First ‘Portland Loo’ Public Toilet Facility to Open Along Cincinnati’s Central Riverfront

Cincinnati Parks announced that they will install a first-of-its-kind public toilet facility at Smale Riverfront Park. The facility, often referred to as a ‘Portland Loo’ due to where it was first popularized, is an effort by city officials to come up with a more functional and affordable public restroom option.

The idea of installing such facilities throughout Cincinnati first came up in June 2011 when then political activist Jason Happ proposed them as a form of social equity. The issue came up again following the renovation of Fountain Square, and the subsequent frequent closures of the public restrooms built near the elevator head house next to Via Vite.

“Though some of us have more means than others, that doesn’t mean we are always prepared or capable to go buy something just for the privilege of using a toilet at a private business. That’s why, for years, I have been talking about the Portland Loo,” Happ wrote for StreetVibes in November 2012. “In short, the Portland Loo is an elegant solution for the problem of easy access to clean and safe public facilities.”

The issue resurfaced recently when community leaders, including City Councilman Chris Seelbach (D), called for the installation of a Portland Loo facility at Findlay Market.

“With more people, there’s more need for public restroom facilities that we just don’t have,” Seelbach said in January 2013. “A lot of research and thought has gone in to making sure that behavior that we don’t want to happen, doesn’t.”

While project officials have designed permanent restroom facilities into Smale Riverfront Park, the new Portland Loo will give Cincinnati Parks the opportunity to see how such a facility works for their operations. The idea is that such a system would allow for more public access with fewer operational costs and risks.

“This is an opportunity for the Park Board to test how well this facility works as a ready and free comfort solution for our community,” Willie F. Carden, Director of Cincinnati Parks, explained to UrbanCincy. “What we believe, however, first and foremost, is that the Portland Loo will become an essential park enhancement that demonstrates utmost respect for the human dignity each and every citizen deserves.”

As of now, public restroom facilities in city parks are often closed or not fully operational. They also often are considered a public health and safety concern due to their design. Some of the biggest benefits of the Portland Loo system is that they are designed in manner that allows for 24-hour use and are easily monitored, cleaned and maintained.

According to park officials, the improved safety is due to the angled lower louvers at the top and bottom of the facility, which allows for external monitoring of what is happening inside without disturbing the occupant’s privacy. They also say that the facility will be covered in graffiti-proof coating.

The new facility at Smale Riverfront Park will come online June 19 and will feature an outside hand-washing station, rooftop solar panels to power the station’s lights, and will be handicap accessible and include room for a bike or stroller.

Using just 1.28 gallons of water per flush, the toilets are also comparable to sustainable low-flush toilets that use anywhere between 1.1 to 1.6 gallons of water per flush.

Should the results of this first installation come back positive, it would seem likely that the City of Cincinnati would revisit the idea of installing one at Findlay Market where its bathroom facilities are also considered to be problematic. Beyond that, several other parks and neighborhood business districts might be ideal candidates for further expansion.

On the 47th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Northside neighborhood leader James Heller-Jackson discussed the hopes the community has for improving Jacob Hoffner Park in the heart of the neighborhood’s resurgent business district.

“The neighborhood has said that they want somewhere they can hold events, and have it [Hoffner Park] be the center of the community,” Heller-Jackson said on the podcast. “There are also some amenities that we would like – like bathrooms for instance. Those would be awesome there and would make it a lot easier to have events there.”

For now, however, the first Portland Loo will be put to the test along the central riverfront. Carden says that Cincinnati Parks will then assess if and when additional Portland Loos will be added to other parks in the system.

Can Cincinnati’s Ground Breaking Collaborative Agreement Serve as a Model for Ferguson?

The events that have unfolded across America over recent months are strong reminders that there is much to do in terms of civil rights and equality, but they are events that are particularly moving for Cincinnatians who were the center of similar controversies in 2001.

Leading up to days of civil unrest in Cincinnati, and months of economic boycotts, 15 black men were killed over a six year period. In the last case before rioting, 19-year-old Timothy Thomas was shot and killed by officer Stephen Roach. It was later found that Thomas was unarmed, and Roach was eventually acquitted of negligent homicide charges.

The similarities between what happened in Cincinnati, and what is happening in Furgeson, Missouri, are striking. The protests and boycotts eventually led to the ground breaking Collaborative Agreement in 2002. The agreement called for outside monitoring by the Department of Justice, and enacted several sweeping reforms which are still followed today more than seven years after the Collaborative Agreement was designed to last.

