Public Watchdog.org

Council Triumphs Over Unenlightened Self-Interest…For Now

06.09.14

Last Monday night (June 2) the Park Ridge City Council held a special committee meeting to once again discuss the elephant that’s been parked in the corner of the Council chambers for the past few years.

Flood control.

This time, however, the discussion focused on whether the entire community should be allowed to vote in an advisory referendum on spending – or, more accurately, borrowing and spending – upwards of $20 million on flood control for two relatively small areas of Park Ridge, both in the Second Ward and serving approximately 450 homes: Mayfield Estates and the Northwest Park neighborhood.

Most of the assembled multitude in the gallery last Monday seemed to be from those two areas, and they were vocal in their opposition to such a referendum. They branded it “divisive” even as they insisted flood control was “a Park Ridge issue” affecting the entire community.

In other words, “we’re all in this together” – with everybody sharing the cost of what benefits only a few of us – and don’t you dare take a vote that might prove otherwise!

That’s a standard tactic for people who want to spend OPM (“Other People’s Money”) on their own pet project while insisting that “everybody” wants it, especially when they don’t think they can muster the 50.01% majority of “yes” votes needed to pass a referendum for the project.

We call that the “Tim Schuenke Rule,” which is as dishonest as it is anti-democratic and anti-republican (note the small “d” and “r”) because it’s based on manipulating and/or intimidating a majority of the officials of the relevant local governing body – assuming that a majority of that governing body hasn’t already convinced itself to cut the voters out of the process, as the City Council did back in 2003 with the Uptown TIF; and as the 2012-13 Park Board did with the new Centennial Water Park that opens this coming weekend.

Manipulating/intimidating the aldermen is what almost every speaker tried to do last Monday night, with one speaker even threatening litigation…a hollow threat, to be sure, because those folks aren’t about to spend their own money on lawyers to file a losing lawsuit, as Farmers Insurance appears to have conceded in dropping its flooding suit against all Cook County municipalities including Park Ridge.

With the legal claim to public monies for expensive flood control infrastructure gone, the Second Ward residents seemed to be desperately scrambling for some kind of moral high-ground. That meant continuing to portray themselves as helpless victims of unfair treatment, such as by pointing to 9 other City flood control projects totaling over $5 million that already had been done without referendum.

Not surprisingly, however, they failed to mention that those other 9 projects provided a total of approximately 2.5 miles worth of relief sewers to a number of different areas of town. By a purely back-of-the-envelope calculation, those projects benefited almost 10 times the number of residences projected to be benefited by the Mayfield Estates and Northwest Park projects combined – and at around a quarter of the cost being projected for those two projects.

Those facts, even if articulated, probably wouldn’t have made that crowd any less ornery.

Which is why a Watchdog bark-out goes to Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) for his solid job chairing that raucus meeting.

He was spot-on in noting how this Council has taken on these tough flood discussions that previous councils ignored. And he demonstrated his knowledge of Santayana’s warning that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” by comparing the long-term financial burdens of flood control to the burdens of the Uptown TIF.

Such comparisons and history lessons, however, seemed lost on most of the crowd – no more so than on Birch Street resident Meg Schwieder, whose unenlightened self-interest can be seen and heard in all its glory from 52:45 through 1:01:12 of the special meeting video.

We particularly liked her “That’s your problem, not mine” response to Mazzuca’s invocation of the TIF-created financial problems. We can’t tell whether she just couldn’t grasp or simply refused to accept Mazzuca’s point that every major long-term bonded debt incurred by any of our local governmental bodies becomes “all of our problems,” often for a decade or more. But her comments highlight just how shallow, short-sighted and greedy a view some of our fellow residents take of this flooding problem, if not other City problems.

Fortunately, four aldermen – Mazzuca, Marty Maloney (7th), Dan Knight (5th) and Joe Sweeney (1st) – expressed their support for an advisory referendum, with Sweeney pointing out that areas in his ward flood almost as often and as much as Mayfield Estates. He also advocated a comprehensive City-wide flood mitigation program, which could run over $100 million.

But only if it gets taxpayer support via a City-wide referendum.

That’s not what the folks in the audience Monday night wanted to hear. But that’s what they needed to hear. Now let’s see if that 4-alderman Council majority can hang tough on putting this issue to referendum.

