CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — As city officials continue to iron out what qualifies as eligible for nearly $39 million available in federal pandemic relief funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, some residents of the Noble and Taylor neighborhoods have put together their own wish list.
In August, council officially set aside $5 million in ARPA money, earmarking $2 million apiece for Noble and Taylor, plus $1 million for other distressed business districts throughout town and any city workers who were furloughed or had their work hours reduced because of the COVID-19 health emergency and did not get unemployment or compensation for lost benefits.
The legislation was introduced by Councilwoman Davida Russell, who then held a series of her “You Talk, I Listen” community engagement meetings — these specifically for those residents and with separate sessions for each neighborhood.
“These meetings were exclusively for the residents and businesses of these long-neglected areas in order to have their voices and needs heard by the decision-makers who focus on complementing the great community of Cleveland Heights,” Lenora Cruz-Price told council Dec. 6.
Cruz-Price lives in Noble, where she also operated a hair salon for 24 years. She has since moved the business to South Taylor Road.
She introduced a delegation of residents, starting with Gary Bullard, who presented some of the residents’ recommendations, including:
— Lighting and cameras “for safety, safety, safety” in order to deter criminal activities by strategically placing them on street corners, main street sidewalks, parking lots and around local businesses to improve conditions for merchants and customers. Residents would also like to see solar-powered lights.
“These changes will stop criminal activities such as neighborhood burglaries, carjackings, robberies, general theft, as well as improve social commuting and overall safety at night,” Bullard said, citing further concerns for dog walkers and residents, especially seniors, who could benefit from “doorbell cameras.”
— Better ventilation for businesses “to improve health and safety conditions as this pandemic continues to take on the different deadly variants that will obviously be with us indefinitely.”
— Replacing windows to improve safety, ventilation and energy efficiency
— “Signage,” such as murals on windows of vacant businesses to prevent vandalism.
— Business grants: “A portion of the money to be set aside for forgivable emergency business funding and support via grants.”
— Housing grants: “Set aside for forgivable emergency funding and grants for residents with housing issues not attached to their age or income.”
— A Neighborhood Resource Center with paid staff to support the community and businesses in grant writing and in obtaining state and federal resources.
From there, Laura Marks and Don McBride expressed gratitude for the ARPA allocation, hoping the funds could be released immediately for impact on people and businesses in the Noble and Taylor communities affected by COVID-19.
They added that additional items discussed at the neighborhood meetings will be narrowed down and brought back to council at a later date, “in respect to what items fall within ARPA guidelines,” including:
— Parks and playgrounds
— Murals on utility boxes
— Solar roofs for schools and the Noble branch library
— Building on broadband internet access to help bridge the digital divide
“It feels good to see the Noble and Taylor communities now getting involved,” Russell said. “And we just wanted to get these requests on the books by the end of the year. It’s not ‘us against them.’ We have to be one city, and to do that, we have to take care of the most distressed parts of this city.”
Vaccine mandate sought
Appearing before City Council for at least the second time Dec. 6, resident Alan Federman renewed his call for a local COVID-19 vaccine mandate for customers to show proof in order to enter bars and restaurants.
Federman had previously argued that statistics, compiled prior to the recent spread of the omicron variant, showed that major cities with vaccine mandates in place cut the number of cases in as much as half.
On Federman’s earlier appeal to council, some city officials felt it was a potential requirement that should be left up to individual businesses.
This time around, Federman said he had since spoken with eight owners, two of whom were “enthusiastic,” three more “ambivalent,” although they would go along with it, and “the other three, who were worried about losing business.”
At the same time, Federman spoke with two proprietors who already had vaccine mandates in place, who said their business had improved, probably because their customers were less worried about their health and their surroundings as a result.
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