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Riverfront area's inclusion in Downtown Partners taxing district uncertain

SIOUX CITY -- For the fifth time since 1993, the Sioux City Council is set to vote this year whether to renew Downtown Partners' taxing district for another five years. 

But the inclusion of some land proposed to be added to the district remains up in the air. 

Downtown Partners has proposed to add a handful of new properties this year, including part of Mercy Medical Center -- Sioux City's campus, Doxx Warehouse Bar and the site of Virginia Square, the Rocklin Manufacturing property, and the new Kum & Go at Gordon Drive and Virginia Street.

The group also wants to include land south of Gordon Drive in the area of the Missouri Riverfront, which would allow it to financially support the development of the future riverfront project at Chris Larsen Park.

But city staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission have recommended against including the area south of Gordon Drive. According to city documents, they say since the area is under Iowa Department of Transportation control for the reconstruction of Interstate 29, future uses may not be compatible with the uses of the district. 

Downtown Partners executive director Ragen Cote said within the next five years, work will begin on the city's riverfront development, and the inclusion will help Downtown Partners be supportive of the project. 

"We would at least want hopefully the entire length of the riverfront project (included)," she said. 

The Sioux City Council will hold a public hearing Monday for the renewal of the district. It will then vote whether to direct staff to prepare the ordinance for the district's renewal for a vote at its June 11 meeting. 

Formed in 1993 as a Main Street program, Downtown Partners promotes business interests in the historic core of the city. The organization operates through a self-supported municipal improvement district, in which it levies a tax on property owners within the district and funds a range of activities aimed at fostering downtown revitalization.

That includes financing beautification projects, giving grants to individual businesses for building improvements and sponsoring public events.

The group must request renewal of the district every five years through a petition of property owners. State law requires signatures of at least 25 percent of the taxing district's property owners and a representation of at least 25 percent of the district's land value to move forward with district renewal.

Owners this year have largely favored the renewal of the district, with the owners of 81 percent of the area’s property signing renewal petitions so far.

New parking ramp

In other action Monday, the council will vote on its intention to accept a proposal to construct a new parking garage on the southwest corner of Third and Pearl streets, which would span Third Street and connect to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City. 

The proposed four-story, $11 million structure at 205 Pearl St. would be a joint project between the city and Hard Rock, with both entities covering half the cost. In addition to three floors of parking stalls, it would include 15,000 square feet of first-floor retail space. The city would own the ramp and lease it to the Hard Rock.

City staff say the ramp would provide parking for the Tyson Events Center and the Hard Rock. 

Monday's vote would set in motion the 30-day notice period required for land in an urban renewal area.

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A doll takes a dive
STEM skills help Sioux City elementary students make a Barbie doll a bungee-jumper

SIOUX CITY --  In her 59-year history, Mattel's Barbie has held many different types of professions.

Last Friday, Morningside Elementary School students were able to give the world-famous fashion doll one more occupation to add to her resume: bungee-jumping daredevil.

"The students used mathematics to determine how many looped rubber bands it would take to give Barbie a thrilling bungee ride over the balcony of our stairwell," fifth grade teacher Darla Vander Weil explained.

The correct answer turned out to be 33. 

At least, this was the number of rubber bands fourth grader Peyton Erwin used to bound a Barbie's ankles as classmate Kya Harrington held onto the opposite end of the bungee cord. Kayden Vakulskas was given the task of sending the plastic doll over the edge.

"I have sisters with Barbies at home," Kayden said, with surprising confidence, as the doll took a death-defying plunge. "I've done this before."

"Wow, Barbie went straight down and, then, she bounced a bit with a bungee cord," Peyton said, during the experiment that used linear regression, data analysis and probabilities, in addition to algebraic equations and inequalities.

Only don't tell the kids they were learning stuff. Instead, they were simply having fun with experiments at the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) specialty school.

