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!

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.

 

 

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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Economic Development Community Meeting at Northtown Library

Every year the Chicago Community Trust invites City residents to participate in discussions of topics of public interest and public policy. The program, known as “Open Table,”  organizes these citywide discuussions neighborhood by neighborhood.

This year, the West Ridge Community Organization and the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce are co – sponsoring the OpenTable program that will take place on Thursday, May 10th, at the Northtown Library, 6435 North California, from 6 to 8 p.m.  The selected topic is economic planning and development in West Ridge.

Discussions will begin with a presentation by Abraham Lentner, city planning instructor att the University of Illinois at Chicago. After his presentation, the audience will break into small discussion groups to share ideas about potential eonomic dvelopment improvements for our neighborhood. The audience will then reconvene to share each group’s ideas, concerns, and recommendations.

The event is free. If you have any questions please contact the West Ridge Community Organization or the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.

SSA #43 Tax Levy — and a Two-Minute Meeting

SSA #43, the Special Services Area taxing district that adds an extra 1.5% property tax levy to real estate on Devon from Kedzie to Damen and on Western from Granville to Arthur, received City Council approval for its 2017 levy on November 15, 2016.

By law, there was to be a public meeting about the increase before the budget was approved, but I was unable to uncover any evidence of either the notice or the meeting so I e-mailed the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce for the meeting date and the name of the paper(s) where the notice was published. I have yet to receive a response, the Chamber no doubt busy planning its next business-building children’s event.

However, on Monday, November 28, Chamber personnel posted the “Minutes” of a purported “Community Meeting Regarding the Budget Levy Increase” allegedly held on October 27.  According to these “Minutes,” “Meeting was called to order at 6:10 p.m. No community members attended and no questions were presented. Meeting was adjourned at 6:12 p.m.”  The alderman is listed as present.

Interestingly, the Minutes of the SSA’s October 27 regular meeting were also posted on November 28. That meeting was also “called to order at 6:10 p.m.” but not adjourned until 6:56 p.m. So it appear that the two meetings were held simultaneously. I’m sure this will be corrected. The devil is always in the details.

Still no word on where the legally-required notices for the legally-required meeting  were published. This sure seems like  yet another example of the contempt the powers-that-be have for neighborhood residents and the concept of transparency in government.

The meeting was also attended by Mike Parella, who was otherwise unidentified and whose presence was unexplained.There is a Project Coordinator with the City’s Department of Planning & Development by the same name. Maybe he was there to witness the neighborhood’s indifference to the alderman’s way of doing business. Maybe the lack of community presence was taken as confidence in her vision.  Or maybe the dismal state of the neighborhood’s main shopping district has been noticed by City honchos who are finally helping the alderman with her six-years-in-the-making-and-yet-to-be-released “spirited economic development plan.” Let’s hope so. Residents have been unable to connect with her on the issue.

The SSA’s budget is stated in the ordinance (SO2016-7364), which can be found by searching the City Clerk’s Web site. It’s a lengthy document, and contains two separate applications and budgets, one for the Chamber and the other for the new “sole service provider,” the Rogers Park Business Alliance. The ordinance was amended to make the Business Alliance rather than the Chamber the service provider.

Note how the monies are budgeted.

Most of it (more than $270,000) goes to “Public Way Aesthetics,” the primary job apparently being cleaning-up after the litterers, spitters, and food-tossers who shop on Devon and don’t care about dirtying the neighborhood.

Rice Computer Services is to be paid $4,000 for repair and maintenance of the Big Belly trashcans.

“Customer attraction” is budgeted at $54,000; less than half that sum ($25,000) is earmarked for “Safety Programs,” and only $12,000 will be invested in business development. Mixed-up priorities?

“Sustainability and Public Places” gets $8,000. Perhaps that will result in an investment in signage, such as “No Spitting” or “No Parking in Bus Lanes” or “Parking in Crosswalks Prohibited.”  Perhaps the presence of uniformed police or Revenue Department personnel writing tickets would also be effective deterrents.

