Tagpolitics

Should Cook County become a state?

“A state Republican legislator has introduced a bill to the Illinois General Assembly to separate the Chicago’s county from the state–effectively making the midwestern city the 51st state in the union” via Yahoo! News.

I’m just thinking aloud here:

  • We could fix our own transit funding issues. We wouldn’t have to compete with transit funding for downstate agencies (at the state level, competition at the federal level would still exist).
  • We’d be a very small state, 5.3 million.
  • Metra would be tough to deal with, unless it came under CTA control first! Har har.
  • I think this could make the State of Chicago a larger economic powerhouse without the meddling of so many different legislators.

What else would be different if Chicago (and Cook county) was its own state?

“These liberal policies are an insult to the traditional values of downstate families,” Mitchell told the Decatur Tribune. “When I talk to constituents, one of the biggest things I hear is ‘Chicago should be its own state . . . .Our voters’ voices were drowned out by Chicago.”

That’s kind of funny. Like Chicagoans are a bunch of abortion-having, dolphin-saving, vegan, bisexual couples.

Del Valle on Walmart stores and good governing in Chicago

This is juicy. I went to a friend’s house tonight (along with 40 other people) to hear and talk to Miguel Del Valle, candidate for Chicago mayor (the election’s on February 22). After he talked about his issues, we asked him questions on different issues or to expand on what he said earlier.

Someone in the audience asked about Walmart in Pullman. I’m not sure of the exact question, but Miguel answered: “I support a living wage. If I was mayor, I would not have vetoed the ‘big box ordinance’.” (Mayor Daley initially supported the big box ordinance that would have set a minimum wage for workers in stores of a certain square footage but vetoed the bill after it was approved by the city council.)

Not wanting to lose an opportunity to talk about such a contentious issue (now quickly becoming one for New York City), I spoke up and mentioned to Miguel that Walmart plans 30 more stores in Chicago (a few people gasped at the thought of this) and asked, “How do you feel about that?” He replied:

How do I feel about that? It won’t be my job to feel something about new Walmarts in the city. That’s the city council’s job. I want to liberate them [he said this on Wednesday night]. I want there to be an open, deliberative process, with debate and transparency. I want there to be public hearings in and outside the council chambers. Let the proponents speak, and let the opponents speak. Whether or not there should be more Walmarts in Chicago is up to the aldermen and their constituents to decide. There are areas in Chicago where stores that sell fresh groceries don’t want to move in, but Walmart is – people are willing to take what they can get.* What is appropriate in one neighborhood might not be appropriate for another, but that is not for the mayor to decide. The citizens must choose.

(I can’t believe I paraphrased his response so well. I mean, I rode home in 2°F cold so my body is really tired.)

One audience member wasn’t sure what it meant to “liberate aldermen” and asked, “Can you describe what that looks like?” She was curious about Del Valle’s “proposal” to have a democratic process in the city council chambers. He explained that the citizens elect aldermen to represent them when making and passing bills. It’s the mayor’s job to control the flow of bill introductions and voting.

He gave the example of the parking meter deal: The ordinance was introduced one day and voted on the next day. This wouldn’t happen if Del Valle was mayor because he would require debate, transparency, hearings, and such. As mayor, he would immediately engage Morgan Stanley to try to renegotiate the terms of the lease. Unlike The Urbanophile, Miguel does not believe the city can buy back the meters – they’re far too valuable at this point.

He wants to make a structural change – the way governing should be but hasn’t been during the Daley administration. I support him in this effort.

*I would prefer that our TIF dollars be used for what they were designed for: improving the economic conditions in blighted areas. TIF money is supposed to be used to pay for capital projects that would not occur in that area if not for the TIF funding. Maybe Pete’s Fresh Market or Roundy’s needs a bit more incentive. The Walmart contribution to the tax rolls is not all it’s cracked up to be! Also consider how big companies like Walmart, and now Costco in the Illinois Medical District, consistently receive tax brakes. These are the very companies that can most afford paying taxes.

Chicago Flame reports on the recent UIC mayoral candidate forum

Alyssa Cherwak writes in the Chicago Flame, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s student newspaper. Obviously, someone took better notes than I did. She’s got the real dirt for us, quoting the candidates for mayor throughout the article :

“What are the qualifications to be mayor of the city of Chicago?” asked Ryan Graves. “Be eighteen years old, a registered voter, a city resident, in no debt to the city, and no felony convictions. I meet all of these qualifications.”

After the forum, Danny Davis and Miguel del Valle started talking to reporters.

UIC hosts Chicago election season’s first forum

I’m following the race for 11th ward alderman as well as for mayor of Chicago – the election is going to get wild. It’s mild right now, though.

On Wednesday, the University of Illinois at Chicago hosted a forum in Student Center East (750 S Halsted) featuring 10 candidates for mayor. Out of the 20 candidates registered with the Board of Elections, 10 didn’t come. Noticeably absent were Rahm Emanuel, Carol Mosely-Braun, and Gerry Chico.

