February 06, 2023

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Public Commenters (18 min)
Lynda Lewis  Vernon Kittrells  Sonya Sanders  Myesha Watkins  Zaynab Shaheed  Ahmad Islambouli 

Lynda Lewis

Councl Member Kerry McCormack: Our first public comment tonight is from Lynda Lewis of Ward 12 who is here to speak about housing. Please remember that you have a three-minute time limit, and go ahead.

Hello. My name is Lynda Lewis. I am president of the Forest City Block Club, which is an active block club for over 75 years. This block club has claimed national attention in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and is currently in a movie, 'House Next Door'.

The concern of the Forest City neighborhood is a house that I have discussed in October at a town hall meeting with Building and Housing, and the mayor, and other departments. This house is in a state of forfeiture for over three years, $65,000 in back taxes, numerous violations and complaints as far back as 2009. Some violations were never being addressed. This house is occupied by several squatters for over a year and a half, with deplorable conditions in and out. Building and Housing and several departments are aware of the problem, and said 'we are waiting for a search warrant and proceed with the motion to vacate and have this property demolish.

These are some of the things we have done. We called 911 hotline, no calls back. October 22, Angela Woodson from City Hall went to the house, no answer. October 22, Chris Alvarado, Director of Slavic Village, went to the location. They wouldn't answer the door. November 20th, Chris Alvarado, Supervisor Building and Housing, Jeff Barcus, went to the house. They wouldn't let them in. They just yelled they were infested with rats. Reports to police, Building and Housing as far back as 2021, with RV in -with somebody living it- in the driveway with extension cords from the house to that RV. Which that RV is still in the driveway. I don't know why because an ordinance has passed that that's not allowed. Several reports for criminal activity to police. This is ongoing. Electric company was called to this house. They have a legal hookup in the basement. I was told they can't shut electric off in the winter. I'm sure this is a fire hazard. Reports to Health Department for rats, debris, garbage, creating a fire hazard, accident, nuisance, and health issues to surviving properties, which include a church in the front of them, seniors and children. July 22. Drive-by shooting, that house next door to them was hit. There was also another shooting in December. October 27th, water was shut off because they were stealing it.

As of today we have no answers, no action to remove these squatters from this house that they should have never been in in the first place. How can the city let this happen and bring fear into an otherwise surviving community. I have pictures and documentation if anybody would like to see that after this meeting. Thank you Council, thank you Council people.

3:19 Permalink

Vernon Kittrells

McCormack: Next I have Vernon Kittrells of the Fairfax neighborhood to speak on distressed housing and vacant lots. Is Mr. Kittrells here? Sir. Please proceed.

Yes. My name is Vernon Kittrells. I live on East 85th Street. Cleveland and East Side neighborhoods where vacancies are high are mostly in the minority neighborhood. Also for children, the conditions of homes and neighborhoods are a major detriment on well-being. At the negatives' extreme, neighborhoods can pose threats to children's health, safety, and educational opportunities.

The negative impacts of vacant and distressed properties extend beyond economic laws. A street with empty, overgrown lights, abandoned houses, undermines the quality of life in the neighborhood, destroys community pride and engagement, and discourages new investment. All of this takes a toll on the physical and emotional well-being of the neighborhood residents. Children and elderly are especially at risk.

The specific health risks include greater risk of injury as people, especially children, navigate along city streets with crumbling buildings, and trash that often accumulated on vacant lots. Also, vacant buildings and overgrow grown lots attract rodents, which increase the risk of disease. Residents may also have a greater risk of mental health problems caused by the anxiety of stress, and the social stigma of living in a distressed neighborhood.

A 2003 study showed that neighborhoods with vacant, boarded-up houses are associated with poor health among residents. Adverse health impacts include reduced life expectancy, an increase in sexual transmitted disease, diabetes, suicide, even after controlling for social economic factors.

Vacancy also affects residents through the health impacts of 'physical disorder'. 'Physical disorder' refers to the visible signs of neglect, and overall appearance that an area is uncared for, and that residents have little or no control over neighborhood conditions and activities. Physical disorder has been linked to a cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse. The theory that a physically disordered environment causes chronic stress, encourages risky behavior, erodes the social connections between neighbors, also anxiety about neighbors conditions, may lead to reduced physical activities or increase drug use. Both contribute to poor health.

