by German Lopez 10.09.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Privatization at 08:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Port Authority Cuts Parking Plan Payment

City to get $85 million lump sum, down from $92 million

The parking plan’s lump sum payment is being reduced to $85 million, down from $92 million, and the city could be on the hook for $14 million to $15 million to build a garage, according an Oct. 9 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney to council members and the mayor. Dohoney wrote that the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which is leasing Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages under the 30-plus-year deal, reduced its lump sum payment because of rising interest rates and its decision to reduce parking meter enforcement hours outside of Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Business District.Under the reviewed deal, the Port Authority also handed the responsibility of building a garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets to the city of Cincinnati. Dohoney recommends using the parking plan’s upfront payment to fund the garage, which will cost between $14 million and $15 million, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.If City Council approves the allocation, the upfront funds would be effectively left at $70 million to $71 million.The city still estimates it will get at least $3 million in annual installments from the lease. Supporters of the parking plan claim it’s necessary to fully leverage Cincinnati’s parking assets to fund development projects and help balance the operating budget. The plan also requires private operators, which will be hired by the Port Authority, to upgrade Cincinnati’s parking assets. The upgrades should allow parking meters to accept remote payments through smartphones, among other new features.Critics claim the plan gives up too much local control over the city’s parking assets. They say the city and Port Authority could easily be pressured by private operators to hike parking rates far beyond the 3-percent-a-year increase currently called for under the plan.The plan has also been mired in controversy, notably because the city administration withheld a consultant’s memo from the public and council members that claimed the plan is a bad deal for the city. The city administration says the memo was based on outdated information, but opponents still criticized the lack of transparency behind the deal.Dohoney wrote in the Oct. 9 memo that the Port Authority’s board plans to meet on Oct. 19 to finalize contracts with private operators. If all goes as planned, the Port Authority estimates the new parking system will be in place by April 2014.
by German Lopez 09.05.2013
Posted In: Drugs, News, Parking, Homelessness at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

War on drugs fails goals, housing complex raises concerns, courts deny parking challenges

With the war on drugs widely considered a failure after more than four decades, experts are suggesting legalization and decriminalization as viable alternatives. One concern: Despite recent attempts at sentencing reform, Ohio’s prison population is set to grow further and breach a capacity barrier previously set by the U.S. Supreme Court in a ruling against California. With costs rising and drug use rates seemingly unaffected by harsher enforcement, groups of academics, former law enforcement officials and civil libertarians say it’s time to look at states and countries that have abandoned criminalization and harsh enforcement with great success. To read the full story, click here. A planned supportive housing facility in Avondale is raising concerns for residents who claim the complex could hurt a neighborhood already plagued by poverty, crime, obesity, unemployment and homelessness. Particularly worrying for Avondale 29, the group opposing the plans, is that the facility is near a daycare and elementary school, which the group says could have a negative impact on neighborhood children. Supporters of the facility say the opposition is based on widespread misinformation. They point to a similar similar supportive housing facility in Columbus, which, according to the Columbus Police Department’s Gary Scott, had a positive impact on the community surrounding it. Opponents of Cincinnati’s parking lease were dealt two major blows in court yesterday: The Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear their first legal challenge and effectively upheld the city’s referendum-immune emergency powers, and the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court refused to place a temporary restraining order on the lease despite claims that the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the deal without City Council approval. Both the challenges come from the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which claims parking rates and enforcement hours will rise because the city is ceding too much power over its services by leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. Supporters of the parking lease argue the plan is necessary to leverage the city’s parking assets to finance development projects that will grow the city’s tax base. Commentary: “Secrecy Plagues Potentially Good Programs.” The city is fighting to have a document removed from its legal battle over the streetcar with Duke Energy. City officials says the document is “nothing scandalous” and the city just made a mistake by accidentally disclosing it, but a Duke attorney says the document is a source of “embarrassment” for the city and important to the case. As part of an agreement, Cincinnati and Duke are arguing in court to settle who has to pay an estimated $15 million to move utility lines to accommodate for the streetcar route. Advocates of the federally funded Medicaid expansion yesterday filed petitions to the state attorney general’s office to get the issue on the 2014 ballot. As part of Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to include anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. If they accept, the federal government would pay for 100 percent of the expansion’s cost for three years then indefinitely phase down to 90 percent. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the expansion would save Ohio $1.8 billion and insure half a million Ohioans. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and state Democrats support the expansion, but Republican legislators are resisting it. More than two-thirds of Ohioans support laws that protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, but more than four in five mistakenly think such laws are already in place at the state and federal levels, according to the 2013 Ohio Values Survey from the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey also found a slim majority of Ohioans oppose amending the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage, which somewhat contradicts earlier polls from The Washington Post and Quinnipiac University that found a plurality of Ohioans now support same-sex marriage. State agencies are probing the second high-profile suicide in an Ohio prison in the past month. Ariel Castro, a Cleveland man who was sentenced to life for kidnapping three women and beating and raping them as he held them for a decade, was found hanging on Tuesday after an apparent suicide. His death was the seventh suicide in an Ohio prison this year and the 35th since 2008. “As horrifying as Mr. Castro’s crimes may be, the state has a responsibility to ensure his safety from himself and others,” said Christine Link, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, in a statement. “Questions remain whether Mr. Castro was properly screened for suicide risk and mental illness.” The Ohio Development Services Agency is offering $30 million in loans and grants to employers who train their workforce. “Building a strong economy is about ensuring Ohio’s workforce has the tools it needs for success,” said David Goodman, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, in a statement. “We want our workforce to be ready for the competitive jobs of tomorrow.” Ohio legislators are asking the federal government to pursue a balanced-budget amendment. Although the amendment might sound like a good idea in campaign platitudes, many economists agree it’s a bad idea because it limits the federal government’s flexibility in reacting to economic downturns that typically cause deficits by lowering tax revenues and increasing the amount of people on government services. A Fairfield, Ohio, woman is being forced by the Fairfield Board of Zoning Appeals to get rid of five of her seven dogs. The woman, who says she suffers from depression, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, says she needs the dogs to cope. The zoning board said it had heard anonymous complaints from neighbors, which apparently convinced the board to not provide an exemption for Fairfield’s two-pet limit.Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is considering dropping some products and offering low-price alternatives for others in response to growing concerns about lacking performance.For the second time in a year, an Ohio judge is publicly shaming a convicted idiot. A new implant allows doctors look into people’s brains.
by German Lopez 09.04.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, Homelessness, Parking at 08:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
tea party pensions

