Alderman, SSA, Chamber Do Wrong by Residents

I am thrilled that Mayor Lightfoot has begun curbing the excesses of aldermanic privilege. Unfortunately, word that aldermen are no longer absolute bosses in their wards has not yet reached the 50th Ward. Once again Silverstein, her handpicked SSA, the Chamber of Commerce, Republic Bank of Chicago, and the Rogers Park Business Alliance (RPBA) have arranged two more noisy events in the Bank’s failed parking lot.

The events are a two-day live-music fest and a movie night. Neither event has involved resident input. Indeed, residents have been deliberately kept out of the planning process. The alderman and SSA brook no interference with their plans, including legal restrictions. The alderman and her minions are determined to make the failed parking lot into a public place of amusement, even though it lacks both zoning and licensing for such activities. I am tired of fighting about this, have consulted a lawyer, and will be filing a lawsuit. There is no other way to put an end to this.

I have in the past used FOIA to try to obtain information on the permits for these events from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. My requests always generate the same response: there are no records. In other words, Silverstein, the SSA, and the Chamber plan and execute these events while bypassing City law. No approval is needed except Silverstein’s. This has always been wrong, and everybody involved knew  it, but they went on with their activities knowing they could not be held accountable. Now, with the Lightfoot administration, they can. And I intend to see to it that they are. Festivals like this can be a good thing for the community, but not when they are planned in secrecy and held in venues not designed to accommodate them. Both events belong in a park, not a parking lot.

Republic Bank’s parking lot was built in 2012 and failed immediately because the shoppers for whom it was designed refused to pay for parking and engaged in behaviors ranging from outright vandalism (removing gates) to stealing parking services, evading payment by moving gate sensors and manipulating gate positions. The parking lot has never made a profit.

The lot is directly across the alley from multifamily housing–just ten feet–and is zoned B-1-2. The Bank lacks a PPA license and cannot get one because the distance from housing falls far short of the 125 feet required by ordinance. Such legal niceties don’t prevent the SSA from using aldermanic privilege to stage various entertainment programs and religious observances in the parking lot, all of which involve live or recorded music played at concert level (120 decibels and above). The police are unable to stop such activities because the alderman has approved them. Legal restrictions on the uses of this parking lot have been swept aside by aldermanic clout.

I find this especially egregious because Silverstein:

  •  was and remains a member of the City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs & Special Events, which writes the rules for events of this type–rules that do not apply to events staged with her approval in this parking lot
  • called for extra police to control her drunken neighbors during Purim but sees no problem with inviting several hundred strangers to a beer-fueled music fest ten feet from my home
  • lacks any sense of decency and consideration when it comes to residents around the parking lot, treating us shabbily, something she would not do to residents in single-family housing or the pricey condos where she lives.

Among the public events Silverstein and her handpicked SSA found suitable for this parking lot are:

  • a failed community market (2013-15) that was the lowest-ranked market in the City in terms of attendance and revenue; many vendors refused to participate more than once, and some left before the day ended because of the dearth of customers; live musical performances were part of every weekly event (read my blog post here)
  • musical concerts celebrating India Day, which served food and left a mess, thus attracting rats; stages were placed at the far north end of the lot, closest to housing (read blog post here)
  • Hindu religious observances featuring loudspeakers and heavy incense
  • a failed movie night last October that attracted only two dozen people, mostly children, who were provided popcorn but no water and no access to bathroom facilities (see blog post here).

Hindu religious observance including music and dance, Fall 2018. Note the number, size, and placement of loudspeakers. Music could be heard for blocks.

Imagine such activities suddenly materializing outside your home. I spoke to the alderman during the first community market in 2013, when my TV was drowned out by the live “music.” Hostile to any criticism, she said she would tolerate such noise “for the good off the neighborhood” and I should do the same. When I suggested moving the market outside her home, she walked away.

Food trash left inside parking lot along Devon Avenue fence after India Day concert.