No 50th Ward businesses landed service contracts. Instead, two of the six subcontractors listed by the Business Alliance are from outside Chicago, and one is in Maryland. Three are from other neighborhoods. Why hire a $16,000 accountant from Skokie when there are many accountants in the Ward? No local businesses can make street banners (to be provided by a company in Blue Island at a cost of $10,000) or provide landscaping and holiday decorations ($25,000 to a business in Rockville, Maryland)?

Of course, there has to be a consultant, paid $30,000; at least the business is in the City, as is the $20,000 snow shoveler and the $4,000 auditor; the latter is located in Edgewater.

All fees are estimated.

Stealth taxes. Secret, two-minute meetings. Services from vendors outside the Ward.

The Silverstein way.

 

FunFest FlimFlam

FunFest was a wild success for children but a total bust as a business booster for Devon businesses. It showcases once again the absence of leadership in the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce as well as its desperation. It plans events like this in an effort to make itself a presence in the community while failing completely in its mission of business development. The Chamber’s inability to secure participation from any storekeepers on Devon turned the heavily-publicized event into a children’s party.

FunFest organizers publicized the event as having “two miles of sidewalk sales” plus free children’s activities and live music for adults. The press release further invited fest-goers to visit our “300 restaurants and 25 bakeries” as an added inducement. How pathetic: we lack middle-class shopping so we invite folks to visit our bakeries. Remember—this is the Chamber of Commerce speaking.  Such wildly preposterous claims are just part of the Chamber’s plague of image and effectiveness problems. [Familiar with the Chamber’s exaggerations, I checked its figures, which, predictably, were three times higher than the actual numbers.] 

The fest was attended by a couple hundred children, who had a great time with games, face painting, and other activities. The music was way too loud, as usual, and played at a level guaranteed to damage the hearing of kids who stayed too long or got too close. But the fest was held in the poor part of the ward, and the Chamber–to the extent it considered the effect of the decibel level on children at all, which is doubtful–knows that poor people, in this case almost all immigrants from countries with worse educational systems than our own, don’t know about these things. Then, too, the elevated speakers were directed at housing, not at participants, and nobody’s thinking about the kids’ hearing at this kind of event.  What’s a little hearing loss if it means a new account for the bank? Priorities, please.

As far as boosting business, the Chamber failed utterly. No stores participated in the sidewalk sales event. Not one. I traveled both sides of Devon for over an hour and found empty sidewalks. This was to be expected, since the Chamber’s repeated attempts to get merchants to participate in the Devon Community Market also went nowhere. Merchants tell me that there’s nothing the Chamber can do for them. They’re right. It’s completely irrelevant, its activities, such as they are, nothing more than blundering attempts to get noticed. The Chamber supposedly exists as business development experts, not as party planners. You’d never know it.

Successful chambers of commerce, such as those in neighboring wards, work with development-minded aldermen to support the community through business recruitment and development. By encouraging economic progress that creates jobs for residents and strengthens residents’ ties to local commerce, chambers of commerce help build the loyalty that turns neighbors into repeat customers who keep businesses profitable. So there’s already one problem: our alderman has zero interest in business development, thus our rudderless Chamber lacks vision or direction. Strike one.

Call the Chamber and ask how many businesses there are in the ward. I’ll save you the trouble: They don’t know. Oh, they can tell you how many business licenses there are—that’s an easy look-up–but that’s not the same thing.  Ask them what kinds of businesses have set up shop here. They don’t know that, either. How many of a given type of store are here? Duh.  Is there a West Ridge business directory? Yes—but only of the approximately 200 businesses that belong to the Chamber. Two hundred—in a ward with over 1,500 businesses.  Does the Chamber have an active business recruitment program?  How does the Chamber sell the neighborhood to prospective businesses? What is the Chamber doing to alleviate the parking problem?  Would the Chamber’s time be better directed to attracting and retaining commerce than hiring face-painters? Strike two.

As regular readers know, the parking lot at Republic Bank lacks both PPA and PVA licenses. Both live and canned music were blasted at yesterday’s event in violation of City law. I asked Barbara Singal, the Chamber’s Executive Director, if she had a permit for the music She showed me two sheets of paper, one clearly labeled “Application for Permit” and the other purportedly a letter from the alderman in support of the event. Singal claimed “the commissioner” had signed the permit. When I attempted t get out my glasses to read the documents myself, she took them out of my hands and replaced them in her tote bag. I suspect they’re bogus but asked her to email the documents to me; we’ll see if she does.

