlelight vigil last night at Piatt Park to honor a Marine injured in the recent clash between police and protesters in Oakland. Sixteen people reportedly showed up at Piatt Park at 10 p.m. and were granted by police a few minutes to speak on Scott Olsen's behalf. According to The Enquirer, the group then marched around the park and to the justice center.

The Ohio Supreme Court said “sorry Democrats, y'all screwed” today in ruling that it will not restart the 90-day clock for Dems to collect the 231,000 signatures needed to put the crazy new Republican Congressional map in front of voters.

And if that wasn't bad enough, Consumer Reports says a mislabeled seafood scam has affected millions of people.

The world's largest independent product-testing organization Friday will reveal that 22% of the seafood it tested at supermarkets, restaurants, fish markets, gourmet stores and big-box stores in three states was either mislabeled, incompletely labeled or misidentified by store or restaurant employees.

"Consumers are getting ripped off when they buy fish," says Kim Kleman, editor-in-chief of Consumer Reports.

This is no small matter. Americans spent $80.2 billion on seafood last year, up $5 billion from 2009. Mislabeling can be a serious health issue. Some consumers have allergies to specific types of fish, and pregnant women can end up eating fish they shouldn't — with high concentrations of mercury. Others trying to purchase more sustainable fish are being sold cheaper, unsustainable species.

Apparently Rick Perry might not take part in all of the Republican debates. Wonder why.

Pundits are wondering how Herman Cain continues to gain support.

Chevron profit doubles as oil prices rise” -- Nice work, Chevron!

Charlie Sheen's new sitcom Anger Management has been picked up by FX and will air in 2012.

The St. Louis Cardinals won a crazy Game 6 over the Texas Rangers to force a deciding Game 7 tonight.

<![CDATA[Smitherman's Strange Assertions]]>

Based on the latest comments on his Facebook page, it appears Christopher Smitherman either doesn't understand the wording of Issue 48 or is deliberately trying to mislead voters.

On Wednesday, Smitherman wrote on his Facebook page: “Remember Issue 48 DOES not STOP light rail but it does force City Council to ask the citizens (sic) permission before spending $144 million. City Council does not want to ask the people (for) permission.”

As several legal experts have agreed, Issue 48's net effect will be to stop the planning and construction of any type of passenger rail project within Cincinnati city limits until Dec. 31, 2020 — even if the project is privately financed.---

If any type of passenger rail project was attempted after Issue 48 was approved, the charter amendment would have to be repealed.

In other words, it does stop light rail and would have to be undone first. Smitherman has a strange definition of “does not stop light rail.”

An impartial analysis by the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area states, “This proposed Ballot Issue would amend the Charter of the City of Cincinnati by adding a new Article XVI. The amendment would prohibit the City from spending or appropriating any money to plan, construct, or operate a Streetcar System or any passenger rail transit in the City in existing public rights of way through the year 2020.”

And it's not just the League that interprets Issue 48 that way.

When The Enquirer interviewed six legal experts for an article it published on Sept. 18, the experts agreed that Issue 48's impact extended beyond blocking the streetcar project.

“All six experts — law and political science experts and ballot language experts — agreed that (Issue 48) could do more than just stop the current streetcar plan. It could stop any city rail project,” the article stated.

Later in the article, the head of a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group whose purpose is to make government and business documents more understandable said Issue 48's wording is confusing. “I think it could be applied more broadly,” said Annetta Cheek, chairwoman of the Center for Plain Language. “That could be a train, And heaven knows what else it could be.”

Smitherman didn't respond to an email seeking comment.

On his Facebook page, however, when responding to a critic, Smitherman wrote, “Asking permission does not mean STOP!” (Read the exchange at the bottom of this page.)

Smitherman has stepped down temporarily as president of the NAACP's local chapter while he campaigns for Cincinnati City Council. The chapter and the ultra-conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) are jointly pushing Issue 48. Its wording was crafted by attorney Chris Finney, a COAST leader who Smitherman also appointed as the local NAACP's legal counsel.

Rob Richardson, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress, the anti-Issue 48 group, said Smitherman probably is worried the ballot measure's wording overreaches and turns off some voters.

“He wants to lessen the consequences of what Issue 48 means,” Richardson said, referring to Smitherman. “He realizes that some people may not like the streetcar, but they don't want to ban all passenger rail. No city anywhere has done anything like this. It would hinder growth and economic development.”

Smitherman is trying to confuse voters, he added.

“Certainly, if Issue 48 becomes law, it would stop all passenger rail projects in the city. In order to overturn it, we would have to overturn Issue 48,” Richardson said.

“If, for example, in 2013 we had someone willing to privately finance a rail system using public rights-of-way, we would have to have an election first before any planning or discussion could occur,” he said. “We couldn't even engage in planning before that.”

