About 50th Ward Follies

This blog began on New Year's Eve of 2014, and was created as commentary on the 2015 aldermanic election. I redesigned the blog in April of 2015 so that, in addition to commentary on the ward's political (mis)adventures, it would highlight the ward's success stories. In April I also incorporated a community organization, POWR (People of West Ridge) NFP, whose sole purpose is neighborhood improvement. You can visit POWR's Web site at Peopleofwestridge.org For the record: POWR is nonpartisan. 50thWardFollies is not. POWR is not a membership organization but is focused on raising awareness and conducting research while helping residents organize around issues of specific importance to them.

The Alderqueen Strikes Again

Like many of you, I received the alderqueen’s newsletter on Wednesday of this week. As usual, it displayed a couple of pictures of Herself enjoying her favorite job activity–having her picture taken.

Like many of you, I missed the community invitation to the official ribbon-cutting of the new Bernie Stone Park at Devon & McCormick. At least Bernie’s family was invited. But Rahm and the alderqueen share a disdain for ordinary folks (you know who you are) and neither of them missed any of us. Rahm clearly doesn’t like to spend any more time in the 50th than he has to. He was in and out of the official groundbreaking for the park so fast that the few people in attendance didn’t know the “event” was over til he rushed away. And Queenie hates mixing with her constituents. Watch for the ribbon-cutting picture to surface in next year’s election campaign.

The newsletter also pictures the alderqueen with the principal of Decatur School. Regular readers will remember that West Ridge nearly lost the school to Rogers Park just last year, and Queenie didn’t lift a finger to help save it. But, in preparation for re-election, she’s suddenly the school’s biggest cheerleader.  That picture, too, will no doubt be used in the campaign to show her support for education.

Here’s what the newsletter didn’t tell you: The owner of the new Hindu temple on Devon managed to get a family member, Jayesh Shewakaramani,  appointed as a Commissioner in Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), otherwise known as Devon Avenue. This is a special taxing body that assesses a 1.5% extra property tax on all property owners on Devon from Kedzie to Damen and on Western from Granville to Arthur. The temple, now officially declared a religious institution by the Zoning Board of Appeals (only in Chicago!), is exempt from the tax because the temple pays no property taxes. This is true even though the temple’s owner has admitted that the temple is intended to boost the other businesses he owns on Devon.

The appointment was presented to the City Council for approval at last week’s meeting. Interesting, because the SSA’s January 2017 minutes list him as a commissioner already. His status was changed to “Commissioner Applicant” for subsequent meetings. You see how well things are planned in advance? Approach the alderman for support; announce that you are bringing the community together by creating a religious temple that will boost your commercial interests; get a relative on the SSA; abuse residents with “religious” performances next to residential housing, have this abuse enforced by police protection ordered by the alderman.

Only in the 50th Ward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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West Ridge #3 in Rat Complaints in Chicago

According to today’s DNA Info, West Ridge ranks third in rat complaints in the City of Chicago. Of the 46,879 resident complaints about rats in 2016, 1,529 came from West Ridge. The 2017 City total is already 1,500 complaints higher than 2016.

The article notes that the areas with the greatest number of complaints also have the highest-density population, the greatest number of restaurants, and the largest amount of trash. Construction also plays a role. To be fair, West Ridge includes parts of the 40th and 48th Wards as well as the 50th.

But doesn’t Devon Avenue immediately come to mind?

 

 

 

 

Does Devon Need a Hindu Temple?

The owner of Shree Ganesh Hindu temple at 2545 Devon Avenue has applied for a special use permit that would officially make the storefront temple a religious institution and allow it to operate on Devon Avenue regardless of its impact on the neighborhood. The temple and the alderman took care not to alert neighboring residents and will present  the community with another done deal after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) rules in the temple’s favor. This is a foregone conclusion–the alderman backs the plan, yet another example of the way democracy works in Chicago, the ZBA, and the 50th Ward.

Building a Hindu Temple on Devon is a very bad idea and should not simply sail through the approval process without community input.

Understand, I am not opposed to the Hindu temple itself. But Devon is the wrong location for it, it will create severe traffic and parking problems, and the hundreds of tourists who are expected to drive here daily for photo ops will worsen the already heavy air and noise pollution that hang over Devon like clouds some days. It will also drive traffic into residential areas already overburdened by drivers who park haphazardly and shoppers who throw garbage everywhere. Why not build it on Western, which has ample vacant lots for a temple and parking? On a lot that would showcase the 40-foot high rooftop addition and make it easier to photograph without halting traffic?

