by German Lopez
Streetcar pause looms, feds freeze funds, foundation threatens contributions to city
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City Council appear ready to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project
on Wednesday after moving forward yesterday with 11 ordinances that
aren’t susceptible to referendum. The bills allocate $1.25 million to
stop contracts tied to the project and hire expert consultants to study
what it would cost to continue or suspend the project — information a majority
of council plans to use to gauge whether the project should continue
after the pause. Streetcar supporters planned to hold some sort of
referendum on the pause ordinances, but Cranley, who previously spoke in
favor of the “people’s sacred right of referendum,” now says that the
city shouldn’t be required to continue spending on the project until
voters make a final decision in November 2014, as would be required
under a traditional referendum.
Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration yesterday announced it froze $44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar
until Cincinnati agrees to move ahead with the project. The decision shows
Cranley and other opponents of the project were in the wrong when they
claimed they could lobby the federal government to reallocate the grant
money to other projects. But the decision should also come as little
surprise to the new mayor and council, considering federal officials
warned of the consequences of canceling the streetcar project on three
separate occasions in the past six months.
The Haile U.S. Bank Foundation also joined the fray
yesterday with an email to city officials plainly stating that the
streetcar project’s cancellation “will definitely cause us to pause and
reconsider whether the City can be a trusted partner” and endanger
contributions to the carousel in Smale Riverfront Park, the shared-use
kitchen at Findlay Market and the renovations of the Globe Building and
Music Hall. The email also offered to pay for a study that would
evaluate the costs of the streetcar project going forward. But Cranley
brushed off the letter as a threat and argued the Haile U.S. Bank
Foundation “can’t be a passive-aggressive dictator of legislative
Although his nomination to the city manager spot was initially met with praise, some are beginning to raise questions
about Willie Carden’s refusal to live in Cincinnati and his history,
including an ethics probe that found he was wrongfully taking pay from
both the city and private Parks Foundation. Councilman Chris Seelbach
said he’s also worried about the process for Cranley’s pick, which
didn’t involve a national search and never put any other candidates in
front of council.Democrats on the Hamilton County Board of Elections have asked state officials to investigate Republican Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters for improperly voting.
Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati plans to introduce
on Wednesday a new version of his overhaul of the state’s renewable
energy and efficiency requirements. The new version will dampen a plan
that would have allowed Canadian hydroelectric power facilities to
satisfy Ohio’s renewable energy requirements, but it will also allow
decades-old hydro plants along the Ohio River to fulfill the
requirement. Seitz and other supporters of the overhaul argue it’s
necessary to make the requirements friendlier to businesses and
consumers. But opponents of the bill, including businesses and
environmentalists, argue it would effectively ruin Ohio’s energy
requirements and, according to a study from the Ohio State University
and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, cost Ohioans $3.65
billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered the proposal in greater detail here.
Ohio schools can now tap into a $12 million program
to make their facilities safer through various new measures, including a
radio system directly connected to emergency responders, cameras and
intercoms. “Naturally, after Sandy Hook, I think we were all just
extremely upset about that, and you want to be able to do something,”
Republican State Sen. Gayle Manning told StateImpact Ohio.
A report found staff weren’t at fault for the high-profile prison suicides of Billy Slagle, whose case CityBeat covered in further detail here, and Ariel Castro, who held three women captive in his home for nearly a decade.
Popular Science argues Amazon’s plan for delivery drones isn’t realistic.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
New City Council plans to vote on 11 referendum-immune ordinances on Wednesday
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City Council appear ready to halt Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project on Wednesday — and voters might not get a final say on whether they approve of the pause. In front of council are 11 ordinances totaling $1.25 million that would stop contracts tied to the streetcar project while the city hires expert consultants to review the costs of continuing or suspending the project.“I think cancellation is what we should do,” Cranley said at Monday’s council meeting. “But a majority of council wants to pause and ask questions.” One immediate concern for supporters of the project: Because the ordinances appropriate funds, they are not susceptible to referendum.Cranley repeatedly touted the “people’s sacred right of referendum” in opposition to the parking privatization plan while on the campaign trail, but he now argues the city shouldn’t be forced to continue spending on the streetcar project until voters make a final decision in November 2014, as would be required under a traditional referendum.Cranley encouraged streetcar supporters to instead push a ballot initiative that doesn’t require the city to continue funding the project.Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who supported a referendum on the parking plan, argued Cranley’s position was hypocritical.“I don’t want to have the voters’ voice suppressed,” he said.Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced that he’s voting to continue the streetcar project. He asked, “Are we going to have tens of millions of dollars of wasted money or something to show for it?”In response to the concerns, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a streetcar supporter, said she will have her staff draw up a motion to place the streetcar project on the ballot.But Councilman Chris Seelbach, who also supports the streetcar, countered that the ballot initiative would not matter if the project is paused and the federal government decides to effectively kill the streetcar by taking back $44.9 million in federal grants that are funding one-third of the project’s costs.The Federal Transit Administration on Monday stated the grant money is already frozen pending a council decision to advance the project.Simpson questioned whether the ordinances allocated enough money to pause the project. Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad (MPD) estimate they’ll need $590,000 to suspend work for a month. The ordinance halting MPD’s contract allocates only $100,000.On top of the $1.25 million — or $1.74 million, if MPD’s estimate is counted — allocated to pause the project, the suspension would also force the city to pay for unemployment insurance as construction companies lay off 200 workers involved in the project. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick estimates that will cost $419,000 if workers are kept unemployed for a month.So the city could pay nearly $2.16 million to pause the project for a month. In comparison, Deatrick says one month of construction would cost the city $3 million.The pause costs would also come from the contingency fund for the streetcar project, according to Deatrick. The $7.4 million contingency fund is already counted as part of the $132.8 million project, but it could go unspent if the project continues without complications.Deatrick on Nov. 21 warned the costs of canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.(The issue of cancellation costs was first reported by CityBeat in October as a follow-up with city officials to a July story that outlined the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project.) Supporters of the streetcar project argue it’s necessary to spur economic development along the planned 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR, which was later validated by the University of Cincinnati, found the project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.Opponents argue the project is far too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.“I believe the progress of Cincinnati is going to continue,” Cranley said. “Our future is bullish and bright in downtown and Over-the-Rhine with or without the streetcar.”A majority of City Council expects to vote in favor of the ordinances at its full meeting on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Council members who oppose the project plan to use the time-out to weigh the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.