Morning News and Stuff

Council allows pension amendment, parking lease in court again, county to evict squatters

Despite unanimous opposition, City Council yesterday fulfilled duties dictated by the City Charter and reluctantly voted to allow the controversial pension amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and manages the investments through an independent board. City officials, including all council members, oppose the amendment because they say it will cost the city more and hurt benefits for city employees. Supporters of the amendment, who are backed by out-of-state tea party groups, claim it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s rising pension costs. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here. The conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is once again taking the parking lease to court. The legal pursuit comes after City Solicitor John Curp denied COAST’s challenge. COAST claims that the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the parking lease, but Curp said the changes were ministerial and only made as a result of delays caused by COAST’s first legal challenge against the parking lease. If the latest legal tactic is successful, City Council could be forced to vote on the changes made to the parking lease, which could endanger the entire lease because a majority of council members now say they oppose the plan. A hearing is scheduled for the challenge today at 11:30 a.m. Hamilton County is evicting homeless squatters from its courthouse, but it plans to carry out the evictions by connecting the homeless with existing services. “We don’t want to get mired down in too much political debate,” Hamilton County Sheriff’s Major Charmaine McGuffey told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s a public health hazard.” About 750 people in Hamilton County are homeless throughout any typical night; of those, 700 spend the night in shelters and the rest, who are mostly downtown, sleep outside. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor against ex-Councilman John Cranley, yesterday unveiled two TV advertisements: “Neighborhoods” and “Wheelbarrow.” The first ad touts Qualls’ supports for neighborhood investments. The second ad is particularly aggressive and claims Cranley was forced to resign from City Council because of ethics issues regarding his personal investments. The number of Ohioans on welfare dropped over the past few years as Gov. John Kasich’s administration enforced federal work requirements. Ben Johnson, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, says the efforts have brought the state’s welfare program into federal compliance. Ariel Castro, the man convicted for the decade-long kidnapping, beating and raping of three Cleveland women he held captive, was found hanging in his prison cell on Tuesday after an apparent suicide. Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday released an update on the state’s sexual assault kit testing initiative: So far, the attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation has received 3,530 previously untested rape kits from 105 law enforcement agencies in Ohio. The agency has tested 1,488 kits, leading to to 460 hits in the Combined DNA Index System. Internet cafe owners submitted petitions yesterday to put a law that effectively banned their businesses on the ballot. State officials claim the cafes were hubs for criminal and illegal gambling activity, but cafe owners say the ban is unfair. This frog listens with its mouth.