We’ve got some weirdos running for mayor of Chicago.

I’ll be uploading some video footage I recorded but I also tweeted a few times during the forum. Here they are in reverse chronological order:

  1. Ryan Graves says Rahm Emanuel gets corporate donations for favors, “not because they like the guy.”
  2. Some attendees upset at Ryan Graves use of word illegal aliens. They muttered they prefer undocumented. Same thing or not?
  3. Ryan Graves needs a better answer on higher education. Hu gave an excellent response.
  4. Ryan Graves actually knows what TIFs are for. #UIC mayoral candidate forum.
  5. Chicago’s 77 community areas from the 1950s still going strong today at #UIC mayoral candidate forum.
  6. Frederick K White wants to make a Chicago water bottling plant. #UIC mayoral
  7. #UIC mayoral candidate forum going well. Too many single issue platforms though.

I wrote so many times about Ryan Graves because I’m excited that he’s running. He’s 27 years old and I admire his efforts so far. I think that as long as he remains sane during the campaigning, he will be a good person to consider for mayor in the coming decades.

I wish that was me with the Apple iPad, live-tweeting the event.

My endorsements for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) is in charge of treating sewage, managing storm water runoff, controlling for floods, and keeping pollution out of our waterways (the District only covers Cook County). It operates seven water treatment plants. It has a board of elected commissioners. Three commissioners are elected every two years for six–year terms. Tuesday, November 2, 2010, is the day on which you can help control the future of the District.

Why should you care about the MWRD and its Board of Commissioners?

  1. If you own property, then you pay taxes to the MWRD. Look at your property tax bill and you will see a line item on there for “Metro Water Reclamation Dist of Gr Chgo” – you’ll pay more to have everyone’s sewage cleaned and storm water collected than you will to pay for the Cook County Forest Preserve District and City of Chicago libraries.
  2. If you rent property, your rents will be somewhat based on the property taxes the property owner pays for your unit.
  3. If your basement has flooded, you have probably been affected by unsustainable and incomplete storm water management. This is MWRD’s responsibility but the organization seems too hellbent on building more voluminous tunnels to store water before it can be cleaned and discharged into Lake Michigan.

Read on for my endorsements if any of the preceding situations or events apply to you, or if you believe there are more sustainable ways of doing the District’s job.

Nadine Bopp

Nadine is my favorite candidate. What are her credentials you ask?

  • Bachelor’s degree in Ecology
  • Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning
  • Teaches environmental science, botany and sustainable architecture
  • Works at the Cook County Forest Preserve District as an environmental planner in writing a conservation management plan
  • Works as a board member in the Chicago chapter of the the U.S. Green Building Council (posts about U.S. GBC)

Her credentials and her answers to the Chicago Tribune questionnaire are directly in line with my values, my experience, and my vision for storm water management in Chicago and Cook County. If you’re not sure how this is, then you haven’t been reading enough on Steven can plan!

Jack Ailey

In Jack’s answer to the Chicago Tribune about specific initiatives he would seek to accomplish in his term, he said he would stress,

“a vigorous campaign to keep storm water out of our sewer system, promoting all the various methods to do this. We need incentives for homeowners to install rain barrels. We need incentives for green roofs. We need incentives for installing permeable paving. Property owners need to get some tangible benefit from doing the things needed to reduce the amount of storm water entering the sewer system.”

Chicago has a combined sewer system, so it also collects storm water. The additional water cannot be cleaned fast enough and there’s not enough Deep Tunnel to store it so much of the dirty water is discharged into Lake Michigan. By reducing the demand on our systems with sustainable management practices, we will also reduce our costs AND the risk and prevalence of flooding.

Also, I’m a bit partial to the topic of using rain barrels as part of water conservation and storm water management: I was ecstatic watching my rain barrel work so well during its first storm.

The organization in charge of managing storm water should better promote the use of rain barrels and other water conservation techniques that reduce the workload on our already over-taxed sewer system.

Michael Alvarez

In Michael’s comments to the Chicago Tribune about a proposed watershed management ordinance, he said,

“New development on or adjacent to the existing flood plain should be required to increase the storage rate, rather than simply meeting the pre-construction run off rate. Additionally, the ordinance should provide incentive for property owners, with existing structures, to implement water conservation techniques. In all instances we should encourage the use of permeable pavers and other technologies that will alleviate the strain on our environment.”

By mandating an increase in water storage rate, this would ensure that properties are built to better handle storm water. What I don’t see, and would like to see from Michael, is more about his ideas on which techniques would be allowed. Dedicating a large portion of a housing development to water retention – a popular technique in low-density areas – is not a productive use of land, nor does it promote sustainable storm water management. But Michael’s comments on water conservation and permeable pavers sell me on his candidacy.