In the meantime, tell me how you’d feel if this were blasted in your direction for several hours on an otherwise lovely late summer afternoon.

Where Singal and Robert Taylor, the bank’s manager and this year’s Chamber president, live, this kind of children’s event is held in the local park so it won’t disturb residents enjoying their yards on one of the last summer Sundays. Aren’t my neighbors and I entitled to the same consideration? Do you think Silverstein would write a letter in support of such an event where she lives? When children behave this way, we call it bullying and tell them why it’s wrong. When aldermen and those who derive their power from aldermen do it, it’s still bullying and it’s still wrong. They must be held accountable for it. Strike three.

Silverstein is a city official sworn to uphold the law. If a permit was obtained, strings were pulled to get it. It’s also possible that Singal and Taylor were bluffing; this may be why the papers were snatched away before I could read them. The blasting yesterday—the 27th musical performance in the lot—is just the latest in a pattern of abusive behavior for which the bank, the Chamber, Singal, Taylor, and the alderman must be held accountable.

It appears that it will take legal action to get the parties involved to behave lawfully. Abuse should never be tolerated, especially when it comes from people with access to political power that they think confers immunity from responsibility for their actions

Fore more information on loud music and hearing damage in children, click here.

 

SSA #43: Taxation Without Representation

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of SSA #43. Maybe you’ve read about an upcoming SSA meeting in the alderman’s weekly newsletter? Maybe you’ve read about major decisions taken by its Board that determine not only Devon’s cleanliness, snow removal policies, noise level, and decorations, but also how much property owners within the SSA district will have to pony up in extra real estate taxes to pay for these services?  No?

You should know about it, because SSA #43 taxes property owners within its boundaries (Kedzie to Damen on Devon, Arthur to Granville on Western) to support its initiatives. It’s one of those anonymous, quasi-governmental bodies with taxing authority that has its hands in residents’ pockets and hides in plain sight.

[Scroll down until you get to the part about how much it costs each property in the district to pay for the SSA. Keep in mind that these are the 2013 figures.]

SSA #43 is the Special Services Area for Devon Avenue, created by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and the Devon merchants to boost business on Devon Avenue without having to actually address the basic problem, i.e., exclusionary retailing, or make any substantive changes that would require economic planning involving the entire West Ridge community. It’s worth noting that one of the objectives mentioned in the financial statements (Note 1) is to establish competitive commercial districts; how this can be accomplished when merchants refuse to serve most of the immediate market is not addressed.

The SSA is run by the Chamber of Commerce and the SSA Board to benefit businesses within its district, although some receive no help at all while others control the Board and the money and use it primarily to benefit merchants between Western and Washtenaw. You know—the merchants who don’t want local residents in their stores unless those residents are the right ethnicity. This used to be called discrimination, but it’s not politically correct to say that in relation to minorities. Let’s call it exclusionary retailing: by stocking merchandise that supports the culture of only one ethnic group in our diverse community, shoppers from other ethnic groups are not only excluded but also actively helped to self-select out of local stores. Because 80% of the neighborhood is not the target market, merchants must rely on shoppers from other areas and tourists to make money. And those shoppers now have better places to go.

The merchants may not want our business, but they do want our money.  What the SSA describes as “a small assessment” is largely unknown to the residents who pay it. As if that’s not bad enough, SSA #43 overlaps with a TIF district. When SSA and TIF areas overlap, an increase in taxes for one results in an increase for the other. You do remember reading that on your tax bill, or hearing about it from the alderman, right? If not, you might want to check out a 2012 report by the City’s Inspector General,

In theory, the SSA’s Board represents both business and property owners. In fact, it doesn’t. In addition to its tasks of removing snow (except on Tuesdays, when there’s no point since the stores aren’t open and who cares about pedestrians anyway?) and cleaning up the mountains of garbage left by shoppers, the SSA also helps plan and fund so-called “community” events, such as the upcoming FunFest and the Devon Community Market. These events always fail because (1) the larger community doesn’t shop on Devon and therefore doesn’t care about business-building efforts; (2) there’s no parking; and (3) the planning group lacks imagination except when it comes to reporting fantasy figures for attendance.

