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.

 

CHA Hearing on Senior Apartments Set for Wednesday Evening–Maybe You Should Go

CHA will hold a hearing on the lease, house rules, and tenant selection process (TSP) for the new Northtown Apartments on Wedneday, July 12, at 6:00 p.m. at the Budlong Woods Library, 5630 North Lincoln. This is the only opportunity for West Ridge residents to speak directly to CHA representatives about the project. The public comment period began on June 28 and ends on July 28 at 5:00 p.m. Beginning July 13, all comments will need to be submitted via the CHA Web site.

The lease is marked “Final,” so I don’t know what good comments will do. The House Rules seem to require some clarification. In my opinion, they are overly-restrictive and provide too many opportunities to terminate leases. The proposed rules would, for example, penalize a tenant who went across the hall in her housecoat to have coffee with a neighbor, or who had a visitor who brought a dog. The rules are clearly aimed at restricting criminal behaviors and gang activity–good things–but I understood the Northtown Apartments would be home to middle-class seniors. However, despite statements to the community that the Northtown Apartments will draw its resident pool from people currently living in West Ridge, the TSP indicates otherwise.

Under the CHA’s right-of-return policy, CHA residents who held housing vouchers on or before October 1, 1999, have the right to apply for housing at the Northtown Apartments. Further, such applicants will be given priority over new applicants. This is not what CHA or Evergreen officials said at community meetings discussing eligibility  for the West Ridge housing.  I raised the question at one meeting: why wouldn’t the next thirty people on the CHA waitlist not be selected? In response, Eugene Jones, CHA Director, asked the audience directly if they didn’t want the tenants to be selected from the neighborhood’s own seniors, which the audience overwhelmingly did. I have no objections to the race or ethnicity of any individual applicant or tenant, but I do object to being misled by City and Evergreen officials. We are a neighborhood which welcomes all people, so there’s no need for this kind of subterfuge.

Another housing project proposed by Evergreen, developer of the Northtown Apartments, recently folded because of Evergreen’s failure to submit a final application to the State for the necessary tax credits, for which it had already received preliminary approval. Ald. Arena’s office said Evergreen had not requested a zoning change for the property. The 43-unit building would have been built at Milwaukee and Wilson.

The news report on this building notes that Evergreen failed to obtain tax credits for a proposed senior housing complex in 2011. I wonder if the tax credits for Northtown Library have been solidified.

I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Good thing there’s one public meeting. Too bad it couldn’t be held on a night when the Northtown Library is open late. And it’s too bad the alderman didn’t see fit to announce the public comment period, provide info on where and when the CHA meeting would be held, and invite neighborhood residents to attend.

Click here to read the Final Lease and the house rules.

The TSP can be read here.

 

Things to Do Over the Long Holiday Weekend

Join your neighbors at Indian Boundary Park in the annual DIY July 4 Parade!  Bring the kids and the dog and carry the Stars & Stripes to celebrate our country’s birthday. Everybody marches and joins in the fun. The park’s at 2500 West Lunt.

Help save the current Northtown Library building for community use: Have a voice in determining its eventual use and show support for keeping this a public building for the community by taking the survey.

Submit your recipes for the Rogers Park – West Ridge Historical Society’s community cookbook project. The deadline has been extended to July 15.

Have a safe and happy July 4!

Berny Stone Park

Today’s DNA Info reports that the alderman and unnamed community groups are supporting a proposal to name our new park at Devon & McCormick “Berny Stone Park.”  The City has begun the 45-day public comment period required before changing the name from Park 526 to Berny Stone Park. I first suggested the honor a year ago, and I’m glad to see that the alderman is acting on it.

 

 

 

It’s Your Park Day!

“It’s Your Park Day” will be celebrated on Saturday, June 17, in parks througout Chicago. It’s a great opportunity to both enjoy and improve some of the most beautiful parks in the U.S. A list of the parks participating in this year’s event appears below. Unfortunately, none of the parks in the 50th Ward are included this year, but neighboring parks are: Buttercup Playlot Park (4901 North Sheridan Road)  and Cedar Park Playlot (5311 North Winthrop), both in Uptown.