The India Day concerts include free food and water. Organizers left messes like this (see left) after every concert. Water bottles were tossed all over the alley, and empty boxes were left inside and outside the parking lot. Live music from tinny loudspeakers was blasted for several hours. It was impossible for nearby residents to shut out the noise.

Audience at Devon Movie Night, Republic Bank Parking Lot, October 2018.

Last Fall’s movie night attracted fewer than two dozen viewers. Moviegoers sat on the parking lot’s asphalt; one woman brought her own chair. This isn’t the case when movies are shown in the north end of the ward, where the alderman lives. Those movies are shown in Chippewa Park, a comfortable distance from housing and viewers sit on soft grass. Why aren’t residents from the south end of the ward granted such amenities?

Note how close the movie screen is to homes–just an alley’s width away. The movie has to be loud to be heard over the din of traffic on Devon Avenue. Do you believe the alderman would permit this outside her home?

Look where the screen was placed! What kind of people think this is the proper way to treat residents? RPBA  is paid nearly a quarter of the SSA’s budget (roughly $100,000) for planning expertise. Have they never heard of zoning? Licensing? Try imposing noise like this outside the merchants’ stores and see how long it takes before police are called and offenders removed. (See City Ordinance O2018-6909 passed 9/18).

Nearby residents never receive proper notice of these events but learn of them only when the blasting starts. This past weekend, this ad was hung on Republic Bank’s Devon Avenue fence. It is the only notice nearby residents have received about  the next movie night, scheduled for Sunday, June 23.

The SSA and Chamber announced at last week’s WRCO meeting that they are sponsoring a two-day live-music festival in the parking lot over the Labor Day week-end. The organizers are seeking a liquor license for the festival, which will also include “a tent city of shopping” and will close Washtenaw Avenue up to the east-west alley. No word on where the Port-a-Potties will be located.  The SSA has been planning this event for months, but has not yet advised nearby property owners or residents. It was also announced last week that marketing materials have been finalized and are ready for distribution. At no time has the community been invited to be part of the process. (See the SSA’s 2019 Minutes from January, February, March, and April. May’s minutes have not been posted at this writing.) Note that discussions of this event are classified in the Minutes as “Public Input.” This is not to be misconstrued as input from nearby residents, who have been excluded from the process. Note also that “beer sales” have been identified as one of the main funding sources. Gee, who can their target audience be? Is West Ridge ready to welcome hundreds of rowdy drunks cheering their favorite bands? Would any or the organizers do this where they live?

At no time have the residents living directly alongside the parking lot been given the legally-mandated notices of any of these events. These notices require a 30-day period during which residents may object to such activities and also require notice of street closings. All of the events staged in the parking lot are broadcast on loudspeakers at concert levels (120 decibels or higher). City law prohibits such levels in residential areas. In 2018 another law was passed regulating musical concert noise because of noise complaints from condo owners in high rises along Sheridan Road. I believe my neighbors and I are entitled to the same consideration.

Labor Day is the last holiday of summer, a time when families enjoy backyard barbeques and back-to-school parties, all of which will be impacted by the noise, crowds, and parking issues arising from the planned music festival. Festival-goers seeking parking will converge on residential streets, thus depriving residents’ friends and relatives of parking. Who gave the alderman, SSA, and Chamber the right to invite hundreds of people to drink outside our homes? There is an ongoing backlash against this kind of event wherever it is held. Such fests have been moved because of noise complaints (Riot Fest);  and there is a new controversy over the move of the Mamby Music Fest to Montrose Beach because of the impact of the noise on birds in the nearby Montrose Bird Sanctuary. I can assure you that the birds can expect to receive more consideration than the neighbors on Washtenaw and Fairfield Avenues. The alderman, the SSA, the Chamber, and the Bank have always treated us like shit on their shoes.