According to fifth grade teacher Adam Jerome, Morningside classes integrate STEM into all of the curriculum. However, Friday was the first time the entire school participated in an all-day STEM day.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Morningside Elementary student Dane Milton drops a padded egg onto the floor in hopes it would not break during a STEM day Friday at the Sioux City school. All of the school's students spent the day working on science, technology, engineering and math projects. 

While kindergarten, first and second graders constructed cities, made fizzy rainbows and made parachutes out of Marshmallow Peeps, Morningside third, fourth and fifth graders participated in a variety of experiments that included dropping padded eggs from great heights and making hybrid vehicles out of water bottles, balloons, rubber bands and empty paper rolls.

"The hybrid vehicle experiment is all about engineering," Jerome said. "Working on teams, the students had to build a balloon-powered car."

That wasn't too hard for a fifth grade team made up of classmates Parker Rehan, Dean Norby and Riley Hauswirth.

"We all like race cars and want to, some day, become mechanics," Parker said, utilizing the water bottle for a car frame and the empty paper rolls for improvised wheels while his team took turns blowing up balloons.

Parker attached two balloons to the top of a plastic car with rubber bands.

"When you look at balloons, side by side, they sorta look like butts," Parker said as his teammates nodded their heads in agreement. 

Unfortunately, the two balloons released air at a different rate, making their hybrid immobile.

After Jerome told his students to make corrections to their experiment, Parker was inspired to make a change.

Instead of making a hybrid car, he took off the paper roll wheels.

"I guess it's now more of a boat," Parker said.

Doing away with the second balloon, the team's hybrid will be powered by a single balloon. 

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Santiago Padilla, left, and Vincent Robertson, right, blow up balloons as they and teammate Troy Palacios, center, work on making a moving vehicle using a water bottle, balloons, toilet paper tubes and straws during a STEM day Friday, at Morningside Elementary School in Sioux City. All of the school's students spent the day working on science, technology, engineering and math projects. 

As Dean slowly released the air valve from the balloon, Parker and Riley kept their fingers crossed.

To the amazement of the boys, their hybrid actually was propelled by balloon power. At least, it was for a couple of seconds before the balloon deflated entirely.

"It didn't move much," Parker reasoned, "but it was propelled by the balloon."


Giuliani's defense: Confound and contradict

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is delivering confounding and at times contradictory statements as he tries to lessen the legal burdens on his client from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and a $130,000 hush payment to a porn actress.

The former New York City mayor is embracing his client's preferred approach to challenges as he mounts Trump's defense through the media. But it's proving to be a bewildering display.

In an interview Sunday with ABC's "This Week," Giuliani dismissed as rumor his own statements about Trump's payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, said he can't speak to whether the president lied to the American people when he denied knowledge of the silencing agreement and wouldn't rule out the president asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the Russia investigation. Giuliani also couldn't say whether Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, had made similar payments to other women on the president's behalf.

Giuliani said despite Trump's openness to sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation, he would strongly advise Trump against it.

Giuliani also wouldn't speculate whether Trump would end up asserting his constitutional right to refuse to answer any questions that might incriminate him.

"How could I ever be confident of that?" Giuliani said.

During a 2016 campaign rally, Trump disparaged staffers of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for taking the Fifth during a congressional investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state.

"The mob takes the Fifth," Trump said. "If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"

Giuliani also suggested that Trump wouldn't necessarily comply with a subpoena from Mueller, whose investigation Trump has repeatedly labeled a "witch hunt."

A subpoena fight would likely find its way to the Supreme Court, which has never firmly decided whether presidents can be compelled to speak under oath.

Giuliani's aggressive defense of the president in recent weeks has pleased Trump but exasperated White House aides and attorneys and left even supporters questioning his tactics.

"It seems to me that the approach last week of the Trump team plays into the hands of Mueller's tactic to try, at any cost, to try to find technical violations against lower-ranking people so that they can be squeezed," Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who has informally counseled the president, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Giuliani, who was hired by Trump last month, said he's still learning the facts of the Mueller case and the details of Trump's knowledge of the payment to Daniels, who has alleged a sexual tryst with Trump in 2006. The $130,000 payment was made by Cohen days before the 2016 election, raising questions of compliance with campaign finance and ethics laws.

