by German Lopez
Memo doubts parking plan, city manager defends hiding memo, streetcar to open 2016
The city administration yesterday disputed the findings of a June 20 memo
that suggested the city is getting a bad deal from its parking lease
agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but controversy
remains about why the city administration withheld the memo from City Council and the
Port Authority for three-plus weeks. Opponents of the parking plan are
now attempting to use the memo to convince the Port Authority to reject
the lease with Xerox, but the Port Authority insists that the memo is
laced with inaccuracies and technical errors. The city is pursuing the
lease to obtain a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual
payments, according to city estimates. The money will be used to pay
for future budget gaps and development projects, including the I-71/MLK
City Manager Milton Dohoney defended the city administration’s decision to withhold the June 20 memo,
but several council members are angered by what they call a “lack
of transparency.” Still, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls argued the
administration’s decision to keep the memo from City Council was
understandable because the memo was based on faulty information.
The Cincinnati streetcar got an opening date yesterday: Sept. 15, 2016.
The grand opening comes after years of political controversy, pulled
funding and two referendum efforts nearly killed the project. Ever
since it was first proposed, the streetcar project has been engulfed in
misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered here.
A federal judge made permanent his earlier decision that Ohio must count provisional ballots
if they’re submitted in the right polling place but wrong precinct. The
ruling is being taken as a victory by voting-rights advocates.
Cincinnati is negotiating to claw back
its incentive with Kendle International Inc., which agreed in 2008 to
keep its headquarters and create jobs at the city’s Carew Tower. The
agreement gave Kendle $200,000 over 10 years on the
condition it steadily grew jobs. The failure may add further doubt to
the value of job deals, which were criticized earlier in the year by a
report CityBeat covered here.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ
Hospital and Bethesda North Hospital are among the best hospitals in the
nation, according to U.S. News’s “Best Hospitals” feature.
Here are some of the odd things that made it into the two-year state budget.
Gov. John Kasich signed a Columbus school plan that will allow levy money to be shared with charter schools that partner with the Columbus school district.
The Senate is the best place in the country to eat hot dogs, according to Food & Wine.
More U.S. hospitals now treat gay parents equally.
Dogs apparently can watch television, which is good news for an Israeli channel explicitly aimed at dogs.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 11:16 AM | Permalink
Grand opening among several dates set after construction deal finalized
Following years of political controversy, the Cincinnati streetcar is scheduled to open for service on Sept. 15, 2016.
The news was unveiled in a city memo this morning, which
detailed the streetcar project’s future following a construction deal
with Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad.
The news comes after Messer revealed it will need nearly $500,000 more to do construction work, which will be covered by the project’s $10 million contingency funds.
The memo detailed other upcoming milestones for the streetcar project:• March 1, 2015: Substantial completion of a 3,000-foot test track and maintenance center.• June 29, 2015: Substantial completion of Over-the-Rhine loop.• March 15, 2016: Substantial completion of all work.
City Council recently approved $17.4 million in
additional capital funding for the streetcar project, along with various
accountability measures that will require the city manager to regularly update
council and the public on the project’s progress. The project’s estimated cost now stands at $133 million.Ever since its inception, the Cincinnati streetcar has been mired in political controversies and misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
by German Lopez
Inclusion becomes mayoral issue, streetcar clears hurdle, state budget cuts local funding
Following Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s announcement Friday to increase city contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses once elected, fellow Democratic mayoral candidate and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls echoed support for the proposals, although she disputed Cranley’s record on the issue.
One issue in particular is the Croson study that would allow the city
to prepare for a broader inclusion plan for minorities and women. Qualls has repeatedly proposed a Croson study during her time in
City Council and previous time in the mayor’s office, but she says
Cranley failed to publicly raise the issue at all during his time on
council between 2000 and 2009.
Cincinnati’s streetcar project cleared another hurdle
Friday when Messer Construction announced it needed $500,000 to carry
out construction work, which is easily covered by the project’s $10
million contingency fund.
With a construction contract, new funding and accountability measures
now moving forward, the only potential issue is who has to pay to
move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. The city claims
Duke Energy does, while the energy company puts the onus on the city.