“I think policing needs to change in America,” Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell recently told Bloomberg News in an eight-minute video report. “I think it needs to be different with a different focus. The relationship building that police officers have to do in those communities gives it a certain relationship collateral. People will allow you to make mistakes if they know you and trust you.”

The progress that has been made in Cincinnati is now being looked at as a potential national model for reforming community relations for police forces.

“One of the things that i was most afraid when we finished monitoring was could these reforms be sustained,” explained Saul Green, the monitor for Cincinnati Police Department from 2002 to 2007. “From everything I can tell there continues to be good interaction and good communication.”

While much progress has been made since April 7, 2001, those who pushed for the reforms then are continuing to make sure progress continues to be made.

“I do see some change, but we’re not utopia yet for African Americans and the police department yet,” explained Iris Roley of the Cincinnati Black United Front. “We’re not there yet, but I’m glad we started in 2001 and I’m glad of where we are today. I look forward to going to the Missouris and the Clevelands and New York, and talking with everyday people who care so that everyone is treated fairly…that everyone has an opportunity to fair and unbiased policing.”

Hamilton County Could Plant Four Trees For Every Assault Rifle Received Through DoD Program

The scenes on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri have caused national outrage not only for the racial tension over the killing of a young black man by the local police, but also due to the overtly militarized response to the rioting. The City of Ferguson did not get their military supplies by accident, instead they utilized a government program that sells local police forces these items at a discounted rate.

Beginning in 1997 the U.S. Department of Defense authorized the 1033 program, which allows local police forces to buy surplus military items. The intent of the program is to  help local law enforcement officials with counter-drug and later counter-terrorism efforts. Over 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies participate in the program, and, to date, over $5 billion worth of items have been distributed to local police departments across the country. This includes, but is not limited to, assault rifles, body armor and armored vehicles.

The folks over at NextCity developed an infographic that illustrates what some of these military items could buy in terms of urban infrastructure. It’s easy to see that some of the more expensive items could translate into huge improvements for local public infrastructure repairs and fixes.

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Hamilton County has also participated in the program. The available data covers the last ten years and has a few noteworthy items.

The largest find in the database is a 2006 transfer of 158 5.56mm rifles for $499 each. The rifles have a total value of $78,842. Additionally, Hamilton County received night vision equipment totaling at least $5,795.

Adding even more to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s arsenal, 23 7.62mm rifles, at $138 each, were received for a total of $3,174; and 62 more 5.56mm rifles were received in 2010 at $120 each for $7,440.

In total, the database shows that Hamilton County has obtained a total of 243 assault rifles for a value of $82,760; making it the largest transfer on the list.

While the total amount may not seem like a huge impact on municipal budgets,  it is easy to imagine what even this sum of money could be used for if it was spent on more peaceful projects to keep citizens safe, such as creating more bike lanes, fixing potholes, streetlights or installing stop signs.

One such example locally is that the amount of money spent to give Hamilton County assault rifles could have covered the cost to plant more than 200 street trees.

It is important to note, however, that not all the stuff the county is getting is weapons. Hamilton County has also received medical devices and supplies, clothing, furniture, and other non-combat related accessories from the program.

Republicans Sweep Through Mid-Term Elections, While Liberal Issues Pass With Voters

It was a predictably bad night for area Democrats as their party suffered strong defeats in virtually every race. Republicans retained state-level control by winning Ohio’s seats for Secretary of State, Attorney General, Auditor, Secretary of State and Governor.

John Kasich’s impressive gubernatorial win over Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald has now put the Westerville Republican onto the shortlist of potential candidates to challenge Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. For a sense of how impressive Kasich’s victory was, the incumbent won all but two of Ohio’s 88 counties, including all major urban counties that are typically Democratic strongholds.

Other localized elections in the Cincinnati area were less significant due to the massive redistricting and gerrymandering that occurred in recent years to firmly solidify districts for Republicans.

Democrats and Republicans alike were able to celebrate, however, in the overwhelming passage of Issue 8. The campaign for the so-called Icon Tax got off to a rocky start when supporters felt burned following the removal of Music Hall from the tax against the recommendations of the Cultural Facilities Task Force. The approval of Issue 8 means that a quarter-cent sales tax will go into effect in Hamilton County in 2015 and stay in effect until 2020, providing an estimated $170 million to perform a $231 million renovation of Cincinnati’s historic Union Terminal building in Queensgate.