Oh, wait. When plans were first announced for the temple in late 2016, the daughter of the temple’s owner suggested that only about 150 people would be  expected on a daily basis, about 50 of them living within walking distance. However, she did state clearly that the temple is intended to attract hundreds of tourists to Devon’s Indian shopping area, thus making the temple less about religion than about commerce. Although the family claims that a Hindu temple is needed to bring the community together–this was actually said with a straight face by the temple’s lawyer–its purpose is clearly to draw customers to its owner’s four other businesses.

Despite claims by the temple’s owner that Hindis are increasingly moving to West Ridge, in fact, according to the 2010 U.S. Religious Census, the Chicago Metropolitan area (defined as Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin) claims only 6,000 Hindu adherents out of a total population of more than 9.4 million people. According to The Pew Research Center’s 2008 Religious Landscape Study, only about 1,300 Hindu live in Illinois, or less than 1% of the population. Less than .7% of the U.S. population identifies as Hindu.

What the temple’s owner hears is not a great clamor crying out for community, but merely the ka-ching of his own cash registers.

I might add that the temple used the Republic Bank parking lot, not zoned for religious observances or public performances, to celebrate the end of yet another unannounced (at least to residents) festival held over Labor Day that required setting up four loudspeakers blasting dance music into the homes of residents living just ten feet away.  The affair had the alderman’s full support. The current festival that began on September 21 is scheduled to end on September 30, Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish high holy days. I wonder if Hindu celebrants will set up loudspeakers again to celebrate the triumph of good over evil while others are observing their holy day in quiet prayer and contemplation. Maybe the temple’s business angle gives it immunity from legal obligations and niceties like consideration for others.

You’d think that an additional couple of hundred more cars per day clogging one of the most congested streets in the City would be cause for concern. You’d hope that air quality for residents, including children attending schools located within a block of Devon, would be a priority. You’d assume that ample parking for the vehicles of hundreds of camera-laden tourists would be part of the planning process.  You’d want to know if they’ll be arriving in sedans or RVs. You’d think the impact on nearby residential streets and alleys would be studied. You’d think the community would be invited to consider the problems inherent in placing a temple smack in the middle of a commercial strip surrounded by thousands of dwellings, schools, and senior citizens.

Ha!. This is the 50th Ward.

No traffic, parking, or environmental impact studies are planned. Neither are any community meetings.

You see, Debra Silverstein doesn’t care if the temple has a negative environmental or quality of life impact on the community. She’s never cared much for the southeast end of the ward, and my guess is that it will be ceded to another alderman with the coming ward remap. The formula is simple: election 2019; census 2020; ward redistricting 2021.  She isn’t interested in economic development, either, and the Indian merchants and property owners along Devon run the show, such as it is. Why not build a temple? Let Joe Moore or Harry Osterman or Pat O’Connor deal with the consequences. It won’t be Silverstein’s problem any more.

But the way she went about it should be remembered by every voter in 2019. It’s time for the voters of the 50th Ward to stand up against Silverstein’s secret deals, her unilateral decisions benefiting special interests at the community’s expense, her disregard for residents’ quality of life, her lack of transparency and penchant for secrecy, and her lack of interest in economic development.

Devon Avenue doesn’t need a Hindu temple.

But West Ridge needs an alderman with a vision, a plan, and a talent for leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Securitization Structure”???

Since Ald. Silverstein does not report to the community about City business, I read the newsletters produced by several other aldermen who aren’t afraid to tell their constituents about issues pending in their wards and before the City Council. This week, thanks to  Ald. Scott Waguespack’s newsletter, I learned that the Council will vote in October on a proposed refinancing of City bonds using sales tax revenue held in a “securitization structure” created for that purpose. Let me quote Ald. Waguespack’s report to residents of his 32nd Ward:

“I also want to provide you with this presentation on a new financing scheme we are voting on in October. This scheme would appropriate all Chicago sales tax revenue to this new “corporation” or special entity to refinance about $3 Billion in bonds.  Since there were no known downsides provided during our briefing, we’re reviewing the scheme and welcome any input.”

The words “no known downsides” should strike terror into the heart of every Chicago taxpayer. There are unpleasant surprises lurking, you can bet, and most of them won’t surface until the plan is approved.

Read the plan for yourself. And if you have any questions or suggestions, don’t bother Ald. Silverstein. She doesn’t like constituent input.