When Trump was asked last month aboard Air Force One if he knew about the payment to Daniels, he said no. Trump also said he didn't know why Cohen had made the payment or where he got the money.

Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump meant that he didn't know about the payment at the time it was made, not at the time the question was asked.

Giuliani said last week that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for that payment and other unspecified items.

Giuliani said then that he first made Trump aware of the payment shortly after joining the case but now says he doesn't know when Trump found out about it. Giuliani told BuzzFeed last week that Cohen had complained after the election about not being paid by Trump for his work in silencing Daniels and that Cohen and Trump then met to work out a $35,000 monthly retainer.

Trump said Friday that Giuliani needed to "get his facts straight" but insisted they weren't changing their story. He has called Daniels' allegations of an affair "false and extortionist."

When asked Sunday whether Trump knew about the payment to Daniels after the campaign, Giuliani demurred.

"I can't prove that. I can just say it's rumor," Giuliani said.

Giuliani also said he wasn't sure whether Cohen had paid off any other women for Trump but indicated it was possible.

"I have no knowledge of that, but I would think if it was necessary, yes," Giuliani said.

Cohen no longer represents Trump, Giuliani said, adding that it would "be a conflict right now." Cohen faces a criminal investigation in New York, where FBI agents raided his home and office several weeks ago seeking records about the Daniels nondisclosure agreement and other matters.

Michael Avenatti, Daniels' attorney, said Sunday on "This Week" that he thinks it's "obvious ... to the American people that this is a cover-up, that they are making it up as they go along."

Legal experts have said the revelation that Trump reimbursed Cohen raises new questions, including whether the money represented repayment of an undisclosed loan or could be seen as reimbursement for a campaign expenditure. Either could be legally problematic.

Both Giuliani and Trump have insisted the payment to Daniels was not a campaign expense.

Giuliani maintained Sunday that the payment can't be considered an in-kind campaign contribution because there was another explanation for it.

"This was for another purpose, to protect him, to protect his family," he said. "It may have involved the campaign. Doesn't matter."

Giuliani said the financial arrangement with Cohen wasn't revealed on Trump's 2017 personal financial disclosure because "it isn't a liability, it's an expense."

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Rick Bertrand discusses Iowa's heartbeat bill on Fox News

SIOUX CITY — Iowa Sen. Rick Bertrand told a Fox News host Sunday he thinks the state’s new anti-abortion law is something that not only Iowans wanted but something people want nationally as well.

The Sioux City Republican appeared on the conservative news talk program "Fox & Friends" to discuss what’s been labeled the “fetal heartbeat” bill, which Gov. Kim Reynolds signed Friday. The law bans most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, often as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant. It instantly became the nation's most restrictive abortion law.

“The first thing I think we need to realize is that this bill was put into place really to challenge the (U.S.) Supreme Court,” Bertrand told host Abby Huntsman. “There’s a lot of us in the pro-life movement that understand that life at conception is where life really begins.”

Bertrand followed up by saying getting this issue back in the court system was the ultimate goal of the bill. He noted that President Trump is a game-changer and the rumored retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s elevated age leaves open an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that guarantees a woman’s right to abort a pregnancy.

“The court is shifting and I believe, Abby, we as Republican legislators need to put more of these bills into the system, so when this court is ready to move they are going to have opportunities to move on this issue,” he said.

Huntsman then asked Bertrand what is his response to women who say this law puts their lives in jeopardy because they may find out about pregnancy complications after the six-week period.

The senator pointed out that this law has some exceptions — rape, incest, "non-sustaining life abnormalities" and other extremes — to the six-week rule. He also knows there will be legal challenges once it goes into effect on July 1.

Bertrand concluded his appearance by saying he thinks other states will follow Iowa’s lead and the country's and the court’s presumed shift to the right will help make abortions illegal again.

“A bill like this is, again, a great day in the life movement,” he said.