Don’t Attend the “On Devon” Festival

I strongly urge community members not to attend the “On Devon Festival”  scheduled for Labor Day weekend. Its concept, planning, and development are an insult  to the community at large  and a slap in the face to residents living closest to Republic Bank, like me. How? Let’s see:

  • Is a “special event” in a parking lot really the best that West Ridge can do? This event belongs in a park, not a parking lot. Events staged in the north end of the ward always occur in parks. Even Silverstein’s backpack giveaway was in a park. Why do events staged in the south end of the ward always occur in the Republic Bank parking lot? Especially a so-called family festival? Is this really the best place to celebrate community? It’s an insult to the entire West Ridge community.
  • We are a neighborhood of beautiful parks, and Berny Stone Park is on Devon.  It’s underused, with plenty of room for all the events the SSA and Chamber promise. To the planners of this event, thought, kids from the south end of the ward deserve to run around on hot, hard asphalt instead of soft green grass. Nor do they see anything wrong with subjecting babies, young kids, and neighbors to concert-level music for hours on end.
  • Live music? Beer sales? Port-a-potties? On sidewalks and in alleys? Stone Park is too close to the 24th and 25th precincts, filled with Silverstein supporters in single-family homes who might object to all the noise, drinking, and filth. The parking lot is in the 19th Precinct, whose residents have never supported Silverstein.
  • Lots of “free” kids’ activities are planned to lure the parents to what is basically a retooled Devon Community Market. The Chamber promises lots of vendors selling goods residents have already declined to buy.
  • The Chamber will be selling beer. The musical entertainment is geared to attracting lots of young people. Nothing like having a bunch of rowdy young drunks right outside your windows. Especially when there are kids present. What guarantees are there that heavy drinkers won’t vomit all over lawns and parkways?  Who pays for clean-up on private property? Minutes from one of the SSA meetings suggested that one-third of the event would be paid for via beer sales. This has all the earmarks of an officially-sanctioned drunkfest. Do West Ridge residents really want to support a mini-Lollapalooza?
  • SSA minutes indicate that the cost of all the “free” entertainment will be shared between the SSA and the Chamber. The SSA gets its operating funds from a 1.5% extra tax (over and above property taxes) levied on all property owners living within the SSA boundaries (Kedzie east toDamen, Granville north to Arthur). This tax is passed on to renters of both businesses and apartments. The SSA committed to spending at least $15,000 on this event. Should taxpayer money be spent on bread and circuses when there are more than 40 vacant storefronts on Devon?
  • According to its Charter, the SSA’s mission is to promote existing businesses and attract new ones on Devon, a task at which it has failed spectacularly. Instead, the SSA spends its time creating dubious “business builders” like Devon Movie Night (attracting a crowd of fewer than 20 children and perhaps 4 adults), a talent show called “Devon’s Got Talent,” and this beer-fueled community market/festival. No wonder the Rogers Park Business Alliance was given oversight of the SSA once it proved itself incapable of managing its own affairs. The RPBA has not done much better, although it gets nearly a quarter ($99,000) of the monies raised by the SSA’s tax levy for management fees and staff salaries.
  • There will be trolley service from Western to the festival. You’d think the alderman, who’s so proud of her beautiful streetscape, would want visitors to travel the whole length of Devon, not just through Little India. But most of the vacant storefronts are west of California, and she’d prefer that no one see the desolation. Who’s paying for the trolleys? Look in the mirror.

The Chamber of Commerce, the alderman, and  the commissioners of Special Services Area #43 should be ashamed of the disregard and disrespect they have shown for the families living closest to the Bank. None of the parties involved in this so-called “community” festival would dare to treat residents of single-family homes in such a manner. But under this alderman, shitting on residents in the south end of the ward has become acceptable–the south end, where shootings are never acknowledged and the residents, primarily immigrants, tend to come from governments run by arrogant tyrants who do not see them as fully human. No wonder they don’t dare object. No wonder they’re right at home in the 50th.

