Monday, September 25, 2006

TRAC at Humboldt Park, TIFs, SSAs, etc.

Clout critic Patrick McDonough caught me with an old friend, Bickerdike and TRAC organizer Claudia Montoya, at the Tax Reform Action Coalition rally in Humboldt Park Sep. 11. Representatives from Lincoln Park included people from Park West Community Association, Lincoln Central Association, Wrightwood Neighbors, and Sheffield Neighbors.

Anyone interested in the tax picture in Illinois should visit the TRAC Web site. TRAC Director Barb Head acknowledges the 7% tax cap bill (currently in Springfield) is a "band aid," but that we need to pass it. I have been very excited about the notion of acquisition-based assessments, where a property is reassessed only when it is sold. I've tried this out on many Lincoln Park residents and business owners and they seem to like it.

My general position is this: Chicago and Illinois are long due for a restructuring of the way taxes are levied and spent. Alongside the property tax abuse - whose sad consequences include the disparity in school quality statewide - TIFs (Tax Increment Financing districts) and SSAs (Special Service Areas) are two tax diversion formulas which are being abused by the mayor's Department of Planning and Development.

Archive of tax articles by the Reader's Ben Joravsky
Archive of TIF articles by the Reader's Ben Joravsky
SSA Working Group (Yahoo group)

Of course, none of this tax reform will have any effect until we really change the way the city does business.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Letter to the Editor, Inside

To the Editor, Inside:

It was refreshing to see an article on Local First Chicago's efforts to encourage more locally operated business in the city. Further on in the paper, we see the efforts in lakefront wards to preserve their unique character by introducing a "formula retail" ordinance. These two items are set against the backdrop of the "big box" ordinance veto, all in the same issue of your paper.

I hope it is clear to some that these three articles are related melodies from a single theme. The political activity is a response to a single phenomenon of external capital stresses. When nationalized and globalized corporations derive their capital force from investment outside the local economy, they enjoy economies that local capital cannot easily compete with. The uniform branding and marketing, price pointing, labor control, and centralized management combine to contribute to their notorious levels of success, undermining locally owned commerce.

This comes at a price to the city. As Diane Epstein correctly pointed out, local businesses keep much more of every dollar spent within the community - 25 cents more. That 25 cents flows out of the city with chain business. As much of the capital from chains comes from outside of the area, much of the profit must necessarily flow out as well.

Not only that, but the external power provides for larger (or else smaller and more diffuse, similar effect) and better promoted stores, with lower overheads, which overpower small business and draw clientele away. This is why Chicago is suffering.

These effects should be obvious but we are only now beginning to recognize them. When the city center's last affordable local supermarket was threatened with closure, I began devising a plan which has since evolved into the Retail Access Master Plan (RAMP) that addresses all of these concerns under one umbrella. On the table are significant sales tax incentives for locally owned business and a corresponding surtax for global business - that is, a sliding scale for taxes based on an index of how locally owned and operated one's store is.

In addition, certain areas have lost important amenities due to related pressures. Because of the increased retail rents in gentrified areas like Lincoln Park, we see no affordable supermarkets, no laundromats, and so on. RAMP addresses this by causing the city to acquire real estate in certain areas where investment is too low or too high, and to entrust the land to a community partner who will act as landlord to a business that will provide the service to the community. The rent will be well below market rate.

There are other components to RAMP. This is ultimately a citywide plan, not just a selective one that picks on only a few entities or a certain area. RAMP is far more comprehensive, and addresses the problems more directly, than the controversial "formula store" and "big box" ordinances, which are at best band-aids. Business and commerce interests who have looked at this plan agree that it is more intriguing than the others.

I invite Ald. Daley to join me in developing this plan. You can download a copy of the most recent draft at:

Peter Zelchenko
Candidate for Alderman
43rd Ward

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Petitioning begins Tuesday, Sep. 19

We will begin our nominating petition drive this coming Tuesday, September 19. If you live in the ward, please sign our petition and also consider assisting in your precinct. We already have a number of volunteers to help us, but we have several precincts without support. E-mail us at to find out how you can help in your precinct or in one nearby. Even if you don't live in the ward, you can help.