The event is sponsored by the Chicago Parks Foundation and Chicago Park District Advisory Councils. Volunteers will contribute to park improvement through a variety of tasks, including trash pickup, tree mulching, and maintaining community gardens. They will also replace fibar on playgrounds–that kind of bouncy cushion that serves as flooring in park playgrounds and keeps kids of all ages from injuries during falls or hard landings. Tools will be provided by Home Depot.

You’ll be rewarded for your hard work with a tee shirt, Trader Joe’s fruit, KIND snacks, High Brew coffee, and water. You’ll also have the satisfaction of accomplishing a good deed as well as a more beautiful park to enjoy this summer. Last year more than 700 volunteers gave their time to 37 parks across the city. This year, more than 41 parks have registered for the event.

It’s Your Park Day is set for Saturday, June 17, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers are encouraged to register in advance.

Learn more about the Chicago Parks Foundation here.

Participating Parks
Bell Park
Bessemer Park
Bradley Park
Brown Memorial Park
Burnside Park
Buttercup PlaylotPark
California Park
Cedar Playlot Park
Cragin Park,
Dawes Park
(Don) Nash Park
Elm Park
Fred Anderson Park
Garfield Park
Golden Gate & Carver Parks
Hadiya Pendleton Park
Hoard Playground Park
Independence Par
kackson Park
Kelly (John H.) Par
kKelvyn Park
Kenwood Park
Lorraine Dixon Park
Major Taylor Bike Trail
McGuane Park
McKinley Park
Meyering Park
Midway Plaisance Park
Moran Playground Park
Mozart ParkPark
578
Ping Tom Memorial Park
Rainbow Beach Park
Rutherford
Sayre Park
Skinner Park
South Shore Park
Valley Forge Park
Washington Park
Welles Park
West Chatham Park
Wicker Park
Wildwood Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Menu Money Mess

The City’s Office of the Inspector General.(OIG) has released its audit of aldermanic menu money. OIG reports that the program is underfunded, does not follow the “best practices” recommended by the Government Financial Officers Association, and suffers management difficulties ranging from lack of communication between departments to the inability to develop a comprehensive citywide capital projects planning process.

Each ward’s menu money has remained fixed at $1.32M for the past ten years, while the costs of improvements (materials, labor) have increased. Projects are not prioritized by the City Department of Transportation (CDOT). Instead, each alderman decides which infrastructure improvements will be funded in a given ward—and which will not. Some City residents have a voice in how menu money is spent through participatory budgeting, but most do not. .

CDOT does not allocate funds on the basis of need. Put plainly, the City’s history of disinvestment in poorer wards and CDOT’s insistence on providing each alderman the same amount of menu money means that some areas of the City continue to deteriorate while others can spend on beautification.

In his April 19 letter forwarding the OIG report to the Mayor, aldermen, and other City officials, Inspector General Joseph M. Ferguson was blunt:

“OIG found that the administration of the Menu program does not align with best practices for infrastructure planning ….This audit identified significant concerns related to the City’s planning and management of residential infrastructure. For example, we determined that the allocation of $1.32 million per ward bears no relationship to the actual infrastructure needs of each ward.” [Emphasis added]

OIG recommends that infrastructure planning and repair be handled by CDOT, stating that “CDOT [should] fully inhabit its role in residential infrastructure planning by directly implementing a comprehensive, multi-year strategic capital plan for maintenance and improvement.” CDOT’s response?  “[T]he Department reasserted its general but analytically unsupported belief that current practice provides an “appropriate framework” for addressing core residential infrastructure needs.” [Emphasis added]

OIG also recommends that CDOT conduct a citywide analysis of residential infrastructure needs; and that the City allocate funding per ward based on that need.

The level of incompetence displayed by high-ranking City employees is staggering. Basic management practices are absent. Officials admit they don’t analyze needs or seek information from one another before creating budgets, and don’t measure what, if any, impact the allocated funding has. All the wards get the same amount of money, even if actual needs don’t justify it, because nobody has determined what each ward’s needs are.

