Two years ago this month, I announced my intention to seek the position of Mayor of University Heights.
I had never run for office before. I was a long shot, and I have never minded long odds for the right cause. I had the strength of good ideas, and I brought together a team of people who shared these ideas for our city. With good ideas and good people, together we are making the changes we have wanted to see in our city.
Eighteen months into office, we have made progress. Looking back at my blog post from two years ago, “Why I Am Running for Mayor of University Heights,” I listed ten things for us to discuss and work on. Let’s review them.
1. Improvement of public safety and reduction of crime;
On day one, as promised, we replaced the fire chief. We hired additional firefighters and achieved the minimum recommended level for staffing. We reopened the Fire Prevention Bureau, and expanded its mission to include community outreach. We ordered a new ladder truck to replace the unreliable 26 year old ladder truck. The fire department held its first ever open house. We have restored training, upgraded equipment, improved morale, and with all that, improved safety – both public safety and the safety of the firefighters/paramedics who put themselves at risk to serve us. We have a lockbox program for seniors and other residents who’d prefer our paramedics to unlock the door rather than break it down in the event of an emergency. We have applied for grants to restore the smoke detector program. We are training to bring back the car seat program. We are transitioning to ReadyNotify for emergency alerts. Looking ahead, we want to bring back the Community Emergency Response Team, and are discussing whether our neighboring communities might like to work with us to do this on a regional basis.
Turning to police, as reported in this month’s “Heights Observer,” the crime rate in UH dropped 32 percent last year. Under our new police chief, we have opened the Office of Community Policing. We held our first (and on August 6 we will hold our second) National Night Out event. We have hired more police officers, and upgraded our police vehicles.
As your mayor, I now chair the board that oversees our regional dispatch center. It is important to me that the efficiencies gained in regionalizing dispatch do not come at the cost of safety or longer response times in any of our communities. In this role, I am looking out not only for University Heights, but also Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, South Euclid, and Richmond Heights.
We will hold a community meeting with our chiefs, law director, and prosecutor, on August 13th. Even though there is no pressing concern to discuss at this time, we want to keep having this annual meeting to keep the dialogue regular and routine. This is in addition to the open houses and Coffee with a Cop events we’ve had under our administration.
2. Strengthening of our property values, and with that, the implementation of incentives for homeowners to encourage home improvement;
I have worked with City Council to create a citywide Community Reinvestment Area, offering tax abatements to people who invest in their homes. On Day One, we passed legislation requiring banks that file foreclosures to bring property exteriors up to code. With our new prosecutor, we now regularly appear in housing court to enforce violations but also to work with our residents to improve their homes. We partner with the Cleveland Restoration Society, which provides free advice on housing projects, and helps arrange low interest loans for repairs and restorations. We created a grant program to fund up to 90% of a home improvement project, capped at $2,500, to help low income homeowners made repairs to help bring their properties up to code. We transformed the City Beautiful Commission into the University Heights City Beautiful Community Improvement Corporation, to promote home restoration, renovation, and redevelopment. We are working to bring a Residential PACE program to the city to provide low interest loans for energy efficient improvements, with payments that are made with one’s property tax bill. We have offered quality of life improvements, such as composting and rain barrel making workshops, and chicken keeping seminars.
We recently held a REALTORs breakfast, and the news is out. When UH homes hit the market, they are selling faster and at higher prices. We’ve always been the City of Beautiful Homes. The improvements City Council and I have made have helped make University Heights So Much More Than Home.
3. Creation of an efficient and effective city government that helps residents solve problems and is respectful of the communities within our city, and with that, the reestablishment and promotion of citizen committees in city government;
We have done this. Our city government is more responsive. We return phone calls and emails from residents with questions or issues. We are cognizant of the needs and desires of the communities within the greater community, and have endeavored to be thoughtful and respectful. We now have a Communications and Civic Engagement Coordinator who has bolstered our social media presence, and works on constituent concerns. As for citizen committees, some have met and worked on projects or provided input, on communications, on sustainability, on parks and rec, on future municipal facilities, and there is more we hope to do here.
4. Revitalization of northwestern University Heights;
This is underway. City Council has declared public nuisances of two houses and we obtained funding for their demolition, while working with the owners to try to save the houses if possible. We have created new zoning and rezoned several lots for “residential attached” e.g. townhomes. We have begun the eminent domain process with respect to the old KFC property to eliminate blight in this area. We purchased an old pest control building to do the same there. We have held property management accountable for repairing and maintaining fencing behind the University Commons plaza to keep people from loitering and using the plaza property as a cut-through to Jackson Boulevard. We are working with the Cedar-Taylor Development Group to unify the district as a destination. We even moved the corners of the intersection of Cedar Taylor to keep motorists from taking the corner too quickly, improving pedestrian safety. The work is ongoing with more to come
5. Revitalization of all of our business districts, from University Square to Cedar-Taylor, and restoration of lost retail;
We are working with the Cedar-Taylor merchants, with the ownership/management of Cedar-Green, the management of Fairmount Circle. And as reported in the news at the end of June, we are on the cusp of a deal on University Square. Things are happening. Commercial vacancies are at a low. Business is booming. And with the city’s new Economic Development Department, a call from the city is often now a call to see how we can be of service, and not always a call to issue a notice for a code violation. Our first Small Business Saturday was a success, and another is planned. Our new storefront renovation program continues to attract interest and applicants.
