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Lead Safety Advocates React To Cleveland's Plan

Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH) says it is encouraged to be on the same path as the Cleveland City Council to mitigate lead in houses, but the group believes the current draft proposal may be unconstitutional.

CLASH attorney Rebecca Maurer says the group changed its stance on proposed fines for landlords after a case in Bedford was decided by a federal court in Cleveland "which made very clear that a criminal penalty structure similar to the one the city has proposed is actually going to face a very significant constitutional challenge.

"As a result of it, when we updated our petition language, we very clearly put in a different structure that begins with civil penalties and only moves up to criminal penalties after there has been a warrant obtained on the property," Maurer said.

Maurer added the city's plan, introduced Monday, doesn't move quickly enough.

"What we've seen from the city's legislation is that their plan is to begin with some properties and some locations on March 1, 2021, but the entire city is not actually covered until two years later, March 1, 2023," Maurer said.

Another issue is the typically slow response from the city when they receive public information requests. CLASH argues lead assessments should be more accessible and not subject to a formal request.

"We envision a world where Clevelanders can pull up their phone when they're out looking for a property, search an address and see whether or not that property is lead safe or not," Maurer said.

CLASH organizer Milo Korman says members are again gathering signatures targeting the March 2020 primary for a ballot issue to create a new program protecting tenants from lead paint. Petitions with more than 10,000 signatures were tossed out by the council clerk in April on the grounds that the petitions lacked a boilerplate sentence warning that election falsification is a felony.

"If we don't see a bill passed, headed to enforcement that meets our criteria for what we consider fighting lead poisoning, then we will continue and put that choice in front of the people of Cleveland," Korman said.

CLASH hired a Columbus law firm specializing in elections to ensure these petitions were valid. 

Former city councilman Jeff Johnson, now with CLASH, believes with enough lead assessors and grants for landlords, the city can move quickly.

"I know I've seen it with what we've done with the Republican Convention," Johnson said. "I saw what we've done when we bring all-star games here and what have you. I know what it takes, I've been there. When we wanted the Q Arena deal done, I've seen it done within 60 to 90 days."

CLASH also pointed out differences between its proposal and the city's, such as including day care centers in lead safe testing and the inclusion of renters, healthcare professionals and parents of children affected by lead on the oversight board.

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