There are alternative sites for this event, which properly belongs in one of our many neighborhood parks. Why not Warren Park, where fest goers can visit the Pakistani stores east of Western as well as the many restaurants on Western itself? Why not Stone Park, gateway to Devon, where the fest might attract visitors from Skokie and Lincolnwood? Holding the fest in Stone Park would give visitors the opportunity to stroll the length of Devon and see for themselves all the international shopping the alderman claims is here. It might also provide some much-needed business for the few merchants west of California. There are two large adjacent parking lots on Devon & Leavitt, near the home of the Chamber’s president. Why not stage the Fest there? Or will his neighbors object to noise and crowds and drinking and parking issues? As to the movie, why not use the vacant space on the second floor of Republic Bank? That way, the kids would at least have toilet access. Maybe there will be a Porta-a-Potty in the pwrking lot. Classy.

The organizers are not interested in moving either event and are moving ahead with distributing their marketing materials. Once word gets out about the festival, it will be all but impossible to stop, another dirty trick played on unsuspecting residents by the alderman and her pals.

It isn’t surprising that the alderman and officials from the SSA, the Chamber, the Bank, and the merchants they represent feel entitled to treat the lot’s  closest neighbors with such appalling disregard and disrespect. They insist that these events are an attempt to “give back” to the community. It’s a lie. They are trying to improve their businesses while (a) keeping the problems generated by these “give-backs” away from their businesses; and (b) not making any of the retailing changes residents want. Devon is littered with empty storefronts, and business is down across the board. The recent “International Marketplace” promotional campaign failed. Shoppers know that a cucumber is a cucumber, and buying it from a Syrian, Egyptian, or Iraqi merchant doesn’t make the experience international. The new campaign, “On Devon,” promises experiences that do not yet exist. This music fest will not provide them. Neither will another movie night. The merchants represented by a tone-deaf SSA and alderman refuse to interact with or show consideration for neighborhood residents, and such communication is the only way to improve the business climate.

The lack of simple decency toward residents is astounding. The members of the SSA who conceive of these events choose to disregard the rights of those of us who live in the vicinity. The area around Devon is home mainly to an immigrant community, many of whom are in the country illegally (the Census Bureau indicates that 12-15% of the residents of the 50th Ward are undocumented). The alderman and the SSA know that these residents will not complain no matter how badly they are treated.  The few American-born residents, like me, are ignored by the powers that be, who, protected by the alderman, are used to running roughshod over residents. None of the guilty parties–Silverstein, the SSA, the Chamber, the RPBA–would dare to behave this way toward residents in the more affluent end of the ward. Don’t expect to see this behavior west of California, or anywhere on Western. The merchants have become as arrogant and unaccountable as the alderman.

I was recently told by one of the businessmen I respect that there should be harmony between the merchants and the residents. I agree. But after six years of this shit, I just don’t feel the love.

Maybe a judge can help.

 

 

Sewer Work to Make a Mess of Devon

You may have heard the alderman’s late announcement that westbound traffic on Devon will be disrupted for the next 6 weeks because of sewer replacements at Richmond. It was nice of her to tell us the night before the work starts, although I had learned about this earlier Monday when traffic was slowed to a crawl at Talman by an angled, oversized street sign advising of the construction, which begins today.

Apparently Silverstein’s office was unaware of this project until the last minute. Or perhaps they were too focused on her re-election campaign to pay attention.

Westbound traffic will be rerouted at Western south to Peterson, then to Lincoln, then Kedzie, and eventually back to Devon. Eastbound traffic will not be affected.

What this really means for those of us who live in the area is that the East-West alleys on both sides of Devon will be even busier than usual with vehicles whose drivers ignore “No Thruway” signs.

Don’t look for an increased police presence to monitor traffic. They won’t be able to get through either.

This doesn’t say much for Silverstein’s working relationship with City departments. On the other hand, maybe it speaks volumes.

 

 

Follies Truth Squad: Silverstein Campaign Mailer, Part II

Any alderman who claims tree trimming as a major accomplishment should not be running for reelection.

