Sunday, March 31, 2013

Judge’s decision puts Cincinnati’s future on hold

Straight talk about the parking plan decision and the budget

Thursday’s decision by Judge Robert Winkler to suspend implementation of the proposed parking lease plan until a possible referendum is placed on November’s ballot was breathtaking in its sweeping scope and impact.
His decision immediately impacts public safety, the #1 concern of Cincinnatians, by forcing drastic police and fire layoffs. At the eleventh hour, with a balanced budget required by law no later than July 1, the city manager must begin laying off 189 police and 120 firefighters. The new police recruit class will also be cut.
Judge Winkler’s decision makes a political pawn out of city services. In addition to the cuts to public safety, his decision forces cuts that include closure of six pools and three recreation centers, elimination of all human services funding, cuts in litter control and more. These cuts threaten the fresh momentum in places like Avondale, Evanston, Bond Hill, College Hill, Madisonville, Walnut Hills, Westwood and other neighborhoods.
A sizable portion of the City’s deficit is the direct result of deep cuts by the Ohio legislature. The parking plan gives the city the ability to recover from the cuts without the deep cuts in core services that are required to fill a deficit of this size.
Those who call the layoffs a scare tactic and claim to offer solutions for a balanced budget with no layoffs are using magical thinking and fuzzy math. Their proposals fail the ‘arithmetic’ test.
The decision wreaks havoc on managing and governing Cincinnati.  All Ohio municipalities use emergency clauses. Judge Winkler’s decision to suspend the city’s powers to enact emergency legislation (which allows laws to take effect immediately) prevents the city from passing laws to take immediate action with money and manpower in disasters, like floods and chemical emergencies, and will make the city less competitive in development deals, where time is money to investors.
I voted for the parking plan because it would have not only avoided the painful layoffs and cuts in services that the manager is now beginning to implement, but will also allow us to continue the city’s growth and momentum. The parking lease is a significant source of investment in Cincinnati’s future at a time when the city is attracting new businesses, younger generations and immigrants.  It supports projects that create jobs, like the I-71/MLK interchange, and enhance quality of life in our neighborhoods, like the Wasson Way bike trail. Read more here.
What can you do? 
·      If you're approached to sign the petition, remember what Mayor Mallory said: 'if you’re signing a petition, you’re signing a pink slip for a cop or firefighter.' 
·      Learn the facts about the proposed parking lease plan. Click on the links I’ve provided in this letter.
·      Make your voice heard. Contact the media, your friends, your neighborhood association. Tell them that the parking plan allows Cincinnati to continue our current momentum in neighborhoods and downtown alike on a scale that we have not enjoyed for a long time.
We will vigorously appeal Judge Robert Winkler’s decision.  Even if court cases drag beyond the July 1 budget deadline, the city will fight for the right to manage its own future.
Judge Winkler’s decision hits the ‘pause’ button on Cincinnati’s progress. Whether it’s decided in court or at the ballot box this fall, the stakes for Cincinnati are high, and the choice over which direction we take – forward or backward – is stark. Together, let’s do what we must to give Cincinnati its best chance for a vibrant future.
For background on the parking plan, click here.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Cincinnati's neighborhoods are Cincinnati's future

We have made significant progress in the last three months developing a powerful  new tool for preserving character and revitalizing Cincinnati's neighborhoods.  

I’ve worked since 2008 with neighborhoods around the city to bring a form-based code to Cincinnati as part of my Great Neighborhoods Initiative. Cincinnati is now in the process of developing a form-based code so that any neighborhood that chooses t0 (adoption is completely voluntary) can implement this new approach to building community character and spurring the kind of development the neighborhood wants.
By providing a community character-based approach to zoning, form-based code helps neighborhoods ensure that new development has a look and feel that is consistent with traditional neighborhood patterns.
Read more about this innovative alternative to conventional zoning here. 

In April, more than 700 Cincinnatians rolled up their sleeves to participate in the five-day charrette – a citywide urban design workshop – to begin developing a form-based code for Cincinnati. Participants met with the professional team that is writing and illustrating Cincinnati's form-based code. The consultant team includes planners, architects, illustrators, transportation engineers, economists and retail consultants.

Throughout the week, participants learned about obstacles to walkable, mixed-use development that are embedded in the city’s current zoning code and street standards; how Cincinnati still has the ‘good bones’ that neighborhoods can build on using the right tools, including form-based code; and why demographic trends give Cincinnati the opportunity to enhance our competitive advantage as a city.

