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

 

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Now What?

The old Northtown Library on California Avenue closed on Monday. The new building on Western and Pratt is still under construction. While library staff pack books and prepare to move into the new space, the question of what will happen to the old library needs to be addressed.

The fate of this publicly-owned building is officially undecided. Yet rumors persist that Silverstein has already promised it to either the Indo-American Center for its new home or the Jewish community for a synagogue, private school, or social service agency.

As I understand the procedure, once the building is vacant it must undergo a structural evaluation to determine if it is suitable for repurposing. If it is not, it will be demolished. But if it is, it must first be offered to City agencies and departments. Should none of them be interested in using it, then the alderman plays the largest role in determining its use and tenancy or new ownership.

Given Silverstein’s complete lack of transparency in Ward business it is highly unlikely that the community will have any meaningful input in this matter. She has still not revealed the names or organizational affiliations of the secret committee that advised her on library construction, and it’s been nearly two years since they were appointed.

We shouldn’t permit sham community meetings asking for neighbrhood input, as happened with the old theater at Devon and McCormick. A proposed cultural arts center was deemed impssible due to the lack of parking. In truth, the sale of that property for a storage facility had already been decided. After the sale and the creation of Berny Stone Park, the alderman announced that the Office Depot parking lot aross the street would be available to park users. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Community demand in West Ridge for a cultural and performing arts center available to all members of the community is ongoing and strong. Silverstein should pay attention. There should be open discussion and meaningful community input on the fate of the old library building. It should not be a prize doled out by Silversein, especially in an election year. Nor should it become a reward should Silverstein be reelected.

Other uses have also been suggested. Many less affluent children from the south end of the ward will lose access to the library and its services, like computer usage. A community center with classroom facilities is therefore another proosal, as is a senior center. Can these uses be combined? If the building is found to be structurally sound, would the addition of a second floor be possible?

Let the alderman know that you want the community to determine what happens to this public building. Call her office (773-262-10550) or email her (info@50thward.com).

Andrew Rowlas speaks eloquently about potential uses for this space. Saving this building for the use of the entire community is, in fact, an important part of his aldermanic campaign. Visit his campaign webste for details (rowlasforthe50th.com).

Let’s put an end to secret committees deciding public business. Let’s demand an open process and meaningful community input on the fate of this building that has served our community so well for nearly 60 years.

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.

 

New Info on Library-Senior Housing Building

There’s some new information that the alderman won’t tell you about but I will.

CHA has made available its “Draft Tenant Selection Plan (TSP), Lease, and other documents that will apply to resident occupancy at Independence or Northtown Apartments.” Note that the posted Lease from Evergreen is in its final form. Some of Evergreen’s House Rules may require modification or explanation.

For example, no volunteer work may be performed within any apartment. Does this include phone calls in behalf of a neighborhood group, or stuffing envelopes? No turkey frying is permitted, and neither is a turkey fryer. No candles, either. Tenants with a prescription for medical marijuana may not smoke the pot in the building. This seems unduly harsh. Forcing the old folks out into the snow so they can smoke medical marijuana for pain relief? Sheesh.

I found the pet policies interesting. Only one fur-bearing animal or two birds per unit, although tenants can have an “unlimited number of fish,” or at least as many as will fit in a 10-gallon tank. Tenants can have visitors, but play dates for their dogs or cats are not allowed in the building.

Tenants can have overnight visitors only 20 days per year.

NOTE: The public comment period began at 8:00 a.m. on June 28 and expires at 5:00 p.m. on July 28. The public hearing will be held  July 12 at  6:00 p.m. at the Budlong Woods Library, 5630 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL

 

 

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.

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!

Is Chicago Broke? Find Out at the Northtown Library on April 27

The West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO) and People of West Ridge (POWR)are co-sponsoring a book discussion on Thursday, April 27, at the Northtown Library. Our guests will be the editor and authors of “Chicago Is Not Broke: A Guide to Funding the City We Deserve.”  While the City waits to learn whether the Mayor will raise taxes and/or fees or simply borrow the money to cover the $200M shortfall in the Chicago Public Schools’ budget, residents can explore other solutions that, if implemented, could result in a tax reduction. Yes, you heard that right.

