Morning News and Stuff

More OTR parking permit drama; Winburn: withhold SORTA's money until streetcar documents released; new weed legalizatioin effort challenges ResponsibleOhio

click to enlarge Weed makes things confusing sometimes
Weed makes things confusing sometimes

Morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on today.

The battle over Over-the-Rhine’s parking plan continues. Yesterday, Mayor John Cranley told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to eliminating permit parking in the city — currently, one part of Clifton near Cincinnati state and the tiny Pendleton neighborhood both have permits available for residents. He said he’d also be interested in auctioning off spots in OTR to the highest bidder.

That doesn't sit well with permit advocates in the neighborhood, including City Councilman Chris Seelbach and OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer.

At the bottom of the debate is a philosophical difference: Cranley wants any parking plan to be first and foremost a revenue generator to pay for the streetcar and pay back taxpayers for investment in OTR. On Wednesday, he vetoed a parking plan for the neighborhood that would have created up to 450 permitted spots for residents at $108 a year. Previously, Cranley had proposed a plan that would have charged $300 a year and then later another that would have charged an unspecified market rate for the spaces.

Cranley says it’s unfair to taxpayers that certain spots can be bought by residents of a neighborhood that has seen millions in taxpayer money spent on redevelopment. Taxpayers pay for the roads, Cranley says, and should be able to park on them. What’s more, he says, creating a permit plan for OTR will only encourage other neighborhoods to seek them. Downtown has already made movement toward that end.

Permit supporters, meanwhile, see the measure mainly as a way to make life easier for residents who have to park in one of the most popular places in town. Supporters of the parking permits, including Democrats on council, say they will help keep low-income people who can’t afford garages or extended time at meters in the neighborhood.

There is nothing unusual about parking permits in neighborhoods. Cities like Columbus, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco (the nation’s most expensive at $110 a year) and many other major urban areas have them. Even smaller cities like Newport, Covington and Bloomington, Indiana have them. Hell, in Washington, D.C., you have to have D.C. plates to park on most streets and need to apply for a visitor’s permit if you don’t (I know this by experience and it is awful). But if it wasn’t for that permit system, residents in popular neighborhoods would spend an hour after work circling the block looking for a place to put their cars while tourists or folks from the other side of the city dropped by and took their time eating at that new $40-a-plate neo soul food place. (Err, sorry. Did I mention D.C. was awful?)

On the other hand, the affordability card is a funny one to play here. In terms of affordability, all the parking plans, including Cranley’s, presented a clause for lower-cost permits for low-income residents. But there are bigger issues as rents in OTR continue to increase and the neighborhood shifts ever-more toward the high-end in terms of the businesses and homes there. Perhaps a discussion about how much affordable housing is in the neighborhood, instead of spinning wheels on a parking plan, would better serve low-income folks?

• Here’s another transportation mess: Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Chair Charlie Winburn is threatening to withhold city funds from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority for its Metro bus program until it releases information about the bids it has received to operate the streetcar. Those bids were due March 30, but SORTA says it will not release them until it has made a selection, claiming that making the information public will compromise the competitive bid process. Winburn says the public has a right to know how much the streetcar will cost them. The Cincinnati Enquirer has sued SORTA for the records, which it says fall under open records laws. SORTA’s attorney disagrees. The question now is whether a judge will agree and if the ruling will come before SORTA makes its pick and releases the documents anyway.

• Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune might get an unexpected Republican challenger in the 2016 election. Hamilton County Appeals Court Judge Sylvia Hendon might run against Portune, she says. Hendon, 71, is about to hit the age limit for judges in Ohio but isn’t ready to give up public service. Democrats say they aren’t worried; though Hendon has served in a number of capacities in the county’s judicial system, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Cooke says she doesn’t have the name recognition to mount a serious challenge to the popular Portune. But Republicans say her time as a top judge gave her strong managerial skills and unique qualifications for the commissioner’s spot. They say she’ll be a strong contender should she choose to run. Commissioners oversee the county budget and the county’s various departments. Hendon is also looking at running for county recorder, a position held by Democrat Wayne Coates. Another Republican, former Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel, is also contemplating a run for that seat.

• Are online charter schools getting taxpayer money for students who are no longer enrolled in their courses? Some recent evidence seems to suggest that, and a state investigation might result. Data from one online school, Ohio Virtual Academy, shows that hundreds of students were on that school’s rolls but hadn’t logged in to classes in months. Only 14 had been withdrawn. OVA has 13,000 students. It’s not the first time charters have seen scrutiny for their attendance records. The schools get paid millions in state funds based on the number of students they have attending classes. In January, a state investigation found significant discrepancies between reported attendance and actual attendance at many of charters across the state.

• Finally, there’s another marijuana legalization scheme in Ohio, and it just cleared its first hurdle. Better for Ohio is challenging ResponsibleOhio’s plan for weed legalization by… doing almost exactly the same plan. The difference is that instead of ResponsibleOhio’s 10 grow sites, Better for Ohio would create 40, each tied (not kidding here) to a serial number on a specific $100 bill stipulated in the group’s plan. The holder of that bill would be allowed to grow marijuana at one of the grow sites. Private, non-commercial growth would also be allowed, and wouldn’t require registration with the state the way ResponsibleOhio’s plan does. The state just gave the OK for the group’s initial ballot language, and now it just has to get the necessary 300,000-plus signatures. Of course, there’s been some sniping between Better for Ohio and ResponsibleOhio, with both groups criticizing the other’s plan. Things are getting heated in the weed legalization game.

That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with news tips or just to say hey.

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