Friday, July 23, 2010

Beirut in Chicago: who's responsible?

1:30 a.m.: The dark spot in the photo at left is just a small pool of stinking urine in the alley behind Allende Restaurant at 2221 N. Lincoln Ave. this hot summer night. I estimate that's the urine of about 20 guys (and probably a couple of gals). Normally, when there is no police presence back there, on a warm July night you will observe a much larger and more malodorous sea of urine, running across the entire driveway -- easily the effluvia of 80 to 100 intoxicated young people, concentrated in a 10' x 10' area. Tonight, police responded to several calls when someone was also seen smashing cinder blocks there. Normally, they don't have time to deter the hundreds of urinators who stroll back there three to four nights a week.

This was at 1:30 in the morning. In the very middle of Lincoln Park, supposedly one of the finest residential neighborhoods in the world.

And not two minutes after the three police cars responding to this mess left, people again began streaming into the alley to relieve themselves, because there is noplace else to go. Police apprehended a young Northeastern University pre-law student who lied through his teeth about it to try to avoid the ticket. He's learning fast.

Is it the young man's fault that there is so much urine in the alley? He is only responsible for what he did, yet he will pay a very high price. Allende Restaurant will never be ticketed for not letting its paying customers use their bathroom (though they can be). Is this their fault? They certainly don't want to clean up after these kids missing the bowl and vomiting everywhere. But they sure are profiting from it all, selling tens of thousands of dollars of burritos a week here at their two locations on the street.

Is it the bars' fault? They certainly aren't ever being ticketed for regularly violating fire code, filling their bars beyond bursting and illegally pumping patrons with $2 Bud Light specials, never stopping until they're puking everywhere. And they're making far more money than Allende.

Is it 18th District Chicago Police Cmdr. Angarone's fault? His officers are stretched to the limit. Mayor Daley insists on cutting police staff. The commander now rotates a single detail car from Lincoln Avenue, to Weed Street, to Webster Street on busy nights. There's just not enough money to go around.

Is this the SSA's fault? Commissioners doling out the money from the Special Service Area surtax on these blocks (which I opposed and still oppose) turn a deaf ear to pleas to stop spending residents' taxes on Chamber of Commerce brochures and flowerpots, and to start spending the bars' money on security, porta-potties, and trash pickup.

But then why would they do that? The SSA was created by the Chamber of Commerce and alderman, originally prompted by Sam "John Barleycorn" Sanchez and Bobby "Kelsey's-Kendall's-Kincade's" Burleson, two of the most successful bar owners in the city. They created and effectively run the SSA, bilking residents out of additional taxes and spending the money to benefit -- big surprise! -- themselves, and Lincoln Avenue residents and small businesses are none the wiser. Is it their fault for being clever enough to know a good opportunity when the see one, clever enough to find just the right way to quietly cheat other people?

Oh, they can't claim that I don't try to get involved -- I asked several times to be placed on the SSA commission and they bent over backward to find others, because they knew I would be a strong dissenting voice in how they spend our money. Sam "John Barleycorn" Sanchez -- who created the tax so that residents can foot the bill to beautify the neighborhood for his own drunk customers -- is an SSA commissioner. Here's an excerpt from the Janary 2010 Lincoln Avenue SSA meeting minutes:
"Sanchez explained that he employs one person to clean up around his Wriggleville [sic] bar after Cubs games and that one person is able to clean sufficiently."
What does Sam's comment tell us? It tells us that in Wriggleville, Sam (properly) has to pay to clean up all of the trash and vomit that his patrons spew on the sidewalk in front of his extremely profitable bar. But at his Lincoln Avenue bar, clever Sam Sanchez can wriggle out of his responsibilities and make residents and small businesses foot the bill. Isn't that just brilliant?