Port Authority to Increase Parking Enforcement Under Lease

0 Comments · Wednesday, August 28, 2013
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Aug. 23 acknowledged that it will increase enforcement when it takes over Cincinnati’s parking meters.  
by German Lopez 08.26.2013
Posted In: News, Privacy, Streetcar, Parking at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Police program raises privacy issues, parking plan explained, streetcar project continues

With the backing of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, law enforcement around the state have been secretly using facial recognition software for the past two months that scans driver’s licenses and mug shots to identify crime suspects. In emails and documents obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer, DeWine and other state officials apparently couldn’t agree whether the program is in beta testing or full launch and when they should tell the public about it. The program went live without the attorney general’s initial approval and many protocols that protect Ohioans’ security and privacy, raising concerns about whether law enforcement have been able to abuse the new tool. The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Friday acknowledged it will ramp up enforcement and tickets once it takes over Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, but it claimed the move is meant to encourage people to pay up, not raise revenue that will make the parking lease more profitable for the Port or the private operators it’s hiring. The Port also said it had taken steps to make the parking lease a better deal for locals, including a reduction in operation hours in neighborhoods and some downtown areas. The city is leasing its parking assets to the Port for a one-time injection of revenue and annual installments that are supposed to go to development projects that will grow the city’s tax base. But opponents of the lease say it will take away too much control of the city’s parking services and hurt businesses and residents by raising parking rates and hours. Vacant buildings at the corner of Henry and Race streets will be demolished today to make room for a maintenance facility for Cincinnati’s streetcars — just the latest sign the project is moving forward. Mayor Mark Mallory, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and John Deatrick, streetcar project executive director, will attend the demolition and a press event preceding it, which will take place at 1 p.m. A new video from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) shows how bad traffic will get if the Brent Spence Bridge isn’t replaced. In the video, OKI claims the current state of the bridge is dangerous and damages the economy. The bridge project is currently estimated at $2.5 billion. At least part of that sum will be paid with tolling if state officials get their way. Qualls and Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan will today discuss a district-wide travel plan that intends to provide safe routes for students walking and biking to school. The plan, which would use Ohio Department of Transportation funds, makes improvements to crosswalks and pedestrian crossing signals, among other changes. Qualls’ office says the plan is timely as CPS today begins its first week back to school. Cuts in all levels of government, which Republican state officials call “right-sizing,” might be hindering Ohio’s economic recovery. Only California, New York and Florida have cut more public jobs than Ohio. At the same time, Ohio’s job growth over the past year has stagnated at 0.7 percent. The state has cut local government funding by half since Kasich took office, as CityBeat covered in further detail here. Ohio gas prices once again increased this week, but they still remain below the national average. The USS Cincinnati, a Cold War era submarine, is coming to the city. Some locals have been working on getting the submarine’s sail installed along the riverfront as a memorial. NASA put up a video explaining how it would land on an asteroid.
by German Lopez 08.23.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Privatization at 03:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Port Authority Unveils Parking Lease Details