High-speed rail under construction in Illinois

UPDATE: The City of Carlinville Facebook page provides consistent and timely updates on the railroad crossing closures while the Union Pacific track is upgraded. The City posted photos, too.

If you weren’t specifically seeking out information on high-speed rail (HSR) construction, and you weren’t searching for “track renewal train” and other obscure keywords, you wouldn’t actually know about the status of HSR.

But that’s why you follow my blog – I’ll keep you updated.

Right now, crews are working 10 hour days, working 10 days on, and 5 days off* in Carlinville, Plainview (photo), and Alton, Illinois, to remove existing track and wooden ties and replacing them with concrete ties and continuously welded rail (CWR).

The proof is in the videos, taken only four days ago in Carlinville (map) on October 1, 2010. Watch more videos from PSQLead.

The Harsco Track Technologies Track Renewal Train 909 (TRT-909) does the following:

  • Picks up and carries out of the way old rail
  • Removes old wooden ties with a robot arm
  • Digs up ballast
  • Places new concrete ties
  • Drops in new rail and heats it so it can be “continuously welded”
  • Clamps new rail to new ties

What the beast looks like from afar. Photo of Union Pacific’s TRT-909 in Aldine, Texas, by Matthew Holman.

Thankfully Illinois doesn’t have a growing anti-rail political force like Ohio, California, Florida, or Wisconsin. All of these states have Republican candidates running for governor who say they will stop the train in its tracks. Read more about this unfortunate situation in The New York Times.

*This information comes from a secondary source. I hope to get in touch with someone who knows more about the work.

Heard of the Great American Streetcar Conspiracy?

General Motors and Standard Oil bought up the country’s streetcar systems, replaced the routes with buses, and thus began America’s automobile love affair and distaste for mass transit.

Streetcars are being now being rebuilt all across America, including in Portland, Oregon.

Heard that before?

Before you perpetuate it further, read this essay for some perspective on the story. Apparently, it’s a problem only liberals suffer from.

Even today it resonates with liberals – The Atlantic casually mentions it as the reason America abandoned mass transit, The Nation wrote a whole article about it a few years ago, Fast Food Nation discusses it, and in the last week I’ve seen two references to the theory in the planning blogosphere.

Now, this essay still isn’t the “end all, be all” chronology of transportation evolution history in the United States.

The new(ish) streetcar in Portland, Oregon.

Do you know of a book or article where the writer summarily presents concrete evidence? The essay does cite four academic sources, so it’s the best explanation of the so-called conspiracy I’ve ever read.

I’m bringing this up thanks to Edward Russell, who posted it, and my sister, who mentioned it to me after a friend told her about the story.

The truth about Wal-Mart’s contribution to the tax roll

I recently wrote about how Wal-Mart plans to expand its reach in Chicago in a big way (30 new stores big). Politicians around the country consistently like to be heard saying how one way the store(s) will benefit the city is the additional tax revenue the city will see from property and sales tax contributions. Here are selected quotes from Chicagoans:

On Tuesday, [Chicago Mayor] Daley noted that a Wal-Mart expansion would pave the way for sales tax windfall for the cash-starved city budget.

In suburban Cook County, about 20 percent to 30 percent of all sales tax revenue comes from Wal-Marts, Daley said.

Chicago Sun-Times, June 15, 2010

“Everyone realizes we need the tax revenue,” [Alderman Anthony] Beale [9th Ward] said.

Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 2010

Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, a pro-union alderman, lamented Wal-Mart’s domination of the nation’s retail market and its tendency to sell foreign-made products, but voted for Pullman Park because of the need for jobs and additional tax revenue.

Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2010

Comparatively, Wal-Mart brings in little property tax revenue on a per acre basis, according to a study from Sarasota County (Florida) and Public Interest Projects and posted by Citiwire. I’ve summarized their findings:

  • Single-family home: $8,200 per acre
  • Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club: $150.00-$200.00 per acre
  • Southgate Mall: $22,000 per acre
  • High-rise mixed-use project in downtown Sarasota: $800,000

That last one’s the kicker! From the Citiwire article, “‘It takes a lot of WalMarts to equal the contribution of that one mixed-use building,’ [Peter] Katz noted.” Read the full story for more examples and for more discussion on how this specific breakdown of costs and benefits is only one way to look at fiscal and retail impact.

If the same tax revenues were true for Chicago or Cook County (and I can’t say it is or isn’t), then the city planners and aldermen should be seeking developers to build high-rise mixed-use projects. Right.

But the issue Chicago and other cities have is that Wal-Mart is one of the most willing developers – they will build where no one else will. They have capital that no one else has. They have the resources to sway the population. It’s more politically difficult to resist such a willing partner like Wal-Mart than it is to seek relationships with developers who have the resources to create more beneficial mixed-use projects in the neighborhoods Wal-Mart seems to prefer.

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