(You can read all of the minutes at http://www.lincolnavessa.com/. There's some interesting stuff in there. A minimal level of transparency is one concession I managed to squeeze out of these thieves with great difficulty. But if residents don't have time to watchdog these crooks, they will get away with whatever they want despite the transparency. Neer Patel, whom I helped get onto the commission as the residential representative -- can you believe that, they had to be coerced to get a resident commissioner on a tax that is being paid 84% by residents? -- doesn't seem to have any objection at all.)

Is this all Sam's fault for being such a shrewd businessman? Residents of Lincoln Park sure think his restaurant's great. And so does Ald. Daley, who holds many of her fundraisers there.

Or is this Gina Caruso's fault? Gina's a high-level commissioner at Chicago's Department of Community Development. Gina and her pal Brad Leibov, another perky city planner, first came up with the sneaky idea of taking a simple statutory tax like the SSA (normally for basic infrastructure, like paving roads) and repurposing it to prey on the greedy instincts of filthy-rich bar owners and cash-strapped chambers of commerce. It's the same thing Daley's clever whiz-kids did with TIFs, except these are on a mini-level that aldermen can fully control.

So, is it Ald. Vi Daley's fault? Vi is the one who has repeatedly ignored my requests for help on these things. Five years ago, I had a meeting with her and (very nicely) asked her for trash cans on Lincoln Avenue and additional lighting in the alley. She completely ignored me, perhaps because I didn't offer her a big campaign contribution at the same meeting. That usually gets a lot done in this city. Instead, she pushed the SSA tax through and packed the commission with her friends.

When, defeated on the tax issue, I made repeated requests to use much of these extra taxes for security services, porta-johns, and trash cans, they giggled and spent it instead on dozens of $800 cast-iron streetlamp flowerpots -- just what Sam Sanchez wanted for Christmas.

I really don't know who's responsible for this. All I know is that it's now 4 a.m. on Friday morning, and Vi Daley's sleeping soundly on Hudson Street while my son and I are wide awake on Lincoln Avenue. The screaming continues outside, and it will go on tomorrow night and the next night.

Vi, maybe you can tell me who's responsible for all of this.

P.S. Here's a tidbit from the end of the minutes of that same January, 2010 SSA meeting, regarding re-election of the commission:
"Sanchez expressed that he is planning on building a new restaurant and needs less responsibility. Patel asked if there were any term limit issues. Dineen explained there were none. Proposed 2010 officers are: Patel-chair; Quartana-vice chair; Simkus-treasurer. Motion to approve 2010 Lincoln SSA #35 officers. Motion seconded. Motion unanimously approved."
Let's set aside the little detail that the SSA is supposed to have five commissioners. Note two things: that multimillionaire Sanchez will momentarily step away from the SSA duties, though he certainly knows just what a powerful, unregulated cash cow this is. But, even more importantly, SSA officers get to re-elect themselves, with no term limits! Now, who came up with that clever idea? It sounds like something the mayor himself could have cooked up!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

No big surprises this Sunday morning

Last night, I walked into the back alley and saw Officer Porrata scrutinizing an (alleged) pisser's license. "Where did you say you were coming from?"

"Uh, way over on Clark Street, Sir, at The Wiener's Circle. I was just walking through here."

"Uh, no," I said. "I just saw you in front of MaxBar not 10 minutes ago, mister. He's lying to you, Officer."

"No, honest, I'm not!"

But that's hardly unusual here. I pointed to my neighbor's garage; the entire driveway was wet with what must have been gallons of urine (I'll prove it with candid video next week). "Did you do all that?!"

"Ha, no, I swear, I was just walking through..."

Officer Porrata let him go. Punish one pisser? What's the point? Another 20 will come tomorrow. I bundled a blanket and a pillow into the car and slept in Vi Daley's neighborhood, where it's quiet. (Really, I did. I slept very well. I've started doing that on Friday and Saturday nights.)