The overall impression conveyed by the claims listed in Ald. Silverstein’s newsletter/campaign mailer is that she invests most of her time in relatively trivial pursuits rather than doing the hard work of creating an economic development plan, leading the way on community empowerment, and providing the leadership the ward so desperately needs. Among her many failures on the major issues:

  • Silverstein has failed to deliver the “spirited economic development plan” for California, Devon, Touhy, and Western Avenues that she promised in 2010. She’s had eight years to do so.
  • Silverstein has stubbornly refused to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward, despite widespread neighborhood support, and actively tried to prevent a nonbinding referendum from making the ballot, hiring her elections attorney to challenge the wording of the PB petition and fight the issue before the Chicago Board of Elections. Instead of granting the community a voice in how the $1.3M menu money is used, she spends it all on her major obsession–potholes
  • Silverstein never engaged the community in what she now claims was one of her major priorities–a new Northtown Library. She should have led the community in its attempts to replace the crumbling structure on California with a new building, but she did nothing except discourage neighborhood residents who approached her about doing so. The LEARN Coalition was organized as a direct response to her lack of interest and succeeded in bringing the neighborhood’s needs to the attention of the Chicago Public Library Board and the Mayor’s Office. Silverstein was not the driving force behind the new library, despite her claims otherwise. She refuses to acknowledge that LEARN led the way.
  • Silverstein has failed to attract significant numbers of new businesses to the ward. She has failed to create the business districts that would support the idea of West Ridge being “The International Marketplace,” as its marketing campaign claims. The new campaign, “On Devon,” is built on the fantasy that there are a wide variety of shops selling a vast array of unique goods . In fact, most stores on Devon are small grocers, beauty shops, and cell phone stores. Touhy Avenue is commercially barren, with blocks of vacancies. Western has many vacancies as well.

Yet Silverstein brags about “improving our local businesses” by hanging banners and attending meetings of the Chamber of Commerce and the SSA.  She doesn’t just meet “regularly” with the SSA, she controls it. The poor decisions it makes are made in her office, with Silverstein  in attendance. She chooses the commissioners, who are technically appointed by the Mayor. The hodgepodge of community programs it offers (Movie in the Parking Lot, Devon’s Got Talent) are poorly conceived and executed.

I’ve discussed the new library extensively in various posts. One  important point needs to be reiterated:

  • Silverstein appointed a secret advisory committee to help her make decisions on the library’s final design. Its members were appointed nearly two years ago, but to this day Silverstein refuses to disclose who they are. They were sworn to secrecy by her and forbidden to discuss their deliberations or reveal the names of fellow committee members to anyone. This is public business. Why the need for secrecy?

The Devon Avenue streetscape, her other major accomplishment, is a disaster.

  • The street is now so narrow that it slows traffic and creates constant traffic jams
  • The lack of police foot patrols from Talman to Western–the main shopping area on Devon–has left drivers feeling free to park or stand in bus lanes, forcing passengers to board and exit the bus in the street, while the bus blocks traffic  Many vehicles park or stand in crosswalks while waiting for shoppers inside the grocery stores
  • Many drivers park parallel to the curb bump-outs, and it is impossible for two lanes of traffic to pass each other.
  • Devon is an environmental disaster. The BGA recently released a report on the most polluted areas of Chicago. Because the business model on Devon requires that shoppers be recruited from outside the neighborhood, vehicular pollution is high. You’d think the alderman who claims educating the neighborhood’s children as yet another of her “priorities” would show some concern for the toddlers in daycare centers and the kids in our local schools. Ha! Silverstein’s busy looking for potholes and counting sawed-off tree limbs
  • The sidewalks are simply filthy. Many are stained by pan, a mixture of beetle juice, herbs, and often tobacco that is chewed and spit all over the place. The stains on the new sidewalks are permanent, and the seating areas disgusting. I call them sit-and-spit areas. Pan is banned in India and Canada, among other nations, because its use is unsanitary and indelible. It’s allowed on Devon, and sold by a significant number of stores. The alderman doesn’t care.
  • The streetscape design did not include trash cans in the seating areas, so garbage is dumped in planters and on / under seating

Notice that Silverstein takes credit for attending parades, “Iftar dinners,” and claims she participated in soccer games and the World Cup Final. That’s a sight I’d like to see. But however clumsy the wording, labeling these activities as “celebrat[ing] all our cultures” is ridiculous. I’ve always said she excels at the ceremonial aspects of her job–nobody is more willing to pose for pictures–but this is symbolism, not leadership.