That issue is currently being worked out in court, although the city has
already set aside $15 million to carry out the work for now and just in
case Duke isn’t forced to carry the costs. Throughout the streetcar’s
history, the project has been mired in misrepresentations and
exaggerations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
The recently approved two-year state budget provides about $517 million less local government funding than the budget did in 2011,
even though it pays for $2.7 billion in new tax cuts. Democrats have been highly critical of the cuts, but the
governor’s office says local governments are effectively getting more
funding through other sources not particularly geared for city and
county governments. CityBeat covered local government funding in greater detail here and the state budget here.
Some state officials are pushing to establish an online, searchable database that would allow Ohio taxpayers to track state spending penny-by-penny. The state treasurer’s office already maintains a database for teacher and state employee salaries.
The Health Careers Collaborative, an organization working to increase health care employment in Greater Cincinnati, has a new leader.
Amish communities in Ohio are questioning whether they should take royalties for land that would be used for fracking,
an oil and gas extraction process that environmentalists claim is
dangerous for surrounding air and water. For the Amish, the issue is
spiritual, rooted in their religious restrictions against technology and
many facets of the modern world. CityBeat covered fracking and its ongoing effect on some Ohio communities in greater detail here.
Ohio gas prices are starting up this week.
Twinkies are returning to store shelves today.
HD 189773b, a blue exoplanet, may look hospitable, but the planet has a bad habit of raining glass sideways.
13 Comments · Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Most anti-streetcar talking points are
perpetuated without proper context, but they’ve still been effective in
rallying a libertarian-style argument against government spending,
despite the potential benefits.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 10:08 AM | Permalink
Messer Construction asks for less than $500,000 more; easily covered by contingency fund
Messer Construction says it needs nearly $500,000 more than the original $71 million it asked for to
do construction work for the streetcar project, but the extra money is
easily covered by the project’s $10 million contingency fund that the
city established in case of further cost overruns.In June, City Council approved an extra $17.4 million and
accountability measures for the streetcar project, which require the city manager to publicly update council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an
operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports. During discussions for
the funding and accountability proposals, some council members, particularly Councilman P.G.
Sittenfeld, raised concerns that Messer would require more money than
the city could afford. Sittenfeld said he was especially concerned Messer would have all the leverage going forward, considering the city supposedly needed the lower construction bid to keep the project within its new budget.Messer was the lowest bidder for the project’s
construction work, but even that bid came $26 million higher than
the city’s original estimates, forcing the city to close a budget gap if
the project was to continue.
With the construction bids taken care of, the only known
funding concern for the streetcar is who has to pay $15 million for moving utility
lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. Duke Energy argues the cost burden is on
the city, while the city says the energy company has to pay up. The
issue is currently being decided in court.Ever since Cincinnati began pursuing the streetcar
project, it’s been mired in misrepresentations and political
controversy, which CityBeat covered in further detail in this week’s cover story.
by German Lopez
Streetcar project misrepresented, gun control battle continues, Media Bridges closing down
Ever since the Cincinnati streetcar has been envisioned,
the mass transit project has been mired in misrepresentations driven
largely by opponents and politicians. CityBeat has a breakdown of the misrepresentations here, showing some of the silliest and biggest falsehoods claimed by opponents and supporters.
The national battle over gun control came to Cincinnati on July 4 when former Rep. Gabby Giffords stopped at the Northside parade to call for new restrictions on firearms.
Giffords is part of a slew of national leaders calling for stronger
regulations and enforcement for background checks — a policy more than nine in 10 Americans support. Still, the call seems to be politically unheard so far: Federal legislation is stalled in Congress, and Ohio legislators are working to loosen gun restrictions.
Facing city budget cuts, public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down by the end of the year.
The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the organization lost
state funding that had been provided through an agreement with Time
Warner Cable. But city officials claim the local funding was supposed to
act as a one-year reprieve and nothing more — a claim Media Bridges was
apparently never made aware of until it was too late. To justify the
cut, the city cites public
surveys that ranked budget programs in terms of importance, but a look
at the citizen surveys shows the demographics were skewed against
low-income people who make the most use out of programs like Media
Check out CityBeat’s editorial content for this week’s issue:• German Lopez: “Meet Daniela,” the hypothetical victim of Republican policies at the state and national level.• Ben Kaufman: “‘Enquirer’ Takes Questionable Approach to Covering Meyers Ordination,” which analyzes the questionable apathy to a supposedly “illegal” ordination of a woman Catholic priest.• Kathy Wilson: “Until It’s Time for You to Go,”
a look at the life story of South African leader Nelson Mandela and the
hurdles he faced as he helped end discriminatory apartheid policies.