Also, have a look at this: Eliminating the Competition

I heard through the grapevine that one of the other candidates may already be planning such a legal challenge to our petitions, just to harass us. That would be unfair in any event. But what's more, my parents happen to go back more than 50 years with the campaign manager of that candidate. With friends like that, who needs enemies? If it happens, I won't be financially equipped to withstand the challenge. We'll just have to turn the campaign around on them.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

While Vi slumbers (Part II)...

It's now 1 a.m. Sunday morning. I am at my desk. I hear a trickling sound five feet from me. The urine is coming through the window of my office next to my desk. A Lincoln Avenue party animal is peeing against my window.

Early Friday, another drunkard was urinating on the bedroom window next to it, and then turned around and smashed it to pieces. I woke up and threw some pants and shoes on and sprinted outside.

A parking valet had identified him, and with Al Porrata (our "Lone Ranger" detail officer; see the post below) we chased him and his friends as they sauntered loudly down Larrabee to their car. I spent the next half hour sweeping up urine-soaked glass.

Don't even talk to me about the alley near the homeless shelter.

Just three weeks ago, a picture window across the street at the convenience store was smashed. I escorted the kid, his arm slashed to the bone, to Lincoln Park Hospital at the corner. I then helped Aslam Virani, the store owner, to contact a board-up service. I told him I'd get the fancy SSA commission to pay for it, by hook or by crook.

When, last year, I sat down with Vi Daley to ask her to help me solve the traffic, noise pollution, public urination, and other problems on Lincoln Avenue, she shrugged her shoulders and passed a new SSA tax on Lincoln Avenue. I fought to oppose that tax. When I tried to inform neighbors by posting an alert about the hearing, she had my signs torn down and wrote me a ticket. We have since forced a tiny amount of sunshine on the process, but the tax was still passed under our noses and Vi slated a generally pro-commerce commission to deal with the tax, just like she did on Clark Street.

I had asked for a weekend barricade on the alley. She shrugged her shoulders, claiming it would be a hazard for emergency vehicles. I asked her for extra trash cans on the street. She asked how I expected her to fund that. I told her I imagined extra security was out of the question. Exasperated, I asked her and Chuck Eastwood if they would at least put strong lights in the alley to discourage the dozens of people who use it as a toilet every weekend. They said they'd do that. That was a year ago and nothing has happened.

Vi had Lincoln Avenue narrowed for her precious streetscape in December 2000. A month later, Police Officers Bob Elliott and Al Porrata, the street's entertainment detail cops, with the help of community leader Cynthia Bathurst, tried to get Vi Daley to fix the traffic snarl, presenting her with a beautifully crafted seven-page plan that they did on their own time. She eventually got a fraction of it passed, but she did not follow through on implementation. As of this date, only a small portion of the plan has been implemented. This street's traffic and crowd control needs are similar to those of O'Hare Airport.

When I recently went to the new Lincoln Avenue SSA commission's first meeting to gently voice the SSA Working Group's beliefs about the SSA (read them), I was treated very coolly by the entire group, as if I were an outsider. When I tried to plead Mr. Virani's case for an emergency disbursement of about $600 to replace his window, they looked at me as though I were insane. One of them asked, "Let me get this straight. You want us to pay for this man's store window, because...because he's a nice man?"

Lincoln Avenue, they're going to spend your money the way they want to, the chamber of commerce will get all the credit, and you won't even hear about it. I've seen it happen over and over in Chicago.

(There's a guy who's been screaming outside my son's bedroom window for the past 10 minutes. Fortunately, my boy is out of town tonight.)

I wish Vi could just come here late on a Saturday night. We already pay enough taxes that these problems should be contained. Instead, she raised our taxes and we're still out of luck.

Update: Thursday, Dec. 15, 2006, 12:55 a.m. I hear a trickling sound coming from the office. Liquid is splattering into the house. I go back and pound on the window. A man laughs to his friend, then walks away.