This event has been planned since late last year. At no time was the community involved in the planning. Rather than discuss this festival with the residents most affected, plans proceeded under a veil of secrecy, the alderman’s preferred mode  of operation.  And Eden Seferovic, the Chamber’s executive director, chose to announce the event at a meeting of the West Ridge Community Organization last June.  The first that most nearby residents knew about the fest was when the alderman announced it  in her newsletter at the end of July. This is a shabby way to treat Ward residents. It’s to be expected from the alderman, the Chamber, and the SSA, none of whom have ever exhibited the slightest decency toward residents who live around the parking lot.

The bank’s plans to profit from the streetscape by building a parking lot did not work out. The parking lot has failed because the shoppers for whom it was created refuse to pay for parking and prefer instead to break the gates rather than pay. I have been out with my dogs and witnessed the various ways that shoppers evade payment for parking– removing the exit gate, moving or removing the sensors that allow the exit gate to open and close, rolling their vehicles back and forth until the exit gate lifts and then not pulling out until the gate freezes in the up position, etc.

Republic Bank’s failure to properly design, build, and maintain its parking lot does not give the Bank, the Chamber, the SSA, or the alderman the right to turn the lot into a public place of amusement. That requires a license, which is impossible to get because of the housing just across the alley. So the Bank, the Chamber, the SSA, and the alderman simply ignore the legal requirement. It should be noted that the alderman has served for years on the City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the committee that writes the rules for events like this.

But nearby residents are expected to sacrifice the last family-oriented holiday of summer to the alderman’s so-called community festival. Our backyard BBQs and family get-togethers will be lost in a tsunami of noise from concert level music. In addition, Washtenaw Avenue is to be closed from Devon to the east-west alley, a fact unknown until a letter from the Chamber about the festival was placed on building doorknobs yesterday. With characteristic sloppiness, the letter misstates the block to be closed as the 6200 block of Washtenaw. It is actually the 6400 block. The Chamber is listed as the event’s sponsor in an attempt to hide the SSA’s involvement. Those tax monies are a problem.

Community members who attend the On Devon Festival will be acquiescing in the abuse of other community residents. Ask yourself: would you want this across the alley  from your home? Would you want others to support it if it were?

I should add that the event is from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Sunday night and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Monday night. Live music. Drunks. Screaming children. If past events are any guide, set-up will begin at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. Takedown will continue until near midnight on Monday. Kids in the surrounding buildings will go to their first day of school sleep-deprived. But hey! These are the poor kids in the neighborhood, so who cares? Not the Bank, not the alderman, not the SSA, not the Chamber.

Everyone connected with this event should hang his or her head in shame. Shame on Dewbra Silverstein, Robert Taylor, the manager of Republic Bank and president of the Chamber of Commerce, Eden Seferovic, the Chamber’s executive director, and the commissioners of SSA 43: Irshad Khan (Chair), Pete Valavanis (Vice Chair), Sanhita Agnihotri (Treasurer), Maura Nemes (Secretary), Jayesh Shewakramani, Payam Bereliani, and Rebeca Vasquez.

Let’s not forget to heap shame on members of the Rogers Park Business Alliance who helped organize this event: Sandi Price, executive director, Gina Caruso, and Tony Pelikan. Then there’s Bonnie Towse, business consultant for the Chamber. She was invited to all the planning meetings, although members of the nearby community were not. A consultant was needed to deliver another Devon Community Market? What didn’t the powers-that-be get about the failures of the previous three?

Please support your fellow community members. We are people, too, even if the alderman, the Chamber, the SSA, and their enablers don’t believe it. We deserve respect and courtesy, even from Silverstein and her minions.

Don’t attend the On Devon  Festival!

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It’s Not “Just a Parking Lot” Anymore

Most of us treasure these last days of summer, as the days get shorter and the breezes warmer and the backyard tomatoes are ripe for picking. There’s nothing like sitting on the porch or in the yard or even in one’s own kitchen, enjoying the evening breezes, Sinatra singing, and a fresh tomato tart.

