Resident Service Fair To Be Held in West Ridge

West Ridge will be hosting one of three 2017 Resident Service Fairs sponsored by the City of Chicago. The event is scheduled for January 26, 2017, at West Ridge Elementary School, 6700 North Whipple, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. It is the only Fair scheduled for the Far North Side.

The 2016-17 Fairs include four workshops:

  • Introduction to the Home Buying Process and Home Buyer Assistance Program
  • Jump Starting Your Job Search
  • Community Policing
  • Mentoring Opportunities

These Fairs are a great way for the City to showcase how it uses taxpayer dollars. I attended one of last Spring’s Resident Fairs and found lots of information available about City programs for residents of all ages and incomes. City employees were available to discuss concerns and answer questions, and their follow-up was excellent

As you can see from the flyer (link above), the schedule includes a December 3, 2016, Fair at Orr High School, 730 North Pulaski Road, as well as two Fairs scheduled for the South Side. One other event has already been held.

 

People Power & the New Library

A summer of petitions and citizen activism led to last night’s community meeting about the new library to be built at Pratt & Western. A crowd of more than 100 residents was presented with a sheet of photos and renderings showing what might be an approximation of the proposals to be voted on by the community at a later date. As of now, nothing is known for sure except the site, and the alderman promised “many, many more” community meetings to come before she and her staff select the final proposals and present them to the community for a vote on the final design.

Community meetings with the alderman are a rarity, and this is the first one in her six years as alderman where she actively sought real citizen input into the decision-making process. While I’m sure that more than we know is already set in stone, there appears to be room for community input this time.

I am convinced that none of this would have happened had it not been for (a) the LEARN Coalition’s petition for a new library, which garnered more than 2,000 signatures in the last few months and finally got the process moving; (b) POWR’s petition for a referendum on participatory budgeting, which was signed by nearly 125 voters per week in its four-week attempt to make last week’s ballot, an effort which sadly fell short of the number of signatures needed; and (3) Donald Trump’s election victory, which sent a wake-up call to complacent politicians.

People want change, they want input, and they are ready to throw out politicians who aren’t listening.

It’s worth noting that, although the handout from the meeting outlines a two-year process, Eugene Jones of CHA says the Mayor has ordered him to get this accomplished in 18 months.  That would be just in time for the latter stages of the 2018 campaign for the 2019 municipal elections. At this writing, it appears that both Emanuel and Silverstein will be running again, and she is one of his most dependable supporters. A new library is a good talking point for both of them. It’s also proof that politicians can get things done when it’s in their best interests to do so. There’s no motivator like re-election.

Present at the meeting were Ald. Silverstein, Eugene Jones of CHA, Patrick Malloy and Andrea Telli of the Chicago Public Library, more than 100 residents, Sen. Silverstein, and the alderman’s parents.

Residents learned that very little information is available, but there were still some important issues raised. The residents asking questions after the brief formal presentation were sharp and focused, asking about everything from the book budget to parking, traffic congestion, and the layout of the building. Topics covered included:

The LEARN Coalition

Although the alderman still has not mentioned LEARN by name, she did thank signers of the petition for the impact they had on securing the new library. Several residents did thank the LEARN Coalition for its 18 months of work seeking input from the community and obtaining signatures from residents to support community demands for a new building.

LEARN’s Chairman, Tony Martinez, offered the Coalition’s assistance as the process moves forward, noting that “consistent communication” between residents and City officials is vital to the project’s success, as is the need to include as wide a cross-section  of the community as possible in future meetings.

The Building

There will be an architectural competition for the contract to design the new library. How the contractor will be chosen was not discussed.  CHA will own the building; the library will pay “a nominal fee” to rent its space, according to Jones. Although a developer will handle the actual construction, CHA will run the building. However, because HUD doesn’t want to fund libraries, CHA will fund this project, the first of its kind in the country. (See Financing, below).

Silverstein gave the Mayor full credit for the concept of housing atop the library. She said the process “started here” with the petition. At other times she claimed to have been involved in the process for “a very long time.” In response to a resident’s question whether there were any other options for the building, she gave a definite “No, this is the way it was presented to us,” suggesting that her involvement may have been minimal and that other forces may have played a larger role than has been acknowledged.

Once the architects have finished their designs, the alderman and her staff will choose which designs to present to the community for a final vote. Jones noted that West Ridge is “the first one we’re doing” and that the community’s input “will be an integral part of the design process.” He added that “CHA is all about working with the community.”

