by Nick Swartsell
at 11:10 AM | Permalink
Believe in Cincinnati continues engaging neighborhood leaders about future transit options
Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group that played a big role advocating for the Cincinnati streetcar during and since the infamous City Hall pause, is expanding its focus beyond Over-the-Rhine.More than 80 people showed up to a meeting in Clifton Tuesday night to discuss taking the streetcar beyond OTR."We started around the streetcar, but our vision is much broader than that,” said Believe in Cincinnati organizer Ryan Messer. He said people from 80 percent of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are involved in the group. “I think we have a vision that someday every neighborhood will have a transportation committee. The conversation we want to continue is this broader regional transit plan while ensuring we’re going forward with the Cincinnati streetcar.”Believe in Cincinnati was instrumental in advocating for the streetcar last winter when recently-elected Mayor John Cranley, who campaigned on opposition to the streetcar, put the project on hold. When the project came back online, Vice Mayor David Mann credited the group with making a big difference.Now progress on the streetcar is humming along. Project executive John Deatrick says construction of the track and the cars themselves is on schedule, with more than 7,000 feet of track done, four stations stops completed and delivery of the first five streetcars expected next fall and winter. Deatrick says the whole system should be up and running by summer 2016.Deatrick also talked about the possibilities for “phase 1B,” or the extension of the streetcar into uptown. That leg of the route was part of the initial plans for the system until Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state funds from the project in 2010. That’s left the proposed extension into Corryville and Clifton without funding. Deatrick said the city has decided not to pursue a federal grant to build the uptown extension, because the downtown portion isn’t far enough along yet. But Deatrick said the city has continued to explore the possibility of running the streetcar up Vine Street and has kept plans for an eventual expansion up to date. “As soon as city council and the mayor are ready, we’re ready to apply for more money,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.Advocates see uptown, including Avondale, Corryville and Clifton, as a logical next step in the progression of the streetcar since it’s where a big number of the city’s jobs are located, including major hospitals and the University of Cincinnati, the city’s largest employers.Councilman Kevin Flynn, who cast a deciding vote to restart the project last December, voiced cautious support for Believe in Cincinnati’s efforts but said the challenges faced by efforts to expand the line are daunting. He told the crowd not to put the cart before the horse. “On the day I made the vote, I said, ‘this isn’t the end, this is the beginning.’” Flynn said. “I see energy, but we have to harness that energy. I understand this is talking about how we get to phase two. I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but the way to get to phase two is to make phase one a success."I've talked to a lot of the big employers uptown. They'd all like to see the streetcar up here. There's no money — right now — to do that. But probably more important than the money… there's not the will. The only way the will could possibly be generated is to make phase one a financial success."While funding is the big stumbling block for expanding the system right now, that hasn’t stopped Believe in Cincinnati from growing. The group recently hired a full-time employee to continue to promote the group and transit projects for the next five months and has been raising funds from donors both in Cincinnati and across the country. The group has also been meeting with residents in communities outside the streetcar’s current planned path. Messer said he’s spoken with community council members and other community leaders in a number of neighborhoods, including Hyde Park, Avondale and even communities in Northern Kentucky. All have expressed interest in eventually widening the streetcar’s reach.West Side transit advocate Pete Witte said interest in the streetcar is growing in neighborhoods like Price Hill and Westwood. He joked that Cincinnati’s western neighborhoods are a “lion’s pit” when it comes to the issue. Those neighborhoods voted overwhelmingly for Mayor Cranley and his opposition to the project. But with progress downtown, Witte said some in the West Side are coming around. He highlighted the looming reconstruction of the Western Hills Viaduct as a great opportunity to have the conversation about expanding transit to the area.“We’re real people, residents, business owners, raising families, going to school, whatever, who understand the importance that transit can make for our community and the city as a whole,” Witte said of West Siders who are advocating for transit expansion. “We’re going to be meeting and focusing on the Western Hills Viaduct, but it does go beyond that.”Messer said his group believes the issue of transit doesn’t have to be politically divisive. “I
think a lot of people have said they’re a little surprised we’re not a
bunch of flaming liberals who want to put streetcars everywhere and
don’t care about what it costs," he said. "Some of us are probably progressive,
some of us are not. I don’t know that transit is a partisan issue. We
see transit as an investment to grow our city.”