That is, unless you live around the Republic Bank parking lot, which this week will be the site of both a Wednesday movie night and a Saturday evening India Day program that includes a concert. The Minutes of the SSA meeting reveal that initial plans for tonight called for a restaurant crawl, movie night, and ribbon cutting starring the Mayor. He may show up. He’s running for reelection and what better way to show the Indian community he loves them? It will boost Silverstein’s reelection campaign as well–another photo for the weekly family album, er, constituent newsletter.

June 18 minutes

The India Day event, including the parade and the party-in-a-parking lot , is expected to cost $100,000, most of it privately funded. The original proposal included a talent show, a fashion show, and a concert. I wonder how much of that is being spent for the privilege of eating cake alongside an alley. You’d think the organizers would want to do better by their guests.

May 30 minutes.                                                          April 16 Minutes

The SSA is also planning a back to school event for next August in the same parking lot. How this will drive business to Devon is a mystery. No stores on the street sell school supplies or children’s shoes or clothing. The Indian businesses long ago made it clear they don’t want local residents in their stores, and I doubt if many tourists shop here for pencils and paper.

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Debra’s Pathetic Year-End “Newsletter”

It’s time for the alderqueen’s annual end-of-year newsletter, her statement of her achievements for the past twelve months. Every year it gets worse. This year it’s just pathetic. Pure malarkey.

Four glossy pages, seven pictures of Herself, and–lest we forget– her name and title mentioned 28 times.  The words “Alderman Silverstein” begin 20 of the report’s 32 paragraphs.

Ira, who usually figures prominently in these fluff pieces, is nowhere to be found. He-who-must-not-be-named apparently also must not be seen.  One of three photos on page two shows a male torso in a checked shirt with its head carefully lopped off. Maybe this is her  first public statement on last Halloween’s sexual harassment charges. [See the uncropped photo here.]

Front Page
She begins by noting that she opposed the property tax increase. That’s so last year, 2016, in fact. She’s voted for every tax since, including water and sewer taxes, and voted just last month to to support the Mayor’s 2018 budget that includes increased taxes on phones, ride-sharing services, and amusements.  If we’re going to report on the past, let’s include her vote for the 2012 budget, which closed half the City’s mental health clinics.

She proudly claims co-sponsorship of bills increasing the minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave for all workers in the City, and making Chicago a “Welcoming City” for illegal immigrants.

Why does she call the minimum wage bill a “new law” when it was passed three years ago (December 2014)? Why is she still claiming credit for the Welcoming City bill, passed in 2012? Her claims to co-sponsorships are overblown. She was one of 33 co-sponsors for  the minimum wage bill, one of 40 co-sponsors for paid sick leave, and one of 28 co-sponsors for the Welcoming City bill. She’s not a leader, not a mover in the City Council, and not a risk-taker. She co-sponsors bills when she can hide safely among her colleagues.

[It’s worth noting that the Welcoming City ordinance (amended this year to prevent Chicago police from working with immigration authorities to apprehend and deport criminals illegally in the U.S.) led to the Municipal ID, which will permit the same illegal immigrants to vote next year and in 2019. Despite claims that the card will be used as a library card and for public transit, its primary purpose is to give non-citizens the right to reward–er, vote for–the Democrats who made the Municipal ID possible.]

Public Safety
Her actions to improve public safety are laughable. How does requiring working police officers to serve as background extras so the alderman can pose for pictures improve public safety? One of her weekly newsletters published a ridiculous photo of her taking a salute from the officers – to what purpose? It was almost as bad as when she claimed credit for the Neighborhood Watch Program, posing in one of the jackets worn by participants. Why? She “regularly” speaks with the police commanders?  What does she discuss? While no troubled area in the ward can get a beat officer who actually walks around, she did manage to arrange for police to be on hand to protect the “rights” of Hindu dancers disturbing residents by blasting music via loudspeakers in a parking lot. Twice. Great sense of law enforcement priorities, Deb.