6. Improvement of roads, curbs, and other infrastructure;
Resurfacing of Meadowbrook is underway, Washington Boulevard in northwestern UH will follow after the water line project. As promised, we repaved Barrington Road last year for the first time in about thirty years, among additional streets, more than I will name here. We repaved the last portion of Silsby that hadn’t been done, and got it done before last year’s Memorial Day Parade.
We are keeping up on our aging and outdated sewers. Not only have I been working with NEORSD, but last month I went to Washington DC and spoke with the EPA Director of Wastewater Management about the challenges facing not only University Heights, but Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, and South Euclid wherever “common trench” sewers exist, stressing that a clean Lake Erie is a priority we all share and not just these cities, and that federal assistance will be required to meet this federal priority.
7. Improvement of city design to make University Heights friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists;
Construction on the Warrensville TLCI (Transportation for Livable Communities Initiative) is underway, which besides bringing pedestrian islands to Warrensville Center Road, will bring the first mile of dedicated bike lanes to University Heights. This project is funded in part by NOACA. We also sought and obtained CDBG funding for crosswalk improvements and solar powered bus shelters at Cedar-Green, which have been installed. We just made Fenwick and Northwood by Walter Stinson Community Park a three way stop. Last year, in response to concerned citizens, we added a solar powered stop sign at Belvoir and Washington. We have a speed monitoring smart sign that we are moving around the city to remind motorists that most of our streets are 25mph. University Heights was already walkable, but we are making it safer and more multimodal.
In serving on the NOACA board and its Finance and Planning Committees, I can tell you that we have put more projects in the pipeline to improve Cedar Road (from Taylor to Washington, from Miramar to Green) beyond mere resurfacing. We are also working on and I am advocating for projects all over the county, not just at home, but especially in our neighboring communities, like Shaker Heights, South Euclid, Cleveland Heights. Look for these projects in 2021-24.
8.Creation and promotion of health, wellness, educational, and cultural activities for our youth, our families, and our senior citizens;
We have improved the Summer Concert Series, expanded movie night, brought food trucks to the city. We have promoted bicycling in the community (May was bike month). We have Senior Happenings talks every Thursday at 2pm at the UH Library. We entered a new contract formalizing our arrangement with Senior Transportation Connection to help our seniors get rides to the grocery store, the doctor, and other destinations. We have welcomed and encouraged the work and mission of the new Village in the Heights, an organization of volunteers to help seniors, so that they may better age in place. We have promoted our arrangement with Cleveland Heights to allow UH seniors to use their facilities and senior programming for a very low and reasonable annual fee. There is more we can do, and I look forward to hearing from the community to identify where we can make further improvements and meet the needs of our senior community.
9. Development of an image of University Heights, honoring our history while looking forward to the future we want to create for our city;
We have rebranded the city, and the deployment of our new brand continues. The mosaic logo reflects both our diversity and our oneness. The new city magazine Mosaic celebrates the best of who we are and what we do as a community. We have designed new gateway and welcome signs, and these have just been approved by the city’s Architecture Review Board. We ought to have the first of the new signs built and installed before the end of the year.
10. Improvement of our budgeting process, prioritizing the above issues, and determining how to pay for what we want for ourselves and our city.
When we took over, the city’s finance office was in shambles. No bank reconciliations for over a year, years of questionable practices, files in disarray. After giving the existing staff an opportunity to clean it up, we brought in a new staff to undertaking the reclamation project. We pieced together books to pass the 2017 audit, and are working through the transition of a whole new accounting system. We are implementing best practices to get us where we ought to be, to reach that ceiling and then make it our floor. With that, we are preparing a five year forecast, so we may better plan for our capital needs, implement long term planning, and anticipate the resources necessary to deliver the high level of service the residents of University Heights demand and deserve.
We have a City Council election this year. With the filing deadline still ahead, we already have excellent candidates for council. Please consider returning those who helped move us ahead these past eighteen months, together with those committed to furthering our agenda of progress and growth.
Toward all of these ends, I hope you’ll join me at my birthday event on August 7, 2019. We will return to The BottleHouse on Lee Road, where I launched my campaign officially two years ago. There will be a little food, a little beer, a little music, and a lot of celebration of what we’ve already done with a view of the good work that lies ahead.
Together, we will reach new heights!