I’m excited to share with you the summary report from the charrette, Paradigm shift back to urbanism: Complete Neighborhoods for Cincinnati. Here’s an excerpt that summarizes the challenges and opportunities facing our neighborhoods.

Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are at a tipping point. The city has lost 40 percent of its population since 1950, leaving suburban densities in the city’s formerly urban neighborhoods. Many residential buildings and lots sit vacant or are not being maintained, with over 10,000 historically contributing units in need of renovation. Neighborhood main streets have withered due to lack of people, competition from nearby big box stores, and bad thoroughfare design that speeds cars and potential customers through these neighborhoods, rather than to them.
But Cincinnati has a tremendous opportunity. In these urban neighborhoods they already have what other cities want and are trying to build: a variety of urban housing types; a network of neighborhood main streets ready to be revitalized; a rich, diverse, and well-build collection of historic architecture; and easily accessible open space networks created by topography that weaves throughout these neighborhoods.
One of the primary reasons for cities like Cincinnati to be optimistic has to do with the convergence of the two biggest population groups ― the Millenials (Gen Y) and the boomers ― that are both creating a strong and growing demand for living in walkable urban places. What the Millenials want, the boomers need: small, simple spaces for living, community/people/density, access to transit, and proximity to services and amenities (i.e., main streets and downtowns). The Queen City is positioning itself to capture this demand and to put a strategy in place that makes these neighborhoods Complete Places with everything urban neighborhoods have to offer.
Download the full charrette report  here.
The report makes it clear: to revitalize the city, we must revive our neighborhoods. And changing demographics offer a unique opportunity for our urban neighborhoods that can’t be easily replicated in the suburbs – namely, their historic neighborhood character and identity, at pricing that’s attainable both for Millenials and seniors looking to relocate near services. Restoring walkability and transit to our neighborhood business corridors will help attract the Millenials and serve the needs of our aging population.
Next steps
The citywide charrette produced a template that will provide the basis for a form-based code specific to a neighborhood that chooses to adopt one.  
The new code will describe, in words and clearly drawn graphics, what form and scale of development is desired and permissible. The code will include building form standards (building placement, frontage, etc.) and public space standards (street thoroughfare standards, civic space standards, etc.), and will also address appropriate uses.
Four Cincinnati neighborhoods College Hill, Madisonville, Walnut Hills and Westwood —will host a neighborhood charrette this fall to take the code developed from the citywide charrette and tailor and apply it to their neighborhood business corridors and adjacent residential areas.
The neighborhood charrette will take place from Monday, October 29 through Thursday, November 1 at Two Centennial Plaza, 805 Central Ave. (behind City Hall), Cincinnati, OH 45202.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cincinnatians have the opportunity to shape the way their neighborhoods look, and help spur desired development – and prevent unwanted development – in their communities, by participating in this process to implement a new approach to building community character.

On April 28, Cincinnati neighborhoods will begin the process of developing form-based codes, a powerful new tool for revitalizing neighborhoods and streamlining the development process. I have been working since 2008 with neighborhoods around the city to bring form-based codes to Cincinnati. Read more about this innovative alternative to conventional zoning here.

The upcoming citywide charrette — an open, multi-day visioning process involving all types of community stakeholders — will create a Cincinnati template for neighborhoods to use as a foundation in developing a form-based code for their communities. Residents, business owners, and employees, real estate developers, design professionals and any other interested citizens will meet with the professional team that is writing and illustrating Cincinnati's form-based code. The consultant team will include planners, architects, illustrators, transportation engineers, economists and retail consultants.

The charrette will begin with a kickoff session on Saturday, offered at two different times to make it convenient.
Citywide Charrette
April 28
10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Two Centennial Plaza, 4th Floor
(behind City Hall and the cathedral)
805 Central Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45202
After a short briefing, participants will work with consultants to begin illustrating what neighborhoods will look like with a Cincinnati form-based code.

From April 28 and through May 2, the charrette will include open studio hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Stop by to review the consultants' work and offer your input in an informal setting. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, brown bag lunch discussions will cover Complete Streets, urban retail and economics, and there are midway and final presentations on Monday and Wednesday evenings.

Click here for the full charrette schedule.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Putting Money Back in Your Wallet

The Budget and Finance Committee will hold 2 public hearings on the city’s plan to form community buying groups for electricity and natural gas. The committee will hold an evening hearing on Monday, January 30 and a second hearing at its regular meeting on February 6. Both hearings will take place in City Council Chambers.

