Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Community Forum-Last Minute Notice (As Usual)

WHEN: Thursday, September 27 at 7:00 PM

WHERE: Mundelein Center Auditorium- Loyola University
1020 W. Sheridan Road

Many thanks to Craig at The Broken Heart of Rogers Park for sharing this with us, since there is no mention of this important meeting on Alderman Joe Moore's official site today.

With Craig's permission, I'm taking the lazy road tonight, and cutting and pasting the announcement from his blog, as follows:

Dear Readers:

As local elected officials, we have an obligation to our constituents to provide them with a voice in Springfield. This year, we spoke with many local groups and organizations about their needs and concerns to help deliver improved services.

When crafted a new state budget, we worked to pass a responsible spending plan that serves those most in need, including persons with disabilities, immigrant and refugee families, the homeless and individuals suffering from AIDS. Further, we worked to provide needed funding for local schools, park districts, fire stations, municipalities, economic development and to assist our senior citizens.

This funding was secured in order to provide our most needy residents with the services they rely on. However, Gov. Rod Blagojevich disagreed. He not only cut these crucial local projects from the budget, but in doing so he insulted the integrity of many worthy community groups by labeling the funding as 'pork'. Now the ability of these organizations to provide needed programs to the families they serve has been severely damaged.We are hosting a community forum at 7pm on Thursday, Sept. 27, at the Mundelein Center Auditorium of Loyola University, 1020 W. Sheridan Road to hear from area community organizations and local governments about how the governor's harmful budget cuts may affect their operations and ability to provide services.

We encourage anyone who is concerned about the loss of these needed projects to attend this hearing. It is important that we build the necessary support for an override of the governor's vetoes, and your attendance at this forum can help build the necessary momentum. We look forward to seeing you there.


Now, this is what I call Transparancy in Government. Here we are, two days in front of the most important community meeting of the year, and none of our elected officials, least of all our 49th Ward AlderBeast, sees fit to put an announcement on his or her official site, or send e-mail notices, or in any other manner inform citizens of this event so that they can mark their calendars and make plans. No doubt notice of this meeting will appear tomorrow or the day of the event itself, on Moore's site and those of other officials, so they can claimed they served notice of the event while making sure that short enough notice was given that many busy citizens have made other plans that cannot be postponed, and that attendance at the meeting will therefore be very minimal.

I unfortunately cannot attend, as I have a business event I must attend and had already arranged, so I hope another blogger attends and reports on the event. I also hope many citizens attend and make themselves heard at this event.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Edgewater Beach Neighbors Association Meeting

The Edgewater Beach Neighbors Association will meet tomorrow, Tuesday, at 7:00 PM, at the Edgewater Presbysterian Church, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr.

Matters to be discussed include:

* Proposal for development at St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Church, at Sheridan &
* Nomination of Officers
* Foster Avenue Beautification

Renters and homeowners are welcome to join in all monthly meetings.

More information is available at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Edgewater_Beach_Neighbors

Friday, September 21, 2007

Housing Horror of the Week: Lakeview Highrise Evacuated Because of Asbestos

This week, I'm starting a new feature called Housing Horror of the Week, to cover egregious abuses of homebuyers and renters by sleazy, unscrupulous developers and landlords; and insensitive, ham-fisted government officials.

This week's horror is yet another recent condo conversion, at 2930 N. Sheridan Road in Lakeview. The mostly-vacated building was still being renovated when a worker disturbed some asbestos pipe insulation, necessitating the immediate evacuation of the building's remaining residents, including new condo buyers who had just recently moved in.

My problem with the evacuation at this building was not the fact that it was done, which was only appropriate and necessary, but with the way it was conducted. Residents were given very short notice, apparantly less than 24 hours, to gather what personal effects they could and clear out. No assistance, such as help locating a place to sleep on such short notice, was offered, and the residents were evicted so quickly most of them did not have time to gather clothing and toiletries sufficient for an overnight stay elsewhere, let alone a month.

I'll be bringing more Housing Horror stories as they emerge and I can verify the story. This one appeared in the Chicago Tribune (title link)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Proposed Bailout for Mortgagees-Will Middle Class Welfare Program Collapse Us Financially?

The homewner bailout proposed by Senators Dodd and Clinton, and seconded by Sen. Obama and other pols eager to pander to the middle-class homeowner vote, got an additional boost from PIMPCO founder Bill Gross today, who appeared on CNBC to appeal for a bailout for beleagured home-debtors confronting foreclosure.

Additionally, here in Chicago, Mayor Daley is seeking ways to people who are upside-down on their mortgages stay in homes they obviously couldn't afford to begin with.

The bailout advocates are using emotionally loaded language to sell the public on the idea, usually referring to the poor homeowners who will be rendered "homeless" by foreclosure.

Aside from the dubious morality of creating an entitlement program for people who were greedy, deluded, or careless enough to borrow money they knew or should have known they couldn't repay, there is the even more doubtful quest to rescue the enterprises all the way up the chain of greed, delusion, and dishonesty that made it possible for so many underqualified borrowers to assume so many over-written loans. The links in the chain are the developers who are now seeing their construction loans foreclosed, the lenders who approved loans to people they knew were borrowing way beyond their means to pay, the hedgefunds and bond funds who bought the bundles of loans, the rating agencies such as Moody's and Fitches who assigned AAA rating to paper they knew or should have known was junk, and the quasi-government agencies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who stood ready to absorb the crappy loans as fast as the mortgage boiler rooms could generate them.

Many people made massive fortunes from the speculative hysteria of the past five years. It paid for $40 MM mansions with 3 swimming pools and heated 10-car garages, paid for by the $100MM bonuses paid to top hedge fund managers and CEOs like Angelo Mozilo at Countrywide, as well as enabling a few million severely math-challenged consumers to live far beyond their means for a few heady years.

If a bailout is engineered, will people like Mozilo be required to fund it? Seems only fair, given that these guys and a few hundred other head honchos of mortgage providers, banks, debt traders, and fund managers were the chief beneficiaries of financial lunacy of the past few years, and the trillions of dollars of imaginary money that the Fed sent sloshing through the economy to fund it.

However, we know that will not happen. What we know is that this is one more situation where the profits are privatized while the costs are socialized, as the taxpayers are once more required to step in, because of the danger the bursting credit bubble presents to the economy.

The people who will help keep homedebtors whole and bail them out of the situations they created for themselves, and will keep people like Mozilo in their mega-mansions, will be the rest of us who did not borrow over our heads, including homeowners who live within their means and neither bought more house than they could afford nor used their houses as ATM machines to fund their expensive cars and foreign travel and outdoor kitchens. Another group who will help the poor, defenseless "homeowners" stay in their overpriced homes will be renters who sat on the curb and didn't chase the car , but waited patiently until they could either afford to buy on decent terms or until prices adjusted back to their proper level. These people will wait that much longer for a chance at membership in the "Ownership Society", while their taxes are jacked to rescue the feckless, the dishonest, and the delusional.

Worse, our national deficit will balloon to unsupportable levels. Given that the misguided and failing war effort has already brought us to the brink of insolvancy, what will four or five trillion dollars worth of bad mortgages accomplish?

It's a choice between bad and catostraphic. If we let a couple of million more homeowners go to foreclosure, the economic consequences will be bad, face it. 40,000 jobs related to the mortgage industry have been lost so far, with many thousands more in related financial to follow, in addition to those in other industries dependent upon the housing market. Consumers will no longer be able to tap house equity because they will no longer have any. House prices will trend steeply lower. There could be a deep recession while the bad debt works itself out and the housing and financial markets regain traction.

However, a federal bailout could collapse the entire country. As it is, we cannot afford to maintain and replace critical infrastructure, or properly fund Social Security. At this time, there is an estimated gap of $63 Trillion* between projected tax receipts and future expenditures; a recipe for financial collapse with everything that follows it: loss of credibility in world financial markets with attendant inability to attract foreign investment; inability to fund day to day operations of the government necessary to maintain national security, let alone critical infrastructure and services; and the bankrupting of an increasingly impoverished population.

If our legislators and policymakers can't grasp the economic implications of a bailout, they should take the temperature of the electorate. Most people are vehemently opposed to the bailout because of the raw injustice of it, which is something the Democratic candidates Clinton and Obama should think about, since notions of fairness and justice don't seem to weigh with them.

A petition against the bailout,Tax Payers Against a Wall Street and Mortgage Bailout, was generated by a man named Thomas Roach. If you are opposed to this new welfare entitlement, you are invited to sign.

* "Drifting Towards Bankruptcy", by Laurance J. Kotlikoff, The Phladelphia Inquirer, October 22, 2006. (Link would not install.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Border's May Close Uptown and Lakeview Stores

Those hoping for a Border's store for Howard St. or any other Rogers Park location may now put that dream to rest, possibly for good.

