Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Urgent to Arne Duncan: Support the homeless children

Lincoln Park residents, please write to schools CEO Arne Duncan and urge him to settle the costly lawsuit brought by homeless families who need and deserve better support from CPS. Read the emergency letter sent by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and please follow through.

Through Renaissance 2010, CPS has been cutting service quality levels to those most in need while boosting amenities for the privileged. This creates change in a remarkably short time, giving us much better schools in neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, but shortchanging the toughest areas of the city. I favor a better balance.

I was struck by the contrast here when a Newberry friend just mentioned that, for the first time, school buses are picking kids up in front of the house instead of at a nearby schoolgrounds. That's good for Newberry kids (many of whom are underprivileged), but here we see that the homeless and others at underperforming schools are actually having similar services cut. How is that equitable?

I imagine Arne Duncan has a terribly unwieldy ship to steer. But to undercut services for those most in need would seem to be the last thing he should do. Lincoln Park should be the first to alert him to this error.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

While the alderman slumbers on her cozy Old Town sidestreet...

At 3 a.m., cars backed up for a block

Screaming throngs, vomit, and trash everywhere

The "Lone Ranger," Officer Al Porrata, who once provided a plan

I couldn't sleep. The screaming crowd outside woke me up, as it does every weekend.

Enough is enough, Lincoln Avenue. You don't have enough trash cans, police, traffic control, toilets, or cleanup crews to support the raucous crowd that descends on you every weekend. And you don't have an alderman who cares enough.

Wicker Park, which has nine bars, has a batallion of 10 special detail cars all week. Division Street, which has eight bars, gets 12 cars. We have 13 bars and get one special detail car, and it's been that way for years.

Last year I asked Vi Daley for a few trash cans on Lincoln Avenue to deal with the piles of pizza plates and food strewn all over every weekend. She said there was nothing she could do about it. I spoke to her ward superintendent, Michael Restivo, who laughed at me and said, "More trash cans just bring more garbage." Without their help, I finally managed to get one trash can on the block, which isn't nearly enough.

Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, the street turns into a war zone, as a thousand young people hang out on the street, clog traffic, get smashed at the 13 bars on the block, and vomit, urinate, defecate, and throw food, beer glasses, and food packaging all over the surrounding street and alleyway.

Superintendent Restivo sends a morning cleaning detail on weekdays, but not on weekends when they are most needed. It's a complete waste of money: He could have someone come out the two days a week they are most needed - Saturday and Sunday - and pay overtime, and it would cost even less than what he is spending now.

Vi Daley said the answer to the problems on the block was a special property tax, where residents pay about 5 percent above their already skyrocketing bill for things like more cops and more trash cans, and the money goes to the Chamber of Commerce, where they can tack on things like commercial banners, promotional brochures, flower baskets, and payroll for their staff.

When I tried to post emergency information for the affected community about the public hearing for this suspicious tax (innocuously known as a Special Service Area), Mr. Restivo instantly ticketed me and tore down all of my signs. It seems they didn't want anyone to know about it. The tax passed right under the neighborhood's nose. Later, when I told Mrs. Daley the community deserved more debate on the tax, she said, "We're not going to debate this, Peter."

Officer Al Porrata and his partner, Bob Elliot, with the help of community leader Cynthia Bathurst, drew up a comprehensive traffic plan in 2001, presented it to Vi Daley, and it was passed. It was never implemented. A more complete plan will discuss traffic flow, parking, litter, toilet facilities, and crowd control measures.

Of course revelers deserve to party in Lincoln Park. We wouldn't have it any other way. But residents of the street shouldn't have to pay an additional tax to fix a problem they didn't create.