This morning I saw in Oz Park that some clowns had pulled down branches on not one...

but two trees in the parkway. The lady passing with her poodle was surprised when I explained that there had been no lightning last night, that humans did this. But don't be surprised, not here in Lincoln Park after midnight. I've seen people chop down entire trees here on the sly. A couple of years ago, an entire 35-foot city-planted Elm was chopped down in the middle of the night right in front of the very busy Soiree sleezebar at 2438 N. Lincoln. Just a day before the Taste of Lincoln Avenue! That's a crime. Could it have to do with the fact that the tree was totally obscuring the bar's beautiful sign? So, since Ald. Daley and the 19th District did absolutely nothing about that, I can't imagine anyone's going to be very concerned about this.

Oh, here's another little gift, a sign knocked over on Lincoln Avenue. No car impact mark or dent (that would suggest a drunk driver, also no big surprise here); clearly, a few young turks just rocked it until it bent over. A few weeks ago in this spot, there was a big fight, so the bedlam is spreading now that the police coverage has been more dispersed. Just another lovely case of vandalism in this the most sought-after neighborhood in the city. No big surprises this morning on Lincoln Avenue.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Mailbox update

James Yoo from Congressman Quigley's office informed me that the mailbox at Lincoln and Webster has finally been cleaned of vomit.

I attach a photo of the evidence, sent to me by James Yoo.

It's been about six months. I'm not thrilled with the response from any officials. Vi Daley's office did call the post office. But Congressman Quigley's office followed through when I reminded them of the problem. Nothing happens in this city without follow-through. Thanks to the alderman and the congressman for their efforts. And thanks to me for my efforts, since I don't expect anyone else to thank me. I think I'll treat myself to some Dairy Queen.

If you've got the stomach for it, you can see the original condition in this post.

(P.S. To the genius who e-mailed me suggesting I clean it up myself, I certainly would have -- I've cleaned up many gallons of vomit from this street in the past -- except I would have soaked a boxful of mail and been arrested by the Feds for tampering with government property at the same time.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dear Cmdr. Angarone and Ald. Daley: "Where you at?"

I don't know where to begin. Abraham and I were about to enjoy another blissful Kankakee night with the rest of his Cub Scout pack, under a pelting rain, just like the night before. But a Chicago cop broke it up: the 18th District's Chris Kaporis happens to be our Cubmaster, and he had to end our second spring campout early due to severe thunderstorms. Talk about the long arm of the law; this is a novel way for a peace officer to extend his jurisdiction beyond the city limits.

Still, I wish he hadn't done that, because it forced us to spend a Saturday night on Lincoln Avenue, with our 13 neighbors -- the 13 bars who attract thousands of screaming, vomiting, urinating, brawling, vandalizing, drunk-driving "people" several nights a week. The bedlam doesn't let up until about 4:30 a.m. on Saturdays. Even spending a thunderstorm in a tent would be better. I couldn't sleep tonight in Chicago to save my life.

Cubmaster Chris, please tell me this wasn't a conspiracy from Alderman Daley's office!

I won't go into the regular report, of urinators screaming outside my window; officers yelling at citizens instead of at the drunks who assault them; and of course the magical flying garbage, since Ald. Daley insists the entire block share the one trash can I managed to squeeze out of her stingy ass several years ago. (She punished us for that by levying a special SSA tax on residents on our block. Now, we foot the bill for cleaning the street up after the bars close. See this Reader article for background.)

Anyway, I won't go into all that. You can read the blog archives and newspaper stories. But, take a look at the latest result of this administrative towing mess, through this video:

video

The police officer is Sgt. Egan, who came in to direct the taxi traffic (that's what the towing was supposed to be for). The video was shot this morning at 2:46 a.m., about three hours after the entire side of the street had been cleared of dozens of cars by city tow trucks. Here is one truck taking away two cars around 11 p.m.

After the police did this, causing the city to rack up over $2,000 in towing and tickets, its scorched-earth effort had a minor effect for only about half an hour.