I don't know how I missed the announcement in a March, 2007 issue of Crain's Chicago Business that the company is seeking to sublet four locations along the lakefront, but just read it in a recent post in Hyde Park Progress. Searching a little further, I found a few more articles, stating that the stores to be closed will be North & Clybourn; Diversey & Broadway; Broadway in Uptown; and Hyde Park.

Could it be that the failure to attract chains like Border's to Rogers Park may have a cause extraneous to the neighborhood and its well-publicized problems? My personal take is that there is a vast oversupply of redundant retail already, thanks to massive public subsidies for large-scale retail development, in combination with the growth of internet commerce. I have always wondered who supported all the repetitive shopping centers and strip malls, and it looks increasingly like the local taxpayers have been footing the bill for about 60% of the shopping malls and big-box power centers that have proliferated over the past 30 years.

I personally plead guilty to contributing to the internet shopping trend, as I buy books from Amazon.com when I can't get them from the public library. I feel guilty about this, because I enjoy loitering in the Uptown Border's store and so buy as many gifts there as I can, along with day planners and art books. However, browsers who buy the occasional art book or latte don't support a lavish space like this, and Border's is understandably not interested in functioning as a public library.

I have a feeling that we will witness massive consolidation and shrinkage of large-scale retail over the next twenty years, since there is so much more of it than is justified by consumer spending alone. Now that local political leaders are beginning to realize that throwing taxpayers money at unprofitable businesses, such as shopping malls to replace others a mile down the road, perhaps the frantic race to the bottom - that of seeing who can throw the most taxpayer's money at the largest number of big corporations who then move on in three years in search of their next $100MM "gimme"- will cease, and small entrepreneurs will find it rewarding to open small, specialized stores that form the fine-grained retail districts that give a neighborhood character and charm, and also give it a committed entrepreneurial class whose members are motivated by the desire to build homes and businesses in a neighborhood they love and care about, and to participate in a business that interests them, rather than a class of Corporate Welfare recipients who will move out and leave behind a vacant, useless building when some other community dangles a bigger carrot in front of their noses.

So maybe, down the road, we might get an Unabridged Books or Transitions instead, or a place founded and operated with love and commitment by a local citizen.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

An Atrocity Exhibition

Pictured above are some recently developed condo projects in North Coast neighborhoods, selected for their rampant ugliness and complete disrespect for their neighborhood context, for historical correctness, and most of all, for the contempt their designers seem to have for any concept of beauty or grace. Pretty has become almost a pejorative among academic architects. It's almost as though the architects wanted to make these developments as ugly and offensive as possible, and their motives are the same as any graffitti "artist" defacing the city with gang scrawls and wild-style block letters: they are offended by beauty and style because they are incapable of producing it, and can only "make a statement" by producing eyesores.

These, along with thousands of cookie-cutter 6- or- 8 unit Urban Generic condos, sadly botched rehabs,and new buildings of extraordinarily shoddy construction, are the visual, tangible remains of the rampage of greed, and imprudent borrowing and lending,that was the housing bubble of the early 21st Century. They, along with the collapsed hedge funds and the millions of foreclosures and ruined credit ratings, are the legacy of the greatest binge of financial lunacy in the history of the world, and one that our heirs and assigns will be stuck with for many long years after we've recovered financially and gone on to other obsessions.

In the first photo, is an Uptown townhouse development, a block of boxy, featureless, common-wall townhouses on Ainslee that have the air of a military barracks. The windows are small, ugly , and cheap, and the wall facing Winthrop is nearly blank. The best thing you could do with these places is to plant vines that will, in time, cover the places in their entirity.

Next is of a gut-rehab condo at the corner of Winthrop and Thorndale. The building, while never beautiful, was at least a respectable, though stodgy, vaguely Prairie-styled structure, that the developer rendered hideous by the addition of historically incorrect modern windows, in glaring white frames no less, along with "mod" pipe railings on the inset terraces on the Thorndale side, and new, glaringly inappropriate balconies and sliding glass doors on the Winthrop elevation. What is it with the sliding glass doors, anyway? Why are these ugly, graceless renmants of the 60s being slapped onto classically-styled buildings all over town? Wouldn't French doors be more in keeping with traditional styles of architecture? Why is it so difficult to respect the architecture of the structure, and to select fittings and appointments that are in keeping with it?

Then, we have another barracks-like townhouse complex on Ainslee. It's hard to believe that this is middle-class housing costing nearly $400,000 a unit. All the mature trees were cut down to facilitate construction, and it will take many more years for the young trees now growing there to veil the naked, scabid ugliness of the barren complex with its tiny, badly-placed windows and the gaping garage doors that lend the street the look of a storage facility.The screaming yellow Hummer in one drive highlights the military ambiance, in addition to making it painfully obvious that the driveways are too short, and so, possibly, is the garage. Could the driveways and garage entries have been placed in the back of the complex instead of in front? Somehow the streetscape looks just as blighted as it did in the days when this area was truly a slum. Note to owners: get the vines started.

On to Sheridan and Broadway, we consider one of the area's great lost opportunities. A beautiful and dignified old church used to occupy this triangular site, and it is one of the greatest building sites in the neighborhood. However, instead of a beautiful, well-proportioned building of striking design, what we got here was a hodgepodge of modern with a few traditional doodads pasted to it, built with cheap, ugly bricks and punctuated by small, ugly windows and large balconies cluttered with owner's possessions. The contrast between this stupid, graceless building and the otherwise beautiful Sheridan Road streetscape is ugly-it's like seeing a trash dumpster standing in a lush garden.

Next, we have Catalpa Gardens, a double-tower high rise complex sheathed completely in cinderblock painted in garish primary colors. Why do places have the word "Gardens" in their name when the place is more reminiscent of a warehouse or parking garage than a place of living, growing things? I thought that the city was not permitting cinderblock to be used on the facades of new buildings any more, but I guess the architects were able to sell the local zoning and planning board on them as long as they painted them in "playful" colors, to look like a couple of gigantic children's building blocks. This building should have been a legal impossibility, but here it is, and it's going to be blighting the Edgewater skyline for at least a century to come.

Lastly, we have a formerly lovely 20s vintage courtyard in the 1600 block of W. Lunt,that has been destroyed by an atrociously tasteless rehab. This building was a beauty, with beautiful brickwork and a terra cotta roof, and the fine proportions and air of elegance typical of courtyards of this vintage. Rogers Park has always been famous for the beauty of its courtyard buildings; no other neighborhood or city has such a collection of really beautiful, well-built, or varied buildings of this type. However, the hyper-development of the past few years has resulted in the degradation of some of the neighborhood's most beautiful buildings. Here, the facade has been defaced by ugly modern windows in the same glare white used on the developer's other de-habilitated developments, and by the addition of balconies and sliding glass doors.

This is only a small sampling of the ugly, inappropriate, misconceived developments that went up all over Chicago during the Great Real Estate Bezzle. Additionally, thousands of merely humdrum structures were built, and a few truly excellent buildings, happily.
Why has most of the stuff built since World War II been so overwhelmingly ugly and graceless? And why can't a rehab of a beautiful old building be done without destroying the beauty of the place and turning large, comfortable old apartments with exquisite millwork and beautiful, classicly proportioned rooms into ugly, stacked tract houses?

I would ascribe it to the cult of the Bauhaus, with its utilitarian, machine aesthetic that dovetailed so well with the desire of builders to cut costs and deliver the cheapest, mingiest construction they can get by with, who are further enabled in the endeavor by acquiescent buyers who long ago resigned themselves to the commonplace ugliness of most modern architecture, figuring that it's just how things are done these days and what can you do about it? There is also the idea that anything "new" or "cutting edge" is intrinsically superior, which is a very commonplace notion in an era of constant innovation and instant obsolescence.

There is nothing that dates faster that newness for the sake of newness, and the trendier and more "cutting edge" something is now, the more sadly outdated it will be just a few years down the road. You can't help but think of all the short-lived design fads of the twentieth century and of all the landfills stuffed with Bakelight and avacodo appliances, and every whacky youth fad of the past 80 years, when you look at much modern architecture. But a bad building is going to be with us a lot longer than last year's hot cellphone, and cost a lot more to replace, so you can't help but wonder what the landscape will look like 50 years hence, when we might well be a much poorer society than we are now, and will no longer have the money to replace the ugly, rapidly deteriorating garbage we've spent 50 years filling it with.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Revenge of the Bitter Renters

.....and the return of affordable housing.

Before the late, great real estate boom occurred, I had always believed that the unfettered operation of free markets was the solution to supplying a large and diverse population with its needs and that it would always make the fine-tuned adjustments necessary for buyers and sellers of goods, services, whatever they happened to be, to come together in a way that would satisfy most reasonable needs and desires.