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:28 PM | Permalink
Gang-related activity driving increase in violence, according to police
Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department testified in
front of City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee Monday to
address the local increase in homicides.
The city’s homicide rate hit 25 per 100,000 residents in 2013, compared to the U.S. rate of 4.7 per 100,000 in 2012, following a spike in homicides in
Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati, according to
“The concern has been the sheer number of homicides we
experienced in 2013 and the number of juvenile victims we had this
year,” said Assistant Chief Dave Bailey.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman also highlighted the
high levels of black-on-black crime, which Chief Jeffrey Blackwell
agreed are unacceptable across the country.
“My fear is that my son, who’s African-American … is
going to be killed by another African-American,” Smitherman said.
“That’s what those stats are saying.”
The key driver of the increases, according to police, is
gang-related activity, particularly activity involving the Mexican drug cartel that
controls the heroin trade.
“If our theory is correct, most of these homicides involve narcotic sales, respect and retaliation,” Bailey said.
Chief Blackwell explained the increase in homicides
appears to be particularly related to disruptions in criminal organizations and their
“Criminal territories have been disrupted, and we’ve seen
an increase in turf wars and neighborhood situations between young
people,” he said. “Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two
known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature.”
Councilman Kevin Flynn asked what council could do to help remedy the situation.
“We are significantly short of police officers, so we
desperately need a recruit class,” Blackwell responded. “We need to
improve our technology platform here in the police department.”
Blackwell cautioned that there’s not a direct correlation
between more police officers and less homicides, but he said another
recruit class could help the city meet basic needs.Flynn claimed council is very willing to meet those needs, given the importance of public safety to the city’s prosperity. “If we’re not safe and we don’t have the perception that
we’re a safe city, none of the rest of the great things we do as a city
are going to help,” he said.How council meets those needs while dealing with fiscal concerns remains to be seen, considering Mayor John Cranley and a majority of council members ran on the promise of structurally balancing the city’s operating budget for the first time in more than a decade. City officials have vowed to avoid raising taxes and cutting basic services, which makes the task of balancing the budget all the more difficult. Advancing promises of more spending for the police department further complicates the issue, even if it’s politically advantageous in a city seriously concerned about public safety.Cincinnati Police will hold several town hall meetings in
the next week to hear concerns from citizens. The meetings will span
across all local districts:• District 2: Jan. 7, Medpace, Inc., 5375 Medpace Way.• District 3: Jan. 8, Elder HS Schaeper Center, 3900 Vincent.• District 1 and Central Business District: Jan. 9, River of Life Church, 2000 Central Parkway.• District 5: Jan. 13, Little Flower Church, 5560 Kirby Ave..• District 4: Jan. 14, Church of the Resurrection, 1619 California Ave.Correction: The local homicide rate for 2013 was 25 per 100,000 residents, contrary to the 15.5 per 100,000 rate cited by police officials to City Council.
Balanced budget, pension reform among tough tasks facing incoming council members hoping not to raise taxes
1 Comment · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
of newly elected council members say they’re committed to structurally
balancing Cincinnati’s operating budget — a promise repeated by
Mayor-elect John Cranley on the campaign trail and following the Nov. 5
Two of nine council members could decide the streetcar project’s fate on Dec. 19
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Two council members could decide the $132.8 million streetcar project's fate on Dec. 18, just two weeks after they voted to pause.
