Morning News and Stuff

SORTA votes on streetcar contract; unrest downtown; map of rental affordability crisis

Good morning y’all. I hope your holiday weekend was as crazy as mine in all the good ways a weekend can be crazy without being crazy in all the bad ways a weekend can be. One BAD way your July 4 extravaganza can be crazy is when you have to wrestle a strange naked man off your porch. Yes, that happened to me this weekend. Our country really needs better mental health care systems. But enough about that. Let’s get right to the news thing.

Just a bit ago, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority board voted to award the Cincinnati streetcar operating contract to Transdev, a Chicago-based company that submitted the winning turnkey bid to run and staff the project. That bid, which came in at $4 million for the first year of operations, proposed using non-union employees instead of SORTA personnel. Another bid utilizing unionized folks came in at $4.7 million, which was over the city’s $4.2 million budget for the project.

SORTA is making the decision because Cincinnati City Council could not come to agreement about who should operate the streetcar due to the price difference. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents SORTA’s employees, tried unsuccessfully to convince Hamilton County courts to make council decide which bid should be selected, but a judge rejected their suit. Council’s five Democrats are pro-union, as is Mayor John Cranley. Cranley offered an extra $2 million toward the project if the union contract was selected, but some Democrats on council said they were worried that amount wasn’t enough to keep the project running at full capacity. Councilman Wendell Young voted against the union bid, citing those concerns and depriving the Dems of the fifth vote they needed to approve that bid.

• Here’s some more bad July 4 crazy. There was a rash of unrest on Fountain Square Saturday night as revelry turned into some fights. Cincinnati Police were called in and a group of 50 or more in the crowd became even more agitated, police say, throwing bottles and fireworks at officers. That in turn led to more police presence, this time in riot gear. Two officers were injured during the confrontation. Seven people were arrested. One person was hospitalized after he was beaten badly by a group of young men. It is unclear what connection, if any, the man had to the fights occurring in the area. Police are investigating that incident. Meanwhile, the biggest question local media can muster about the violence appears only to be what this means for next week’s MLB All-Star Game. Awesome.

• Where the ladies at? In the Cincinnati startup world, I mean. Women aren’t nearly as well-represented in the tech and startup industries here, despite being, you know, half the population. Business incubator The Brandery, for instance, had no females in its 2014 class, a problem the organization is looking to remedy for upcoming years, according to this story. It’s not just a problem for Cincinnati, of course — the world of entrepreneurs is famously male-centric. But there are some local efforts happening to change that here.

• Things are going to get interesting in Hamilton County in 2016, and not just because of the presidential election. There’s a big showdown brewing for a couple county commissioner seats. Both Democrat Todd Portune and Republican Greg Hartmann are up for re-election, and both could have some serious challengers.

Let’s zoom in on what’s likely to be the more interesting of the two races: State Rep. Denise Driehaus has signaled she’s carefully considering a run against Hartmann, who angered some voters with last year’s icon tax decision cutting renovations for landmark Music Hall out of a sales tax increase on last year’s ballot. Driehaus looks like she’ll be a strong candidate, but Hartmann has plenty of support, especially from the Hamilton County GOP and right wingers like anti-tax group COAST. He also has some donors with deep pockets. Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou has been touting a recent fundraising event for Hartmann that raked in $250,000 in a single night. That’s big bucks. County Dems, though, say Driehaus won’t need that much cash to topple Hartmann, who will be fighting the tides of demographic change in the county. Republican electorate here has been eroded in recent years, with a younger, more diverse and generally Democratic-leaning population trickling into Hamilton County as Republican voters head out to the ‘burbs.

• More bad July 4 crazy. Someone vandalized Serpent Mound, the ancient Native American burial site in Adams County. It appears someone basically took a big ole truck and did some donuts on the mound. Officials with the historic site say it will take extensive work to restore the damage. The mound is internationally recognized for its historic and cultural importance.

• Finally, I feel like I link you, my dear readers, to a map at least once a week. I hope they’re as interesting to you as they are to me. This one is pretty insane, I think. It’s been put together by the Urban Institute and technically shows rental affordability in every county in the U.S. compared to the national average. The bigger picture? It shows the country’s steadily-intensifying affordable housing crisis, especially for very low-income renters. Even though we have relatively low rents here in Cincy (unless you’re trying to move to Over-the-Rhine, am I right?), that crisis has hit home. In Hamilton County last year, there were 34 affordable units for every 100 low-income families. That’s better than the national average of 28 units per 100 families, but it’s still striking. Even more striking is how much worse that would be without various types of government rental assistance: Hamilton County would only have 10 units of affordable housing for every 100 families that needs them in the market without those subsidies. Yowza.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. But for god's sake if you come to hang out on my porch keep your clothes on.