by German Lopez
Money put on hold pending City Council decision on project
Federal grants for the $132.8 million streetcar project are on hold
until City Council votes to continue the project, according to a Dec. 2 email from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to Cincinnati officials.
The decision means Cincinnati can no longer tap into $44.9
million in federal grants until Mayor John Cranley and a majority of
the newly sworn-in City Council, both of which have shown opposition to
the streetcar project, agree to continue with ongoing construction.
“As per our telephone conversation, early last week, the
Administrator decided to restrict further access to the Federal project
funds until the FTA received an affirmative signal from the city’s newly
elected officials that the city intends to proceed with the project on
the agreed-upon schedule,” wrote Marisol Simon, FTA regional
administrator in Chicago. “This measure was taken to protect the
taxpayer funds not yet drawn down by the city from being subject to a
potential debt collection action.”
The FTA’s decision shows Cranley and other streetcar
opponents were in the wrong when they insisted they could lobby
the federal government to reallocate the money to other projects, such
as the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.
But the consequence should come as little surprise to
elected officials. In two letters to former Mayor Mark Mallory and a
phone conference with City Council, federal officials warned the city they
would pull the funding if the streetcar project were canceled.
The news comes on the same day City Council plans to vote
to pause the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed
against the costs of continuing.
It also comes two days after streetcar builder CAF USA warned the city of substantial costs that would be incurred if the streetcar project were canceled.
Even if council only pauses the project, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick says the path
forward is unknown because it’s unclear how the city will fund costs
associated with a pause.
The costs would presumably come out of the project’s contingency
fund, according to Deatrick, but pulling money out of the contingency
fund for a delay or pause changes the scope of the project and could face federal resistance.
On Nov. 21, Deatrick said the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion
after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through
November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs
and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the
project were terminated.
by German Lopez
Mayor and council sworn in, streetcar supporters rally, streetcar builder warns mayor
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were sworn in
yesterday. Two days prior to the ceremony, Cranley announced his
appointments for council committees that play a crucial role in passing
legislation through City Hall, but the choices were not without
controversy as Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own party for
the two most powerful committees. Councilman Charlie Winburn, a
Republican, will head the Budget and Finance Committee, and
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of
the Law and Public Safety Committee. Democratic council members Chris
Seelbach and Wendell Young also didn’t receive any appointments; both
supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley
for the mayor’s office. CityBeat covered the new City Council’s priorities in further detail here.
Among the new city government’s first priorities is
canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project, but not if supporters of
the project have anything to say about it. Hundreds of streetcar
supporters yesterday gathered in Washington Park
and walked the planned streetcar route to show their solidarity.
They’re threatening a referendum on any action council takes to pause or cancel
the project, but some are concerned council will attach a funding
measure to legislation that would allow a cancellation or pause ordinance to go
into effect immediately, even if the project makes it onto the November
Meanwhile, the company in charge of building the actual streetcars wrote a letter
to former Mayor Mark Mallory on Nov. 30 threatening substantial costs
if the project were canceled. The letter explains that, on top of the
sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF USA to pull
back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur
further costs. For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears that
canceling the streetcar could lead to litigation from contractors and
subcontractors as they seek their full payday. The legal costs for such
lawsuits would fall on an already-strained operating budget that pays
for day-to-day services such as cops and firefighters instead of a
capital budget that finances capital projects like the streetcar,
according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
Councilman Smitherman told The Business Courier that he wasn’t aware his brother’s construction company, Jostin Construction, was involved with the streetcar project, but a 2009 press release
from the local branch of the NAACP shows Smitherman acknowledging his brother’s ties to the project. Still, a Nov. 21 letter
confirms that Jostin pulled out of the project. The connection is
important because it presents a potential conflict of interest for
Smitherman, a streetcar opponent who will likely act as one of the five
necessary votes to pause and potentially cancel the project. It also
raises questions about the validity of Smitherman’s anti-streetcar votes
in the past few years.