But I noticed that not long after midnight the parked cars had already returned.

As you can see, by the time the intended taxi lane was most sorely needed, the curb parking that was supposed to have been cleared was totally full with cars again. A complete waste of time -- and guess who pays for it? The people whose cars were towed. "We're doing our best," Egan told me.

Egan is right: the cops did their best. They only have a five-hour window for towing under the provisions that Cmdr. Angarone is using. But the signs are criminally bad, innocent people are getting unfairly ticketed and towed, and it's not helping at all. But Cmdr. Angarone wants to use the temporary signs as a permanent fixture. Not a bad idea, assuming he wants his head handed to him by angry constituents.

You know, they spend so much time directing traffic on the street that the more I think about it, the more I feel that all of this attention on traffic and taxis is more of a consolation to the drunk barhoppers and the bars themselves than to community residents. After all, how is it helping them cope?

Now, like our street-cleaning signs, the chintzy paper signs are simply unfair, no matter how diligent you are about them. The ambiguity and lack of clarity of these signs is infamous for everyone but the city itself, as it rakes in millions.

The commander's instruction may go through about five people before it ends up being different on the street. The first weekend (see this post), I pointed out the obvious legal ambiguity of writing "4/2 to 4/3 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. The next week, after the commander and I spoke, he made them clearer, with "4/9-4/10 9 p.m.-2:30 a.m. AND 4/10-4/11 9 p.m.-2:30 a.m.". At least it was legally more explicit, if still a bad long-term idea. Now we're in yet a third phase of ambiguity: "4/23-4/25 9 p.m.-3:30 a.m." So, is that 4/23 9 p.m. through 4/25 3:30 a.m., or just two nights? Who knows? Theoretically, all of these tickets should be thrown out because of the ambiguities, but they won't be.

Hundreds of innocent people have been towed on this block this month alone. A few Victory Gardens theatergoers are up in arms. Restaurant patrons enjoying a late dinner didn't notice the signs and got towed. Residents of the block's largest condo association met about this. Three business owners are complaining that it is scaring away customers. And, yes, some drunks have been towed. But they are all innocent of the problems here, which were created not by them, but by the 13 bar owners who control this area -- and they aren't paying a penny for this and aren't affected one bit.

The worst part about it is that this is not solving any problems. They are caused by a combination of reckless bar owners who are overcapacity and overserving, and the fact that the police and the alderman are not handling these problems systematically. In fact, I see less and less of the one entertainment detail on this block. My guess is they are being spread too thin, having to handle other areas far away from here.

This area needs more cops, not less. It needs true crowd control (think Millennium Park and O'Hare Airport, barricades, security everywhere). We need one police or street security officer for approximately every two to three bars on the block (that makes 4 to 6, not the two that we never see anymore). We need permanent, clearly marked signs for taxi lines on both sides of the street, probably starting halfway up the block, where the bars are.

We need enforcement of the 10 a.m.-10 p.m. restaurant and bar patron bathroom access law, and at least two portajohns for the rest of the time. We could use strategically placed barricades. We need plenty of garbage cans on the block. We need bars to get warnings and shutdowns for overcrowding and overserving -- all of them do it on this block. Most of all, we need a public meeting on the bar situation here.

But these are simply things that the people on the block, and Bob and Al, the longtime officers of the 1885B police detail, have been asking for close to a decade. The alderman has done absolutely nothing. The police commanders tend to respond, invariably with unimaginative blitzes of enforcement that do nothing for a long-term solution. Pissers, bar warnings, towing, ticketing. A day later, the problem returns. Maybe, despite the millions that the mayor squeezes out of us, he just doesn't give enough to the police to do what needs to be done here. But I see attention paid in other places, so why not here?

Last night at about 3 a.m., as usual, some loud drunk was pissing right on my window (which had been kicked in last week). With his other hand he had his phone to his ear. "Where you at?" he asked his buddy. He kept yelling, "Where you at?" My son turned fitfully in his sleep.