Is the Movie in the Park really an example of Silverstein working with the community? Did Silverstein really help produce the Indian Boundary Park Harvest Fest? Or did she simply show up for yet another photo-opp?

It’s worth noting that the alderman with more than $190,000 in her war chest could not find a few hundred dollars to buy turkeys for the poor at Thanksgiving. In eight years in office, Silverstein has never organized a food drive or a coat drive for the less fortunate. Yes, her office collects items for Toys for Tots, veterans, and others, but I’ve never felt that she has any compassion for people less well-off than she is. I reviewed her campaign fundraising expense account, and find she consistently makes only two charitable donations: $200 per month to CJE for transportation for the elderly, and $50 per year for the North Boundary Homeowners League.

Four more years?? With this sorry record??

I think not.

Tomorrow: Part III will focus on Silverstein’s claims regarding public safety

 

Holiday Lights?

Devon Avenue has been decorated for the holidays that dare not be named.

While commercial districts in other neighborhoods are welcoming shoppers of all faiths and decorating to celebrate the season, the overlords of Devon Avenue–our unelected SSA Commissioners–have once again opted to celebrate diversity by pointedly ignoring Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.

The  “holiday” decorations chosen by the SSA– flashing lights of blue, red, green, and white– signify nothing, impart no holiday spirit, acknowledge no religious heritage, and do not reflect either the joy of the season or the spiritual renewal experienced by most of the ward’s residents at this time of year. Instead, they contribute additional gaudiness to a street whose storefront doors and windows are already ablaze with neon. The overall effect is that of a long, long strip mall, every intersection resembling the entrance to a gas station.

Looking eastward on Devon from Republic Bank.

The SSA seems to think that only Hindu holidays should be celebrated. This is wrong. We are a neighborhood of many faiths. Today, Roman Catholics will begin the Advent season,  a time of prayer and preparation for the birth of Christ. On Sunday evening our Jewish neighbors will begin celebrating the eight days of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Beginning on December 26, African-Americans and African immigrants will join together for Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration of African values and culture. Many Greek, Russian, and Serbian Orthodox Christians in our ward  will observe Christmas on January 7.

This rich cultural and spiritual heritage is ignored by the SSA. The colors of the season are present but their display  signifies nothing to anyone.

The SSA plans to install mandalas at Western and Devon. Why not a community Christmas tree?  Why not a public menorah lighting? Why not a winter festival that includes the entire community? Twenty percent of this Ward is Hispanic–where’s the Posada? Faith isn’t required to appreciate pageantry.

Contrast  the 50th Ward’s approach  to this time of year with that of the 41st Ward. Alderman Napolitano invites residents to  eight non-religious holiday events occurring in December. Two of those are sponsored by the local historical society,  including a craft boutique / cafe and a holiday house tour with or without lunch. One local Chamber of Commerce sponsors both a Winter Wine Stroll and a holiday dinner as well as a rewards program for shoppers who support local businesses. Another Chamber brought the Santa Express and is holding an ugly Christmas sweater contest  as well as  a community-wide scavenger hunt  for the weekend before New Year’s. One park council has organized a  holiday bazaar. There’s also a Toys for Tots campaign that’s a joint project between a local park council and the friends of the local library.

This level of community doesn’t happen without leadership from the alderman.  It’s true that the 41st Ward doesn’t have the diversity of the 50th, but I think that just gives us greater opportunities to explore other faiths and cultures and to share the joys of America’s unique  cultural and religious heritage with our newest immigrants.

Silverstein and the SSA are not interested. Devon celebrates Diwali and nothing else. The SSA can put loudspeakers in a parking lot but not a Christmas tree, a menorah, or even a sign that reads “Season’s Greetings.”

Merry Christmas? Happy Chanukah? Habari Gani?

Bah, humbug.