And let’s see whether those Second Ward residents reconsider some Special Service Area cost-sharing arrangements rather than risk going “all-in” with a referendum.

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

18 comments so far

The nastiness of Ms. Schwieder was the worst of the people who addressed the council, but they all seemed to have an attitude. When I moved to Park Ridge twenty years ago I specifically looked for a home in an area that did not flood and rejected homes in the area around Northwest Park. Even then, it cost me almost $13,000 for flood control devices in my home, which I paid without looking to blame anybody else or get the money from the city. These people just don’t seem to get it.

We flooded a couple of times years ago and finally decided that it was OUR responsibility to ensure that it didn’t happen again. We installed a flood control device and several years later an emergency electrical generator. We had no thoughts that it was anyone’s responsibility other than ours.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We agree with you re sewer back-up, which overhead sewers and/or a check valve are pretty effective at preventing. Overland flooding, however, is a different animal – which is why relief sewers are being added all over town. Unfortunately for the residents of Mayfield Estates (and some other areas of the Second Ward?), they or their predecessor homeowners decided 40+ years ago that they didn’t want to pay to install street sewers to address overland flooding.

And that’s one of the main reasons we believe those folks need to bite the bullet and cover a lot more of the cost of flood relief in their area.

I have problems with water on my street, and backing up into my house from the sewers.
How will this help me?
How will spending over sixty million dollars on these three projects help my flooding, or will I just pay for their solutions and be left to fend for myself?
If my Alderman caves in, he’ll hear from me for sure!

EDITOR’S NOTE:We don’t see how it will. Worse yet, the City’s undertaking that kind of debt might delay or even prevent any flood remediation in your or other areas of town.

Best Line:
Alderman Mazzuca – “It’s not like your toilets not going to flush”

Alderman- Maybe if you didn’t live in a condo, you would know, that during a heavy rainstorm, worried homeowners can’t take showers, do laundry or flush their toilets as they fear filling up already over burdened sewers.

I also don’t think it’s fair to take the shot at Mrs Schweider. She is just a resident. She isn’t comfortable addressing the council, so maybe a word or two came out wrong or with too much passion, but I think it’s just distracts from the debate. Her point about the TIF, was that it’s the ELECTED officials “problem” not hers to do something about. It’s not fair to treat her like it was a candidate debate.

I agree with the Mayor. No way a referendum passes. That is exactly why Mazzuca wants it. He wants no action and status quo.

Lastly, For the Alderman to treat the citizens like adversaries and mock them and debate them, was a pretty ugly show of representation. Who does he think he is to talk down to residents?

After reading your article then watching the video, I have to disagree with your summary. What is the alternative being suggested? Time???? Is flooding a surprise to an elected official? Distraction and delay isn’t leading. It’s political cover.

If Park Ridge misses the Dempster hook up, it will be an absolute SHAME on this council and a disservice to ALL of Park Ridge.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Perhaps it’s time Ms. Schwieder learned that running her mouth at public meetings comes with consequences – especially when her clear-as-a-bell point is that HER flooding is EVERYBODY’S problem, but none of the City’s other problems are hers. Heads, she wins; tails, the rest of us lose.

The residents who showed up at that June 2 meeting arrived as “adversaries” – the only thing they were missing were their torches and ropes. Nevertheless, Ald. Mazzuca treated everyone of them with due respect and gave everyone who wanted it an opportunity to speak their piece, even allowing them to go past their allotted time.

One alternative, which we suggested months ago (in our 12.12.13 post), is the creation of Special Service Areas (“SSA”s) – something the folks in those areas previously rejected but that might seem more appealing now that at least four aldermen have stated their support for putting the Mayfield Estates and Northwest Park projects to referendum.

And if Park Ridge “misses the Dempster hook up,” the “absolute SHAME” will properly fall squarely on those freeloaders whose insistence on pawning off the entire cost of solving their flooding problems onto every other taxpayer in the community has done nothing but delay this process.

Ward 7:

Forgive me for being blunt but….can you read?? The entire point of the editor and several of the other posters is…..screw you!!!! You have a problem with water backing up into your basement?? Tough!!

Why is it that you have noy purchased a flood control system. If you have not yet done so that is your fault. Apparently, it is not the cities responsibility to protect homeowners from flooding. While you are at it you had better have a generator installed.