by German Lopez
Cincinnati streetcar saved, gay marriage could appear on ballot, Medicaid overhaul signed
City Council yesterday decided Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all. After securing the six votes necessary to overturn a mayoral veto, Mayor John Cranley
conceded that the $132.8 million streetcar project will restart
following a two-week pause. It was a surprising journey for the project,
which largely seemed like the underdog ever since the new mayor and
council took office earlier in the month. In the end, the project gained
its sixth vote from Councilman Kevin Flynn after the philanthropic Haile Foundation signed onto contributing $900,000 a year for 10 years to help underwrite part of the streetcar’s annual operating costs.Advocacy group FreedomOhio yesterday announced it has enough signatures to place same-sex marriage on Ohio’s 2014 ballot.
The group declined to tell Cleveland.com exactly how many signatures it
had collected so far, but the organization says it’s aiming to collect 1
million before the July filing deadline. At the same time, FreedomOhio
released a poll that found Ohioans are still split on the issue of same-sex
marriage. But the poll also found that a good majority of Ohioans
support FreedomOhio’s gay marriage legalization amendment, which
provides exemptions for religious groups.Gov. John Kasich yesterday signed a bipartisan Medicaid
overhaul bill that seeks to control costs by establishing an
oversight commission and a target for spending growth. The legislation
also sets a focus on health care outcomes to ensure quality
standards in the government-run program. Both parties pursued the bill
to tamp down on health care costs that have been taking up more of the
state’s budget in the past few years.
A new report from the state attorney general’s office
found nearly half the businesses who received state aid in 2012 did not
fulfill their end of the deal in terms of producing new jobs and other promises.Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 percent in
November, down from 7.5 percent the month before. But the number was well above the 6.8
percent rate from November 2012, indicating a decline in job growth in
the past year.Police arrested the mother of a 3-year-old for falsification and the mother’s boyfriend for accidentally shooting the child on Tuesday.Today is Homeless Memorial Day, a day meant to commemorate those who died in 2013 while experiencing homelessness. The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is gathering at 5:30 p.m. at the corner of 14th and Elm streets to honor the occasion.Bike Share plans to come to Cincinnati next summer and allow residents to rent out bikes around multiple parts of town.Miami University is the second most efficient
university in the nation in terms of delivering a good education
for relatively low cost, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report.Cincinnati’s housing market marked 29 consecutive months of increased sales last month with a 5-percent rise. The measure indicates the local economy is recovering after the Great Recession crippled housing markets around the nation.A new product that claims to translate dogs’ thoughts to human speech is bogus.After today, Morning News and Stuff will take a vacation until Dec. 26. Happy holidays!Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Posted In: Mayor
at 02:39 PM | Permalink
Council gets six votes to override mayor's veto and continue project
After nearly two months of ups and downs, city leaders on Thursday announced Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all.
Speaking prior to a council vote, Mayor John Cranley
and Councilman Kevin Flynn announced City Council has the six votes to
overcome the mayor's veto and restart construction on the $132.8 million
streetcar project.Flynn was the final holdout in what some council
members now call the "streetcar six." He was asking for a commitment
from private contributors to cover the annual operating costs for the
streetcar, which consulting firm KPMG estimated at $1.88-$2.44 million a
year after fares and sponsorships.The philanthropic Haile Foundation lived up to part
of the commitment by signing onto $900,000 a year for 10 years, Flynn
announced. That was enough of a commitment to move forward as the city
makes a broader effort to get all the operating costs off the city's
books, he said. "That is a huge commitment, folks," Flynn added. Flynn
also acknowledged that the streetcar could foster new revenues in the
city's operating budget and actually allow the city to take on bigger
responsibilities.Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the
University of Cincinnati found the streetcar project will generate a
2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years. Flynn, a Charterite, joined Democrats David
Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young
in support of restarting the project. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie
Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted against it. Still, Cranley said he will continue opposing the streetcar project. He repeatedly stated council is making the wrong decision. "I'm disappointed in the outcome," said Cranley, who ran in opposition to the streetcar.Flynn reiterated his respect for Cranley, despite effectively dealing a major blow to Cranley's agenda. Cranley "helped me get elected to this position, and I take that trust seriously," Flynn said.Others were glad the city can now take on different issues without getting mired down in a contentious streetcar debate."I am so glad that this issue is done and over with," said Vice Mayor Mann, who voted in favor of the project. Mann
officially changed his stance on the project after KPMG's audit found
canceling the project could cost nearly as much as completing it. The final decision came at a cost to Cincinnati: The two-week pause of the project, which allowed KPMG to conduct its review, added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to KPMG's audit. The city also allocated $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.Once it's completed, the streetcar line will run as a 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.Updated with results of City Council's vote and additional information.