Aldermen control infrastructure spending within the limits set by the level of funding the City can afford. The City pays high interest rates on its constant borrowing, leaving little money  available for capital improvement projects. For example, in  the book Chicago Is Not Broke budget expert Ralph Matire notes that, in 2016, 44% of the City budget was consumed by interest payments, while only 19% was allocated to infrastructure improvement.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) in its recent comments on the OIG report compared Chicago to other cities around the country.  In New York, the city’s DOT controls the process and the funding. In Los Angeles, a citywide database is used to track street conditions; resurfacing is determined by both need and cost. Houston and Philadelphia give responsibility for street improvements to their respective DOTs; streets are resurfaced based on need.

Some of the OIG more disturbing findings:

  • CDOT “does not perform comprehensive, long-term analysis to determine annual residential infrastructure needs…. “
  • Office of Management and Budget [OBM] “does not seek input from CDOT regarding estimated residential infrastructure need…”
  • Neither CDOT nor OBM has analyzed whether the menu money meets infrastructure needs.
  • CDOT does not prioritize projects, or insist that capital assets whose repair will increase in cost in future years be addressed first, but leaves decision-making to the aldermen
  • The fact that menu money spending is decided on an annual basis by individual aldermen prevents long-range, comprehensive, citywide infrastructure planning
  • Residential infrastructure needs were not fully met in any of the City’s fifty wards. (Pothole repair don’t count in terms of  infrastructure repair. Potholes are considered a “deficient piece” of a “whole component” ([the street), and do not replace the whole component when filled.).
  • In 2014, aldermen were allowed to spend menu money not only in the ward to which they were elected but also in areas added to their wards in the 2011 ward redistricting, even though the new ward boundaries would not take effect until 2015. {CDOT has accepted OIG’s recommendation that this practice be ended.]
  • Aldermen are permitted to spend menu money on non-infrastructure projects. [CDOT has said this practice will continue as long as rules and regulations governing funding sources are not broken.]
  • Nineteen aldermen failed to comply with CDOT deadlines for submitting menu money spending requests. [CDOT has agreed to enforce submission deadlines.]
  • The best-funded ward is the 46th, which covered 88.5% of its infrastructure needs from menu money, leaving a deficit of $218,563, while the worst-funded, the 34th ward, covered only 15.1% of its infrastructure needs, leaving a deficit of $9.5M. [Menu money does not reflect the size of the ward or the level of infrastructure repair that’s necessary. The 46th ward has only 165.6 street blocks and 80 alley blocks, compared to 888 street blocks and 677.6 alley blocks in the 34th.]
  • Installing a left-turn arrow cost $70,000 per intersection in 2014 (see pages 24-26 for CDOT cost breakdowns for repairs to streets, alleys, etc.)
  • OIG estimated the annualized costs for street and alley repairs over the life cycle of each type of repair. (See details of other repairs/replacements on page 30.)
    • What’s the annual cost of resurfacing a residential street? $4,950 per year for 20 years.
    • An alley?  $3,375 per year for 20 years.
    • Street lighting? $1,464 for 50 years.
    • Curb replacement?  $1,600 per year for 50 years.

Earlier this week I watched from my window as eight City workers planted a single sapling on a neighbor’s parkway. Seven men to dig the hole, stand the tree inside, and put the dirt back. The eighth man drove the forklift. I thought about this again over the past two days while reading the OIG report.

The private sector couldn’t operate this way. The very least a public employee should offer is competence. The very least an employee should expect is  a workplace that has a clearly-defined purpose and goals, and a planned, logical, and reasonable method of achieving those goals. How can a program be created to solve a problem that hasn’t been analyzed? How can a budget be prepared without the kind of basic information needed to establish an efficient and effective spending plan? How can departments working on the same problem not communicate with one another? sn’t anybody in charge?

No wonder so many people are voting with their feet.

____________________________________________________________________

Let’s look at the findings specific to the 50th Ward.

To maintain the 50th Ward’s 383.2 residential street blocks and 304 residential alley blocks, OIG reports that $5,265,165 in menu money was spent from 2012-2015 on residential infrastructure improvements. It was allocated as follows:

  • 91.8%  – Streets
  •  5.91% – Street Lighting
  •  0.8%   – Sidewalks & Pedestrian-Related Projects
  •  1.3%  –  Alleys
  •   0.1% –  Traffic

From 2012-2015, no menu money was spent in the 50th on curbs and gutters, painting, cameras, bike lanes, the Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools, or any other CDOT or non-CDOT project.