The proposed charter amendment is long, composed of four sections. The trickiest one is its third section, which states: For purposes of this Amendment, (i) the term “Streetcar System” means a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails constructed primarily in existing public rights of way, (ii) the term “City” includes without limitation the City, the Manager, the Mayor, the Council, and the City’s various boards, commissions, agencies and departments and (iii) the term “money” means any money from any source whatsoever.

For the complete text of the ballot issue, which is a summary, click here.

Interestingly, Smitherman's opposition to Cincinnati's streetcar system puts him at odds with a resolution approved by the NAACP's national office in 2009.

The resolution is entitled, “NAACP supports the improvement and expansion of passenger rail transportation solutions to serve the nation's urban communities."

Part of the resolution states, “the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urges the expanded use of federal transportation dollars, whether provided through stimulus funding or conventional federal funding allocations, and of state and local resources, to enhance existing passenger rail systems and to develop additional passenger rail alternatives in America’s urban communities, including streetcars, light rail and high speed intercity rail systems.”

Another section states, “in many urban communities existing and proposed passenger rail systems — ranging from streetcars, to light rail, to subways and to inter-city high-speed rail — can and will provide enhanced transportation options and opportunities to the public, and particularly to minorities and the poor, while reducing traffic congestion and pollution generated by automobiles and buses using diesel fuel or gasoline.”

Under the NAACP's structure, local chapters may decide on their own policy directives, but they are generally supposed to give some consideration and deference to the national office's positions.



<![CDATA[Sheriff Urges 'No' Vote on Issue 48]]>

The person who often ranks in polls as the most popular politician in Hamilton County is breaking with his Republican colleagues and is appearing in a new radio commercial urging a “no” vote on Issue 48.

Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. asks residents to oppose the anti-streetcar initiative that was placed on the ballot by the NAACP's local chapter and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). The commercial will begin airing Wednesday during the morning drive time period on WLW (700 AM) and WKRC (550 AM), two stations with predominately conservative, Republican audiences.---

In the ad, the sheriff says, “This is Sheriff Simon Leis. I am here to urge you to vote 'no' on Issue 48. This anti-growth charter amendment would drive away investment and make the city's deficit worse. Issue 48 could lead to layoffs and service cuts that hurt every neighborhood in Cincinnati. It's a bad deal any way you look at it. If you want to see a safer, stronger Cincinnati, join me and vote 'no' on Issue 48."
Leis' commercial puts him at odds with the Hamilton County Republican Party, which has made opposing Cincinnati's long-planned streetcar project one of its central issues in the 2011 elections.

All of the GOP candidates for City Council — Leslie Ghiz, Wayne Lippert, Catherine Smith Mills, Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn — oppose the streetcar and have urged a “yes” vote.

Leis, 77, announced in September that he wouldn't seek another term as sheriff when his current term ends next year, and planned to retire after a 40-year career in various elective offices. Leis was first appointed sheriff in 1987 and was elected to the office the following year. Since then, he's been reelected sheriff five times.

Also, Leis served as county prosecutor from 1971 until 1982, when he was elected as a Common Pleas Court judge.

If approved by voters, Issue 48 would impose an outright ban on spending any money on “a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails constructed primarily in existing public rights of way” until Dec. 31, 2020. The ban would affect any source of funding regardless if it came from local, state or federal governments or even if it was privately financed.

Many legal experts said the broad wording wouldn't only affect the streetcar project but also any type of passenger rail project including commuter rail lines along the Eastern Corridor or to places like Sharonville and West Chester, along with possible light rail service to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron.

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Here's how The Enquirer describes an Ohio Supreme Court decision allowing Democrats to challenge a ridiculous Republican attempt to unfairly redraw Congressional districts: “Court ruling throws 2012 elections into chaos.” Here's the same report by WLWT, minus the drama: “Ohio Supreme Court Allows Redistricting Challenge.”---

Metropolitan Sewer District to Rumpke garbage dump mountain operators: Pls stop pumping the leachate into the sewer system because it's been reacting with other stuff for two years and smelling real bad and complaints are on the rise. Kthxbye.

No one expects an Enquirer streetcar poll to have much relevance outside of its largely white middle class readership, but its latest finding (“While most oppose project, most wouldn't ban it either”) is pretty funny.

Why Herman Cain's value-meal inspired 9-9-9 tax plan won't be supported by Congress.

Mitt Romney has raised more Wall Street money than President Obama. Does this explicitly prove that Obama started the Occupy protests? Duh! At least Wells Fargo's profits are up 21 percent.

Heroes star Zachary Quinto came out as a gay man this week, partially in response to the suicide of a gay New York teenager last month.

"In light of Jamey's death – it became clear to me in an instant that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it – is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality," Quinto writes. ...