This year the SSA planned to spend tax dollars on street banners celebrating Indian and Pakistani Independence Days. No money was spent on banners to celebrate American Independence Day, which joins Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Easter, Purim, Labor Day, Halloween, Hanukkah, and Christmas as holidays no longer recognized or celebrated by store owners on Devon. The SSA does celebrate Hindu holidays and created an all-night Eid shopping event–wihout warning nearby residents, many kept awake by the cars, music, fireworks, screaming children, and boisterous adults celebrating the end of Ramadan. It took a 3:00 a.m. thunderstorm to get them to go home.

There was an attempt to renew the SSA for another 15 years–until 2028–but it failed to pass the City Council in May 2015. [Note that the link to the Council ordinance specifies that certain “private information has been redacted from public viewing.”] The tax increase requested by the SSA (from .40 to 1.5%) was in addition to all other property taxes levied, so I suspect the failure to pass was related to the whopping property tax increase about to be levied, but the SSA did not let the issue die.

On further checking, I found that the Council approved the money grab in December 2015 with the signing of agreements which are, not surprisingly, no longer available on the City’s Web site. Both the 2015 and 2016 agreements have vanished, although the Web site assures me that City staffers have been notified and will search for the missing documents. Imagine: public documents relating to a secretive property tax hike suddenly gone from public view. And I mean suddenly— they disappeared the day after I accessed them.

The SSA currently has three vacancies, according to the April 2016 minutes. While I strongly encourage community members to apply for appointment, be warned that the alderman makes the choices, though members are technically mayoral appointees. It’s a given that she–and they–won’t want anybody who speaks for residents or thinks independently.

The next meeting of SSA #43 is on Thursday, September 15, at 4:00 p.m. at the alderman’s office Meetings are open to the public, but don’t be surprised if you show up and the meeting is cut short, or everything under discussion is moved to executive session.

SSA #43 is yet another instance of the powers-that-be operating in secrecy. The 2013 initiative claimed public outreach, but did anyone from the community attend? Hard to tell, especially if the 2013 creation and 2015 attempt at renewal are any gudes. In 2013, only 100 copies were published of a “Special Pamphlet” describing the district and outlining its funding and its responsibilities. That isn’t enough copies to distribute to the businesses in the SSA district, let alone the residential property owners. In 2015, notice of the SSA’s request for renewal was published not in a local paper, where residents might actually see it, but in the Chicago Sun Times classifieds, where it would be easy to miss. Of course, if you don’t know there’s an SSA that’s taxing you, you wouldn’t be looking for any such announcement, would you? It wasn’t mentioned in the alderman’s newsletter, either.

In both cases, the SSA met the letter of the law—notice was given, but not its spirit—actually informing the public.

The SSA was helped in its quest for a tax hike by an expensive consulting firm, Place Consulting. Its Community Engagement page provides a blueprint for the kind of outreach this SSA needs to do if it really wants to fully engage residents in economic development. But I doubt if that’s the SSA’s goal. Levying taxes in secrecy and ignoring the community’s needs and desires suits them better.

Didn’t America’s founders fight a war against this?

 

 

 

FunFest in Need of Volunteers

I hear that FunFest, sponsored by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, the Silversteins, SSA #43, and a few businesses and community organizations, needs volunteers who can help support the event, scheduled for the Republic Bank parking lot on August 28.

This is the same crowd that made such a mess of the Devon Community Market. They never learn from their mistakes. The neighborhood has never shown any support for non-events like this, so organizers have combined it with a sidewalk sale. If you need suitcases, phone cards, hookahs, cheap trinkets, or fruits and vegetables, this sale’s for you. If you’re looking for the “international shopping” the promoters are claiming, go somewhere else. Buying cucumbers and lottery tickets from vendors from different cultures does not quality as international shopping, but getting the powers-that-be to understand this is impossible.

There’s no better example of the poor thinking and lack of imagination of this event’s organizers than in the decision to once again use the Republic Bank parking lot as an illegal entertainment venue. Let’s set aside for a moment the blatant disregard for nearby residents or the arrogance on display in ignoring both the law and common decency. After all, the Silversteins’ co-sponsorship makes the law what they say it is; the fact that they and their neighbors wouldn’t tolerate this disrespect for a second just adds insult to injury.