However, my simple faith was sorely tested by the fantastic inflation in housing prices since 2001, never mind that the Fed- driven speculative rampage of the past few years was not the result of "free enterprise", but was the creation of Dr. Greedscam and his accomplices at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the quasi-government agencies that buy home loans in the secondary market, and that kept E-Z money sloshing through the housing market by purchasing millions of high-risk home loans made to unqualified buyers for amounts of money they could not possibly pay back on their incomes.

Well, the market works in strange ways but the Law of Supply and Demand never rests. No amount of Fed finagling and manipulation and industry happy talk will suffice to prop up this massively over-inflated housing market in the face of rapidly tightening credit, cratering sales, record foreclosures, and massive unsold inventory.

The summer selling season is almost over, and it looks it never really ever happened. The buyers are not coming. They either bought at or close to the peak of prices, and are too far underwater on their 80/20 I.O. teaser loans that are now resetting, or they were sidelined by the rapidly escalating prices, and are now confronting a very high bar for first-time home buyers and rapidly tightening credit. Looks like credit is getting so tight that once again, as in the distant past, borrowers will have to prove that they have the ability to pay their mortgages and they might even have to have a down payment.

Imagine that.

It just plain looks as though the supply of Greater Fools has quite dried up, and there aren’t any left to soak up the substantial glut of condos and houses now languishing on the local market. The greedy, the gullible, and the deluded have all bought, using "creative" financing like that referenced above, and are now sitting several feet underwater and confronting the reset of their mortgages, for over one trillion dollars’ worth of mortgages will be resetting in the coming year, half of it by the end of 2007. A trillion dollars’ more in adjustable-rate notes will reset in 2008-2009, which is why many analysts are now calling the bottom of the tanking market in 2009, instead of this year or 2008 as originally projected.

Meanwhile, sales for June dropped 19%* in the Chicago area, as median prices have risen slightly, indicating that the first-time buyers have been blasted out of the water by the prices of modest dwellings and only more affluent buyers remain. Other signs of distress are appearing, such as an elevated rate of suspicious fires in unsold houses in newly-built suburban subdivisions, and most of all, the highest number of foreclosures ever recorded.

And at last the prices are beginning to drop. A couple of weeks ago, I went to view a "soft" condo conversion in the Edgewater neighborhood, and the prices for beautiful, spacious vintage units seemed like a gift compared to the prices of 2005. New mid-rise buildings in Uptown, on Sheridan Road, are 75% vacant after a year on the market. The Sheridan Grande, at 4848 N. Sheridan, appears mostly unoccupied. 4701 N. Sheridan, another newly-constructed mid-rise condo building, is, for some strange reason, no longer decorated with a sign proclaiming 80% SOLD. Or was it 70%? I forget exactly, but the sign disappeared a few months ago.

So at last the "bitter renters", as we who were sidelined by the stratospheric prices, were called, might have a shot at buying nice places at prices reasonably related to their incomes and to local rentals, with sensible, honest fixed-rate mortgages. Maybe I’m feeling a touch of schadenfreude, , but it really, really feels good to see so many attractive condos suddenly within my reach that seemed hopelessly lost to me just two years ago. In fact, the challenge now is check your impulse to leap at the first substantial price drop, because current trends and conditions indicate that you may not be getting a bargain at all but catching a falling knife, as the prices look to trend still lower in the coming months.

Most of all, we will at last have an assured supply of reasonable rentals. The conversion stampede is just about exhausted. Most of all, many recent conversions were of units too small to be considered eligible for sale as condos in any normal market, and as this market reverts to normalcy, many of these units will revert to rental status. This is a warning for prospective buyers of tiny, inadequate condos, but it augers a return to a normal, affordable rental market.

Trust the markets. They may not give you just what you want exactly when you want it and how you want it just because you want it, but left to operate unhindered, they deal out justice, and never more so than in the unraveling of the most absurd manifestation of financial hysteria in human history.

* Chicago Bubble Blog, July 26, 2007 posting, link supplied at right. I tried to link it to this post but it wouldn't work.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Resurgence of Quality

I guess it had to happen at last, even though I wondered just how many hack rehabs and cookie-cutter six-flat condos and dreary , institutional, machine-for-living high rises it would take to produce just one quality building. However, it looks as though the housing feeding frenzy that has just passed has left us with a few buildings of gemlike quality, even though it is hard to spot them in the coast-to-coast sea of stapled-together garbage spewn out in the stampede of greed of the past few years.

"It" is 1223 W. Farwell in Rogers Park, a new three-unit condominium in Rogers Park, currently under construction. I'm ashamed to admit I don't remember who is building this great place, even though I ought to, for this property was the center of controversy as the developer originally proposed to demolish the lovely old greystone on the adjacent lot in order to build a six-unit building. While I'm glad that building was saved, I'm glad that this new building was allowed to go up.

The sheer quality of the place is almost shocking, and I felt like I was transported back to another era when I saw the place- it was as if it was 1925 again. I kid you not, I was getting a serious case of house envy, which I almost never experience when viewing the latest cookie-cutter 6-flat condo or MidCentury Mod Revival highrise.

The brick and concrete work are impeccable, and the back and flanks are brick. Most of all, the windows are wood and have real mullions, in contrast to the majority of overpriced new condo buildings whose windows have "pasties" or snap-in plastic muntins that are obvious when viewed from the street.

At this point, there is no sign in front of the property, and I don't know how much the units will cost, though I have heard they will be priced in the neighborhood of $600,000. I sense the units are worth that, even though this is not an auspicious time to try to market pricey new construction.

This is the type of construction the area needs more of, even though it is not "affordable". High-quality new construction is almost never inexpensive, or within reach of people with average incomes, which is no reason not to build it. This is the type of building that will outlast "trendier" buildings, or buildings of "cutting edge" architecture, and while I have not heard of the place having any "green" features, this is the type of building that will serve well for many generations in a fuel-short future.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

CTA Ad Endorses Public Urination

This ad appeared on a Red Line train I rode on July 6.

This ad was run by Chicago Apartment Finders, a venerable and formerly respectable local concern whose focus is Lakeview, Wrigleyville, and other North Side neighborhoods, and the ad was evidently approved by the CTA, even though ads advertising tobacco products are prohibited by the agency, so the only conclusion I can draw is that CTA and Chicago Apartment Finders think it is OK to urinate in public.

I didn't know that it was ever considered OK to relieve yourself in public, even on your own lawn, or in any other place but a facility designed specifically for the purpose. In other words, a washroom.

But now both CTA and Chicago Apartment Finders have served notice, by this ad, that public urination is normal and acceptable. It's especially surprising that CTA would let an ad like this be run, not only because the agency will not permit tobacco to be advertised on their property or vehicles, but also because they have a massive, ongoing problem with urination in el stations and sometimes even on their trains. It's also surprising that this ad even made it through all the steps between the little genius copywriter's desk to the trains to begin with. Don't these ads have to be approved by the writer's superiors at the ad agency and also by the appropriate people at CTA?

How could an ad that promotes such an extremely offensive, and illegal, behavior be approved by a major local business and a highly visible and important public agency? I'd seriously like answers from Chicago Apartment Finders, their ad agency, and the CTA.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

2007 Artists of the Wall Festival

This was the weekend of the annual Rogers Park Artists of the Wall Festival, a unique annual summer event in which residents of Rogers Park are invited to paint a panel on the concrete bench facing the beach between Pratt and Lunt. The bench is painted over into a fresh canvas every year, and then blossoms with art displaying every possible style and level of skill.

The festival, which is sponsored by the Loyola Park Advisory Council and the Rogers Park Community Council, in cooperation with the Chicago Park District and the Mayor's Office of Special Events, is one of the only of its kind anywhere, and since its inception in 1994, has established itself as one of Rogers Park's most beloved traditions. Those who wish to participate in the future should keep an eye on RogersPark.com in spring for the announcement of the event and the application to participate.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

CTA Public Hearings on Fare Raises and Service Reductions

The Chicago Transit Board will conduct public hearings on proposals to reduce service and/or raise fares for buses and trains.

Hearings will be held on these dates and locations:

WEDNESDAY, JUNE6, 2007, 6:30 PM
Michelle's Ballroom
2800 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicago, IL

MONDAY, JUNE 11, 2007, 6:30 PM
University of Illinois at Chicago
Student Center East, Room 302
750 S. Halstead St.
Chicago, IL

CTA Headquarters
567 W. Lake St.
Chicago, IL

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Our Real Welfare Problem:The New Feudalism

Follow the title link for Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass' take on our subisidies to powerful families and power brokers.

I bet you never thought of the powerful Degnan family members as being welfare recipients, and they sure as hell aren't using a link card to buy day-old bread and cheap processed cheese.

They and others among the Aristocracy of Clout have their own special versions of the link card, and it buys them Dom Perignon and the best fois gras, not to mention land in the path of development and a piece of the action in new casinos being proposed for Chicago, as well as a smorgasboard of other lucrative projects, success guaranteed by the taxpayers of Illinois.