The number of lots in play is a bit murky, with both the alderman and Jones saying two lots while a persistent resident pointed out that, based on frontage estimates, there would be six city lots involved. Jones said the building designer would “figure it out.” Using the figure of two, Silverstein and Jones said that one lot would be reserved for parking, and the building would be constructed on the other lot.

Most of the building will be given over to senior husing, which will occupy the two stories above the library.

There may be a coffee shop on the first floor. It was not specified whether this would be part of the library space, cut from the library space, or part of the senior housing. It might not be a good idea to invite strangers into senior housing unless there are safeguards for tenants, like security guards or key entry to the tenant lobby.

One resident was met with applause for asking that the building be certified “green.” Another resident suggested attention be paid to wind and tornado resistance as well as the use of tubular skylights.

It has not been determined if the alley behind the development will be closed off. Traffic congestion at Pratt & Western was another resident’s concern, and that, too, was deferred for later discussion.

Financing

CHA will finance the project and will use state tax credits. Silverstein said that TIF monies were not available. “There’s no extra money for the library,” she added.  Jones told the audience that “we’re not starting something we’re not going to be able to finish.”

There are two active TIFs in West Ridge. The Lincoln Village TIF spent $600,000 to create Park 525 at Devon & McCormick. This was essentially to guarantee the sale of the old Cineplex theater to a storage company, the sale being contingent on turning an MWRD parking lot into green space. As I understand it, the Devon-Western TIF pays the interest on the construction of West Ridge Elementary School.

A resident wanted to know about the tax implications of having the library share a building with public housing. Would this result in a tax increase for residents? Jones answered that no property tax increase was expected. Another resident commented that he preferred a library to the shuttered bingo hall that had occupied the site for years. CHA property, however, will be off the tax rolls, while a check of the property records reveals the bingo hall’s owners did pay property taxes.

Jones may have spoken too soon. With such a large parcel added to the growing number of properties in the ward which do not pay real estate taxes, it’s safe to say that someone is going to get an increase. More on this in another post.

Senior Housing

There will be 30 one-bedroom apartments situated on two floors above the library. The photo in the handout (top right) suggests what a typical unit might look like. Each unit will be limited to 1-2 adults age 62 or over; family members will not be permitted to move in. No word yet on overnight guests. The entrance to the senior housing will be separate from the entrance to the library.

There may or may not be one parking space per unit, Jones said, adding “We’ll figure it out.” To a question about whether underground parking might be available for the units, Jones responded “All that is on the table.”

The question of who would qualify for the apartments was not answered directly, with Jones late in the meeting suggesting that “some” local residents may be accepted. Tenant selection will include the alderman and the community, a curious decision. Why should politics play a role in determining who qualifies for an apartment? This needs clarification and discussion.

Politicians and politics should be excluded from the tenant selection process, especially since it is known that CHA has a waiting list for its senior housing. There are both moral and legal questions arising from any decision to favor local residents—especially those with political connections–over seniors already at the top of the waiting list.

Library Features

The new library will be spacious—16,000 sq. ft.—and Telli noted it will include an early learning area; school age area; space for teens; small meeting rooms for the community; shorter stacks, and more public computers. There will be a STEM program similar to that in Albany Park, and the teacher-in-the-library program will continue. Like all new libraries, she said, it will receive an “Opening Day Collection” of 30,000-50,000 “brand new books.”

There will be no specific ethnic collections, Telli said, since the library’s books are chosen to appeal to the majority of users. However, there could be “boutique collections” and patrons are welcome to request books from throughout the system.

Because the new library will be physically larger than the existing library and will offer more programming to various groups, its staff will also be larger. However, it has not been determined if additional senior services will be offered, although there may be more adult services provided.

Telli noted that the library is currently open 48 hours per week; libraries used to be open longer but hours were cut during past budget reductions; however, “we’re always having discussions” about hours and increasing the hours is “absolutely on the table.” Trust me, it will happen.

The Current Library

No one knows what will happen to the current library building. It’s owned by the City, which may repurpose, demolish, or sell it. There are other possibilities for it, and I think the community should have a voice in what happens to it. I suspect it’s already spoken-for, since that’s the way things are usually done around here, but I’d like to see some community discussion around its fate.

Economic Development

The alderman once again noted that she “hopes” the new library will spur economic development on Western, “which we so desperately need.” She’s got that right. As it stands, we’ll be exchanging one vacant building for another.