As a result of voters overwhelmingly approving natural gas and electric aggregation in November the City has a tremendous opportunity to negotiate savings and put real money back in the pockets of city residents, so that we can enjoy the benefits of competition that other communities in the region seen.

Cincinnati voters approved Issues 44 and 45, authorizing the city to negotiate group buying rates for electricity and natural gas. I sponsored the ordinances to put the measures on the ballot. More than 300 communities across Ohio have saved hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills since Ohio made this innovative tool — known as aggregation — available to communities in 2000.

Aggregation has proven to be an effective way for residential and small business utility customers to save money. According to a report last fall by Ohio Citizen Action, electric rates negotiated by other buying groups in the area ranged from 2 to 3 ½ cents per kilowatt-hour less than Duke’s generation rate, or “price to compare.” Read the full report on aggregation in Southwest Ohio here.

Administrators from nearby communities will describe their programs and the savings they’ve achieved at the pubic hearings. Green Township Administrator Kevin Celarek will speak at the January 30 hearing; Springfield Township Administrator Michael Hinnenkamp will talk about the savings their communities have seen.

Once City Council and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio have approved a plan, the city administration will put the contracts out to bid, analyze the responses and recommend providers to the City Manager. The city will then notify residents of the terms of the contracts and how the program will work, including how residents can choose not to participate. The process should be completed and residents can start saving money on their monthly bills as soon as June 1.

I also have introduced a motion asking the administration to investigate incorporating renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency into the provider selection critieria.

EVENT: Budget and Finance Committee public hearings on utility aggregation

DATE/TIME: Monday, January 30, 6 p.m.

Monday, February 6, 1 p.m.

PLACE: City Council Chambers, City Hall, Room 300

801 Plum St.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Vote Yes to Issue 44 – and reduce your electric bill

The concept of electric choice takes on new meaning this Election Day in Cincinnati. By voting yes on Issue 44, Cincinnati voters will choose to harness their collective buying power and empower the city to negotiate lower electric rates on their behalf.

The lower rates are possible through “aggregation” – a proven, effective model that allows a community to band together and obtain a volume discount on electricity supply. Consider it like a city-wide Groupon, good toward a sizable discount for all participating homeowners and small businesses. But unlike half-off movie tickets or cut-rate spa treatments, governmental aggregation affords us a break on something everyone needs and uses every day – an affordable, reliable supply of electricity.

A hallmark of competitive energy markets promoted under Ohio law, governmental aggregation has already helped more than 300 Ohio communities save hundreds of millions of dollars since the state began promoting these programs in 2000. And the timing of these ballot measures couldn’t be better. With the lingering recession, electric power prices are at historic lows – providing consumers with a genuine opportunity to lower their electric bills.

Against this backdrop, Issue 44 is a slam dunk. Many of our suburban communities have adopted similar measures and are saving a lot of money. The City of Cheviot’s supply contract saved its residents 65 percent over Duke Ohio’s best price. The average resident of the Village of Indian Hill saves $74 a month on electricity with a guaranteed rate. Incredibly, West Chester Township homeowners and small businesses collectively saved nearly $5 million on their electric bills in just 10 months.

City residents and businesses should ask themselves: why should this financial windfall be reserved for affluent suburbs? The concept is tailor made for our city. Despite battling through a stubborn recession, Cincinnati remains one of the largest cities in Ohio. “Strength in numbers” is an asset we have, but seldom leverage to our advantage.

Pending the ballot outcome, the city has not yet entered into a contract with a third-party, competitive electric supplier. But suppliers are already lining up to compete for the business. Without a supply contract in place, how much each customer can save still remains unclear. But with individual homeowners already getting offers of 30 percent or more off the Duke Ohio generation charge – and judging by the results in surrounding communities – the volume discount in Cincinnati could be substantial. According to Ohio Citizen Action, electric rates negotiated by other buying groups in the area range from two to 3 ½ cents per kilowatt-hour less than Duke’s current generation rate, or “price to compare.”

In light of these potential savings, the benefits of aggregation should far outweigh any perceived risks. All customers will continue to receive one bill from Duke Ohio, who would remain responsible for billing, upgrading and maintaining the electric distribution system, and responding to outages and emergencies. Concerned voters – particularly those inclined toward individual choices – should recognize that participation is optional. Like other aggregation groups, Cincinnati’s program would employ an “opt-out” model, so residents will be automatically enrolled unless they choose otherwise.