The location and extent of vacancy abandonment in Cleveland dating back to redlining, started in the early 20th century, contributed to the neighborhood disinvestment in Cleveland and predominantly in low income and minority neighborhoods.

We need action now and clean up these vacant lots and these distressed homes. Thank you..

3:18 Permalink

Sonya Sanders

McCormack: Next I have Sonya Sanders of Ward 3 to speak about concerns pertaining to Stella Walsh. Please proceed.

Hello, everyone. Well, I really don't have no speech, I only got questions in regards to Stella Walsh. I was- The questions that I have is, who's checking for lead poisoning where kids is playing? When was the last inspection? Who's keeping up the maintenance, and who was telling the kids to come to a swim lesson? They already have to know how to swim. Who is responsible for the wall sockets not being covered? Who is making the set rules for the facility, and where is the set rules to be followed at or where are they hung up at? Why is our rec center the only center with no good programming? Why is the volleyball net hung up with electrical stitching cord? Like, literally. The staff is doing the best they can with the materials that they have. Really sad. The ceiling is caving, and they're not looking up to this, they're looking up to paint falling on them while they basketball playing. They don't have a volleyball net up. I could go to Home Depot and volunteer and do it myself. I don't mind it even with painting. I'll get out there and paint if it takes for the kids. My child is playing in here. They don't have covers for the electrical sockets. Whoever was responsible and let that go on, they need to have a drug test because clearly they're not in their right mind as an inspector.

And who is responsible for the potholes? Literally, that's a duck pond in the parking lot, and the kids don't even have a bike rack to put their bike up safely. Their bikes is in a hallway, that's with the little six kids that is coming, and that's not what Stella Walsh stood for, that's not what her name represents. As a person, that's not the legacy that she left behind, and that's not the legacy that we should carry on in her name. I didn't even get to the other part and I think I ran out of time. I'll be back next week, but still.

And then it's the workers in the facility, and that's not a good work environment for them. And we worried about the turnover rate because who would want to come in to lead poison and water dripping from the ceiling? They got buckets under their ceilings. That's not okay for them. I wouldn't want to work there either. Y'all ain't got buckets under y'all ceiling. These ceilings look real good, too. But it's still like, that's not- that's not fair to them, and it's not fair to the kids in the community. They supposed to have somewhere safe to play at, and why we ain't got no playground? Even in the projects they got a playground, a splash park and everything. We ain't got none of that. I don't know if I'm out of time, but I done lost where I was....

And where is the funding going? I would like for an investigation on that to be started because our money, our tax dollars, can't afford no paint? If we can't afford no paint? We need to be shut down, no pandemic, like seriously, it's that bad. And my child play here. She's two years old. That's not right. And we across the street from the library. We're learning education in the class, gun violence is at an all-time high, why police officers can't come and talk to the kids about gun violence? They got enough when they calling about [unclear]. Thank you.

3:16 Permalink

Myesha Watkins

McCormack: Next we've got Myesha Watkins of Cleveland Heights here to speak about Ordinance Number 99-2023, ARPA funds for violence prevention strategy. Miss Watkins, good evening, please notice the time. Thank you.

All right. Good evening, everybody. My name is Myesha Watkins. I am the executive director of an organization called Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance, which is a violence prevention organization.

However, the [unclear] here tonight is that we are talking about how to develop a community-wide violence prevention strategy, understanding that it's going to take more than just one program in order to address community violence, that is going to take all of us. And it does not matter which part you are from in building an ecosystem, everybody has a part to play, and addressing the underlying issues that lead to gun violence, like what happens before someone picks up a gun. And oftentimes, it's not just community violence that leads there, but what is the interpersonal relationship?

And I think what Cleveland Thrive- what our goal is instead of selling people they do not have a seat at the table, is to invite everybody there so that we can use our strength and our resources and our talents to make sure that the community voice is centered, and developing what safety looks like and feels like in the city of Cleveland, because that has been missing for a while.