Movie Night on Devon — Another Silverstein/SSA Failure

Crowd attends Devon Movie Night. It ebbed and flowed during the event, but at no time were there more than two dozen people. Don’t they look comfortable?

Movie Night on Devon, another noisemaker in a parking lot sponsored by the alderman and the Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), attracted a crowd of two dozen people on a windy and chilly October Thursday night. Most were kids, many unattended by adults, and most were far more interested in the free popcorn than the movie. Many left before the movie ended because it was so cold and the popcorn machine shut down.

Who can blame them? What kind of organization seeks to build goodwill and increase business by inviting people to sit on asphalt on a 57-degree October night to watch an old movie?

What insensitive louts would consider placing this screen and loudspeakers alongside other people’s homes? The Devon SSA #43 and the alderman, of course.

The SSA’s characteristic lack of attention to detail was evident throughout the evening. The event, scheduled on a school night, was barely underway when the screen-loudspeaker combination blew a fuse. Near the end of the movie, the popcorn machine overheated and blew another one. Kids who had gorged on thirst-inducing popcorn were disappointed to learn that the SSA had not provided any water. There were no trash cans for the empty popcorn bags or the plastic wrappers from the giveaway plastic sunglasses, so the lot soon resembled the rest of Devon–littered with bags and food garbage. A couple of SSA big shots showed up to check on attendance.

A sharper view of the proximity to housing. The alderman wouldn’t dream of doing this where she lives, nor would the SSA members. But the impact of these events on the quality of life for residents here before the parking lot was built has never concerned them.

To his credit, Robert Taylor of Republic Bank had the excessive volume turned down, but it had to be loud to be heard over Devon’s traffic. It was a courtesy to neighbors who were largely unaware of the event because the SSA chose not to notify them, as required by law, and placed its advertising only in select businesses east of California Avenue. Oh, the alderman did announce it in her newsletter the week before, but she apparently didn’t have time to tend to the legal details or common courtesy, either. She and the SSA never do. You’d hear them screaming if something like this were scheduled outside their own residences, though.

The Shree Ganesh Temple celebrated a Hindu holiday in the parking lot, complete with loudspeaers that blasted for five hours. It also shut down Devon so dancers could march from the temple to the parking lot.

Devon shut down on Sunday, September 23, to allow 150 Hindu celebrants to march to thr parking lot from the temple. The temple’s owners have admitted that the temple exists primarily to increase business for Devon’s Indian merchants. They have voiced no concerns over its impact on non-Hindu residents.

This was a bad idea right from the start. The SSA and the alderman are determined to turn the failed parking lot into a neighborhood entertainment center. In the past six weeks, it’s been home to an India Day celebration, a political protest, a Hindu holiday celebration, and now this movie night. The lot is zoned only for parking and lacks a license for religious or entertainment events, but the SSA and the alderman don’t care. The Silverstein-selected SSA members (technically appointed by the Mayor) ignore the laws because Silverstein  encourages it. It’s paid off for her. There’s no Asian candidate for alderman this time around. There were two in 2015, and they garnered one-third of the vote.

There is no evidence that any of these loudspeaker-fueled occasions have increased business, and Devon east of California is littered with vacant stores–just like Devon west of California. The lot between Campbell and Maplewood, site of a fire during Berny Stone’s last term, is still vacant nine years later, overrun with weeds, used as a garbage dump by passers-by, and cursed with a sagging fence. A good alderman would take the owner to court on a sell-or-build lawsuit, but not Silverstein. You’d think the SSA could ask the lot’s owner to open his lot for such events. It’s right in the heart of what the SSA publicizes as Little India, and would be perfect for movie events, since there’s no nearby housing. But if your intent is to drive longtime residents out of the area, you want to stage your parties in a parking lot alongside an alley in a display of arrogance and contempt that would not be tolerated north of Devon.

It’s so hard to protest without loudspeakers. Look at this monstrosity on wheels! Naturally, this group appeared during the dinner hour.

I’ve noted before that Silverstein’s annual ward movie night, held in the north part of the ward, takes place during the summer in Chippewa Park. Why not hold Devon Movie Night in Berny Stone Park? Or is that too far from the SSA members’ businesses?