Ohio is one of five states whose economy worsened in the past three months,
according to an index from the Federal Reserve of
Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’
A Republican and Democrat in the Ohio House proposed using
the $400 million in savings from the federally funded Medicaid
expansion to boost the local government fund,
but it seems most of the Republican leadership in the Ohio Senate
intends to use the savings on a tax cut. The savings are a result of
the Controlling Board’s controversial decision to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program with federal funds, which should shift some Medicaid expenses from the state to the federal level.
More women will get access to maternity leave under Obamacare.
The federally run Obamacare website relaunched in the past week, but it’s unclear if the fixes will make it easier for Ohioans to obtain health insurance.Coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, gas prices dropped across the state.
Michelle Dillingham, who lost in her bid for City Council, started her own progressive blog: The Cincinnati Forum.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Letter comes on eve of council vote on streetcar project
The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in."CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.The letter was first posted on the Cincinnati Streetcar Facebook page. Its validity was confirmed in an email to CityBeat from former Mallory staffer Jason Barron.On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk
costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in
close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that
would be lost if the project were terminated.Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.Read the full letter below:Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.
by German Lopez
Rally precedes City Council vote to pause and potentially cancel construction
Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project,
which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes
necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or
cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to
referendum.But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati. But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.
by German Lopez
Opponents might not have enough votes to prevent referendum if project is canceled
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Monday announced he will vote to continue the $132.8 million streetcar project.
Sittenfeld’s support for the project means the incoming
City Council might not have the six votes required for an emergency clause
that would immediately halt the project and make a cancellation vote
insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully put a cancellation
vote to referendum, the project would be forced to continue until the
streetcar once again appears on the ballot in November 2014. The
continuation would sink more costs into the project as construction is
forced to progress for nearly a year.
Sittenfeld’s announcement preceded a vote from the
outgoing City Council to officially write the streetcar project into
law, which means Mayor-elect John Cranley, a streetcar opponent, won’t
be able to take administrative action to halt the project and instead
must bring the project to a City Council vote after he and other newly
elected officials take office on Sunday.
The two remaining swing votes in the incoming council — David Mann, who Cranley on Monday named as his choice for vice mayor,
and Kevin Flynn — previously discussed delaying the project as council
analyzes whether it should permanently cancel or continue with currently
But Sittenfeld equated a delay to total cancellation after
warnings from the federal government made it clear that the city could
lose federal funds for the project even if it only delayed progress.
If either Flynn or Mann move to support the streetcar
project, streetcar proponents would gain a five-vote majority on
the nine-member council to continue the project and preclude a
Sittenfeld characterized his decision as the better of “two bad choices.”
“We can pursue a project that has never earned broad
public consensus and that has yet to offer a viable and sustainable
budget,” he said at a press conference, “or we can scrub the project and
throw away tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, forgo a
massive federal investment and have nothing to show for the enormous
effort and expense.”
To explain his decision, Sittenfeld cited concerns about
how much money has been dedicated to the project at this point,
including $32.8 million in sunk costs through November and a potential
range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, according to estimates
from the city. Sittenfeld noted that, at the very least, half of the
city’s $87.9 million share of the project will be spent even if the city
pulls the plug now.
Sittenfeld also voiced concerns that pulling back from the project and effectively forfeiting $44.9 million in allocated federal funds
would damage Cincinnati’s reputation with the federal government. That
could hamper projects he sees as much more important, such as the $2.5
billion Brent Spence Bridge project.
“I did my part to avoid getting us into this reality, but it cannot be wished away,” Sittenfeld said.
There was one major caveat to Sittenfeld’s decision: the
operating costs for the streetcar, which the city estimates at $3.4-$4.5
million a year.
Sittenfeld said the cost must not hit Cincinnati’s
already-strained operating budget and instead must be paid through
fares, sponsorships, private contributions and a special improvement
district that would raise property taxes near the streetcar line.
A special improvement district would require a petitioning
process in which property owners holding at least 60 percent of property frontage near the streetcar line would have to sign in favor of taking
on higher property taxes to pay for the streetcar.
“Ultimately, that’s a decision for the citizens,” Sittenfeld said.
If the special improvement district doesn’t come to
fruition, Sittenfeld cautioned that the streetcar project would be more
difficult to support going forward.
Asked whether Sittenfeld thinks some of the people who
voted for him will see his decision as a betrayal, he responded that his
conclusion shows the “thoughtfulness and carefulness” people expect of
him when it comes to taxpayer dollars, given the costs of cancellation.
by German Lopez
Swearing in sets path to contentious moves on streetcar project, parking plan
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum. If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.
0 Comments · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick
on Nov. 21 revealed that the city might only keep $7.5-$24.5 million if
it cancels the $132.8 million streetcar project.
5 Comments · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Mayor-elect John Cranley has been confidently wrong before, and the same could be playing out with the streetcar project.