Green Party of Northeastern Ohio hosts community meeting in Ohio City
by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, June 2019) Despite living below the poverty level twice in the past decade, David Ellison believes the Green Party provides an opportunity to represent the best hope for America’s future.
“As you may not know, the Green Party is a value-based political party. We are an ecology party that is fundamentally oriented around issues of our environment and for the defense of the ecosystem on earth,” he said opening the Green Party of Cuyahoga County hosted community meeting at Franklin Circle Church on April 30th. “In addition, we value social justice and non-violence, believing that if we can’t be fair and just to one another and find non-violent means to resolve our conflicts that we will not be able to preserve our ability to exist with other life forms with which we share the planet.”
Mary and David Szamborski moderated the discussion with residents from Ohio City, Tremont, Glenville, Gordon Square and other neighborhoods. Recent property tax assessments, rapid new housing construction, diminishing parking for residents, increase violence and theft, and lackadaisical involvement on the part of city officials when it comes to urban planning topped their list of issues.
“Our city council members, board of zoning and city planners are just not listening to us,” said David Szamborski. “Do we have to help them run the government the way its should be? We trusted them but they’re just not doing the job.”
Feedback was collected from the group of about 30 attendees, in the hopes that a ground swell of concern, followed by constructive and useable solutions, would assist city officials in dealing with a myriad of social and economic problems, and possibly offer steps towards healing the divided community. A citywide referendum of focused ideas could potentially help city planners to review policies currently in place to assist and protect residents from predatory practices and unwanted real estate development, according to Szamborski.
Two large easel pads were positioned on either side of the room near where the moderators spoke. Several note takers with black markers jotted down ideas as quickly as they could. They had a hard time keeping up with comments coming from the crowd of mainly retired and senior citizens.
“This is a free form sharing of ideas,” reminded Mary Szamborski. “We’re not going to give any feedback. Whatever you say is your thoughts and concerns.”
Zoning, affordable housing, and demolition of historical buildings were offered as topics to open the discussion. Every idea is a great idea, the Szamborski’s encouraged.
“I’m concerned about drunk drivers after the bars close,” remarked Ellison. Several people agreed with him. The conversation quickly shifted to racial equity.
“We have to look at the starting point of Cleveland which is built around structural racism,” said Mike Fiala, a resident of the near west side. “The city has been colonized and re-colonized for decades. We need racial equity in real estate and urban development. While there is some racial diversity coming into the neighborhood, it’s mostly white people moving in.”
Fiala suggested building alliances to prevent neglect and displacement around places like Glennville where the expansion of University Circle, Inc., for example, has left residents wondering why their political leaders have failed to address their concerns.
Szamborski summarized Fiala’s comments by adding, “You’re absolutely right. We need to be concerned that [real estate] development maintains a level of diversity.”
Zero urban planning and attempts at rezoning were added to the growing list of complaints. Repeated accounts about the Board of Zoning Appeals of approving one variance after another and encouraging development without regard to block club objections raised questions about the current political climate. Political change seems unlikely to affect the existing process, according to one Ohio City resident.
The Green Party of Northeastern Ohio (GPOHIO) disagrees.
The Ohio Green Party had its beginnings in the Green Party of Northeast Ohio in the early 1990’s, according to their website. The Green Party of Northeast Ohio was a recognized local of the GPUSA, the only national Green organization at the time. The Greens became a statewide presence in the campaign to oppose then Governor Voinovich’s plan to place a low-level radioactive waste dump in the State. The Greens formed a coalition with other citizen groups and succeeded in that effort.
According to their mission statement, The GPOHIO exists in order to focus the political power of the people to establish social justice and equity, and ensure the rights of a community-based economic system for all people, among other issues.
But the odds are heavily stacked against Green Party candidates to gain any political foothold in the Ohio Statehouse. Just 4,368 Ohioans voted in the 2018 Green Party primary, versus the 730,245 who voted in the Democratic primary and 875,300 in the Republican primary, according to data from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
None of that matters to residents seeking relief from rising property taxes; they want change and they want it now. And they don’t like bike lanes, either.
“We don’t need them,” said Carol P. from Tremont. “Does anybody know how many people use bike lanes? We don’t need the Community Development Corporations, either. They’ve taken all of the history out the neighborhood and replaced it with new homes and high-rise condominiums,” added the multigenerational home owner. Her family has occupied the same residence for over 100 years. “They want people over the age of 55 out of the neighborhood because we don’t go to the bars and restaurants.”
Alan Forman from the Jones Home Historic District wants a seat at the table when developers and local Community Development Corporations make plans to construct a new building on public lands left over from foreclosure proceedings.
“In our historic district,” Forman said, “we were lucky to have weathered the foreclosure crisis with a loss of only six houses. When a developer came to our block club to seek a zoning variance to install air conditioning units, he did not want to discuss the architectural quality of the new construction. When we asked about the quality of materials, he showed us the cheapest materials possible. When an attorney and a public relations person show up to a block club meeting, not the architect, you know they’re not interested in community input.”
“We were ground zero for the mortgage collapse. Are we just creating another financial catastrophe?” asked Jared Van Wagenen.
Providing affordable housing and keeping neighborhoods socially and economically diverse builds a stronger community most agreed. Tax abatements that expire after 15 years leave the opportunity for property owners to leap from one tax abated property to the next. Some complain that property jumpers avoid their fair share of responsibility for funding libraries, public transportation, maintenance of public roads and parks, emergency services, and garbage/snow removal while enjoying the benefits of living in the neighborhood.
“There are vacant lots in Ohio City where a land trust can work,” said Priscila Rocha, addressing the need for more affordable housing. “That’s a discussion that could work.”
“Funding sources to the CDC’s (Community Development Corporation) dictate specifics results,” added Henry Senyak, chairperson of Lincoln Heights Block Club, recently suspended by Tremont West Development Corporation for failing to comply with a 2018 Tremont Strategic Plan calling for a Clarity Commitment to Inclusion.
“The City of Cleveland has contractual relationships with the CDC’s. There are a lot of strings attached to the funding which is a problem. They need to go back to the grass roots,” he said. “They seek like-minded people on their boards. They need more diversity on their governing boards.”
Arcey Harton is disgusted with the way he has been treated by developers and their construction crews in his Glenville neighborhood. “They don’t care,” he said. “They don’t live and work there. They look at me like I’m belligerent when I ask them to move their trucks off my lawn. They’ve completely ruined it.”
For the Green Party of Northeastern Ohio, democracy possesses the necessary resources to restore itself.
David Ellison’s opening remarks echoed as the room, a makeshift basketball court in the church basement, emptied: “It is our hope this evening, that outside of the inhibitions and prohibitions of government and the non-profit corporations, that we as members of our community can begin to hear what each other have to say and to carry forward our intention of democratic, inclusive discussion and decision making into the future.”