Under the guise of fostering "economic development", we have allowed every semblence of free markets and free enterprise to be destroyed, and replaced with Neo-Feudalism, where our various federal, state, and local authorities work hand-in-hand with major corporations and rich, well-connected families to create an economic system under which "economic development" takes the form of tax-funded enterprises that entail no risk to the rich, well-connected investors, because ithe risks will be born by taxpayers who have no choice in the matter; and where competition is only nominally permitted, because the promoters know perfectly well that a small, privately-funded local enterprise doesn't have an icecube's chance in hell against a tax-funded behemeth that can grab land at will, legally forbid others to compete, pay no taxes, and be insured against all normal business risk by my tax dollars and yours.

In other words, we of the common, unannointed herd will be ground to dust to pay tribute to our annointed owners. Our owners will throw us enough crumbs- a moderate-income housing development here, a public park there, the restoration of a beloved historic building here,or perhaps funding for a sports team for disadvantaged youth- to mollify us so that we will acquisce to the wholesale theft of hundreds of millions, to billions, of tax dollars for the enrichment of big money donors and multinational corporations, to build redundant retail and stadiums, or make gifts worth tens of millions to well-endowed private universities, or whatever other wasteful project they can conceive that will benefit mainly big-bucks political donors and powerful corporations and institutions at a steep net loss, present and future, to the public.

I attended the meeting for the Hollywood/Sheridan TIF the Thursday before last, with the intention of writing about it on this blog. However, as I sat listening to the conventional verbiage about how "TIFs are another tool, and you can use the tool to do good, or do harm" , and how the "economic development" funded by the $75 MM (for starters) TIF would not be possible if left to market forces, I was overwhelmed with a sense of futility. We were told that most of the funds would go to building moderate-income housing for people with incomes of up to $31,000 per year, and I wondered if people in this bracket, which is distinctly not poverty, would need this kind of assistance if rents were not ratcheting up steeply because of tax increases, due mostly to the misallocation of massive amounts of tax monies to Corporate Welfare in the form of TIF developments, as well as tax abatements and direct subsidies.

The meeting was pretty much an essay in foregone conclusions- the plans were in place and would be presented to the Finance Comittee on June 27; and the audience was largely apathetic. There was some dissent with the plan, but most people seemed to feel that it was beside the point to protest. We are going to be robbed of the benefit of future tax revenues to pay for economic development that will most likely, as is the case with most TIFs, result in a net loss of jobs, business, and tax revenues to the city, and there's likely nothing we can do about it. The planners emphasized that "this is supported by legislation", which is true.

The planners that small businesses on Granville, Bryn Mawr, and Argyle St. could get grants of up to $50,000 to improve their facades. At that point, the owner of one of the two liquor stores on Granville that lost their liquor licenses would be eligible for these grants. I recognized the young man asking as one of the owners of one of the two Granville Ave stores. He was told no, as his business had lost its liquor license for repeated violations and problems, and the street had been voted 'dry' by the neighborhood. I remarked that by it's loose, unstructured nature, that the plan amounted to the equivalent of a "blind pool" or "blank check", in which the develoers and planners have an extraordinary amount of discretion and lack of accountability for the allocation of the funds. Someone else in the crowd pointed out that the $75MM to be raised was small relative to the size of the TIF, which stretches from Rosemont on the north to Argyle Ave on the south, and lies between Broadway and Sheridan.

Elsewhere, the Wilson Yards TIF is to be allocated more funds " to offset rising construction costs for the project", according to the news release. Elsewhere, TIF districts are given extensions beyond their 23-year legal lifespan, and more are planned for areas that are not "blighted", but "conservation" areas. What this means is that in not long at all, Chicago will be a veritable quilt of TIF districts, which means that as property taxes inevitably ratchet up over the years, the amount allocated to the city, and to necessary services we all need and amenities available to everyone that make a city a good place to live, will be starved, while individual taxpayers are decimaated and in many cases destroyed, having to sell their homes or are priced out of the rental market.

While the city is doing its best to make the place unaffordable to most residents, the state is busy concocting new schemes to convey our earnings from our pockets to the developers of various schemes that will only aggravate the problems they propose to solve. Gov. Blago is busy spending our money to divert land from food production to fuel production,by way of supporting "green" initiatives, which means that we will pay steeply elevated prices for food as land is diverted from food to ethanol production, and we will subsidize "green" fuel and Illinois farmers in order to keep the cars running at any cost, in addition to the substantial subsidies for roads and highways we already pay. The costs of both our fuel and the ramping up of ethanol production are already cascading through the economy and driving up food prices drastically.

And of course, there is the 2016 Olympics, and if you believe that a)this event will be entirely funded by private corporations at no cost to the taxpayers of Chicago, and b)any economic benefit will accrue to the city at large, or any of its citizens, especially those who live in the Washington Park area whose lives will be disrupted and home sacrificed to this event, then I have a great old St. Louis bridge to sell you, which you can build $2MM townhouses on and make your fortune.

How else will we pay for all of this except by more taxes? And will they be sufficient to cover the rising costs going forward, especially if the economy tanks in tandem with escalating fuel prices and shrinking energy supply?

Toddy Stroger is hinting that Cook County property taxes will be increased for 2006, even though property owners are still reeling from the increase last year. An article in the Chicago Tribune that appeared a couple of months ago speculated that such an increase could be as much as 40%, which almost surely will go to coffers of corporate welfare recipients, and will not offset the losses to the "increment" of TIFs that accrues to the developers of same. While you may feel faint at the thought of yet another massive tax hike, you feel even worse when you pencil it out and realize that it may not come near being enough to cover the costs of all the projects in the works without cutting deeply into essential services such as fire and police protection, essential infrastructure maintenance, and public schools.

At some point, probably not as far off as we think, there will be nothing left to plunder and no money left to fund essential services, let alone the civic amenities that make a city viable, let alone attractive and liveable. At that point, we will have to find another means to drive economic development than by offering corporate welfare, because we simply will be too broke to extend any more "gimmes" to corporations. We will then have to create a favorable business climate amid conditions of catastrophic budget shortfalls, inadequate services, and dangerously decrepit infrastructure, which we will not have the money to expand or repair; and, lastly, death duty taxes for both individuals and businesses. What will we do for economic development then?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Sidewalk in Edgewater

Will somebody please tell me what this is all about?

This message looks to have been block-printed on the sidewalk on the east side of the 6200 block of N. Broadway, just north of the construction site at Granville and Broadway.

I can think of a lot of things this message could mean, but can't think which would apply.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Subsidizing Social Pathology: Gambling as a Tool for Economic Development

I had barely recovered from last week's meeting concerning the Sheridan/Hollywood TIF, and was about to write about it, when I read a comment by blogger Ryne on The Broken Heart this morning that triggered my gag reflex and sent me on a search for the source of his information. Many thanks to Ryne for alerting us to yet another misallocation of public money that is beyond senseless and irrational. This is the thing you would think of when someone asks " What's next?", in the belief that nobody could conceive of anything more irrational than what was proposed, but then they thought of it.

State-subsidized gambling.

Excuse me, I mean gaming, a term that attempts to make dropping your kid's food money on a felt-topped table in repeated attempts to get something for nothing, appear respectable. We live in the Age of NewSpeak, where all you have to do to alter the nature of something is to reframe it; a politically correct euphemism completely alters the nature of the beast.

It seems like a short time since the idea of legalized casino gambling was still controversial.
I supported the legalization of this form of amusement because I support the right of an individual to engage in any behavior that harms no one but himself, provided he wants to accept responsibility for it, but that doesn't mean the behavior is "good" , or that I endorse it or that it ought to be promoted by the state.

However, in the twisted, irrational "morality" that prevails among both "liberals" and "conservatives" (however those terms are defined), anything you have a right to do is something that ought to be subsidized by the state, especially if it enriches the corporate rich and the politically connected, and most of all can in any manner be justified as "economic development".

After reading Ryne's post, I went searching and immediately fell over the Chicago Tribune article linked in the title. While the most noxious provision, which would have compensated investors in the failed Rosemont casino, was scuttled (for now), Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and the Governor have, according to the Tribune article, "embraced a package that would include casines in Chicago and three suburbs as well as subsidies for horse racing tracks, Internet betting between boats, and bookie-style betting over the phone."

Nobody has ever given me a satisfactory answer as to why it is a good idea to subsidize for-profit businesses to begin with. The only justification I ever saw for this was because the enterprise or industry in question provided an essential service , such as public transportation or some other essential utility, that it would be extremely disruptive were it to be unavailable. In such a case, you will usually discover that the reason the service is unprofitable is because the playing field has been tilted by government support of its competition, as is the case with public transportation, and railroads.

Gambling, however, is a little different than even Walmart or Target or any of the other corporate behemeths that have benefitted greatly from tax-funded bounty provided by desperate politicians scrambling for development and jobs for their constituents. For while there is no ethical or economic justification for subsidizing large corporate ventures on the backs of their small, local competition, who are thus forced to fund both their own destruction and that of their local economies, at least Target and Walmart are legitimate enterprises that arguably provide plausible employment and legitimate and desirable products and services.