Parking meter enforcement will go up, but Port says it's not for revenue

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority today acknowledged that it will increase enforcement when it takes over Cincinnati's parking meters, but the agency says its goal is to encourage people to pay up, not raise revenues that will make the parking lease more profitable for the Port Authority and the private operators it's hiring.In a much-awaited presentation, the quasi-public development agency rolled out board members and statistics to explain why the city should lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port, which will hire various private companies to operate the assets.Much of the controversy surrounding the lease has focused on enforcement, which critics argue will be ratcheted up under the deal. Port officials clarified that the deal will involve more enforcement officers and more aggressive tactics, but Laura Brunner, CEO of the Port, claimed there will be limits. For example, parking meters won't have built-in connectivity that allows officers to immediately detect when a meter is going unpaid, which means enforcers will have to make regular rounds and checks, just as they do today, before issuing a ticket.Lynn Marmer, a Port board member and vice chairwoman of Kroger, said increased enforcement is necessary because most people currently don't pay for the parking services they use. She blamed that on the city's dwindling enforcement for parking violations: The city handed out 65,000 tickets in 2012, down from 104,000 in 2008."I think it's unlikely we all got better at following the rules and paying fines," Marmer said.The Port doesn't expect enforcement to reach the levels of 2008 any time soon, but Brunner and others said that tickets will gradually rise once the Port Authority hands the parking meters over to private operators.One of those private operators is Xerox, which will manage Cincinnati's parking meters under the deal. The Port says it plans to establish a 10-year contract with Xerox, but the contracts will be reviewed quarterly to ensure the company is doing a good job. If not, the contract can be terminated.Port officials stated that Xerox will not get revenue based on stringent enforcement. Instead, the Port will regularly review Xerox based on a series of measurements that attempt to gauge how efficiently the company is running the city's parking meters.Port officials also reemphasized that parking meter enforcement hours in neighborhoods — meaning outside of downtown and Over-the-Rhine — will only last until 6 p.m., instead of 9 p.m. as originally called for in the plan. Downtown and Over-the-Rhine meters will still be extended to 9 p.m., although some areas on the edges of downtown, such as Broadway Street, are exempt and enforcement will only run through 6 p.m. in those places.The change for neighborhood meter hours will presumably lower how much Cincinnati gets from leasing its parking assets to the Port, but officials weren't ready to unveil exactly how much money the city will get. Previous city estimates put the lump sum at $92 million and annual installments at a minimum of $3 million, but that was before the Port's changes.Prepared statements show if the final lump sum falls under $85 million, the city manager will need to approve the changes before the Port can move forward with the deal.The decrease in hours also comes with a caveat: It will be possible for the city manager, Port and an independent board appointed by the Port and city manager to expand parking meter hours in the future. But such a change would require approval from all three governing bodies.Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who's running for mayor and opposes the parking lease, says the Port's presentation did nothing to address his concerns. Claiming that "the devil's in the details," Cranley pointed out that the Port still hasn't released the actual contracts or bond documents.Brunner said the documents should be released within a month, and the Port plans to give the public two weeks to review the details between the documents' release and the Port's final vote.Cranley argued that might not be enough time. He told CityBeat that the city "almost gave away" free Sunday and holiday parking under its original lease agreement. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld's office had to catch the error and refer it to the city administration before it was corrected.The Port's presentation was meant to wrap up the agency's due diligence of the parking lease as it approaches a Sept. 4 deadline. Going into the presentation, Marmer explained, "Frankly, we were more skeptical (of the parking lease) than neutral."Emails previously acquired by CityBeat back Marmer's skepticism. Writing to other Port officials in June, Marmer expressed concerns that the parking lease has been poorly handled and will snare the Port with controversy. "This whole parking issue has been a gigantic distraction from our core mission," she claimed.Supporters of the parking lease argue it's necessary to leverage Cincinnati's parking assets to pay for development projects that will grow the city's tax base. Opponents argue it will take too much control out of the city's hands, cause parking rates and enforcement to skyrocket and hurt businesses and residents.The parking lease has been engulfed in political controversy ever since it was announced in October. Most recently, the city administration was criticized for failing to disclose an independent consultant's memo that found the city was getting a bad deal from the lease. City officials argue the memo was outdated, so they didn't feel the need to release its details. With its due diligence nearly finished, the Port will now finalize contracts, update the financial model for the lease and vote on the bonds and contracts that will complete the deal. If all goes as planned, the Port's new system will be in place by April next year.This story was updated to clarify some wording and what parking meters will be enforced until 9 p.m.

City Denies COAST’s Parking Lease Challenge

0 Comments · Wednesday, August 21, 2013
City Solicitor John Curp on Aug. 15 rebuked a conservative group that asked him to sue the city of Cincinnati over changes made to the city’s parking lease without City Council’s explicit approval.   
by German Lopez 08.19.2013
Posted In: News, Parking at 08:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