But, if you think about it, maybe it Silverstein always intended to move the library to Western, which would explain why she refused to permit the medical marijuana dispensary (MMD), with its jobs for veterans and the disabled and its property taxes, to open, and why she had the site secretly rezoned so that no other business could operate there.  The taxi parking lot which the MMD would have replaced won’t be permitted to remain, you can count on that. It will be interesting and instructive to see who buys the site and what gets built across the street from the new library.

There’s never a dull moment in the 50th.

Wednesday’s City Council to Vote on Taxpayer Giveaway–How You Can Help Stop It

This Wednesday, November 16, the Chicago City Council will vote on yet another of Mayor Emmanuel’s taxpayer-funded programs designed to benefit financiers and wealthy neighborhoods at the expense of hardworking taxpayers and poorer areas desperate for investment.

The Chicago Community Catalyst Fund is billed as a vehicle for reinvigorating Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods and helping small businesses. A closer look reveals that the first funding example mentioned is for Lakeview. The Fund’s board would be controlled by the Mayor, and there’s virtually no oversight when it comes to the fees that financiers may charge, or which consulting entities can be hired. The only sure thing is that those without political ties need not apply.

Call your alderman and urge him or her to vote against this sham.

Deborah Silverstein        50th        773-262-1050
Joe Moore                      49th        773-338-5796
Harry Osterman              48th        773-784-5277
Amaya Pawar                 47th        773-868-4747
James Cappleman         46th        773-868-4646
Many thanks to the West Rogers Park Community Organization (WRPCO) for tracking this legislation and providing both the above information and the article (from In These Times, the online magazine) by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa of the Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus.

URGENT! Call for an Elected School Board for Chicago

The West Rogers Park Community Organization (WRPCO) is asking West Ridge residents for help in making an elected school board for Chicago a reality. It has sent an urgent message asking that residents call State Senator Ira Silverstein and urge him to vote for the bill.  WRPCO’s message says it all:
“Chicago has the dubious distinction of being the only school district out of more than 800 in Illinois whose school board ts not elected!  A bill to change that, HB557, will probably be voted on in Springfield on Wednesday, November 16, 2016.  Our (8th District) State Senator, Ira Silverstein, is the second most powerful senator in the General Assembly.  Please spread the word that people should call his office,
773-743-5015 (Chicago) or 217-782-5500 (Springfield) .
Go to  Illinois General Assembly – Senate Members  to find your state senator if you are not in Ira Silverstein’s District 8.  Urge your district’s state senator to push for its passage. “
This bill passed in the Illinois House last Spring by an overwhelming margin. Mayor Emmanuel, who controls the school board, is opposed to it, which is why it hasn’t been called for a vote all these months.
But please call–the more we can do to wrest control of the Chicago schools from the politicians, the better it will be for the city’s students.

CAPS News, Part 2

First, two corrections to yesterday’s post:

  1. Regarding issuing tickets for parking in bus stops along Devon, the suggestion was made that the alderman contact the Department of Revenue, not Finance.
  2. I finally uploaded the “No Trespassing” sign that CAPS is making available to residents. Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way.

no-trespass-sign

The CAPS office provided two sheets of tips to prevent various kinds of theft. These are definitely keepers. The first sheet covers general anti-theft tips and ways to prevent thefts from vehicles; the second offers ideas on how to prevent burglaries as well as auto and bicycle theft.

caps-tips-1-of-2523
caps-tips-2-of-2524

Sgt. Sisk also updated the group about the October 8 shooting on the 2100 block of Devon. Both the shooter and his intended target are in custody; two guns were recovered by the police. The woman who was injured in the shooting is recovering.

The next meeting for Beat 2412 is January 3, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. Location TBD.

Any questions or concerns for the CAPS officers can be communicated to them at the 24th District Community Office (312-744-6321), Caps.024district@chicagopolice.org or Twitter @ChicagoCAPS24

 

CAPS News

There was exciting news at last night’s meeting for CAPS Beat 2412.  Sgt. Sisk announced that the 24th District now has a CAPS Response Team that will “ensure attention to calls that are coming in.” He noted that police are often responding to multiple calls from many locations, so the Response Team was formed to respond more quickly, efficiently, and effectively to calls from residents.

The CAPS office is also making available a free, weatherized “No Trespassing” sign to all residents who request it. Sisk noted that under current law, an intruder on private property cannot be arrested unless a “No Trespassing” sign is posted on the property.  The sign is in red, white and blue, carries the logos of both CPD and CAPS, and carries the line “24th District Police – Call 911.” Unfortunately, for reasons known only to Adobe and Word Press, I was unable to upload the PDF supplied by Office Moore of the CAPS office. I’ll try again later.