So I'm looking forward to council hearing this and the community listening, because we all have a part to play in making sure that our communities are safe for us and our children, and it's going to take all of us to look at a holistic approach to addressing the disease of gun violence in the city of Cleveland. Thank you

1:32 Permalink

Zaynab Shaheed

McCormack: Next I have Zaynab Shaheed of Ward 6 who's here to speak about tobacco retail license. Is Mr. Shaheed here? Oh. Good evening.

Good evening. Thanks for the opportunity to address council, and to support a policy that prevents the sale of tobacco products to youth, and ends the sale of flavored tobacco products in our city. My name is Zaynab Shaheed. I'm a 20 year old student at Case Western Reserve University, and a resident of Ward 6. In Spring 2020, I collaborated with Dr. Erika Trapl from Case as a part of the community- engaged cancer research program. We focused on understanding the wicked problem of tobacco use from a community standpoint. Tobacco use is a critical health issue and serious problem in Cleveland. Tobacco targeting is disproportionately aimed at the African-American community, and now this marketing has been extended to youth with flavored vapes. I lived in Cleveland my whole life and I've seen problems tobacco causes for my community. In school, I attended Campus International High School, which is a CMSD school. There were times I would go to use the restroom and find students discreetly using vapes. I don't think they knew how dangerous these products are and that they are designed to produce a lifetime of addiction. Outside of school on a trip to the grocery store or to the park, I never failed to observe a smoker clenching that cigarette, cigar, or flavored vape. Tobacco is always there. You see marketing for tobacco everywhere, and we see the results in terms of chronic diseases like lung cancer and heart disease. Tobacco is a major threat to the public.

As a resident of Ward 6, and a former resident of Ward 2, as Council President Blaine Griffin, Council Member Kevin Bishop, and all Council to support a tobacco retail license, and end the sale of all flavored tobacco products. We can transform the community by emphasizing better health and addressing inequities. I believe that this is part of my duty, to advocate for the betterment of my city, which is why I stand here this evening as an aspiring doctor of medicine. One of my goals is to participate in public policy, and specifically, to promote health policy that better serves all members of the city. The use of tobacco products, flavored or unflavored, is causing detrimental effects to our community and future generations of Clevelanders. I support a tobacco retail license, and ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products, and ask that you pass this policy. Thank you.

2:52 Permalink

Ahmad Islambouli

McCormack: Next we have Ahmad Islambouli.

All right. Good evening, everyone. My name is Ahmad Islambouli, and I'm a first-year pre-med student at Case Western Reserve University. I was born and raised in Cleveland, and I live in Ward 9. Growing up in Cleveland, I saw this city's thriving life and vibrant energy. However, I've also seen the people around me - my friends, relatives, and family - engulfed themselves in tobacco addiction, which is nothing short of sad, scary, and heartbreaking. It affected not only their health and safety, but the livelihood of those around them.

Now watching a new generation, my friend's younger brothers and sisters, get their hands on these products is truly appalling. I've seen classmates spend all their lunch money on tobacco products. I've heard colleagues cough up their lungs during a basketball game. I'm here tonight to tell you that these products are absolute nightmares. Watching friends and loved ones suffer is something no one should have to go through. What's more, these products are clearly designed to addict the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community. It is no secret that these products were marketed to kids. We all see the flavors like gummy bear, cotton candy, and so on, so why are they still available? These big corporations feed off youth and innocence, hiding concentrated and dangerous chemicals behind bright colors and bubbly fonts. Again, why should this predatory behavior be allowed to continue when we know that the end result is addiction or worse?

Thankfully, there's something that we can do about this as a city, and as a city council, you can take these sickening products off the shelves. Passing a tobacco retail license and ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products will save lives and prevent needless disease and hardship. Your action will also help the future generation of Clevelanders. So if tobacco products and addictions are nightmares, let's wake up. Let's do what it takes to get these tobacco products off the shelves. I want my city to be one of thriving life and excitement, and not one of illness and disease. As I pursue my health care career, nothing horrifies me more than the thought that my friends might end up as my patients. I asked Council to spare future generations from predatory marketing, tobacco addiction, disease and worse, by passing the tobacco retail license and ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products. Thank you, everyone, and have a wonderful night.

2:35 Permalink