The big national news was the Republicans retaking control of the Senate. The news was perhaps punctuated by Mitch McConnell’s (R) surprisingly large margin of victory over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. The win now places McConnell – a 30-year Senate veteran – in position to assume one of the most powerful political seats in America as Senate Majority Leader.

During the campaign, both Grimes and McConnell campaigned heavily in Northern Kentucky. In contrast to the Bluegrass State’s other urban areas – Louisville and Lexington – Northern Kentucky voted strongly in favor of the Republican incumbent.

What is unclear as a result of this McConnell victory is the future of the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge project. Both campaigns had focused on project when speaking to Northern Kentucky voters who have pushed back against the idea of using tolls to pay for the project in lieu of waiting for federal funding that has never come during McConnell’s tenure.

Back on the north side of the river, the peculiar race between Cecil Thomas (D) and Charlie Winburn (R) ended in the least dramatic way possible.

The strongly Democratic district was considered to potentially be up for grabs, but Thomas cruised to an easy victory over one of Cincinnati City Council’s two Republicans. This race was particularly intriguing due to the thought that a vacated Winburn seat on City Council would go to a special election in 2015 that would be heavily favored for Democrats, and thus allow for a significant power shift on the divided nine-member council.

In what is perhaps a nod of confidence from voters, Cincinnati Public Schools saw their levy renewal pass with a whopping 70% of the vote. CPS, the area’s largest school district, has now recorded a string of consecutive levy victories following years of significant improvement and national recognition.

For those of you who carry around a Pocket City Charter, a variety of changes to Cincinnati’s Charter through Issue 11, which proponents described generally as housecleaning items. These changes, however, are part of an ongoing effort to update the governing document. It is expected that more dramatic changes are forthcoming, but for now the 213-year-old Charter just got freshened up.

National Results With Local Implications
Going forward, two other issues that continue to move forward nationally, but have yet to come to a head locally include the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage.

Yesterday, voters in Washington D.C., Oregon and Alaska voted to legalize the use of marijuana, while voters in Florida voted against legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This means that six states have now legalized the recreational use of marijuana, while another 19 have legalized it for medicinal purposes.

Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Ohio voters approve of the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but the matter has yet to come to a vote. Meanwhile in Kentucky, a SB 43 died when the Kentucky legislature adjourned in April of this year without taking further action on legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

While not a voting decision, a federal judge in Kansas yesterday also overturned that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. This comes at a time where judges across the nation are consistently ruling such bans unconstitutional. With this decision, same-sex couples now have the legal right to marry in 33 states, with decisions pending in Montana and South Carolina.

In both Ohio and Kentucky, judges have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, but those rulings are currently being challenged and have moved on to higher courts. If the trend continues, as expected, both states will join the group of states where same-sex marriage is now legal.

The night was perhaps best summed up in a single tweet from FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman who wrote, “So voters want a higher minimum wage, legal pot, abortion access and GOP representation. Ok then.”

Indeed.

Covington Estimates It Will Make $516,113 on Parking This Budget Cycle

While Cincinnati leaders would like to see their parking system generate more in revenue than it costs to operate and maintain it, that is not the reality. It is, however, the reality across the river in Covington.

A review of Covington’s recently approved 2014-2015 budget estimates the parking system will bring in approximately $1.6 million in revenue, while costing only $1.1 million for operations, maintenance and upgrades.

One of the largest chunks of Covington’s annual parking revenue, however, comes from lease payments which total about $491,000 – or nearly one-third of the city’s annual parking revenues.

Had Cincinnati followed through with its parking lease agreement, it too would have realized these benefits by offloading expenses and locking in fixed lease payments. Under Cincinnati’s parking lease, the city would have received anywhere from $3-4 million in annual payments from the concessionaire.

In order just to break even, the City of Cincinnati has and continues to defer needed maintenance and upgrades, while also depleting its parking fund.

Covington will also benefit from increased parking rates, which will net the city an additional $68,500 in the first year. Those changes include a 10-cent per hour increase for on-street parking meters, and a $2 per day increase at the RiverCenter Parking Garage.

In addition to on-street parking meters throughout downtown, Covington has 818 parking spaces in 16 surface lots and another 1,574 spaces in three different parking garages.