If the measure passes, city residents and businesses will allow the city to create an aggregation group, and a supply contract would be put out for bid. Only after a thorough process takes place – including at least two public hearings – will residents be enrolled in the program unless they freely choose to opt out.

In the meantime, the best thing Cincinnatians can do is vote “yes” for electric aggregation on Nov. 8. It’s a proven, effective means of reducing energy costs – and putting more money in the pockets of our residents and small businesses.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11 Remembrance

Comments made by Roxanne at the Museum Center Remembrance ceremony 9-1-2011.

Today we remember and pray for the dead- the 3000 men and women who lost their lives on that bright sunny morning 10 years ago.

Today we remember and pray for all those who were left behind- mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, partners and spouse, friends and loved ones.

Let us pause for a moment and in each of our faith traditions pray for those who have died and those who lost loved ones on that day.

Much has been written about the transformation of the United States and the global community in the last ten years- two wars, trillions of dollars spent, threat alerts, the Patriot Act.

Every day we learn of another man or woman killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq or another region of the globe fighting individuals dedicated to the violent transformation of society.

Today, we also remember those men and women and their families and friends who have sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

But, prayers and remembrance alone are insufficient to truly honor the memories of those who lost their lives.

Throughout history some men and women have chosen to bring about their vision of a new society through violence, murder, terror, and torture.

Some have done that as heads of state, some as revolutionaries outside the bounds of society.

Both believe that their vision justifies the objectification and subjection of human beings by any means necessary.

Both use philosophy or religion or science to justify the debasement of human beings and the destruction of civil society.

Both use the trappings of faith or ideology to justify the most barbaric, savage, and uncivilized acts.

Both reduce human beings to utilitarian objects in grand schemes of world domination.

So while we pray and remember today we rededicate ourselves to the values and principles of democracy.

We reaffirm the rights of all people to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

And we recommit ourselves to defend these values and rights.

By doing so, we not only remember the dead, we honor their memory and promise them that their deaths are not in vain.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Values and Priorities-the Budget Discussions Begin

The City Manager has asked City Council to approve the layoffs of 44 police officers and a departmental reorganization to cut another $5.1 million from this year’s budget. I’ve scheduled four public hearings this month in our neighborhoods so that residents can tell council what their priorities are as we grapple with the City Manager's proposed mid-year correction and as we anticipate a projected $33 million deficit for 2012.

City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr. presented his mid-year budget adjustment plan to cut $5.1 million through police layoffs and departmental reorganization to council’s Budget and Finance Committee on August 1. Council will meet in a special session on August 30 to vote on the recommendations. Dohoney's plan would:
  • Eliminate 50 full-time positions. Forty-four police officers would be laid off; if the city does not secure a federal grant, another 50 officers could be laid off next year.·
  • Disband the Office of Environmental Quality, moving the department director to Public Services;· Move the Department of Community Development to the Department of Planning and Buildings;
  • Eliminate the White Goods Collection program for the rest of this year.

Without new sources of revenue, it will be impossible for council to balance the budget without cutting priority services that are needed to keep our neighborhoods safe, clean and healthy for every Cincinnati family. Council needs to hear from residents who value and use the city’s health clinics, school nurse program, pools, and other threatened services. While we may have a very lean budget in 2012, it should not be mean and it should, at a minimum, guarantee all our neighborhoods receive services that combat blight.

It is important that everyone understand the budget basics. The 2011 General Fund (GF) Budget is $355 million. 69% of the GF budget goes to Fire and Police. 84% of the GF budget is for personnel. 90% of all personnel is unionized.

From 2000 through 2011 the combined Fire and Police GF budgets increased by 35.6%. During this same period, non-safety department GF budgets decreased by 28.6%.

Staffing in Police and Fire during this period remained stable, while staffing in non-Public Safety departments fell by 44% in the General Fund.

Deep cuts in non-safety departments and slight increases in revenues helped offset the General Fund budget increases for Police and Fire.

But, the rapid rise in employee health care cost- a 203.2% increase, and the 55.6% in pension contributed to the rise of chronic deficits in spite of constant cutting of non-safety General Fund departments and programs.

This year actions by the state have compounded the City's deficit problem. The state cut the Local Government Fund revenues to the City by $4.4 million in 2011 and by $9.2 million in 2012. The legislature also eliminated the Estate Tax resulting in a $13 million revenue loss beginning in 2013.

So even if we manage to balance our budget through continuing to cut, the State's actions put us further in the proverbial budget hole.