Contact Ald. Waguespack: 773/248-1330  OR  ward32@city of Chicago.org

Illinois: Your Share of the Debt is $50,400

One of the best organizations trying to hold public officials accountable, Truth in Accounting, released its current Financial State of the States report (FSOS) today.  It’s bad enough that TIA reports that “41 states do not have enough money to pay their bills.” It’s worse that our state’s debts exceed the value of everything the state owns.

Illinois owes $235.9 billion; its assets total $25.5 billion.

State officials are still hiding the true costs of retiree health care, and this will be as big a bombshell as the pension crisis.

Next year is an election year, with a state primary in March and a general election in November.

If this isn’t a call to citizen action, I don’t know what is.

 

Historical Society Cookbook Available

West Ridge Cook Book
The Rogers Park – West Ridge Historical Society will be celebrating publication of its new cookbook at Indian Boundary Park on October 22 from 1-4 p.m. The book, “A Taste of the World in One Neighborhood: The Varied Cuisines of Chicago’s Far North Side,” is a compilation of recipes submitted by area residents and former residents. Tickets for the event are $30 for adults; $15 for children ages 6-17 (children under age 6 free). The book itself costs $15 if ordered in advance, and $20 if ordered on or after October 22. Contact the Society for more info: info@rpwrhs.org or 773/764-4078.

 

Sculpture at Park 526

Have you seen the sculpture proposed for Park 526, the former theater at Devon & McCormick that will be named for former Ald. Bernie Stone?   Frankly, it just doesn’t appear to have any connection to our neighborhood.

[I think the alderman may have been a bit confused in her newsletter announcement, which stated there were three different proposals for the sculpture; it’s actually one piece with three parts. How closely is she working with DCASE if she doesn’t know that?]

The artist, Bernard Williams, is a highly acclaimed muralist and sculptor, but I think his design misses the mark. Intricate patterns may well fall upon the ground, but does this really “…suggest the complex nature of 50th ward community” as he says? The patterns may be found worldwide, but the piece itself could be placed anywhere in the City. It is not particularly evocative of West Ridge. Indeed, it resembles one of those pieces of generic “public art” that people simply don’t notice as they rush to and from work, lunch, and home. Don’t we want something memorable that captures the spirit of West Ridge?

I wonder why the commission wasn’t given to one of the many talented artists who live in the neighborhood who might have expressed the soul of West Ridge in a more distinctive way. Capturing and reflecting the neighborhood’s complexity is perhaps better accomplished by an artist who experiences that complexity every day. Maybe waiting to see if the park is used and who will be using it would have been a good idea. Given its distance from the rest of the neighborhood, the bridge crossing, and the decision not to include playground equipment, it could become little more than a landscaped vacant lot. Let’s hope not, but let’s not rush the artwork.

There’s no end to the goodies we’re going to see between now and the February 2019 election. The completion of the Devon streetscape, the opening of the new library practically on election day (you know it will be a polling place, just an added reminder of which mayor and which alderman brought it to the ward), and a sculpture in Park 526! The Wizard of Oz couldn’t have done it better.

Alas! No viable challenger in sight; none likely to surface, and the usual Munchkins lining up.

Time to find those ruby slippers.

“Between States” – The Chicago Architecture Foundation Project

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF)  invited West Ridge residents to be part of an exciting new experiment in urban design that will be showcased at CAF’s second Biennial Exhibit beginning in September and lasting through January 2018. The last such event, in 2015, drew 250,000 visitors to the Chicago Cultural Center, with another 250,000 attending CAF events in other venues throughout the City.

The theme of this year’s Biennial is “Between States,” that is, moving from one state of being to another. Every ward in the City of Chicago has ts own project, its own opportunity to shine. The project for the 50th Ward involved imagining new uses for a local strip mall.

Architect Jay Longo, a resident of our ward and a principal with the firm Solomon, Cordwell,  Buenz, selected the strip mall located on the northwest corner of Granville and Western for this project.  His vision was informed by two workshops with local residents and business owners, who imagined the mall transformed into housing, a commercial urban garden, and a plaza lush with green space and flowers, perhaps enriched by a mural and a neighborhood marker. The final rendering will reflect the shared dream resulting from this active, creative collaboration between a neighborhood architect and members of the West Ridge community.

POWR (People of West Ridge), was selected as the project’s community partner and, together with Jay’s research partner, Cheryl Dahle, CEO of FlipLabs, coordinated input from 50th Ward residents, input that we believe could be the start of a long-overdue conversation about economic development throughout the 50th Ward, currently home to too many vacant lots, vacant stores, and vacant buildings. While it’s important to begin the process of revitalizing all of our commercial districts, the project focused on a small part of Western Avenue, a street in search of an identity. Anchored at both its Granville and Howard ends by half-empty strip malls, a street littered with vacancies, empty buildings, and unused lots, Western presents an opportunity for the community to reflect on and discuss what kind of overall development best serves West Ridge now and into the future, and to plan ways to achieve its collective vision.