We've sunk to a new low in morality and senselessness when the state not only promotes, but subsidizes an enterprise that is, to put it in the very best light possible, parasitical and unproductive. Let's face it, there is no gain to gambling, except to the casino operators. It is another addictive, compulsive behavior that wrecks destruction on the lives of almost everyone who participates in it, and on the lives of the people around them. It produces nothing but bankruptcy, breakdown, divorce, needy children, murder, and ruined people. It is a pathology, and we might as well subsidize the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and street drugs.

So don't ask "What's next?" because before you know it, the state legislature just might be working up a bill to subsidize the sale of street drugs under the rubrick of "economic development".

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Rogers Park Conversion Stampede

Residents of the area surrounding Pratt and Sheridan will be pleased to note that the formerly seedy, dangerous building at 1200 W. Pratt Blvd., on the northwest corner, is being gutted and redeveloped into condominiums that range in price from $129,900 for a studio unit to $299,000 for a duplexed two-bedroom with two baths.

Since I live next door to this place, I'm really happy to see the reconstruction of this interesting building, because it was a major source of problems in the area, and was dangerously overcroweded and decrepit. Because I am in the market for a reasonable, attractive condo, I have been eagerly awaiting the completion of the project, so when a couple of models were opened to the public last week, I trotted right over and toured the models. Only two were completed for display, both of which were two-bedroom, two-bathroom units that would fit easily into the living and dining room of my rental, and perhaps claim part of the kitchen.

First, let me say that these are attractively finished units with nice appointments, including stainless appliances, granite counters, and lovely, large marble baths, one of which is fitted with a spa tub. But these were the smallest two bedroom apartments I have ever seen. They were pretty units, and the architect managed to make an attractive, well-appointed apartment out of a very small, strangely -configured space, but the second bedroom was scarcely larger than the walk-in closet in my living room, and there were only two extremely small closets, and extra space in the furnace closet, for in-unit storage. A storage locker comes with the unit, and you will need it for anything that isn't stored on a hanger. The unit is supposed to have 800 sq. ft., but it somehow felt and looked much smaller.

The best feature of this building is its premium location, a block from Pratt Beach, and on one of the cleanest, most crime-free streets in the city, let alone Rogers Park. Pratt is a wonderful street. The proximity to restaurants, retail, entertainment, and public transportation also more than offset the lack of parking, which it would be impossible to provide in any case. Still, even with the glossy finishes and appointments, and the excellent location, these units seem steeply overpriced to me. The two bed two bath unit I looked at, attractive as it is, would still feel like a steep comedown from the lovely, large rental I now occupy nearby, with its incredible millwork, perfectly proportioned rooms, and massive closets, and I have to conclude that there is still a massive "affordability gap" in the housing prices, betweeen reasonable rents for beautiful places versus outrageous prices for a tiny place lacking in distinction or storage space.

Therefore, I expect that there will be considerable give-back in the prices of these units as even more conversions and newly-constructed units come to the market and add to the substantial glut. Maybe, just maybe, the sellers will price the units to be affordable to the single person making $40,000-$60,000 a year, without having to resort to the "creative" mortages that are the cause of the problem to begin with.

It strikes me that we are seeing more overpriced conversions and new construction than ever at the very moment the tanking housing market seems poised to take the next leg down of a precipitous drop, due to vast numbers of unsold homes all markets coast-to-coast. There's nothing to indicate that the market will pick up anytime soon, nor is there any reason why it should, given the massive drop in existing home sales, and the drop in prices of new homes. While new home sales experienced their biggest surge in 14 years, the prices paid for them dropped more than they have for the same time period, and you have to figure that there is a causal relationship between the drop in prices and surge in sales, which in any case was limited to the West Coast- sales of new homes here in the Midwest dropped 4% for the same period.

Yet the conversions and new projects continue apace in Rogers Park and Edgewater
, as well as Lakeview and Lincoln Park, even as 17 remaining units in 1415 W. Lunt were auctioned off and hundreds of rehabbed and existing units languish on the market. Now, there were many projects that were already in the permitting pipeline for a couple of years that are now just being completed, and there are also numerous cancellations and deferrels of new projects, especially large buildings in Uptown and Edgewater that were slated to be completed by now, but haven't even been started and likely won't be for some time. So we have to wonder why so many owners are rushing to convert amidst some of the worst selling conditions in recent history.

Could it be that it has become just too unrewarding to be a landlord? A friend of mine owns numerous properties, both commercial and residential, in Uptown and on the west and south sides, and may be compelled to sell or redevelop by the escalating taxes, which are rendering his commercial property unprofitable and vastly increasing the load on the residential properties, a couple of which are running negative cash flows already. He assures me that this situation is very common among investment property owners. The taxes are particularly crushing on the commercial property, but the lower taxes on the residential properties are more than offset by losses from non-paying tenants who must be evicted, and legal expenses pursuant to tenant issues. Additionally, there are expensive repairs and improvements that must be done pretty much constantly for the apartments to be attractive to good tenants, and harrassment by city officials over minute code violations (nobody's perfect) is pretty much ongoing. All in all, the whole business of operating rental property has become all pain and no gain for this guy, and he is not alone.

Many people have remarked on the fact that Rogers Park alone has lost over 3,400 rental units to condominium conversion, and at least one of the aldermanic candidates in the last election openly advocated forcing landlords to allocate at least 30% of all units in large buildings to low-income housing. Another candidate proposed a one-year moratorium on all condominium conversions. These proposals are blatant violations of basic property rights, and like all such violations, they would only cause more problems than they solve, by forcing the slumification of good buildings and by triggering more conversions when it became legally possible to do them. Landlords will only be marking time to the end of the moratorium so they can unload the building completely along with stratospheric taxes,prohibitively expensive mandatory repairs, and unruly tenants that it costs a minimum of $5000 and four months of legal wrangling to evict. Only professional slumlords will find it rewarding to operate rental property.

So, instead of promulgating more socialized housing for ever-higher income brackets, as increasingly stratospheric taxes make housing, and life in general, less affordable for everyone who isn't in Paris Hilton's income bracket, why not work to reduce the tax load, present and future? What is the use of TIF-spurred "economic development", if the net result will be to erode the tax base while creating impossible business conditions for all businesses that don't receive some sort of Corporate Welfare in the form of tax abatements and TIF district "gimmes"?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Aldi's New Uptown Store Set to Open Tuesday

Aldi Foods will open a new Uptown store, at 4500 N. Broadway, next week. The Grand Opening will be on Tuesday, May 29.

The attractive new facility is located next door to the old cinderblock store at 4450 N. Broadway. Minneapolis-based Target Stores will be building a new store on this site, as well as two apartment buildings, one with 80 units of affordable housing for families and one with 98 units of affordable housing for the elderly.

This store is located on the Wilson Yards site, in the Wilson Yards TIF district. I like the building, and anyone could be happy to see this blighted site spruced up with well-designed retail buildings, but you have to wonder just how much our property taxes will be jacked to pay for the "economic development" whose profits will accrue to the ownerships of the businesses financed thereby while the taxpayers bear a substantial portion of the risk; and how many retail outlets and subsidized apartment buildings the taxpayers can carry, and still carry the fire and police departments and other necessary civic services.

More on the latest Edgewater TIF to follow.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Joe Moore: The Enemy of the Poor (and Everyone Else)

Joe Moore Votes to Triple The Home Heating Gas Tax

Many thanks to Toni Duncan, of 24/7 HowardWatchers, for reporting this on her blog.

Joe Moore has shown the "independence" and "progressivism" that is too typical of him in rubberstamping a brutally regressive triple increase in the home heating gas tax, in December, 2004. Here is another milestone in the wonderful record Moore likes to remind us of, along with his ongoing and lucrative friendships with arsonists and slumlords.

In this time of increasing fuel costs and stagnating incomes among the middle and lower income brackets, our city council has chosen to levy brutal and totally regressive taxes on the population at large, while conveying hundreds of millions of dollars to private developers and corporations via TIF districts and other Welfare For The Rich schemes; and by misallocating similarly massive sums to the construction of pharoanic and wasteful monuments to the vanity of Mayor Daley and his moneyed chums, and away from necessary services such as our failing schools, neglected neighborhood parks and recreational facilities, and our increasingly decrepit and unreliable public transportation.

What's worse, this particular tax will be disproportionately rougher on the very poor than even other regressive taxes, because poor homeowners and renters are much more likely than the rest of us to be burdened with aged and extremely inefficiant furnaces that they cannot afford to replace and that require at least twice as much fuel to produce the same amount of heat. It is not uncommon to hear of gas bills of $500 or more for a single month among poor residents, for the coldest months.