In 2015, the cost of maintaining residential street and alley blocks was $4,856,947; menu money covered 34.6% of of that total and ADA-compliance funding another $360,000, leaving a deficit of $3,176,947.

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A Brief Community Meeting

The alderman has called a “brief community meeting” to discuss the new library building, this time with an emphasis on the senior housing to be built on the second and third floors. The meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 12, at Warren Park at 6:30 p.m.

Since last October’s announcement that a new library would finally be built, the alderman has held three meetings with residents (November 14, March 20, May 1) to discuss plans and listen to the concerns and opinions of the library’s users, residents, and the new building’s neighbors. The first meeting lasted two hours, the others one hour each, for a total of four hours of neighborhood input.

Two surveys were distributed. One, created by the LEARN Coalition, offered the alderman, the designers, and City officials detailed information about what library users want in the new facility. The other, created by the alderman and her secret advisory committee, provided information collected largely from non-users and schoolchildren. At best, it reinforced the information acquired by LEARN. Overall, it was a joke.

The alderman has yet to tell the residents of West Ridge who serves on her secret advisory committee and why and how they were chosen. She announced on March 17 that the committee had been formed but chose not to tell her constituents who was selected to represent them in critical discussions with CHA and the designers. As I understand it, the secret advisory committee learned of the June 12 meeting when residents did. This strongly suggests that all the decisions have been made and no further input is needed or wanted from residents or the secret advisory committee.

I wonder who’ll advise the CHA on which of the alderman’s supporters should score apartments for themselves, family members, and friends. CHA has already decided to create a new applicant pool for the building, rather than select the next 30 West Ridge residents on its current waitlists. Too many waitlists, better to start over, we were told. Politics should not play a role in tenant selection, but this is West Ridge, where one-family rule has rendered transparency irrelevant.

The library is scheduled to open in December 2018, just in time for the February 2019 municipal elections, not that there’s any connection. The existing library will close in September of 2018, just as the school year begins, to allow the transfer of books and other materials to the new building. A cynic might think that the political futures of the mayor and the alderman take precedence over the futures of neighborhood children.

Can’t you just see the gala opening? Ice and snow, subzero cold, gale-force winds, frozen microphones, shivering populace standing awestruck as Power lauds itself for spending our tax dollars to build a library and public housing with working electricity and a roof that doesn’t leak? Or maybe the building will open quietly, with the gala reserved for the following Spring.

After the elections.

WBEZ Mischaracterizes Neighborhood Watch

Yesterday’s report on the West Ridge Community Watch Program broadcast by our local NPR station, WBEZ, was inaccurate in several respects, from the color of and legend on the jackets to the extent of concern by residents that Watch participants are somehow spies for the police. To suggest that the Watch program is racist in nature is a gross mischaracterization of the program, its participants, and our local police.

Members of the Community Watch program are neighbors watching out for neighbors. A single resident, Jennifer Viets, was interviewed by Odette Youseff of WBEZ and described Watch participants as “menacing” people in “uniforms” who have been “deputized;” worse, she has told neighbors with nonwhite children that they have reason to be afraid of Watch participants. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office at the February 6, 2017, Neighborhood Watch Program organizational meeting. He is wearing the yellow jacket which all Watch program participants wear while walking.

The Neighborhood Watch Program was formed as a response to property crimes, especially vehicle theft and thefts from yards, porches, garages, and vehicles. The idea is simple: Neighbors walk a few blocks around their neighborhood, noting unsecured or open doors on homes, garages, apartment buildings, or vehicles, or piles of rat-attracting garbage. Watchers may ring a doorbell to advise a homeowner that the garage has been left open or a bike left outside, or take a quick photo of the garbage and send it to the City via 311. If Watchers see public drinking, drug sales, or suspicious activities, such as someone walking down the street trying to open car doors, they call 911. Sgt. Sisk noted in the WBEZ report that most of the thefts occurred because people were not locking their doors.