If you’re headed to Fountain Square today, expect to see
some images of bloodied fetuses and fetal limbs. An anti-abortion group
is showing a video with the gruesome visuals
as part of a protest against what it sees as “the greatest human rights
injustice of our time.” The group defends its tactics by citing its
First Amendment rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has so far refused to
rule one way or the other on the issue, but, barring some restrictions
for airwave broadcasts, the court typically protects all kinds of
political speech as long as it’s not pornographic.
The Cincinnati Police Department is changing how it responds to calls
to focus on what it sees as the most important issues, such as impacting violent crime,
youth intervention efforts, long-term problem solving projects, traffic
safety and neighborhood quality-of-life issues. The biggest change will come with how the department reacts to minor traffic accidents: It will still
respond, but it may not file a report.
The so-far-unnamed Greater Cincinnati coalition working to reduce the local infant mortality rate set a goal
yesterday: zero. It’s a dramatic vision for a region that, at 13.6, has
an infant mortality rate more than twice the national average of six,
as CityBeat covered here.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced in a statement
yesterday that he will be gathering local leaders and health officials
to encourage the state to expand Medicaid. The expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here,
would save Ohio money and insure half a million Ohioans in the
next decade, according to an analysis by the Health Policy Institute of
Fish oils may increase the risk of prostate cancer, according to a new study.
A measure that would disallow employers from discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals made it through a U.S. Senate committee yesterday.
Cadillac’s Super Cruise could have the features to making self-driving cars viable.
A device trains blind people to see by listening.
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 3, 2013
City Council June 26 approved funding and
accountability measures for the Cincinnati streetcar project, allowing
the project to move forward.
by German Lopez
Pay-to-stay jail policy criticized, locals react to LGBT rulings, council OKs streetcar funding
The Hamilton County Jail charges its inmates a fee for
incarceration, and a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union
of Ohio (ACLU) suggests the practice harms low-income inmates and raises little money for the county. CityBeat
got an exclusive early look at the report, which scrutinized three
counties for their pay-to-stay policies. Among the three samples,
Hamilton County had the second lowest fees and did the second
least harm to low-income people, according to the report. Although the
ACLU was hopeful the report and the election of a new sheriff would
inspire some change, Hamilton County officials told CityBeat that no changes are planned.
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday struck down the federal ban on same-sex marriage, and some local and state leaders had a few things to say about it.
The reactions seem to vary depending on a partisan basis, with
Republicans in opposition and Democrats in favor. Rest assured: Here at CityBeat, we favor giving equal rights to people no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
City Council yesterday approved funding and accountability measures for the Cincinnati streetcar project
and funding for development at Fourth and Race streets, which will
include a downtown grocery store. The streetcar measures close the
project’s $17.4 million budget gap by issuing more debt and pulling
funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure
improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. The accountability measures,
which were initially introduced by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, require
the city manager to update City Council with a timeline of key
milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing
assessments and monthly progress reports.
Commentary: “The Little Engine That Could.”
Make sure to check out CityBeat’s extensive LGBT coverage for our Pride Issue here, including a mini-profile of Councilman Chris Seelbach and his partner.
It’s local election season. In the next five months, City Council will meet only seven times, down from the typical 14.
Odis Jones is leaving his post as Cincinnati’s director of economic development
to become CEO of the Detroit Public Lighting Authority, a city-run utility
operated by an independent board. Jones was known at City Council
meetings for making passionate pitches for various economic development
projects, including the most recent plans for Fourth and Race streets.
He told Business Courier he wants to go to Detroit to play a role in the revitalization
of his hometown: “My mother always said, 'If you see a good fight, get
in it.' I'm in it.”
The Ohio House voted to ban red-light cameras
despite arguments that the cameras have reduced
traffic accidents and saved lives. An Ohio Senate vote is expected in
NASA is teaming up with Italy and Japan on a mission to Mercury.