A small number of signs is currently available, but more are on order. In the meantime, if you’d like a sign, email the CAPS office: CAPS024District@chicagopolice.org

Items discussed at the meeting included trailer trucks parking in alleys (they will be ticketed), the number of tickets a vehicle needs to have outstanding before it’s booted (two), and vehicles parking at bus stops on Devon (Sisk asked the alderman, who was present, about contacting the City’s Department of Finance to hand out tickets).

Also discussed was the 7-day rule for vehicles parked on the streets (more on this in another post), and the need for crossing guards at neighborhood schools.

It was a great meeting.

 

A Peaceful Sunday Bus Ride, and Then….

After attending Sunday’s screening of “Count Me In,” I boarded a #155 bus home.  I was about to witness some ugly behaviors, verbal and threatened physical attacks, race-baiting, anti-immigrant rants, and needless escalation of a senseless confrontation. I would also witness acts of courage and selflessness by the driver and an unknown young man, both of whom prevented what could have become a tragedy.

As usual, the bus filled up at the Loyola el station. This has become more of a problem as waits for the bus have grown longer, and the bus was standing-room-only as we drove to the next stop, where a few more people boarded.  The driver calmly began telling waiting riders at the following stops that her bus was full, the next bus was no more than five minutes behind her, and that she absolutely could not take any passengers with walkers, canes, or strollers. Some people boarded anyway, knowing that five minutes to the CTA could mean a thirty-minute wait to a passenger.

But a truly nasty woman already on the bus, standing at the front door, began verbally harassing those waiting outside, repeating the driver’s words and adding a few comments of her own, such as “Can’t you people understand English? Why you livin’ here if you don’t know what ‘don’t get on the bus’ means?”  She began cursing at people who brushed against her; after telling people that if they weren’t citizens they should get off the bus, one young man cursed back. The woman became uncontrollable, saying that she had a knife and knew how to use it, “..cuz I’m from the South Side and we don’t take no shit….” She had a knife? The idea was terrifying. She seemed determined to create an opportunity to use it, or to start a free-for-all.

This verbal confrontation continued for several stops, made worse by other young men  cursing back at her and an irate man in the middle of the bus cursing at the driver, demanding that she get the woman off the bus and move the vehicle. The woman apparently thought his curses were coming from the first young man, and ran out the front door and in the back, which another young man held open for her, thus preventing the driver from leaving the bus stop.  The woman then began moving toward the first young man, telling other passengers to get out of her way or they’d get “a bellyful of lead.”  She kept repeating that she had a knife. The irate man, who stood between her and the first young man, removed his scarf, wrapping it around his hands like a weapon, clearly a warning that she should not continue to try to push past him.

Several passengers called the police. Others left the bus, afraid of the escalating confrontation. Next to me sat a terrified young Muslim woman with her two daughters and a baby in a carrier. She didn’t speak much English, and may not have understood the vile words being tossed around, but she was clearly frightened for her children. The angry woman was at one point less than two feet from the elder daughter, who was no more than five years old. Passengers were now shouting back at the woman and at the man who had been yelling at the driver, and the situation could easily have turned dangerous, especially since the young man who had held the rear door open for the woman was now in the front of the bus, and he and she were calling the other passengers the N-word.

The driver was physically trapped behind her protective window, but she had the calm, good sense not to respond to the curses being thrown at her by passengers unfamiliar with protocols that require her to wait for police. I sat right behind the driver and heard her in communication with her supervisors; she did everything right. She quietly moved passengers blocking her entrance into the bus aisle and quickly surveyed the situation. The angry woman had by then exited via the back door and stood outside, cursing.

At this point a tall young man began calmly moving down the aisle, closing the back door so the woman couldn’t board again, then speaking quietly with the irate man and persuading him to calm down, and somehow making his way to the front door, where he stood calmly; the woman and her supporter left after a few more curses. As he made his way through the bus, more passengers left. This young man then moved to the back of the bus as if nothing unusual had happened.

The driver had to wait for the police, and more people left the bus. After the driver met with the police, we moved a few blocks and then were told the bus would go no further and the driver would help us board the next bus.

The rest of the way home I thought about how an entire busload of people were endangered by the deliberate actions of two people looking for trouble, the unthinking reactions of two others to taunts and racially-motivated attacks, and the good sense and selflessness of two individuals who took responsibility for the safety of the rest of us. I wrote to the CTA to tell them how well I thought the driver handled the situation.

I don’t know who the young man is, or I’d send a letter praising him, too. I’m thankful he was on the bus. His parents raised a fine young man.