Instead, let’s look at this from a practical standpoint: using this lot for entertainment prevents it from being used for parking. This is so typical of the way this group thinks–plan an event to attract hundreds of shoppers, then close the second-largest parking facility in the area so it can be used for face-painting. The sheer stupidity of it is mind-boggling.

If you’d like to volunteer, please contact the Chamber. It needs all the help it can get.

 

 

 

NIMBY – And I Don’t Care WHO Says It’s OK

Yesterday the Republic Bank on Devon held its first recycling event. Bank Manager Robert Taylor described it as “something nice for the neighborhood,” but that depends on where you live and how you spend your Sunday mornings. In my opinion, waking up to recycling trucks is not the best way to start the day, especially when the trucks are located directly alongside residential housing. It’s yet another example of the Bank’s utter disregard for its closest neighbors. The fact that Taylor is this year’s president of the Chamber of Commerce only makes it worse.

Devon Bank holds these recycling events several times a year in its parking lot on Western. It, too, has residential housing directly across the alley, but Devon Bank’s executives take care to locate the noisy trucks closer to Western than to housing, leaving plenty of room for vehicles to move in and out. Devon Bank’s courtesy toward its neighbors is not shared by Republic Bank.

When I asked Taylor why the trucks were located at the north end of the Republic lot—closest to housing—he replied, “I didn’t think it would be a problem.”  Really??When I asked if he’d stand for having these trucks alongside his home, he raised his arm and pointed to his watch. “It’s 9 ‘clock,” he said, and then added “Is there anything we can do to please you?” This was a reference to my past complaints about the number of noisy events held in what neighbors were assured was “just a parking lot” when it was built in 2012.

The Bank miscalculated when it built the lot, tearing down that part of its building that housed rent-paying tenants, like medical, accounting, and real estate offices while hoping to cash in on the street scape. Grateful shoppers show their resentment at paying for parking by cheating the Bank in every possible way, including breaking the gates so they don’t have to pay. Transforming the space into an unlicensed play lot won’t save it.

It’s been home to the Devon Community Market, with its live and canned music blasting from huge speakers, and several live concerts sponsored by the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA).  There is only one properly-licensed venue on Devon for this kind of event, but the Chamber and the other groups won’t use it. Instead, all of these events have been staged without proper permits or licensing directly across the alley from residences.

I realize that the Bank would like to increase its presence in the community as a way to increase its business. Nothing wrong with that, but using its parking lot as an entertainment center while ignoring the laws that govern such things is simply wrong. It could choose to perform other services for the community, like sponsoring kid’s sports teams. It’s not going to increase business by annoying people.

The parking lot is not zoned for performances of any kind. This presupposes, of course, that one of the alderman’s patented stealth zoning changes has not already occurred. I am still searching the City’s zoning records to be certain, and so far have not found any changes. I can say with certainty that no warning of an impending zoning change has ever been issued to nearby residents, but this reflects only the standard lack of transparency about these things in this Ward and does not relate to whether any such changes are planned or pending.

Most of my neighbors have given up trying to be heard in the councils of power that decide how we all live with this lot. Others have made accommodations—they put up with the noise without complaint in exchange for some benefit that only the powers-that-be can grant. Some even believe that it’s better not to complain to avoid the retribution that so often accompanies standing up for one’s rights. Unfortunately, when enough people choose silence in the face of abuse by the powerful, the abuse gets worse.

No person or group that sponsored any musical or “special” event in the Republic Bank parking lot in the past three years has applied for the City’s Special Events Permit. That’s because City law requires sponsoring groups to submit a written plan in advance advising the City on the sponsor’s plans for bus reroutes, garbage disposal, general clean-up, street closures, food service, and other aspects of the event. Other applications and licenses may also be needed, depending on the event’s specific activities. These groups simply act as if they have all the authority they need. Many assert that the alderman is fully aware of their event and approves of it.

Why would anybody think the alderman can approve breaking the law? Or that her knowledge of an illegal event implies consent?

I attended a January workshop held by the City’s Licensing Department to learn what licensing is required to sponsor a public entertainment event. I learned that, BEFORE applying for the DCASE application, one must first ensure that the chosen venue is appropriately licensed by the City. Furthermore, aldermen may not interfere with the licensing process, in other words, they may not intervene in favor of an applicant nor waive the licensing requirements.