by German Lopez
Councilman Kevin Flynn still undecided on whether to cast deciding vote to restart project
It's decision day for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar
But hours before City Council expects to make a decision,
it's unclear whether the legislative body has the six votes necessary to
overcome Mayor John Cranley's veto and restart construction for the streetcar
The deciding vote will most likely come from Charterite
Kevin Flynn, who says he's working behind the scenes with undisclosed private
entities to get the streetcar's operating costs off the city's books. If that
deal pulls through, Flynn would provide the sixth vote to keep going.
The project already has five votes in favor: Democrats David
Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young.
Three council members have long opposed the project:
Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher
It's a big financial decision for the city.
If the city goes forward with the project, it would cost
$53.9-$68.9 million, depending on whether the city convinces courts Duke Energy
should pay for $15 million in utility costs, according to an audit from
consulting firm KPMG.
If the city cancels, it will incur $16.3-$46.1 million
in additional close-out costs, the same audit found. But it will get nothing for
those tens of millions spent and could face costly litigation in the future.
Council expects to make a final decision at Thursday's 2
p.m. meeting. Follow @germanrlopez on Twitter for live updates.
by German Lopez
Feds won't extend streetcar deadline, streetcar closer to ballot, study backs housing projects
The Federal Transit Administration told Mayor John Cranley
and streetcar supporters that it won’t extend its Dec. 20 deadline for
federal grants funding roughly one-third of the $132.8 million street
project. Without the federal grants, the project would likely die
because local officials say they are not willing to make up the loss with local
funds. That means the city has until Friday to decide whether to
continue the project — a decision that could come down to City
Council’s swing votes, Kevin Flynn and David Mann, and whether private
contributors agree to pay for the streetcar’s annual operating costs over the next three
decades.Meanwhile, streetcar supporters say they have enough
signatures to get the streetcar on the ballot. But without the federal
funds, a public vote might not be enough to save the project since the charter amendment only calls for using funds allocated as of Nov. 30, 2013.
While some City Council members might vote to rescind
support for state tax credits going to a supportive housing project in
Avondale, a study commissioned by the group in charge of the project
found similar facilities in Columbus don’t harm neighborhoods in which
they’re located. The study, conducted by two independent groups, found
crime continued to increase in most areas surrounding five supportive
housing facilities, but the increases were roughly the same as or less
than demographically similar areas in Columbus. Researchers
were also told in numerous interviews with Columbus residents that the
facilities had a positive effect or no impact on the area. CityBeat covered the controversy surrounding the Avondale facility in greater detail here.Hamilton County’s shrinking government might sell off
several downtown buildings to accommodate the size reduction. The
buildings could be converted to condominiums or hotels to appease high
demand for downtown residential space.