Each chapter’s author(s) explores a single topic in depth, including TIFs, a public bank, a progressive income tax, the costs of corruption, and the impact of toxic bank deals that force the City to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on debt service payments before a single penny can be spent on City services.

Authors of the book include former alderman Dick Simpson, Hilary Denk, an attorney and a Director of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, 2015 mayoral candidate Amara Enyia, former reporter and communications consultant Thomas J. Graedel, Chicago Teachers Union Staff Coordinator Jackson Pollock, and economics professor Ron Baiman. Editor Tom Tresser is well-known to Chicagoans as the man who first questioned the costs of staging the 2016 Olympics in Chicago and organized the “No Games Chicago” movement.

Books will be available for $12.

Please join us at the Northtown Library on Thursday, April 27, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. for a lively discussion. You’ll also have an opportunity volunteer to work on some initiatives for West Ridge improvement.

 

 

Post-Survey Thoughts

So, where were we? Oh, yes. The alderman gave the architects the results of her library survey—the one that showed that 7 out of 10 respondents don’t use the Northtown Library, slightly more than half of respondents (52%) never even visit the Northtown Library, and 76% of the 600 respondents under age 16 voted in favor of a coffee bar but did not support space for the community to meet. She said these results would aid in designing the library we all need and want.

The alderman also stated in her newsletter that the LEARN Survey obtained similar results. It did not. It asked different questions, but even where the questions were comparable, results differ significantly. This is because the LEARN Survey was a serious attempt to gather information from the community, and not a last-minute pastiche of poorly-conceived questions designed to deflect attention from the lack of information coming from the alderman’s office.

Had the alderman been serious about gathering information, she would have taken the time to properly design her survey: First question: Do you use the Northtown Library? “Yes” respondents should have been directed to one set of follow-up questions, “No” respondents to another set. It’s more important for planners to know WHY someone doesn’t use the library than to know that non-users would like to have a coffee bar. It should not be up to the alderman, the architects, or the residents to guess at the reasons people don’t use the Northtown facility; that question should have been part of the survey. If answers are subject to interpretation, then the survey has failed its most important test: Does it tell us what we want to know?

Input from the neighborhood’s children could have been captured by a separate survey designed with them in mind. Children should have a voice in selecting books and media bought for their use, but they should not be voting on the need for a community meeting room.

Whoever thought it a good idea to have the kids take the survey in class or for homework or whatever other reason has done the community a disservice. I’m sure it was meant well, but the overwhelming number of under-16 responses means the survey’s results are distorted and therefore almost meaningless.To disregard the children’s vote is as bad as giving it too much weight. Did the alderman attempt to mitigate the disproportionate response from the youngest group when she sent the results downtown? If so, how? If not, why? Was there any cover letter outlining her interpretation of the results?  Can we see it?

The survey-takers did not include one key demographic—those aged 17 to 25. These young adults are finishing high school, starting or in college or grad school, or just beginning their work lives, seeking jobs and opportunities to help get a start in life. Only seven people in this age range took the survey, and that is simply not representative of the neighborhood.

Transmitting highlights of the survey results to the community via the alderman’s weekly newsletter was in my opinion the wrong way to make the results available. For one thing, not everybody subscribes to her newsletter; for another, those who get print copies don’t have access to the full survey results (the link to those is a “click here” function, not a URL). I had hoped that the alderman and her Advisory Board would take the time to pull the results of her survey and the LEARN survey together so that the community—and the architects—might gather truly useful information that would be fully and fairly considered as the building plans move forward. I had also hoped that the alderman would then discuss these results with residents.

Instead we got an information dump on the weekend before Passover and Holy Week, with the alderman’s Devon office closed for three of the following five work days.