If you Alderman caves?!?! SO what exactly is your argument to your alderman?? “Don’t spend the money on them. Spend it on me”.

To quote one of the posters above, if water is backing up into your basement you need to buy a flood control system (at 13K they overpaid)…”without looking to blame anybody else or get the money from the city”. To paraphrase the second poster, how can you have thoughts that it is anyone else’s responsibility other than yours???

EDITOR’S NOTE: Close, but not quite a cigar.

Our point is that each homeowner has the primary responsibility to secure his/her home. If you have sewer backup, it’s YOUR responsibility to install overhead sewers and/or check valves. If you have windowells that flood, it’s YOUR responsibility to cover/waterproof them.

If you live in Mayfield Estates and you (or your predecessor owner) rejected the City’s demand 40+ years ago to install street sewers, and/or subsequently filled in the drainage ditches and culverts, it’s YOUR responsibility to cover the cost of those sewers – although some cost-sharing by the City roughly equivalent to the flood control being installed elsewhere at City cost might be reasonable.

But at the end of the day, the costs must be AFFORDABLE and ACCEPTABLE to the taxpayers who will be footing the bills.

Agree about the SSA’s.

I may have missed it, but was there an actual vote on SSA’s at all in any of the process so far? I know it was mentioned, but bring it to the horseshoe and let’s see what happens. Or, do we not “trust” the vote of our elected officials to be “smart enough” to make a decision? See what I did there.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t believe the Council actually took a formal vote on SSAs, there was just a consensus against them in April with Alds. Milisiss, Shubert, Mazzuca and Maloney expressing informal opposition.

But, hey, we’re comfortable with a referendum as an alternative to the SSAs.

Gee. Why would the residents show up as adversaries?? hmmmmmmm……I wonder.

Maybe they remember elected officials stating things like the following……”For example, our inadequate storm sewer system has caused many residents to lose thousands, and even tens of thousands, of dollars of possessions, including such irreplaceable things as family photos and mementoes. It also has increased the cost of their insurance and caused them a lot of time, effort and drudgery related to clean-up and repairs”…….and “I will support accelerating the program for building relief sewers and modernizing and repairing our existing sewer lines in an effort to prevent potential catastrophic flooding problems in the future”, only to find out that those statements did not cover them. Now why would that make anyone adversarial??

The idea that it is you commenting about this group being adversarial, considering some of the things you have stated on this blog over the years, is absolutely priceless. The only thing more priceless, is Mayor Dave stating he did not like their demeanor. HE did not like their demeanor?!?!?!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Perhaps you should wonder why you can’t figure out that “accelerating the program for building relief sewers and modernizing and repairing our existing sewer lines” is EXACTLY what’s been happening all around town for the past several years, which is one of the things the folks in Mayfield Estates and Northwest Park have been beefing about.

Too bad the Mayfield Estates folks chose to live in a place with NO existing street sewer lines. And too bad Northwest Park apparently needs to be turned into a temporary reservoir – at a cost of well over $16 million – to deal with that neighborhood’s problems.

Finally, we admit to being “adversarial.” In fact, we relish it – which is one reason we continue to allow anonymous half-wits and nitwits to share their views, also in an “adversarial” fashion.

PD:

The poster stated they had water backing up in their basement. They appear to want the city to pay for that problem and have not taken responsibility for THEIR issue (right?). Based on your statements, they have not done what you want them to do. They have not taken that primary responsibility. Based on your argument, they should get a flood control system.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If it makes you feel better, we can’t understand why EVERYBODY who has experienced any sewer back-up doesn’t already have a private flood control system.

You relish it…until it happens in reverse at which point you talk of “torches and ropes”.

If the Mayor was serious about “demeanor” and wanted to lead on that issue he would have done so in one of his speeches or Spokesman letters a long time ago. He has no problem with people (many appointed by him) being called liars and freeloaders so long as it is a position he agrees with. Some angry residents sick of cleaning up those “irreplaceable family momentoes” express their frustration and NOW he does not like their demeanor.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, we consistently relish it – but that doesn’t mean “torches and ropes” isn’t descriptive of some of it, as last Monday night.

We don’t know why the Mayor is beefing about “demeanor” – any more than we would know why a sailor would blush at a slightly off-color joke told by a bar girl in Thailand.

Any “irreplaceable family momentoes” shouldn’t be stored where they are in danger of having to be replaced.