And I find myself wondering out loud to Cmdr. Angarone and to Vi Daley: "Where you at?" Why don't you provide some real help? Why don't you listen to us? Are you both sleeping well?

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The law must be unambiguous and clear

Anyone towed by the 43rd Ward on Lincoln Avenue (or elsewhere) this weekend, based on the "notice" (I use the term loosely) shown, has a case if they wish to pursue it.

The two most central legal arguments in cases like this are: (1) ignorance of the law is not a defense, but (2) the law must be clear and unambiguous.

You can't say, "D-uh, I never heard of such a thing as towing cars, so therefore I'm not at fault." We are presumed to know the law, as convoluted as it is today. But, from the other side, the law (and the signs, which are law) must, must, must be crystal clear. If you can find any hint of an ambiguity, you have a case.

Let's set aside the woefully inadequate signage, these little slips of white cardboard wrapped around trees that pass as information. If someone misses one of these -- often, they're poorly posted, torn off, etc. -- then it's unlikely you're going to get sympathy from a hearing officer, who probably has a two-car garage.

But, in this case, they were towing cars Friday and Saturday night. The signs say, "NO PARKING -- APRIL 2 & APRIL 3 -- 9 p.m.-2:30 a.m." Now, what exactly does that mean? Is it just the evening of April 2 from 9 a.m. to April 3 at 2:30 a.m.? (They did, by the way, tow cars last night, April 2.) Well, that's how I read the sign when I saw it.

Or is it also tonight, from 9 to 2:30? (They are towing cars again tonight.) If you had your car towed Saturday night (April 3), it is understandable that you be annoyed by the confusion, and you have a solid legal argument, because it is utterly ambiguous.

The signs should read, "APRIL 2, 9 P.M.-APRIL 3, 2:30 A.M. AND APRIL 3, 9 P.M.-APRIL 4, 2:30 A.M." to satisfy a minimum call for clarity.

(I happen to be safely parked on the other side, so I'm not concerned about this for myself. My time too surely will come, so I'm being vigilant. Often, they post these things just a few hours before.)

I spoke to Rich Mahutsky, the 43rd Ward staffer managing this, and pointed out the ambiguity. "It's perfectly clear," he said. "There's nothing ambiguous about it, they're parked here illegally and they're being towed," and he turned around and continued to tow cars.

I've informed Alderman Daley about this problem, but, as is typical, I don't anticipate her taking any position or doing anything proactive to resolve it. Hey, it's just a few working people out a few hundred bucks, and deprived of one of their most valuable pieces of property for several days. Not enough to force her to feel any remorse. She makes over $100,000 a year, you see, and she has a two-car garage.

You can learn more about the nasty habits of the city's parking and towing complex, and techniques to protect yourself, from my longtime friend Parking Ticket Geek, at his site, http://theexpiredmeter.com/.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

"It's Nothing, Dear, Just the Weekly 2:45 a.m. Riot"



Yawn. Got woken up at 2:45 a.m. by two guys having a loud and lively conversation while pissing on my bedroom window. That's something that happens every few minutes most nights, along with the screaming, arguments, vomiting, and rampant petty vandalism. Just try to get back to sleep, say the police and alderman. If they break another window, give us a call. Ho, hum. But then I went outside and found this riot. That happens only every two or three weeks. Well, until summer comes, that is -- and then it's every few nights.

And you thought Chicago's Lincoln Park was a nice, quiet community! The 2200 block of Lincoln Avenue has 13 bars. Several nights a week, more than 1,000 drunk young people mill around this block when the bars all close at once. Come have a drink with us! Come vomit on the manicured sidewalks of our beautiful neighborhood!

This is about how much ruckus there is almost every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night on this block. The main difference is all the police, who responded to the fights. More often than not, there's not even one cop here. They've taken our detail, 1885B, and are having it spend more time at STATE and elsewhere.