"I am eternally grateful to him for being the catalyst for change within me," Quinto writes. "Now I can only hope to serve as the same catalyst for even one other person in this world. That – I believe – is all that we can ask of ourselves and of each other."

Two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon died yesterday after a crash during a race in Las Vegas. He was 33.

An elementary school in Illinois has earned a gold medal from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for its anti-obesity plan.

The cafeteria here serves fresh fruit and veggies, low-fat or no-fat milk, no sodas or fried foods and no gooey desserts. There are no sweets on kids' birthdays and food is never used as a reward. Teachers wear pedometers and parents have to sign a contract committing to the school's healthy approach...

During a recent nutrition lesson, first-graders sat raptly on the hallway floor as a teacher read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," a classic kids' story about a caterpillar that can't seem to stop eating — all kinds of fruit at first. But when the bug moved on to chocolate cake and ice cream, the youngsters gasped and said in hushed tones, "junk food," as if it were poison.

Researchers say climate change is making animals shrink.

The St. Louis Cardinals will face the Texas Rangers in the World Series, which starts Wednesday. Booo!

<![CDATA[NAACP Icons Urge 'No' Vote on Issue 48]]>

Although the current leader of the NAACP's local chapter is trying to block Cincinnati's planned streetcar system, two former leaders of the organization are coming out in support of the system in a big way.

Milton W. Hinton and Judge Nathaniel R. Jones have endorsed a “no” vote on Issue 48, the proposed anti-rail charter amendment that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot in Cincinnati.---

Issue 48 is being pushed by Christopher Smitherman, president of the NAACP's local chapter, in conjunction with the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), an ultra-conservative group. Smitherman has temporarily stepped down as NAACP president while he runs for City Council as an independent.

Hinton served three terms as head of the NAACP's local chapter. Under his leadership, the organization grew from 700 to 3,500 members and achieved fair housing agreements, creation of a Citizens Police Review Panel and minority participation in riverfront development, among other activities.

Before he served 22 years on the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Jones served 10 years as general counsel to the NAACP's national office. In that role, he directed a long list of historic legal battles including the landmark Mississippi boycott case that affirmed the First Amendment rights of civil rights protesters.

Hinton and Jones will speak at a press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday on the steps of City Hall, located at Plum Street downtown. They will discuss their support for affordable, growth-oriented transportation and opposition to Issue 48.

Also, Hinton has taped a radio commercial for the “No on Issue 48” campaign, which is now airing on WDBZ (1230 AM) and WIZF (101.1 FM), two radio stations geared toward a predominantly African-American audience.

If Issue 48 is approved by voters, it would impose an outright ban on any passenger rail project within Cincinnati city limits until Dec. 31, 2020. Due to its wording, the ban would affect any source of funding regardless if it was federal, state, local or privately financed.

Others who have urged a “no” vote on Issue 48 include the League of Women Voters, the Charter Committee and the Chamber of Commerce.

<![CDATA[Candidates On: The Planned Streetcar System]]>

As part of CityBeat's continuing election coverage, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.

Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.

During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.

Today’s question is, Do you support or oppose the city's streetcar system as currently planned and financed?---

Mike Allen (Independent):I do not support the streetcar system as currently constituted. We need to prioritize our resources and fully fund the most important services. The streetcar is too expensive, and is not part of a long-term, strategic transportation solution.

Kevin Flynn (Charterite):I support the development of the streetcar as an economic development tool and job creator. All of the studies show, and all of the cities which have invested in streetcars have demonstrated, economic benefits for the city many times greater than the investment. We cannot continue to make cuts in services and play accounting tricks in order to balance our budget. In order to sustain our city in the long-term, we need to grow our city and invest in the infrastructure that will encourage private investment.

I support the current plan as a first phase of a larger system that will connect our uptown hospital/university district with our downtown entertainment/Central Business District. I would like to see the city pay for construction with Tax Increment Financing revenues generated by increased property values along the streetcar route.

Nicholas Hollan (Democrat):I strongly support the streetcar plan because I see it as an opportunity to simultaneously encourage economic growth and promote rail transit.

Patricia McCollum (Independent):I do not support the streetcar because the funds can be reallocated to our existing transportation which has been negatively impacted and routes have been consolidated to save tax dollars.

Catherine Smith Mills (Republican):When the plan was first unveiled, I served on the Cincy PAC board, which endorsed the plan based on its economic development potential. Unfortunately, the times have changed and so has the streetcar plan. I cannot support a plan that no longer has state funding, that is taking city dollars while we have a $33 million deficit, and no longer will connect downtown with the uptown area. I am in favor of better transit options to reduce pollution like bus rapid transit, bike paths, and planning more walkable communities.”