This is the biggest hurdle for sponsors and organizers: musical events can be staged only at venues that hold a Public Place of Amusement (PPA) license. The Bank parking lot doesn’t have one and cannot get one because such a venue requires a distance of at least 125 feet from residential housing. The only place on Devon with a PPA license is Bombay Hall, below street level at the site of the old Hillman’s. Not surprisingly, organizers want their events at street level, in hopes of attracting crowds. If this means trampling on residents’ rights, they don’t care.

These events tend to be staged at night and on weekends, when City offices regulating noise control and licensing are closed. Complainers are referred to the alderman, who isn’t available nights or weekends, although you can leave a message and she’ll get back to you when the event is over. This presents a problem for law enforcement, which cannot shut down these illegal events because (a) complainants are accused of racism; and (b) the event organizers claim they have the alderman’s permission. Any cop who even tried to stop one of these illegal events would no doubt find himself walking a beat in Englewood within the hour.

I talked with one man supervising the concert who told me that they didn’t have to apply for any permits because “…the City takes care of everything.” Howdoes it do that when it’s not aware the event is scheduled? Well, Washtenaw Avenue was suddenly closed in mid-afternoon, after the concert started, when drivers learned that the parking lot was closed to traffic. They were permitted to enter Washtenaw at Arthur, but did not learn they couldn’t exit until informed by  a sign hastily posted at the east-west alley,  Event organizers didn’t care.

These concerts, by the way, are set up beginning at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Huge tractor-trailers block our alley while barrels of supplies roll down metal ramps, men shout instructions at one another, tents are erected, the stage constructed, food tables and audience chairs are set up, speakers tested—all of this occurring ten feet from sleeping residents. Most of my neighbors are not about to tangle with a couple dozen arrogant, physically-powerful men hauling barrels and heavy equipment around a parking lot at that hour of the morning. Isn’t physical intimidation a form of bullying?

Neither this year’s Indian Independence Day concert nor the extensively-publicized FunFest sponsored by the alderman and West Ridge Chamber of Commerce—both scheduled over the next three weeks—have applied for any special use permits from the City. Neither has met the statutory requirement of notifying nearby neighbors 30 days before the event that it has been scheduled. Using FOIA, I asked the City’s Department of Special Events and Cultural Affairs (DCASE) for copies of any and all applications for special use permits for events to be held in the Republic Bank Parking Lot. As of August 5, none have been located.

FunFest is an especially interesting case study of what’s wrong with the Chamber of Commerce and its approach to economic development. And it’s yet another event that lacks the proper permits yet enjoys the alderman’s sponsorship.

It all begins with a little-known taxing district that is the subject of tomorrow’s post.

 

Business & Community Fair in West Ridge

The West Ridge Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Republic Bank to sponsor an event built around the theme “Protecting Your Financial and Personal Health,” set to take place on Wednesday, April 6, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Republic Bank (2720 West Devon).

Vendors include the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, the Devon Avenue SSA (Special Services Area) #43, the Small Business Majority, an advocacy group with ties to the Democratic Party, and vendors championing immigrant rights: The Indo-American Center (various services); Apna Ghar (Our Home, fighting gender-based violence in immigrant communities); the South Asian American Policy and Research Institute (SAAPRI), as well as the Pak-American Medical Center (free health services).

The selection of vendors does not necessarily suggest that business owners and entrepreneurs as well as residents from other communities within West Ridge would be unwelcome. The event’s flyer notes that information will be provided about “…many services that are offered free to the public,”  and we all have an interest in utilizing the services provided by our tax dollars.

The SSA, for example, covers both sides of Devon from Damen on the east to Kedzie on the west as well as Western Avenue from Arthur to Granville. Quietly renewed (meaning no public notice to residents)  in 2014, the SSA impacts property taxes for residents as well as business owners, and overlaps with the current Devon-Western TIF district.

Perhaps the next fair could broaden its offerings, thus attracting business owners and residents from various other ethnic groups.  We can’t celebrate the diversity we talk about if we exclude 80% of the neighborhood.

Building community is everybody’s business.