Despite previously criticizing tax breaks for Cincinnati
businesses, Chris Finney of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending
and Taxes (COAST) will receive tax credits to open his own law firm in
Clermont County on Jan. 1. Addressing the so-called heroin epidemic is a top priority
for Ky. officials in 2014. Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky have
quadrupled since 1999, putting Kentucky’s numbers above every state
except West Virginia and New Mexico, according to a study released in
November.Some Ohio wildlife officers wrongfully
hunted deer while on the job, according to the state’s inspector
general.Ohio gas prices dropped in the last work week before Christmas.The Mega Millions jackpot could break last year’s record $656 million prize.A video game might help diabetics control their blood sugar by putting them through a genuine workout.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Streetcar announcement today, streetcar decision nears, interim city manager appointed
Mayor John Cranley, Councilman Kevin Flynn and four union representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police, Firefighters Local 48, AFSCME and CODE will make a “major announcement” regarding the streetcar project today at 9 a.m., according to the mayor’s office. Local 12 reported last night that the announcement will be an offer from a private contributor to underwrite the streetcar’s operating costs for 30 years, but Councilman Chris Seelbach tweeted that the rumor is “not true.” If the report checks out, it could significantly increase the streetcar project’s chances of survival by alleviating a major budget concern. (Update: The announcement wasn’t as expansive as stated by Local 12, but Cranley said he’s open to private contributions. Read more here.)Flynn and Vice Mayor David Mann could decide the fate of the streetcar project by Dec. 20, a deadline set by the federal government for up to $44.9 million in grants funding roughly one-third of the project. It’s a precarious position for Flynn, who in 2009 and 2011 campaigned in support of the project but completely changed his position during his 2013 campaign. Both Flynn and Mann say they will only support the project if the costs of cancellation are close to the costs of completion, but Flynn says he’s also concerned about the costs to operate the streetcar. Read more about the two council members and their pivotal roles here. City Council yesterday appointed Scott Stiles as interim city manager, but only after heated debate over Stiles’ compensation package left three council members voting “no.” The package gives Stiles a raise if he isn’t appointed as permanent city manager and returns to his previous position as one of two assistant city managers, which some council members called unfair to other city workers, including the other assistant city manager, who wouldn’t get comparable pay increases. Council members estimated the search for another city manager will take six months. Former City Manager Milton Dohoney is among five final candidates for the city manager job in Dallas.The Charter Committee, Cincinnati’s unofficial third political party, yesterday picked Colin Groth as its new leader.Number crunchers will release a preliminary financing plan for the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge project by the end of the month, according to Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear. The plan will include a mix of federal funding, state funding and tolls, Beshear explained. Ohio, Kentucky and federal officials largely agree the project is necessary to fix the functionally obsolete bridge, but the project stalled over the years as Northern Kentucky officials resisted using tolls for funding.More than 31,000 Ohio students are using private-school vouchers this year, up 4,600 from the year before. Supporters say the vouchers allow more Ohioans to attend otherwise inaccessible schools, but opponents argue the vouchers effectively siphon money away from the public school system.The new federal budget deal received support from Republican Speaker John Boehner, but Republican Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both from Cincinnati, say they’re unsure which way they’ll vote. The deal increases spending levels established after across-the-board cuts known as “sequestration”; the increased spending is balanced out by cuts elsewhere and hiked fees. The Washington Post gave a succinct rundown of the deal here.Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are among the least healthy states in the nation, according to a report from the United Health Foundation. Ohio legislators yesterday approved an expanded “Move Over” law that “requires motorists to slow down and, as conditions permit, shift to an adjacent lane when approaching construction, maintenance and public utilities commission vehicles that are parked on the roadside with flashing, oscillating or rotating lights,” according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. Previous law only requires slowing down and shifting lanes when approaching police and other emergency vehicles, including tow trucks.The Ohio House approved a bill that could give student trustees voting power on public university boards, which could allow some students to help set tuition levels.An anonymous $3 million gift created a scholarship fund for University of Cincinnati engineering students.Here are the nominees for the 2014 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.OpenTable ranked Cincinnati restaurant Orchids at Palm Court as the seventh best in the nation for 2013. Cincinnati-based Boca also made the top 100 list.Miami University and Cincinnati will host the 2016 NCAA hockey tournament.The coldest place on Earth — in Antarctica, obviously — can reach -135.8 degrees Farenheit.A one-way, manned mission to Mars got closer to reality after Mars One announced a deal with Lockheed Martin and SSTL to develop technology to colonize the planet by 2025.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Haile Foundation working with private-sector leaders to find solution
The streetcar project’s chances of survival grew on Thursday after Mayor John Cranley announced he’s willing
to allow the $132.8 million project move forward if the
annual operating costs for the streetcar are underwritten by private
contributors.But streetcar supporters might have as little as one week
to provide assurances to Cranley that the operating costs can be
underwritten by the private sector, given the federal government’s Dec.