Sandra Queen Noble (Independent):I'm innate Law Enforcement. I'll hold government officials criminally accountable for not exercising fiscal discipline with public funds used to pay off city, state, county and federal Revere deficits. Stop railroading the public funds. My idea is to turn car and truck windows into LDS screens for instant 3D Internet and entertainment assets. It will save time and trouble carting mobile laptop appendages everywhere you travel. Now, thats enhancement and advancement that wont charge the public $13 million.

Jason Riveiro (Democrat):Yes, I support the streetcar as currently planned.

Chris Seelbach (Democrat):Support. Period. Once on council, I will work to make sure it is funded in a sustainable way that does not cut into core services. In the long run, it is clear that the streetcar will increase city revenues by raising property value along the route and leading to increased development and investments. Transportation, including the streetcar, is my top priority.

P.G. Sittenfeld (Democrat):The city's focus right now needs to be on basic services ahead of streetcars but the reality is, this project is now in the hands of the voters, and I will respect the direction they give us in November. I plan to vote 'no' on Issue 48 because tying the city's hands for such a long duration and denying citizens the chance to revisit critical issues and changing circumstances when it comes to transportation or any other city function is bad governance that I cannot support.


<![CDATA[Does NAACP Approve of COAST Hijinks? (UPDATED)]]>


Mark Miller isn't a subtle guy.

Miller, treasurer of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), recently apologized publicly after using the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to tweet a comment comparing the attacks to a political battle about the planned Cincinnati streetcar system.

Now Miller has posted an altered photograph on his Facebook page that some people believe is racist. The photo depicts a streetcar filled with young African-American males brandishing weapons. The streetcar has a sign that reads, “Banks & Freedom Center Only.”---

The “Freedom Center” is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. It's a downtown museum that commemorates the safe houses and secret routes, known as the Underground Railroad, that African-American slaves used on their way to northern free states in the 19th century.

The photo illustration was originally posted by D. Sean Farris, a University of Cincinnati student who is an intern with the Hamilton County Republican Party. Farris has volunteered on some local GOP political campaigns including that of Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray. Ironically, Farris is African-American.

Miller reposted Farris' photo on his own Facebook page. Farris' original comment under the photo was, “This is might actually happen (sic) Lol”

Although it's more understandable that a young, impulsive college student might not understand the controversy and implications created by the photo, a middle-aged, political veteran like Miller certainly knows. The photo's message: “If the streetcar system is built, scary black men will be coming after you, with guns.”

COAST opposes the streetcar system, and has teamed with the NAACP's local chapter in gathering enough signatures to place an initiative, Issue 48, on the November ballot. If approved, the charter amendment would would prohibit Cincinnati from building any type of passenger rail system on public roads or public rights-of-way through Dec. 31, 2020. Because of the issue's broad wording, written by COAST leader Chris Finney, legal experts say it also would block commuter rail and light rail projects, not just the streetcar.

Then-local NAACP President Christopher Smitherman helped create Issue 48 and has appointed Finney to the local chapter's executive committee as legal counsel. (Smitherman temporarily has stepped down from the presidency while he runs for City Council.)

Smitherman couldn't be reached for his comments on the Facebook image. Still, one wonders how the photo would sit with much of the local chapter's membership.

On Sept. 11, Miller generated buzz on Twitter with the following post: “3% of FDNY died 10 yrs ago by terrorism. Today Cincinnati lost 17.5% of fire companies by brownout to pay for a streetcar. Which is worse?”

When informed about the photo, Murray acted quickly to tell Farris that she didn't support it and thought it was improper.

“I don't think it's appropriate at all and I told him he needs to take it down,” Murray said. Farris has no official connection to Murray's campaign, she said, adding. “He's a college volunteer who will come and march in parades.”

** UPDATE: COAST treasurer Mark Miller informed CityBeat that he was upset about wording used in the blog item that stated he “posted” or “reposted” the photo in question.

Miller stated he was tagged in the photo by Farris, and hadn't “knowingly published the photo himself.” Fair enough. Although the screen capture posted on the blog item seems to make the photo's origin clear, we will reemphasize it again.

What's also clear from the screen capture is the photo was posted on Facebook on July 26. It remained tagged to Miller for several weeks, which is how CityBeat became aware of its existence. If Miller had been offended by the association, a quick and simple click could have untagged himself from the photo, so it wouldn't appear on Miller's “wall.”

Our wording was inexact. Instead of stating, “Now Miller has posted an altered photograph on his Facebook page that some people believe is racist,” the passage should have read, “Now Miller has allowed to be displayed on his Facebook page an altered photograph that some people believe is racist.”

Further, several people contacted CityBeat to state they've seen the same photo posted previously on COAST's blog. We've been unable to verify the allegation, as a visit to the blog revealed the photo isn't currently posted there. Whether it ever was, therefore, will remain unknown for now, along with who created the photo.