Note that no actual demolition or building will take place. This project is conceptual only. No businesses will be displaced, nor are there any plans for future displacement. The point of the project is not to solve urban problems, but to demonstrate how good design and good architecture contribute to community life. The project is designed to stir the imagination, to awaken an awareness of new possibilities, and to create new ways of observing the public and private spaces in which we live and work every day.

Jay will present renderings of his project at several community meetings to be scheduled in September.  Copies of his rendering will also be on display at several locations throughout the ward, and a copy will be presented to the alderman for her office. The meetings will be open to discussions about the project and the ongoing research into economic development opportunities in the 50th Ward. Resident participation in these discussions is a critical. Good planning starts with solid research, and that research includes open community conversations about the kinds of sustainable development residents want as well as a hard, realistic evaluation of existing possibilities and constraints.

The community meetings will be announced as soon as dates are finalized. In addition, there will be walking tours of the neighborhood and other activities to attract visitors. Who wouldn’t want to come to West Ridge for a tour of our lovely historic district, or  a stroll through one of our beautiful parks, and end the day with a meal at one of our many restaurants? It’s an opportunity for us to show off our architectural heritage as well, our beautiful churches and synagogues, and our beautifully landscaped residential areas. If you have a special place you’d like visitors to see, feel free to email us at HopeComm@gmx.com.

To ensure that the community outreach for the CAF project included a wide variety of people representing the diversity of our neighborhood, POWR enlisted the help of individuals and organizations who became the founding members of the HOPE Committee, a group committed to the long-term goal of working with the community to create sustainable economic development throughout the ward.  Please see the HOPE Committee page on POWR’s Web site for the names of the groups and individuals who together made this project possible. The Committee also has its own page on POWR’s Web site while HOPE’s own site is under construction.

West Ridge residents can look forward to an exciting opportunity to work together with neighbors, students, organizations, and business interests to help create the 50th Ward of the future. Our section of Western Avenue, the longest continuous street in Chicago, stretches more than 15 blocks. Similar opportunities exist on Touhy and on Devon, on Lincoln and on Howard. This project is just the starting point.

I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

India Independence Day Celebration to Ignore Laws, Disrespect Neighbors Again

Completed audience and soundstage set-up for 2015 India Day celebration in Republic Bank parking lot. Note that soundstage is directly in front of residential housing, separated only by an alley.

Photo of the 2015 concert. Note how the stage is set directly in front of housing. There’s no good place to put the stage, since there’s housing on both sides of the lot, and the extreme noise cannot be contained but can be heard for blocks and blocks. You know the alderman would never permit this where she lives.

One again the Federation of Indian Associations has arrogantly decided to break Chicago laws so that it can force its celebration of Indian Independence Day on West Ridge residents. Once again it has decided to stage a concert in the Republic Bank parking lot, even though the lot is not zoned for public performances, has no PPA (public place of amusement) license and cannot obtain one, and is located an alley’s width from residential housing, far less than the 125 feet required by law. The committee planning the event has also failed to give neighbors the legally mandated 30-day notice of the planned event, a failure that prevents neighbors from voicing any objections. The event is, however, well-publicized in Indian news-papers, with full-page color ads and photos of invited Illinois politicians–the governor, the mayor, the alderman and Ira–as if inviting them makes such arrogance acceptable. None of them will show up but all will issue mawkish pronouncements about the importance of the Indian community to American democracy.

This is especially galling because Devon’s Indian business community, with only one exception, couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge–let alone celebrate–American Independence Day just six weeks ago. Not a single American flag, not one banner, not one sign in any window acknowledged the birthday of the country that has given Indian-Americans such opportunities. It’s absolutely disgraceful that taxes paid by the very residents the FIA abuses are partly funding this celebration of the independence of a foreign country when not one cent was spent to celebrate July 4.

You’d think a business community first welcomed to the 50th Ward in 1973 would be established enough to celebrate in one of our lovely parks instead of a parking lot.

You’d think the heirs to one of the world’s oldest civilizations would know how to behave, to show others the respect they demand for themselves.

You/d think that a community that makes up only about 8-10% of West Ridge would be more sensitive to its non-Indian neighbors.

You’d be wrong.