20 deadline for up to $44.9 million in grants financing roughly
one-third of the project.Still, a representative of the Haile Foundation, a major private contributor to city projects, said private-sector leaders are already working on meeting Cranley’s offer and solving the issue.
The concern for Cranley — and even some streetcar
supporters — is that annual operating expenses for the streetcar would
hit the city’s already-strained operating budget, especially if the
annual operating expenses are higher than the previous estimate of $3.4-$4.5 million.
Although the city wouldn’t need to pay for the full operating costs until the
streetcar opens for service in 2016, Cranley and some council members
are concerned finishing the project now would force the city to make
payments it won't be able to afford in the future.
“We know the streetcar is a very expensive project,”
Cranley said. “This community cannot afford a new, ongoing liability
that goes on forever.”Streetcar supporters argue Cranley’s view misses the streetcar’s potential for economic development, which could bring in more city revenues as more people move and work in the city. The streetcar project would produce a 2.7-to-1 return on investment, according to a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later verified by the University of Cincinnati.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of the two potential swing votes on council, said Cranley’s offer could provide “a way forward.” He previously told CityBeat
that the operating costs remain a prominent concern for him because
they could translate to cuts in the city’s budget, particularly to
police and firefighters.
Eric Avner, vice president and senior program manager of
community development at the Haile Foundation, called the deal “an olive
branch” to streetcar supporters. He said he’s “very, very confident”
the private sector will be able to find a solution.
“I don’t think we can solve it in a week. What I heard is he needs assurances,” Avner said.
Cranley said he doesn’t expect someone to come to city
leaders next Wednesday with a check paying for 30 years of
operating costs, but he said the commitment has to be serious
and long lasting for the city to move forward with the streetcar.
Avner discussed bringing together a commission of private-sector leaders with some long-term assurances.
In what he described as an “organic” movement, Avner said
he’s heard from various private-sector leaders that they want to keep
the project going, but he claimed most of them don’t want to engage in a
public “food fight” that could hurt their relations with the mayor and
other city officials.
For Avner, it’s a matter of sticking to a project that’s already well into development and construction.
“We don’t have the luxury to waste that kind of money in this town,” he said.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 told
council members that canceling the streetcar project could save only
$7.5-$24.5 million in capital costs after accounting for $32.8 million
in estimated sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in
close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants that would be
lost if the project were stopped.
After Cranley’s announcement, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson
questioned Cranley’s motives and said the solicitation might be very
difficult to meet in just one week.
Cranley said he’ll reach out to the Federal Transit
Administration to try to get an extension, perhaps until the end of the
year, on the deadline for federal grants.
“It’s obviously a huge, huge hurdle to try to pull this together in seven days,” Cranley said.
Cranley cautioned he wouldn’t be upset if his offer fell through. Flanked by union representatives for police, firefighters and
other city workers, Cranley reiterated that his
priorities still lie in basic city services.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld previously proposed setting up a
special improvement district to pay for the operating costs. But
Cranley called the approach unworkable because it would
require property owners to opt in — an effort that would presumably take
much longer than one week.
Cranley’s announcement came as streetcar supporters move
to place a city charter amendment in support of the streetcar project on
the ballot. The campaign vowed to gather 12,000 signatures by the end
of the week.