(It's now 3:45 a.m. and they're still out there screaming, thanks in part to the extra 200 people that Joey Vartanian's MaxBar lets out, thanks to its late-night permit. Good thing Joey lives on Burling, where he can get some sleep.)

Responding police units (that I saw, anyway): 1822R, 1884, 1885D, 1812R, 1885F, 1832R, 1814R, 1811R, unmarked blue, unmarked wagon. Thanks, guys.

(See below for more from a different day.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lincoln Avenue, 2 a.m. January 15


At about 2 a.m. I was awakened by the cheer of what sounded like hundreds of people. Must be football playoffs on at the 13 bars on the block. I rolled over to try to get back to sleep.

Wait a minute. Since when are football playoffs on at 2 in the morning? I went outside to investigate.

Up the street, in front of Lion Head, were hundreds of people. The bar must have just closed and let everyone out. When I arrived, there were hundreds of people surrounding several dozen brawlers, all beating the crap out of one another. The onlookers were cheering and laughing about it, as if it were great fun. They did nothing to stop it. Not one police car was in sight.

This was a riot, people. If it had happened with police around, there would have been about 50 arrests.

Finally, a few minutes later, a police car attempts to get up the street -- in an annoyingly leisurely way. Their lights were on, but they weren't getting there. Granted, they were somewhat stuck behind a long line of taxis, but I wondered why they didn't take the oncoming lane, like they do when there is an emergency. This was an emergency, I thought.

By the time the cops got there, the party had broken up and people were kind of scattering, at least a little. There seemed to be no urgency. I can almost understand why cops would not want to risk their own safety by grabbing a load of idiotic drunks, when they needed to conserve themselves for the actual bad guys. But these drunks are destructive, vandalizing, disturbing the peace, hurting people. They are committing a crime, and they also need to be shown that this kind of behavior is not acceptable at 2 a.m. These are bad guys.

I had grabbed one of the officers and was motioning wildly to him: "There, there's one of the offenders!" One of the brawlers was walking south down Lincoln, bragging to his two buddies, "Did you see? I busted that guy's fucking head!" But the officer took no action. "Apprehend him! Where are the witnesses?" The officer said that witnesses never come forward in a situation like this. Then the guy kicked a street barricade and I said, "Look, he's vandalizing something!" That is when the officers finally took action.

Although there were three guys, they only got the one who had kicked the barricade. They let the other two continue to walk down the street. "But the other two! They were involved! I saw that one dragging a guy around!" But they did nothing. The officer told me that I should come to court and testify about this one guy. "He'll think twice before doing this again," he said, alluding to the hefty fine he would be given for disturbing the peace.

Great. One guy will "think twice." But what about the other 40 or so brawlers, and the hundreds of people who stood there doing nothing? They must still think it was just good, clean fun.

But this was a riot.

And in case you think that this is some remote occurrence in Lincoln Park -- one of the toniest neighborhoods in the world -- it isn't. This kind of brawl happens on the block with astonishing regularity.

I just don't know what to do anymore. Where is the alderman? Where is the police protection? Where is the media? Is there a god?



Update: Went to mail a letter that Monday. Saw that someone had puked into the mailbox. It's frozen on. I called the alderman, who called the post office. But as of February 28, six weeks later, it's still there.

Update: Sent the following e-mail March 16, 8:45 a.m. to Quigley, Daley, Smith: "The U.S. mailbox at Lincoln and Webster still has dried vomit covering the inside of the chute, more than two months after I first reported it. I have reported it to the alderman, the Postal Service, and the congressman. If we mere citizens could clean it off, we would, but that would soak the mail. And so we are depending on powerful people to move this project forward."

Update update: It's April 5, 2010. I've had conversations with the congressman's staff as well as the alderman's staff. It's been over 13 weeks and still nothing's been done. Why doesn't one of them get out there with a pail and a sponge?