To clarify, my issue with the demeanor of some, not all, of the residents at the meeting was that they were given plenty of time to speak, uninterrupted, and then when it came time for the aldermen to debate the matter, some residents began shouting and repeatedly interrupted the discussion. I found that to be disappointing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’d have gone with “deportment” instead of “demeanor,” but we get your point.

I thought that an SSA made sense when you first proposed it, and it makes sense now. As you pointed out awhile ago, and as Ms. Schwieder’s comments (“if you want to come and buy everyone’s house in Park Ridge”) make clear, this flood control project is more about increasing private property values for the beneficiaries than it is about the overall condition of Park Ridge.

I really do feel for the residents of that area. Getting water in your home is not a pleasant experience. Questions I have for them: do they have flood control systems in their homes, and if so, do the systems get overwhelmed and fail during large rain events?

I do know we saved up for 4 years to afford our flood control system…it was very costly but well worth the money.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We “feel for the residents of that area,” too, but not to the extent that we think they are entitled tens of thousands of tax dollars apiece to subsidize them for conscious economic decisions they made for themselves in choosing homes in areas that were more susceptible to flooding than other, higher-priced areas of town.

BNON:

You stated:

“this flood control project is more about increasing private property values for the beneficiaries than it is about the overall condition of Park Ridge”.

If that is the measuring stick let’s just make sure it is consistent. What you say is true about virtually every project the city does. By their nature, these projects usually solve a problem that is limited to a neighborhood rather than the overall condition of PR. As an example, I am guessing that most in PR have driven by the ongoing project on Belle Plaine near Knight. It started in some alleys and has worked it’s way all the way over to Washington School. I am not positive what this project is going to accomplish. I do not know that is messes up traffic on the way to and from Maine South. I also know that this project will only benefit that neighborhood. It will not benefit Mayfield or the country Club area or Uptown or South Park, etc….etc.

I do not know the price of this project or the number of houses that might benefit. Perhaps one could argue that a particular project is cheap enough or benefits enough homes as to make sense.

But is your measurement is the overall condition of PR they all fall short. By that measure they should all be SSA.

EDITOR’S NOTE: So let’s see here…you are arguing for consistency in evaluating public works projects by suggesting that a $2.3 million flood control project to benefit 23 homes in Mayfield Estates (i.e., $100,000 per home) can somehow be compared to a project on Belle Plaine at Knight that you admittedly don’t know the purpose of, what it is costing the taxpayers, or how many homes it will benefit?

With that kind of cluelessness you would have been a great fit on the City Council that gave us the Uptown TIF!

FYI, our evaluation of these projects is not necessarily based on “the overall condition of PR” – although that should be the goal of any public works project. Every project, however, should be cost-effective on a cost/benefit basis; and measuring it on a per-home-affected basis is one good way of doing it.

We suspect you are talking about the 2,600-2,800 feet of relief sewers budgeted at around $850,000. At an average of roughly 650 feet/block and 24 homes/block, that project would benefit 96 homes, at an average cost of less than $9,000 per home – compared to $100,000 per home for the Mayfield Estates project.

By that measure, there’s no way in the world the Mayfield Estates project makes any sense, at least not 100% on the public dime.

SSA’s are the unique answer for this, because when Mayfield joined Park Ridge they said NO to the city code.

To say it’s treating them as 2nd class citizens is a lie by the citizens. However, (besides Millissis, since it’s his ward), the other Alderman have no guts to just tell them that and vote on the SSA’s.

Again, it’s a unique circumstance. They chose not to conform, and presumably their property values should’ve reflected, so why should we contribute to retrofitting their neighborhoods????

SSA’s is the answer. However, Shubert, Mazzuca and Maloney should each have the guts to change their mind and propose a 50/50 SSA on the Mayfield project.

Not going to happen, which is why the whole way Mazzuca handled the meeting was a fraud. He wants NOTHING done to improve the city. He was extremely harsh, only to politically bail himself out and miss important deadline of the Dempster hook-up.

I tried finding the video, but I have no clue why Mazzuca, Shubert and Maloney are against the SSA’s. It’s too important of an issue not to have everyones position clearly relayed to the voters.