Every parking-lot event produced by Silverstein and the SSA has failed. They make a lot of noise, but they don’t build good will or business. Remember the Devon Community Market? The Family Fun Fest? What were they thinking?

I’m not opposed to movie nights. But they belong in parks. In August.

 

 

Another Jackass Idea

The jackasses who run SSA #43 have come up with yet another crackpot idea to build business in Little India. They have invited shoppers on Devon to bring blankets and lawn chairs and enjoy an evening on the asphalt watching a movie at the Republic Bank parking lot. Yes, you heard that right.

The idea is so stupid it defies logical analysis. On a Thursday night, a school night, from 8 to 10 p.m., the SSA will be showing an animated film in the parking lot. Who would want to sit on a blanket on wet asphalt to watch a movie? What kind of parents think this is a good opportunity to entertain children who have to go to school in the morning? Who wants to carry enough chairs for an entire family?

The SSA, as usual, has not bothered to inform or involve neighbors living 10 feet away from what the SSA–with Ald. Silverstein’s full cooperation–has made its private entertainment venue. I learned about this event only because I saw the poster taped to one of the store windows on Devon. I’m sure the alderman will promote it in her newsletter today, mainly because she doesn’t care what an imposition it is on residents living directly next door. As long as it doesn’t disturb her, she’s fine with it.

It’s worth noting that when there’s a movie on the north end of the ward, where the alderman lives, it’s held in a park, not a parking lot. But that end of the ward votes for her. Our precinct never has.

If there are any plans for parking, crowd control, noise abatement, or clean up, the SSA has not shared them with the people living alongside this parking lot. Given the way other events have been handled, spilled popcorn, soda, candy, and other food debris will simply be left overnight. Residents will just have to cope with the scores of rats attracted by all the goodies.

Who will handle the drunks? Will there be yet another taxpayer-funded police detail assigned to cover this private event?

Has the SSA applied for a special events permit? If so, it has failed to comply with any of the requirements imposed on it by the city. Nearby residents are supposed to get a 30-day notice that such an event is scheduled so they can object if they choose to. The SSA is also supposed to furnish detailed plans for parking, crowd and noise control, and clean up. It never does, because it does not communicate with residents.

It’s the time of year when the 2019 contract for the SSA is being negotiated. I think keeping this independent taxing body in operation should be an issue in the aldermanic campaign. This SSA has demonstrated time and time again that it has no respect for community residents or for the laws governing community events.

The SSA lacks any sense of courtesy or responsibility toward residents. Its members are arrogant, selfish, and downright mean when it comes to what they want, and they have consistently ignored the rights of nearby residents on both sides of Devon.

Ald. Silverstein attends the SSA meetings; in fact, they are held in her office. She and the Rogers Park Business Alliance, the SSA administrator, are fully aware of and complicit in this arrogant behavior. But it is she who sets the tone, she who fails to ensure that the laws she is sworn to uphold are followed.

It’s another reason to vote her out of office.

We need an alderman who understands that building a business district doesn’t start with a jackass idea.

Why Aren’t Parking Laws Enforced on Devon?

Ald. Brendan Reilly wants to increase fines for downtown double-parking to $300 per offense. We should do the same thing for such illegal parking on Devon.

Traffic is routinely blocked up and down Devon as drivers park or wait at bus stops and ntersections. Even worse, many drivers think it’s acceptable to  stop and load groceries in the middle of the street. This is particularly true between Talman and Rockwell, a block with two of the major grocery stores and a corner sweet shop.

This practice is dangerous for bus passengers, who typically have to board and exit the bus in the middle of the street. Passengers using walkers, canes, or wheelchairs are the most inconvenienced . I was on a bus  whose driver had to ask the driver of an illegally parked vehicle–busy reading his newspaper–to move so a passenger in a wheelchair could board. It’s also dangerous to be trapped on the street between traffic and parked or standing vehicles, especially if you use a walker, cane, or wheelchair.