This vicious tax, along with the numerous other "stealth" taxes and the recent steep hikes in property taxes, are necessary to offset the shortfalls in tax revenues diverted from the public till by the 150 (and increasing) TIF districts, to private entities, some of whom are completely tax-exempt.

So, in this "blue" city of Democrats, as in the rest of this Republican country, the non-rich are plundered to pay for luxuries and monuments for the very rich. The city council cannot find more than $3 million to fund daily operations at the CTA, but can somehow find $42 million to contribute to the $216 million mega- el station for the luxury multiuse development on Block 37. There is no money for neighborhood parks and recreational facilities, but there are ample funds for Trophy Parks in downtown and for rehabilitations costing hundreds of millions for privately-owned sports stadiums. We do not have the money to operate, let alone improve, our failing and disreputable public schools, but we have $40 million to assist Loyola University, a well-endowed private institution that is completely exempt from taxation, so that they can renovate a handful of campus buildings.

Our own North Coast Aldercreatures, including Tunney (Lakeview), Shiller (Uptown), Mary Ann Smith (Edgewater), and Joe Moore (East Rogers Park) rubberstamped the increase without a wimper of protest. It is especially reprehensible on the part of Shiller and Moore, for these two aldermen have built their political careers by posturing as advocates for the disadvantaged and promoters of "progressive" politics, yet I have only once heard of either of them voting against any of Hizzoner's TIF boondogles or unnecessary public works extravaganzas (Moore voted against one TIF, the LaSalle Central). The same could be said of the alderman representing the city's poverty-stricken wards on the south and west sides.

None of the token 'feel good' programs to assist the poor and those in the middle brackets, such as tax credits for 'green' buildings, CPAN 'set asides', and other crumbs cast to the non-elite from the groaning board at which are seated our political leaders and their moneyed cronies, are an even fractional offset to the hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies , both cash and in kind, that flow to the wealthy and connected. Speaking strictly for myself, I'll happily forfeit all the socialistic nonsense such as CPAN subsidies for middle income buyers, and city mortgage buydowns, in return for a rollback in property taxes, but most of all for a rollback of the home heating gas tax.

Hopefully, the 49th , the 50th,and the 46th Wards will elect new aldermen this coming Tuesday. To the new candidates who will replace the old, I say this: we will be watching you, and we will expect that you will place the welfare of the constituents who voted for you, and the ongoing solvency and viability of Chicago itself, ahead of your monied contributors and your own vanity. We like civic adornments, but not at the cost of our homes and our very lives. We want a sensibly run, solvent city that provides a high level of essential services, including superior police and fire protection, well-run, highly rated schools, reliable and rapid transit, and attention and timely service to the ward you represent, and we expect that you can provide this without taxing us out of our homes by constantly escalating property taxes. We also want a vision for the city's future that recognizes that meeting the challenge of financing the city's services and driving economic growth will call for vastly different solutions than those chosen by our leaders to date, and that trophy projects and monument- building will have to take a back seat to preparing the city for a future that is likely to be very different, and much more difficult, than the past.

Friday, February 23, 2007

PACT Block Club Meeting

Pratt and Columbia Together
Monday, February 26 at 7:30 PM
1229 W. Columbia, 1st Floor

Hosted by Tom and Sarah Lisy
PACT President and Vice-President

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Asleep at the Switch

Now that the speculative rampage of the past few years has ended, we are now stuck with cleaning up the detritus left behind as the tide ebbed: falling prices, a vast glut of unsold homes and condos, a wave of interest rate adjustments on 'creative' mortgages, and most of all, a vast and increasing number of recent buyers saddled with shoddily built or illegally converted homes and condos.

Evidently, the legal processes that are in place to protect buyers from dangerously shoddy construction and gross financial and legal malfeasance on the part of builders and sellers collapsed along with lending standards as developers scrambled to meet the frantic demand of the boom years. We now see that our elected representatives and our city officials failed to protect buyers from flagrant dishonesty and incompetence on the part of builders and developers, and as a result, thousands of Chicagoans are left to deal with the failures and outright dishonesty and malfeasance of developers. These failures include, but are not limited to, construction so shoddy the dwelling cannot be occupied, illegal conversions in which the buyers discovers he has no legal ownership, and failure to correct previous code violations before offering the property for sale.

The north lakefront wards, most prominantly the 49th (Rogers Park) and 48th (Edgewater) are the sites of some of the most egregious violations. One of the worst cases involves an illegal conversion at 1060 W. Granville, a haphazardly rehabbed courtyard building in which units were sold to unwary buyers before being cleared for conversion, creating a legal and financial quagmire from which it is unlikely the unfortunate buyers will emerge for many years. Elsewhere, in the 49th ward, many buyers of condominiums sold as rehabilitated and completely clear of violations, have discovered that their buildings have serious physical deficiencies and/or are classified as "gang and drug" harbors only when the local alderman decides to mount a campaign of harrassment against the buyer. In most cases, the deficient units were cleared by the city for sale and went through every stage of the sale process, including intense scrutiny by the buyers' attorneys, with no evidence of any problem. In yet other cases, newly constructed homes and condos have been so shoddily built that in at least one case, that of an expensive , newly constructed condo building in Bucktown, buyers were forced to move out of their units because the building was in immenent danger of collapse.

Where were the people we pay to enforce the laws and the building codes, and otherwise protect us from dishonest and incompetent builders?

Our city officials, from our local aldermen through the laggards occupying desks in the various city departments charged with inspection, licensing, and the issuing of permits, have failed miserably to protect us, and as a result, thousands of Chicagoans are confronting massive and often unrecoverable losses, and years of costly litigation that most likely will come nowhere near making them whole. In the meantime, flagrantly unqualified and verifiably dishonest developers and builders are permitted to continue their careers.

Municipal elections are less than a week away, and when we go to vote this coming Tuesday, February 27, we should all consider if Joe Moore and his compatriots in the city council have done what they could to protect their constituents from victimization by the developers who are often their largest campaign contributors.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chinese New Year Parade

Celebrate the Year of the Pig and bring luck to the New Year!

The Hip Sing Association, 1121 W. Argyle St., is sponsoring this year's Chinese New Year Parade on Argyle St. The parade route will start at the Association's headquarters on Argyle, at around noon, and use Argyle Street and Broadway. It's a good idea to arrive around 11:30 to get a favorable spot.

The Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the New Year, and ends on the day of the full moon, fifteen days later. The 15th day of the new moon is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated with a parade of young children carrying lanterns, and by lantern displays at night.

For more information on this holiday and traditions associated with it, go to http://www.educ.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth/438/CHINA/chinese_new_year.html.

Don Gordon Meeting at Lamp Post Tavern

Citizens to Elect Don Gordon invites West Ridge, St. Margaret Mary, and 49th Ward residents to join them to watch WTTW Channel 11 " Chicago Tonight" on 49th Ward Aldermanic Candidates at 7P.M.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 19, from 6:30 PM -9 PM
Beer Special & Free Pizza

This is an opportunity for residents of the West Ridge area to discuss local concerns such as home teardowns, condo development, ward service requests, commercial development, and other neighborhood issues with Don Gordon and local campaign leaders.

Donations are welcomed. RSVP at www.dongordon.org/events/rsvp.html, or call Citizens to Elect Don Gordon at 312-262-9473.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Rogers Park's New Blog: Alderman's Intern

A delightful new blog has, with no fanfare, appeared to adorn the local blogosphere, and I would be doing my handful of readers a disservice if I failed to bring Alderman's Intern, http://www.aldermansintern.blogspot.com to their attention.

The blog is written by an individual who purports to be a young, female intern in Alderman Joe Moore's office, and all I have to say is that you wouldn't want Alderman's Intern "supporting" your campaign. So I am not at all sure that "she" is truly located in Joe's office, but if she were MY intern and was beating the drums for me as she is for Joe Moore, I'd boot her in a New York Nanosecond. She writes with dripping, saccharine sarcasm and incisive wit , and I came away with a sense of a young person who will someday not far down the road make even Maureen McCarthy and the late Molly Ivins seem lame compared.

She's an equal-opportunity pol-basher, and not only does Alerman Moore suffer at her hands, but Gordon and Adams and Ginderske each get trashed as well.

So go visit this delightful cynic today. Only one thing.... she doesn't permit comments, so you'll have to post your comments on this blog or another where she comments.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Contribution to Joe Moore from Convicted Arsonist

49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore is well known for taking contributions from extremely questionable sources, notably from Jay Johnson, the notorious slumlord, among many other slum owners and disreputable developers.