Silverstein claims that she “enhanced” the community via the new library, the street scapes on Devon and Howard, and the new lighting in Warren Park. Not true.

She was as blindsided as the rest of us by the Mayor’s sudden decision to combine a new library with senior housing, an idea that has been used in Europe for over a decade. We got the library only because more than 2,000 citizens signed a petition demanding that the old library be replaced. This was never a priority for Debra, so ignore her claims to “years of hard work and planning.”  She had nothing to do with it. And if you attended any of the meetings you might have noticed that “deer in the headlights” look she gets when she’s asked a question about one of “her” projects. The alderman is clueless.

The Devon streetscape has created a traffic nightmare. The Howard project was almost entirely an Evanston project. The bike bridge at Devon & McCormick had nothing to do with Silverstein. The Park District handled the lighting at Warren Park without her help. And “Stone Park” is actually “Bernie Stone Park.” She still can’t bring herself to speak her predecessor’s name. It’s hardly a “destination.” It’s out of the way, has no playground equipment, and is backed by a hulking storage facility. She’s so on top of things that in one newsletter she asked her constituents which of three sculptural panels they favored for the park, not knowing that the three pieces were components of a single piece.

Supporting Education
She supports education by lunching annually with the ward’s school principals. Then she takes credit for the job they do. Yet in 2013 she voted against the TIF surplus ordinance, which would have returned money to our public schools, and in 2012 she voted for the closure of 50 public schools. .

Community Services
The tax appeal workshops don’t need her, they’re Larry Suffredin’s responsibility.

The Senior Fraud seminar had roughly a dozen participants. Poor attendance for a ward with thousands of senior citizens. See her April 21 newsletter for the photo.

Both the Hiring Fair and the Flue Shot Clinic are sponsored by the City and paid for with tax dollars. Many aldermen find it possible to “host” both events without slapping their own names on all the promotional materials, as Deb does, and without referring to them in the possessive.

One Community, One City
Silverstein’s meetings with “community leaders” on solidarity were embarrassing. Her newsletters of March 13 and March 31 show that they were poorly attended. She didn’t organize either of them, and throughout the year leaves the problems that arise from cultural and religious misunderstandings strictly alone. She’d rather not get involved, thank you, just stopped by for a quick photo for the gullible.

The SSA Meetings are a farce. The SSA covers a limited area (Devon, and Western from Arthur to Granville). No merchants west of California are involved, and the community property-owner representatives do not reflect the diversity of the community.

The other events listed are not Debra’s projects, she participates for the photo ops they bring.

Back Page
I hardly know where to begin. She didn’t announce the new library, Rahm did, and he left without taking questions.

It’s interesting that she brags about the affordable housing, since she chose not to support the “Keeping the Promise Affordable Housing Ordinance.” Although the ordinance would reform CHA (which this year gave public land to developers for $1 for a 99-year lease, and loaned $2 million at zero interest to developers). Deb ain’t interested in reform. In any case, despite misleading statements to West Ridge residents at the open community meetings, the CHA announced at its final meeting that the 30 CHA-controlled apartments at the new library would be assigned to the next thirty individuals or couples on the CHA wait list, not to community residents. This is a matter of law. The other fourteen apartments at the new library were added so the developer could make money (I have no problem with that), and will be subsidized so tenants will pay around $700 per month rather than 30% of their income, as CHA residents do.

I haven’t a clue as to what Silverstein means by “amenities,” unless it’s the seniors’ laundry room.

The newsletter reveals that she’s still using private e-mail and Web site addresses rather than those provided at taxpayer expense by the City. Before you write to her or sign up for her newsletter, you should understand that (a) her continued use of a private e-mail address to conduct City business raises serious ethical questions; and (b) her use of a private Web site permits the collection of private information from your IP address.

Sheesh.

 

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.