And what about pedestrians, who typically have to dodge cars zooming out from behind the offending vehicles? Drivers often turn down the side streets and blast through residential alleys to try to make up the time they’ve lost in these unnecessary roadblocks.

There’s no reason for supply trucks to be making deliveries through a store’s front door. All the stores have loading docks accessible from the alley. A new grocery opened just east of Washtenaw a few months ago. It’s located just east of the bus stop, and it’s become routine for 18-wheelers to park in the bus lane while delivering products to the store. The loading dock in the back has never been used.

Where are the police? And where is the alderman?

The failure to ensure that parking laws are observed on Devon should be an issue in the aldermanic campaign.

 

Devon’s “Branding Campaign”

The alderman’s newsletter today asks for comments from the community on a branding campaign that it’s hoped will bring business to Devon Avenue. A project of the Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), the Rogers Park Business Alliance, which administers the SSA, and the alderman, you can go to a meeting or take the online survey to give your opinion. I used the online survey. I don’t know that the community’s opinions will matter much, if at all.

It’s clear that lots of time, money, and effort have gone into the branding concept and its expression. But I believe a branding campaign is the wrong approach at this point. Shabby stores, so-so merchandise, vacancies and boarded-up buildings, too many grocery stores and cell phone stores, the absence of true diversity and real choices–these need to be remedied before we start promoting Devon as an international marketplace. The relentless campaigns of the past few years branding Devon as Little India have deprived the merchants east of Western and west of California of recognition and thus real opportunities to build their businesses; they have no representation on the SSA, and the proposed branding campaign doesn’t recognize them either.

I think the first priority is building a business district worth a marketing campaign.

This will be a problem given the alderman’s lack of interest in economic development and the fact that the SSA is run by and for the benefit of Indian business owners. I’ve been tracking the businesses on Devon since 2014, and in that time have found that buildings and storefronts remain vacant for months–even years–before yet another sari shop, cell phone store, or grocery opens. When I check the building ownership for these properties, I find that they are Indian-owned. It’s no accident that only Indian businesses are permitted to rent storefronts on that stretch of Devon.

Devon used to be known all over the City and suburbs for its magnificent retailing. The neighborhood had everything–dress shops, toy shops, restaurants, men’s clothing stores, shoe stores, kids clothing shops, a hobby shop, linen, barber, and beauty shops, Crawford’s Department Store, a stock brokerage, bakeries and cigar stores, among other retailing offerings. In 1974, when Patel Bros. opened its first grocery store on Devon, it was welcomed to the mix. But as Indo-Americans bought the properties along Devon, , only Indian businesses were permitted to rent the storefronts. Do the Indian owners discriminate against non-Indian tenants? Yes, they do. It’s clear, and it’s illegal. I’ve tracked it for too long to believe otherwise. And I’ve talked with at least one non-Indian prospective business owner who wasn’t able to rent.

Maybe the RPBA, the SSA, and the alderman can work on that.

Here’s another hint:

An international marketplace sells quality goods from around the world. Diversity is in the merchandise, not in the merchants.

Devon includes store owners from around the world, but their businesses–which could thrive and become successful–are doomed to failure because they do not get the support and assistance they need. Many  are woefully under-capitalized and need access to funding as well as basic marketing, merchandise display, advertising, and retailing skills.  Devon is not a road in some dusty village where a single store sells everything from milk to suitcases. It’s a middle-class neighborhood in Chicago, and middle class people do not patronize stores with dusty bags of rice in the windows, or sun-faded boxes. If the alderman, the RPBA, or the SSA really want to build a business district rather than promote Little India, they would contact the SBA, the City’s business development office, and the State of Illinois for assistance in creating such training and making such resources available to merchants in the entire SSA area  (Leavitt to Kedzie on Devon, Arthur to Granville on Western).

Creating a “branding campaign” for the current dreary array of vacancies and shabby little shops selling so-so merchandise is a mistake. Mislead people once and you won’t get a second chance.

Build a business district that’s truly remarkable and it will sell itself.

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?