City Council- get yourselves on record and vote on SSA’s. Let’s find out your true intentions and level of guts. I’d like to see the Mayor champion this issue. I think he could be the voice that gets it done.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Spoken like somebody dead set against SSAs until discovering that a majority of aldermen want to put the matter to referendum. Or like a “Park ridge serf” who previously advocated for the City’s issuing bonds to buy out all the Mayfield Estates properties at FMV and then demo them to create parks(Comments to 01.17.14 post on 01.24.14 @ 8:37 pm, and on 02.04.14 @ 3:11 p.m.; and comment to 03.07.14 post on 03.07.14 @ 8:40 p.m.).

In other words, a bail-out (pun intended) of the Mayfield Estates homeowners by the rest of the City’s taxpayers through even more long-term bonded, interest-bearing debt – and without those Mayfield Estates folks even having to pay brokers’ commissions!

And you folks wonder why we refer to you as “freeloaders”?

GET OFF MY LAWN!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Droll. Stupid, but droll.

I am wondering how changing the building codes to modify – expand – the amount of required green space on the lots fits into the discussion of spending what could be more than $100,000,000 on flooding mitigation for only certain areas of PR but at the expense of us all.

The neighborhoods currently under discussion for flood relief tax dollars-along with other neighborhoods in PR-have seen smaller homes torn down in favor of large(mcmansions) homes with deep basements that use every allowable square inch of area on the lot allowed under the current codes for the new homes and garages. Often, the level of the lot has also been raised. The result is less green space to absorb rain water and also water runoff to neighboring homes that have previously never flooded.

This very site has featured one such home at 322 S. Vine that violated several building codes and the city has refused to do anything to correct these violations. The result is surrounding homes that did not experience flooding problems from overland water runoff now have it thanks to this new home. It is likely there are many more examples of this situation in PR.

Does it make sense to spend all this money on flooding mitigation-yes I realize Mayfield Estates has no street sewers-without looking into how the explosion of larger homes has impacted the flooding situation in some neighborhoods?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We would hazard a guess that most people undestand that the more “green” space that’s replaced by “hard” surface the greater the demand on sewers. So the increase in “mcmansions” does contribute to that.

It’s our understanding, however, that a far greater contributor to that problem are multi-family dwellings that may eat up slightly more green space than a mcmansion but place 3-4-5-6-or-more times the demand on those sewers and water based on the density of residents. But the low-hanging fruit for developers, profit-wise, are those multi-family structures. So if the City wants to make an impact from the Zoning Code standpoint, it very well might be changing the Code to restrict the number of mulit-family structures and units-per-structure – because the current Code does a terrible job of that.

And as for 322 Vine, that was a total FUBAR by City staff, starting with the since-departed (good riddance!) City Building Adminstrator Steve Cutaia and continuing up the food chain through former CP&D head Carrie Davis to former CM Jim Hock.

ANONYMOUS ON 06.11.14 9:50 AM Here, (now Mark My Words so we can keep track).

I appreciate your comment back, but, I think your IP Address checking is way off. That’s not me. None of those referenced are me.

Anyway….to my original point. This gets solved if the Mayor sits and makes the case for SSA’s. It’s a win/win for everyone, with the whole city participating in the cost, but the homeowners getting the most premium flood protection in the city all while retrofitting their original error, putting in 1/2.

The Mayor wouldn’t have to, if one of the previously mentioned Aldermen stepped up and PUT IT TO A VOTE!!

If not mark my words, referendum will lose. City will lose it’s opportunity to get water out of our city, and we will be back to square one with a lot of wasted time. But when, you have a council looking to do nothing, then guess what’s going to happen?

Nothing. (See TIF discussion over the last 2 years, nothing)

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, our IP address-checking is just fine, thank you, as is our ability to detect blatant dishonesty.

Had all you freeloaders asked the Council months ago to put SSA’s on the March 18, 2014 ballot there wouldn’t be any need for all this desperate pseudo-emergency backpedaling from the referendum that a majority of alderman say they support. But you thought you could intimidate them into giving you $20 Million of flood relief for free, so who needed SSAs?

Oops.

322 Vine wasn’t the only FUBAR by the city employees with regard to grade changes and new construction, but definitely the most vocal. And well justified in being vocal! And do let’s give credit for the mess to Randy Derifeld too!

EDITOR’S NOTE: 322 Vine might not have been the only one, but it’s the most outrageous example we can recall.



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