The Pakistanis gather in Warren Park for the party after their parade. One look around Devon will tell you how much respect the Indian shoppers have for our community, as the streets and planters fill with garbage, residents exit buses in the middle of the street because Indian shoppers arrogantly park in bus lanes and crosswalks, and every new seating area is stained with spittle.The organizers of this selfish event seem to think that, having taken our major shopping street away from the community without a fight, they are entitled to control everything else they want, especially if it will drive non-Indian residents out of the neighborhood.

The noise level of the concert will be 120-150 decibels, comparable to jets taking off on a runway, This is scheduled to go on continuously from 2-7 pm. If the FIA organizers played by the rules they would have completed an application from the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and provided a written response to this question:  “Will electronic sound amplification equipment or a public address system be used at the event? If yes, Indicate, on the Site Plan, the location of the stages and sound systems, the location and direction of all speakers, and the proximity to residential addresses.” The application also asks for the hours during which the amplified noise will occur, and what plans the organizers have for controlling the noise. What application? What site plan? What residential addresses? It’s our independence day! We’re entitled!

What kind of people would be so callous and insensitive toward others that they would deliberately inflict such noise? What kind of public official would permit it? And what is the bank’s responsibility to residents? Any decent person has to be appalled by the blatant disrespect for both the law and the residents that FIA organizers demonstrate every year.And let’s not forget the alderman’s callous indifference to what they’re doing. I once called the police to stop the noise, and one of the organizers told them that the alderman knew all about the event and to call her office. The cops left without doing anything.

My mother used to say that there’s nothing you can do when you’re dealing with people without a conscience. She was right. Clearly, FIA has none. Suggestions that FIA treat others the way it demands Indians be treated will have no effect. Pure political clout is being displayed here, and it’s meant to be seen.

And the alderman? Her gutless non-response to the excesses taking place on Devon every day will be another in an increasingly long list of failures that will become  campaign issues in 2018.

Insults like this event matter more in the long run than all the libraries in the world.

 

The 2018 Campaign Begins

Don’t tell me that the 2018 campaign hasn’t started yet. The alderman has redesigned  both her newsletter and her Web site, and the campaign’s first mailer, disguised as an invitation to a Town Hall meeting, has been sent to residents. As usual, Silverstein’s “Town Hall meeting” does NOT involve her reporting to her constituents what she’s been doing at City Hall, but instead features the ward’s two police commanders and focuses on crime, a tried-and-true topic for her. Raising fears that West Ridge trembles under an onslaught of criminal activity and that she is closely involved in advising the police is just another tactic in what’s sure to be a no-holds-barred attempt to keep  herself in power.

What other alderman would proudly proclaim that, after seven years in office, she’s added a date and topic headings to the ward’s newsletter? Who reads it? Ward residents who want to know what’s going on in City Council have to read some other alderman’s newsletter. She never reports to her constituents on how she voted on any City issue. Did you ever read her announcements of meetings or reports from the Ward’s Zoning Advisory Committee? Neighborhood Housing Advisory Board? Neighborhood Business Alliance? No. Those things don’t exist in the 50th Ward. Citizen participation in ward governance scares her. She won’t consider citizen input unless she can pack a board with supporters–and even then, she won’t tell the community who she’s appointed. Her Library Advisory Board is a case in point. Created March 17. Sworn to secrecy.  Nobody’s business who’s speaking in behalf of the neighborhood.

The Web site is now easier to navigate, but it’s the same old stuff. The Gallery may as well be retitled the Silverstein Family Album; it’s bursting with photos of the alderman, the alderman and Ira, the alderman at meetings, etc. Watch for most of these to be recycled into additional campaign pieces.

And then there’s crime. A sure-fire way to get the populace involved. There’s been a rash of thefts from unlocked cars and garages. There’s graffiti. This is not big-time stuff. The murders on Devon last year didn’t elicit public comment or meetings from the alderman. But careless people who don’t lock their doors deserve police time and attention? The fact is that West Ridge is one of the safest communities in the City. We shouldn’t have to be told by the police to behave with common sense and pick up and lock up after ourselves.

A true Town Hall meeting would require the alderman to engage with her constituents. Give-and-take, as long as it takes, not the standard one hour she can spare once or twice per term. It will never happen.

So far the usual collection of marginal opponents is surfacing, so she’ll be sure to repeat the tactic that worked so well for her in 2015–the “I’m too swell to stand in the room with write-ins, therefore I won’t participate in any debate.” It sure beats having to act as though she wants the office, rather than feels entitled to it.