Watchers have been specifically instructed by the police not to assume police powers and not to intervene in any situation; their sole role is to notify the City or the police of what, if anything, they note on their walks. They may not use their vehicles or ride bikes but must walk. They may not carry weapons or use police scanners, and must obey the law at all times. Watchers must be older than age 21. They can walk with their dogs (the dogs must be leashed). It’s suggested that two people walk together. Most importantly, Watchers have been told not to misrepresent themselves as police officers. They have no power to detain or arrest anyone.

Viets has complained in the past of her son’s treatment by the police several years ago when he was a young teenager (he is now an adult). I first heard her story last summer when she attended an event hosted by the alderman at which then-new Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was to meet residents of West Ridge. She said she was planning to confront Johnson with her story; he was unable to attend but Viets repeated her son’s story to the crowd. Youseff was careful in her report to note that the son “has never been convicted” of any crime, and in a follow-up interview said the young man had “no criminal record.” The police, of course, cannot discuss their encounters with either the young man or his mother, which leaves us with half the story. But Viets has assumed such an extreme anti-policing position that her window displays a sign saying “We don’t call police…..”

She also noted that all the Watchers are white, suggesting that the group is racist. But membership is open to all interested residents, and Watchers safeguard the property of non-white residents, too. Neither the police nor the Community Watch can be held accountable if non-white residents choose not to participate. If protecting your home, vehicle, and other property are not enough motivation for you to join the group, so be it. Participation is voluntary. Watchers do not discriminate, and would welcome neighbors of all races and ethnicities. Residents can opt in as well as out.

Youseff did note that the number of car thefts around Indian Boundary has decreased, though it’s not clear if this is a result of the Neighborhood Watch or simply a return to the “normal” level of that crime in the area. I’d bet the Watch has had an impact.

Viets told Youseff that she wants to try to develop a different approach to community-building.  She’s working with others to organize “resistance” and suggested that the shootings of Trayvon Martin by a community watch volunteer in Florida and of a black teenager by a Cleveland police officer support her concerns. It’s unfortunate that she cannot move past her anger with the police for what she believes is past injustice. Using that anger to deepen the racial divide does not help build community.

It’s wrong to suggest that our neighborhood watch program is cause for alarm. Good people keeping an eye out for potential trouble are an asset to the neighborhood.

Call for Recipes for Rogers Park / West Ridge Cookbook

The Rogers Park / West Ridge Historical Society is seeking recipes for its new community cookbook. Everyone in the neighborhood–as well as former residents–can contribute a favorite recipe, from appetizers to desserts. Submissions that reflect the diversity of our neighborhood are encouraged. The Society is also willing to work with restaurants and caterers to convert recipes for home use.

Your name will appear with your recipe. You can also contribute a recipe to honor the memory of someone special, maybe the grandmother who taught you how to bake cookies, or the friend who shared her special recipe for brisket. You can even include a short comment or tip to be printed with your recipe. I once burned out the motor of a hand mixer while beating in lots of luscious cream cheese to make my favorite pineapple cheesecake, so my recipe will carry a warning to use a stand mixer. (The stench from a burned motor is far worse than that from burned toast. Unfortunately, I’ve burned both.)

The cookbook will cost $18; it’s scheduled for publication in October 2017.

Submission deadline is June 30. You can submit your recipes online or download the forms here. Or you can stop by the Historical Society’s office to pick the forms up.
(7363 North Greenview, in Jarvis Square just south of dog groomer Rogers Bark) on Wednesdays or Saturdays (10:00 am. – 4:00 pm.).

Help WRCO Save the Old Library

The current Northtown Library will close in Fall of next year as its contents are transferred to the new facility at Pratt & Western. The alderman stated at the most recent community meeting that the old library building belongs to the City.

Concerned residents have been asking about saving this building for community use. Although not of major architectural significance, it is a fine example of mid-century modern design and is still in solid shape. It could be repurposed to serve the community as an arts, community, or senior center. It’s important that the West Ridge community have a say in the fate of this facility.

Therefore, the West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO) has decided to launch a petition drive to save the old library building. More than that, it will soon release a community survey seeking input from residents on the best uses for the building. Petitions will be available soon, and in the meantime you can contact WRCO directly through its Web site. The group is currently conducting a membership drive, and has launched an impressive series of community improvement initiatives in addition to the save-the-library activity.

Be part of the change that’s sweeping over West Ridge!