City Denies COAST's Parking Lease Challenge

City solicitor says conservative group's previous lawsuit forced changes

City Solicitor John Curp on Aug. 15 rebuked a conservative group that asked him to sue the city of Cincinnati over changes made to the city's parking lease without City Council's explicit approval.With Curp's denial, the conservative group behind the request — the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) — is now legally able to once again sue the city over its plans to lease Cincinnati's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. It would be the second time COAST has taken major legal action over the parking plan.In a letter to COAST's attorney, Curp writes that the two changes COAST called "significant and material" in its July 17 letter were shifts in dates and time limits that were necessary because a previous lawsuit from COAST forced the city to delay implementation of the parking lease for more than two months. In other words, COAST is trying to use the delays it forced to stop the parking lease once again.Curp also argues in his letter that the lease gave the city manager the power to make changes that keep the lease "substantially in the form" approved by Council and authorizes city officials to "take all necessary and proper actions" to carry out the lease. Curp writes the disputed changes were within those terms.In response to Curp's denial, COAST member and attorney Chris Finney told The Cincinnati Enquirer that COAST will pursue another lawsuit against the parking lease if Council doesn't vote on the disputed changes. Although a majority of Council now says it opposes the parking lease, Mayor Mark Mallory has said he will hold any legislation trying to repeal or undo key elements of the deal. Under the parking lease, the city will receive a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. Private operators will also be tasked with modernizing Cincinnati's parking assets so parking meters can accept credit cards and payment through a smartphone.Supporters of the parking lease argue it's necessary to leverage the city's parking assets for development projects and modernize the city’s parking services.Opponents say the lease gives up too much public control over the city’s parking assets and will hurt local residents and businesses by causing meter rates and operation hours to go up.The parking plan has been engulfed in political controversies since it was first unveiled by the city manager in October. Most recently, the city administration withheld a memo that was critical of the plan from the public, City Council and Port Authority — a move that triggered outrage about the administration's lack of transparency.
by German Lopez 08.20.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Government, Governor at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City refuses parking lease challenge, Qualls calls for transparency, Kasich losing in new poll

City Solicitor John Curp rebuked a conservative group that asked him to sue the city of Cincinnati over changes made to the city’s parking lease without City Council's explicit approval. Curp wrote in a letter that the two changes disputed by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) were within the lease’s terms and only made because COAST’s previous lawsuit forced the city to delay leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. If COAST hadn’t pursued the lawsuit, the city would have been able to continue with the original timetable for the parking lease. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls yesterday unveiled a motion calling for the first expansion of local disclosure and reporting requirements since 1997 that would impose new rules on city officials, lobbyists and contractors and require the city administration to post the disclosed information on the city’s website. Qualls said in a statement that the update is particularly timely because the Metropolitan Sewer District is taking on a federally mandated $3.2 billion, 15-year reworking of the city’s sewers, which will presumably involve many lobbyists trying to get lucrative contracts for businesses they represent. New poll results from Public Policy Polling (PPP) show Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald beating Gov. John Kasich 38-35 percent in the 2014 election. Kasich’s approval rating now stands at 42-47 percent, down 10 points from November. Most respondents still seem unaware of FitzGerald, with 62 percent saying they aren’t sure if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of him. PPP is affiliated with Democrats, but the polling firm performed well in the 2012 presidential race and, if anything, favored Republicans with its results. Hop On Cincinnati is asking the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District to support a trackless trolley that the group says could live alongside the Cincinnati streetcar. The trolley, estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million, would be similar to the system in Northern Kentucky, and each route would run past major garages to allow people to park before getting on board. If the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District gives the project approval, it could get federal funding. Investors are upset with SoMoLend, the crowdfunding incubator that has been targeted by a state investigation with accusations of fraud. Critics of the company say that the allegations could hurt future crowdfunding pursuits and harm the state. Shortly after the charges came to light, the city of Cincinnati announced it would cut ties with SoMoLend, which partnered with the city to connect small businesses and startups with up to $400,000 in loans. Ohio is the seventh worst state for debt, according to a recent study from NerdWallet.com. The number of low-income Ohio children in Head Start, the early education program, will drop by more than 1,800 following automatic spending cuts at the federal level. CityBeat previously covered the cuts here. Ohio’s top waterways watchdog is stepping down from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency after his boss and Kasich asked him to step down. Kasich was apparently angered by an email in which George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio EPA’s division of surface water, told his staff that the coal industry wants permits that would damage the state’s streams and wetlands and break state and federal laws. Various state officials are criticizing a “stand your ground” bill currently sitting in the Ohio legislature. The self-defense law has been scrutinized because of George Zimmerman, a Florida resident who was acquitted of murder in the shooting of unarmed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Many people blame Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which expands self-defense rights, for Martin’s death. Zimmerman’s legal defense team didn’t invoke the law, but the judge involved in the case mentioned it in her jury instructions. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says some school safety plans would be “useless” during a real shooting because they’re too long and complicated. Ohio is releasing school report cards this week, but the standards may be biased against income and racial diversity. Cincinnati-based Macy’s stocks plunged last week, alongside other Cincinnati stocks and the rest of the market. Renowned “Star Trek” actor George Takei will lead Cincinnati in the Chicken Dance at Oktoberfest this year. Ancient Egyptian jewelry was made from meteorites.

Thwart Authority

How P.G. Sittenfeld found himself at the center of the city’s parking plan drama

2 Comments · Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was one of the first to find out about a memo that’s spurred renewed calls to halt the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.