However, even some of the most corrupt pols might hesitate to associate themselves with a convicted arsonist. Go to http://www.geocities.com/ward49_mudzapper/tribute2strangeBedfellows.html for the story on Ivan Buljubasic, who contributed $2,500 to Moore's campaign for re-election in 2003. The author of the site, "Chicago's Ward 49 Mudzappers", who goes by the initials J.R., went on to say that, in his words:

" One of the more intriguing entries on Mr. Moore's donor list was that of Ivan Buljubasic, listed at 1705 Jonquil Terrace; he sent the alderman a check for $2500.00 on June 19 of this year. That's a pretty good chunk of change for an aldermanic campaign, don't you think? What makes Mr. Buljubasic particularly interesting is that he was convicted in federal court several years ago of arson and associated mail fraud and was sent away to a federal pokey for a 30-plus-year sabbatical at the government's (actually yours and my) expense. Specifically, Mr. Buljubasic was accused, tried, and convicted of torching one of his own rental buildings. Now that, I'm sure you would agree, is NOT a nice landlord. See http://www.usdoj.gov/osg/briefs/1986/sg860016.txt The question that comes to my mind is this: why is this man who was convicted of burning down a rental building he managed permitted to continue operating as a residential property manager in the city of Chicago? The only answer I can think of is that there is no legislation on the books that would prohibit him from doing so. "

The contributor referred to in the quote from Mudzappers in only one of many unsavory landlords and developers that have made massive contributions to Joe Moore, and have been permitted to operate as they please with no obstruction, while a desirable business like Island Groove is denied the right to operate. Could there be any connection between their failure to obtain their license, even though they had the blessings of most of the local citizens; and their failure to make a contribution to Moore's campaign coffers?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Schedule of Aldermanic Debates and Forums

Aldermanic debates and forums will take place at the following locations and times:

Sunday, Jan 28th, 2:30-4:00 PM
Good News Community Church
7649 N. Paulina
Sponsored by Northside POWER
For more information, contact Daniel Romero, 773-262-2297

Thursday, Feb 1st, 7:00-8:30 PM
Loyola Park Fieldhouse
1230 W. Greenleaf Ave.
Sponsored by the Rogers Park Community Council, DevCorp North, Family Matters, & Howard Area Community Center
For more information, contact Mary Jane Haggarty 773-338-7722, ext. 26

Saturday, Feb 3rd, 10:00 AM
United Church of Rogers Park
1545 W. Morse Ave.
Sponsored by Rogers Park Community Action Network
For more information, contact Lisa Griffith at 773-973-7888

Wednesday, Feb 7th 7PM
United Church of Rogers Park
1545 W. Morse
Sponsored by the Organization of the Northeast/League of Women Voters
For more information, call Astrid Saurez at 773-769-3232

Wednesday, Feb 14th, 7:30 -9:00 AM
No Exit Cafe
6970 N. Glenwood Ave.
Sponsored by Rogers Park BizArts, DevCorp North, & www.rogerspark.com
For more information, call DevCorp North at 773-508-5885

Wednesday, Feb14, 10:00-11:30 AM
Good News Community Church
7649-51 N. Paulina
Sponsored by the Howard Area Alternative High School & Howard Area Seniors Club
For more information, call Sister Cecilia Fandel at 773-973-4812

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Congestion is Green: NYC as the Greenest City

For years past now, many Chicagoans have been bemoaning the increasing "Manhattanization" of Chicago, as more neighborhoods of single-family homes and two-family flats are rebuilt with large apartment buildings and condominium complexes containing 50 or more units.

However, increasing the city's density is the only way to reduce waste, create walkable neighborhoods, and provide support for quality retail and city services such as rapid transit. Most of all, the high density megacity is possibly the only way we can accomodate a swelling population in the coming era of permanent resource scarcity.

I recently found a great site, Walkable Cities, which reprinted an article by David Owen, that was originally published in The New Yorker, entitled "NYC is the Greenest City in America" (www.walkablestreets.com/manhattan.htm). Owen builds an elegant case for the high-density megacity as the only plausible solution to the energy squeeze and the massive destruction of farmland and natural habitats that have resulted from suburban sprawl.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Greening of Chicago: Hype vs. Reality

We are, I suppose, still a little heady from all the favorable national publicity our city has received recently, touting our fair town as one of the nation's "greenest" cities and heaping accolades (many deserved) upon Mayor Daley, citing the many civic improvements and major steps taken toward improving our parks, cleaning up the formerly toxic and fetid Chicago River, encouraging recycling and waste reduction, and developing the beautiful Millenium Park, a wonderful civic amenity of the type that people come to live here in order to enjoy. Additionally, he has led the city in taking baby steps toward sustainability, such as requiring all new public buildings to be Leeds-certified, and starting a recycling program of sorts.

However, I tend to be a little skeptical of anyone who has become the object of widespread and unquestioning adulation on the part of the media pundits. Mayor Daley is not only beloved of the greenies, but receives high ratings from suburban Republican power brokers, which is reason enough for skepticism.

I recently picked up a copy of Conscious Choice, a locally-published, free magazine dedicated to eco-consciousness, with which I'm sure the reader of this blog is familiar. What drew my attention to this particular issue was a cover blurb that said: Mayor Daley Talks Eco Consciousness. Inside the rag, I immediately found the article entitled "The Great Green Augustus- Conscious Choice talks eco-consciousness with our mayor".

The article that followed the attention-grabbing title was an interview that, giving the author every chance and making every allowance for naivete and good intentions his part, was an outrageously flattering and utterly uncritical "puff piece", that depicted Hizzoner as the Great Green Savior of Chicago, and depicts the city as it was previous to Daley's reign as "a rusty and decaying, soot-stained brick" , and our mayor as the "Great Green Augustus" who "found the city brick and left it marble", as was said of Roman Emperor Augustus Caeser, to whom Shaw compared Daley.

These days, "green" and "eco-consciousness" and "sustainability" are popular "buzz words" among politicians, who now strive to surround themselves with a 'green' aura in the same manner that some other pols evoke God and Country', and Daley has so thoroughly wrapped himself in the green mantle that national media is as uncritical as the local free papers in their plaudits to the mayor.

Yet just how "green" is Chicago, really? One site dedicated to urban affairs, City Mayors(http://www.citymayors.com/environment/us_greencities.html) has ranked Chicago number 10 among the 10 greenest cities in the country, noting the city's high water quality, number of green-certified large building projects, and citing the fact that a third of the population uses public transportation to get to work. Other surveys, however, manage to cite the city as one of the greenest while forbearing to mention public transportation, which is just possibly due to the fact that Daley is notoriously stingy with funding for the deteriorating agency: funding is frozen at the same level it was in the early 80s- a miserly $3 million per year.

I find that the people who rank these things tend to overemphasize appearance and green "window dressing" at the expense of initiatives that could make a real dent in the city's fuel consumption. Chicago's much-touted recycling program is, at this point, scarcely enforced and therefore meaningless. Conscious Choice, in "Riding the Zeitgeist: The Chicago Green Report Card 2007", did not even mention public transportation in the criteria used to rank the city, yet nothing could do more to reduce the city's dependence upon depleting fuel supplies and help Chicago retain its liveability and economic viability in the fuel-short times to come.

Most of all, the city's transit is not used by enough of the population enough of the time to make a serious difference in fuel consumption and automobile dependence, which are the two most serious environmental and economic issues confronting the country and the world at this moment and in the future. As previously noted, only one third of our population commutes by public transit, while 82% of New York City residents do, and public transit in general seems to be a low priority item among both our city leadership and our local environmentalists. Yet, given inexorable trends in world oil production, you would think this would be the most urgent issue on the mayor's agenda.

However, instead of committing to adequately funding the CTA and working with its management to ensure that it functions adequately day-to-day; and committing to expanding and improving the system so that it will meet the needs of all residents in the post-oil age that is nearly upon us, the mayor has starved the system of necessary city funding while committing obscenely excessive amounts of money to pharoanic 'vanity' projects that do little to enhance service, such as the ludicrous $213 million Block 37 superstation, to which the city is committing $42 million. However, the $3 million committed to operations has stayed level for nearly twenty five years and therefore has lost at least half its value due to inflation.

The need to repair and expand our decrepit and increasingly unreliable transit system was never more urgent. The United States currently imports over 75% of its oil, since our own production peaked in 1970 and has since fallen to 5 million barrels a day (and still dropping), while our daily use has increased to 22 million barrels per day, while the world's oil fields are now plateauing or declining in production. Many prominent oil analysts and geologists believe that we are now at or past peak, and are now on the way down the slope of depletion.

Chicago's economic vitality and perhaps its very viability as a civilized place to live and work is dependent upon these resources and the prudent management thereof. It is sobering to consider how a reduction in available oil of, say, 10% would affect this area in its current state of almost total dependence upon automobiles.

Unfortunately, our mayor seems to be less than obsessed about the possibility of the city being rendered partly immobile and far less liveable by increasingly expensive and unreliable fuel supplies, and more interested in "green" projects that win plaudits for beautification and amenity while neglecting the system that really is the lifeblood of the city. Meanwhile, widely-touted 'green' initiatives such as the city's current recycling program, are failing in their purpose through lack of interest in ongoing support and enforcement. Blogger Toni Duncan of 24/7 HowardWatchers has provided valuable information on Chicago's recyling program (http://www.howardwatchers.com).

