Thursday, September 19, 2002

City Hall hears it from the west side

We respectfully request: Please fix it ... now!

By Gregory Korte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        West-siders don't come down to Cincinnati City Hall often. But when they do, they make their voices heard.

        A standing-room only crowd of more than 200 residents of Price Hill and Westwood came by car and chartered bus to City Council's quarterly evening meeting Wednesday. Some spoke, but most of them communicated simply by their presence.

[photo] From left, Rob Geiger, Ida Renner, and Gilbert Jones, were among West side residents who voiced their concerns to city council about their neighborhoods.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        Their message was simple: Fix up blight, clean up litter and round up criminals.

        Pete Witte, the Price Hill Civic Club president who organized the grass-roots trek to City Hall, said residents of the west side in particular feel that their concerns aren't being heard in a city preoccupied with the boycott and downtown development.

        “I don't know if maybe they don't believe us, or they don't think we're serious, because nothing seems to be changing,” said Mr. Witte, who's considered a future City Council candidate himself. “If you ask people if the city is better off than a year ago, they say no.”

        Residents spoke to City Council for 45 minutes. Council members gave speeches for another 45.

        Vice Mayor Alicia Reece insisted that City Council was “the most neighborhood-friendly council in years.”

        But when it was over, the residents left only partly satisfied.

        “I'm only interested in seeing action. I'm only interested in results,” Mr. Witte said.

        The things the residents asked for weren't new:

        More police officers to combat a 13 percent increase this year in serious crimes in Westwood and Price Hill through August.

        Tougher litter laws and enforcement, especially along key thoroughfares such as Glenway and Harrison avenues.

        A housing court to concentrate the city's code enforcement efforts into a single jurisdiction.

        “When quality-of-life issues are neglected, when litter is allowed to accumulate, it's like hanging out a sign that says, "Drug dealers welcome here,”' said Edward Nowacki, a University of Cincinnati music professor from Westwood.

        There's been no shortage of proposals to deal with those issues, residents said. What the city has lacked is follow-through.

        “As you can see, we have a lot of caring people in Price Hill. But we need action. We need enforcement,” Price Hill resident Rob Geiger told City Council.

        “It's not because building inspectors aren't doing the job. It's that they don't have the tools in place. It seems like their hands are tied,” he said.

        Council members said they got the message loud and clear.

        Councilman David Pepper said he pays attention to all neighborhoods, but west-side concerns are especially sensitive.

        “I think both of those neighborhoods are bellwethers for our city. When we hear folks like you saying you're thinking of leaving, that should set off alarm bells — because residents of Price Hill and Westwood are as committed as any we have.”

        The presence of a mostly older, middle-class audience at City Hall stood in stark contrast to the usual antics of City Hall protests.

        When it was over, Mayor Charlie Luken thanked the crowd: “It's not everyone who comes to chambers as respectful as you have been.”

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