Researchers found wearing a T-shirt with the letter “T” on it makes men more attractive. Critics of the study argue attractive men would be better with no shirt — or pants — at all.
by German Lopez
Funding for development at Fourth, Race streets also gets approval
City Council today approved funding and accountability measures for the Cincinnati streetcar project, allowing the project to move forward.On Monday, the Budget and Finance Committee approved the measures, which CityBeat covered in further detail here. The funding ordinance closes the streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap by issuing more debt and pulling funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. The accountability motion will require the city manager to update City Council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.Council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris
Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young voted for the measures.
Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn
voted against both. Councilwoman Pam Thomas voted against the funding
ordinance, but she voted for the accountability motion.City Council also unanimously approved funding for a development project on Fourth and Race streets, which includes a downtown grocery store, luxury apartment tower and parking garage to replace Pogue's Garage. CityBeat covered that project in further detail here.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 01:51 PM | Permalink
Council measures increase capital funding, require more transparency
The streetcar project remains on track following today's votes by City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, which approved increased capital funding and accountability measures that aim to keep the public informed on the project's progress.The increased funding was previously proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney to fix a $17.4 million budget gap. The money will come from more issued debt and pulled funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. Under state law, none of the capital funding could be used for operating budget expenses, such as police and fire.The accountability measures also require the city administration to report to City Council on the streetcar's progress with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports."The progress reports should be easy-to-understand and made available online to ensure transparency and accountability to City Council and to citizens," the motion reads.Council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young voted for the measures. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against both. Councilwoman Pam Thomas voted against the funding ordinance, but she abstained from voting on the motion imposing accountability measures.Qualls, who revealed the accountability measures in a press conference prior to today's committee meeting, said the measures will move the streetcar forward and help keep the public informed."I will vote today to continue the streetcar project because we need to continue moving Cincinnati forward," she said. "At the same time, while I remain a supporter, it is with the recognition that it is time for a reboot on the project to instill public confidence in its management."Smitherman did not seem convinced."I believe the administration will be back asking for
more money on the streetcar," he claimed, pointing to pending
litigation with Duke Energy over who is legally obligated to pay for
moving utility lines to accommodate the project.Smitherman and Sittenfeld also criticized their colleagues for not bringing the accountability measures to a vote earlier in the process."You would think seven years ago there would have been a motion like this in front of us," Smitherman said, referencing when City Council first approved the streetcar project.Among the accountability motion's items is an operating plan, which streetcar critics have long demanded. The city administration estimates operating the streetcar will cost about $3.5 million a year, indicating in the past that casino tax revenue would be used to pay for the costs.Supporters say those costs will be outweighed by the city's estimated three-to-one return on investment for the streetcar project — an estimate backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of Cincinnati. Simpson in particular argued the costs will be made up through increased revenue as the streetcar brings in more businesses and residents to Cincinnati.Still, Simpson says those estimates don't matter to streetcar opponents."If it was $5, there would be individuals who don't support this project," she said.Winburn responded by saying he supports the streetcar as a concept, which roused laughter from streetcar supporters in the audience. Throughout the project's many hearings, opponents of the streetcar have often said they support streetcars as a concept — at least until they have to put their support to a vote or commit funding.Still, Winburn added, "Even if you all are wrong, I want to commend you for fighting for what you believe in."The streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget — a result of "errors in bid documents," according to Qualls.Besides increasing funding, the city is also hiring John Deatrick, project manager of The Banks, to head the streetcar project. Multiple city officials, including Qualls and Quinlivan, have praised Deatrick for his ability to bring down project costs and put large projects on track.The funding currently set for the streetcar will only go to the first phase of the project. The final plan calls for tracks stretching from The Banks to the Cincinnati Zoo."If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from
The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said
it's a project worth doing," Dohoney previously told City Council. "The intention has always
been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go
beyond that."But Smitherman says talk of another phase is financially irresponsible: "I want to indicate to the public that they (the city administration) don't have a budget for the second leg."The funding ordinance and accountability motion must now be approved by a full session of City Council, which has the same voting make-up as the Budget and Finance Committee.If it's approved, the federal government has committed another $5 million to the streetcar that will help restore certain aspects of the project previously cut because of budget concerns.