Worse, under Daley's leadership, the city has diverted hundreds of millions of future tax dollars away from essential transit , schools, police and fire protection, emergency preparedness, and other essential services, and instead is pouring them into the pockets of politically connected developers and corporate entities via TIF districts, resulting in a steep net loss to the city of not only future tax revenues, but of small business and jobs essential to the finegrained urban interface. The fact that most TIF districts fail of their stated purpose doesn't seem to be a deterrent to either King Richard or his Club 50, whose sheeplike members can be relied upon to rubberstamp each TIF boondogle as fast as it is conceived.

What will we do when we really need the money? How will we cope when we badly need to expand the transit system drastically, find alternative energy sources for our dozens of massive skyscrapers, and most of all provide a minimal level of basic city services in a time when the economic base may be rapidly eroding due to a critical lack of essential resources?

There is really no way to adequately prepare for a time when we will have, at most, half the oil available to us we have now, and there's barely time even if we could- the suggested timeframe for preparation is 20 years, which we don't have. By the best estimates, world oil production will peak in year 2015 latest, and many oil analysts, most prominent among them Dr. Kenneth Deffeyes, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, feel that we are now past peak.

Chicago may have made the first halting, and largely symbolic, steps toward sustainability, but the city is at this point in time critically lacking in the systems and arrangements that will make life possible, let alone comfortable, in such a pass as Dr. Deffeyes, Dr. Colin Campbell, and other experts assure us will surely be the case in another ten to twenty years. The fact that we are in better case than most of the rest of the U. S. is nothing to boast about, since most locations in this country don't even possess a transit system of any kind, and yet other major cities, notably Phoenix , Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, are also confronting catostrophic shortages of water. It isn't impossible to imagine that, in an era where we no longer have the cheap fuel to build and maintain monster water diversion projects, that Chicago and other midwestern cities might find themselves overwhelmed with an influx of desperate refugees from cities that have become suddenly very hostile to human habitation , as well as floods of suburbanites fleeing suddenly non-negotiable suburbs and insupportable heat bills on 4,000 square foot houses.

Hizzoner might not have considered all this, because, remember, he has just discovered a "new word": global warming. Yep, really. Well, it's time to teach him and Club 50 a couple more new words, such as Peak Oil and Resource Depletion.

We like to think that somewhere in the vast labyrinth of our federal, state, and municipal governments, and the various agencies, there are brainy, dedicated, informed people of ability and resolve who are working quietly and relentlessly on the city's deficiencies, but we can't count on that. The destruction of New Orleans, and the ineptitude and total cluelessness of every single person upon whom a population depends upon for organization and guidance in the event of calamity, in the chaos and total breakdown of lifeline services in Katrina catastrophe, revealed a chain with not just one weak link but that was rusty and broken from one end to the next.

So, while there is time, we need to do the following:

Repair and vastly expand public transit. At this time, Chicago's doddering transit system is completely inadequate to serve the city and inner Cook County in its current form. The current radial train system, in which all lines run from downtown to points north , south, and west, with a loose network of buses that run infrequently and unreliably, is unusable by the majority of the population that dwells in the 'bugalow belts' of the northwest and southwest side neighborhoods, in that it leaves large gaps measuring many square miles almost completely unserved by reliable, fast transportation. In fact, many neighborhoods have no service at all after 8 PM, leaving their residents no alternative to automobile dependence. This happened because these neighborhoods were built to very low density not much different than that of the typical older, inner-ring suburb. A near term solution are both inner-circle and outer-circle trains that connect the existing north-south rail lines, which takes us to.....

Planning and rezoning for greater transit use and walkability. High population densities are necessary to support transit, especially heavy rail, and only downtown and on the north lakefront does Chicago possess the population density necessary to provide ridership in the numbers necessary to support rail. Worse, low-density neighborhoods of single-family homes lack the dense commercial and retail that make a neighborhood negotiable on foot. As most neighborhoods now are configured, you have to drive some distance, often out of the neighborhood, just to get a loaf of bread and a can of coffee; and most residents of the outer neighorhoods travel to the suburbs in search of good shopping and recreation, taking vitality and variety, as well as sales tax dollars, out there with them.

The best way to reverse the process by which the outer neighborhoods are drained of vitality and services, and then finally of residents, is to rezone all neighborhoods to foster high populations and a density of retail and services around the tranist nodes formed by rail transfer points. The suggested density is usually residential buildings with retail at grade level, and 4 or 5 stories of condominiums or rental housing above, with parking concealed in the building or behind it. Retail spaces should be small enough to be affordable by the types of businesses needed to fully service a densely populated neighborhood.

To accomplish this, and in conjunction with it, the improvement and expansion of our transit, we need first to overcome the local bias towards low-density neighborhoods and single-family housing, and it is for our elected and appointed leaders to display vision and leadership in this area. However, since they aren't, we will have to hound them to do it, which means that most of us will have to rethink the way we think about the city and the way we arrange our lives in it.

Refitting our utilities and communications networks. Daley has at taken some tiny steps in this area by demanding that 20% of all power purchased by the city be produced by renewable resources. Just how ComEd will do this is not exactly clear. While Chicago has been spared the widespread and prolonged outages experienced by other major cities in the past couple of years, there is no reason to have confidence in the ability of our local utilility do deliver power in the amounts needed , reliably and economically in the future. The national grid is at present extremely frayed, and the utilities have made no significant investment in maintaining and improving it for many years, even though it is now obvious that electricity will not only be our major source of motive power for our vehicles and most other activities, but possibly our only reliable source of power in a near future in which natural gas, currently depleting rapidly, is expensive and difficult to get. Yet we are still dependent upon natural gas for a substantial part of our power generation. Worse, nuclear has been taken off the table and no new nuclear plants have been built or planned since the 1970s. This means that as our aging nuclear fleet produces less power and is decommissioned, the lost capacity is replaced by coal, with ominous implications for our future air quality and health.

Real leadership in this area means reviving the nuclear building program, as renewables such as solar, wind, and biomass are in their infancy and could not, now or in the near future, provide more than 5% of our power. Some experts believe that renewables may never replace the fossil fuels in their ability to generate the amount of power needed for basic comfort and amenity of this country's swollen population. I believe that at some point, renewables will be sufficiently developed to provide for our energy needs, but we badly need nuclear in order to buy time. I know that many environmentalists are vehemently opposed to nuclear for reasons known to us all, notably because of the amounts of indestructible, highly toxic waste they generate. However, those who are concerned with the effects of possible radiation exposure on our health need to consider what the level of health among the general, non-rich population ( that's me and most likely you) will be in the absence of heat, food, potable water, basic hygiene and sanitation, and any form of motorized transportation. The only alternative to reliable and affordable electricity is a regression to a pre-technological life, and if you don't know what that would mean for most of us, start studying history.

Additionally, the city should aggressively encourage property owners to install alternative means of generating electricity , such as solar panels and generators, by means of generous tax incentives, and perhaps even by fostering the formation of neighborhood power co-operatives.

Related to this is the reliabilitly of our essential communications networks. These are not disposable, especially in a future era of chronic fuel shortages, and are completely critical to the operation of the economy and maintenance of civil order. The maintenance of our telecommunications and the internet are necessary for the continued functioning of the economy on any level, and the intelligent utilization of the internet can already greatly reduce our use of essential resources. A wireless network providing complete coverage to all neighborhoods and suburbs is absolutely essential in that wireless infrastructure can be built and maintained for a fraction of the energy and materials necessary for lines and cables. This technology has proved to be a boon for third world nations that totally lack the means for a massive build-out of cable and electrical lines. Yet, at this time, our local wireless service is far from seamless. I have discovered one wireless high-speed internet service that serves Chicago, and is independent of the cellular phone companies, but it does not yet provide coverage to all neighborhoods or to the suburbs. Most wireless internet is linked to cellular phone service, requires the user to be near a 'hot spot' that is usually located at a retail outlet such as Starbucks, and morever is frequently a dial-up. Yet, a seamless and powerful wireless network that would not only be reliable in the event of power outages, but could be made available cheaply to everyone in the city for the price of a cheap dial-up connection is possible. The obstacles are principally political, and it is necessary for our leaders to take the initiative in this area. Yet, after a brief flurry of excitement over the prospects of wireless internet, the issue was abrubtly shelved and there has been no discussion of it since.

These are the major items that need to be dealt with if Chicago is to have a future any of us would want to be a part of, or could even hope to survive. There are many other things we must do in order to be able to deal with future necessities, such as the need to relocalize manufacturing and food production , among other things. However, the above issues are the most urgent, and right now there is nothing in our mayor's utterances or actions that indicates that he is even aware that we might have problems in these areas, or that these are even problems at all.