Time is rapidly slipping away and I wonder if it’s already too late for residents to play a significant role in this project. If the building is to be delivered on schedule—December 2018, 20 months from now—you can bet more decisions have already been finalized than we now know. Maybe the quest for  “community input” is nothing more than the sham already suspected.

The last community meeting was on March 20, more than three weeks ago. The “many, many meetings” promised are not being scheduled. Alderman?

 

 

 

 

The Alderman’s Library Survey

Results from the alderman’s survey, released yesterday, make interesting reading.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. According to the alderman’s newsletter, “more than 1,500 people have completed” her survey, reportedly “…a broad and diverse segment of the 50th Ward” including “speakers of all the major languages spoken in the neighborhood….”  [There was a question on the survey asking which languages respondents speak, but the survey itself was available online only in English.] The alderman says that she’s “…given the survey results to the project architects, so they can use your comments and input to design a library that fits the unique needs and desires…” of West Ridge residents.

A closer look at the results reveals that:

  • 68% of respondents don’t use the Northtown Library
    • 32% use a different library
    • 36% don’t use Northtown
    • 32% use Northtown.
  • 52% of respondents don’t even visit the Northtown Library
  • 37% of respondents are over age 50 (555 respondents based on 1,500 total)
    • Their votes were distributed most evenly across choices; the only group to highly rank adult reading space and community meeting rooms as top priorities
    • 63% want an outdoor reading space
    • 56% want a coffee bar
  • 23% of respondents are between ages 16 and 49 (345 respondents) with  (2%, or 7 respondents, between ages 16 – 25)
    • Overwhelmingly in favor of children’s space and technology; fewest votes for community meeting rooms and adult reading spaces (no surprises here–these are the prime parenting years)
    • 73% want an outdoor reading space
    • 63% want a coffee bar
  • 40% of respondents are children 16 and under (600 respondents)
    • Most votes for technology, children’s and teen spaces; very little interest in adult reading space; least interested in community meeting rooms
    • 83% want an outdoor reading space
    • 76% want a coffee bar

This is community input? The alderman passed this along to the architects as what the community wants? A coffee bar chosen by children? Results determined by people who don’t use the library? Who don’t even visit? Who apparently took the survey as a classroom exercise? If we build the coffee bar, will the children come?

I sometimes wonder if the alderman is paying attention to what she’s doing. It’s simply inexcusable to present her survey results to the architects when they are clearly just plain goofy.  It’s irresponsible of her to ignore the results of the LEARN survey, which was not heavily influenced by kids but was taken by thoughtful adults trying to provide serious input on a major community project. Had she gone to the community for input sooner, she might have designed a survey whose results could have been useful in planning the new library.

The alderman should have scrapped her survey results and started over.

Unless we want 600 kids to be the determining factor in what kind of library we get.

 

 

 

 

We Need Answers from Ald. Silverstein

Alderman Silverstein needs to hear from residents about two important matters related to the new library.

First, when is the next community meeting?  This needs to be scheduled as soon as possible, since the building is scheduled to be completed by December 2018, and it’s already April 2017. If residents are going to have meaningful input, it needs to happen NOW.

Second, who are the members of the alderman’s Advisory Board? The alderman must reveal their names and affiliations and tell us why they were chosen to represent the neighborhood, given that there was no call for volunteers. How were its members chosen from among all eligible residents? Further, because this Advisory Board meets with the alderman to discuss a government-funded building, the Minutes of those meetings should also be released to the community.

Contact the Alderman via phone (773-262-1050) or email (info@50thwardchicago.com).

NOTE: The alderman continues to use a private, untraceable email account for public business. According to the official City of Chicago Web site, her proper official email address, using the taxpayer-funded, city-provided secure system, is ward50@cityofchicago.org.

As regular readers know, the alderman is not subject to FOIA requests because individual aldermen are not “public bodies,” i.e., they cannot act alone. However, emails sent or received using her City-provided email address can be FOIA’d because the City is a public body.

A secret Advisory Board. Minutes from its meetings unreleased. Public business conducted via a private email address.

Doesn’t seem right, does it?