Jul 302016

The current look of downtown Naperville didn’t magically appear by luck. The vision began in the late 1970’s. City officials at that time, subscribed to the philosophy, if you can conceive it, and believe it, you can achieve it, and that was the framework for what we now know as downtown Naperville. Without a plan, Naperville would look like Schaumburg or Palatine; a hodgepodge of businesses and congestion. In fact, Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, was the first gigantic shopping center built before the population was there to support it. Up until that time, population preceded large shopping centers. For trivia fans, the name of the shopping center came from the president of Sears (Wood) and the president of Marshall Field (Field), both stores being anchors for the center. Then came the chaos of massive growth without a plan, and driving through Schaumburg is an unwanted adventure.

The Naperville city council will be considering ideas for the future of Naperville’s downtown streetscape which would include lighting, seating options, planters, landscaping, sidewalk and street permeable pavers to better absorb water (similiar to the Arboretum parking lot), and signage among other things.

City officials are definitely thinking forward, but they are missing an opportunity by not thinking upward. If we are thinking about the future, then upward is where it’s at. Urban Outfitters Space Ninety 8 in Brooklyn, N.Y. is including a rooftop bar, as are an increasing number of retailers, in an effort to provide customers with an enhanced shopping experience, while giving brick and mortar retailers a competitive edge against online shopping.

If there is one Naperville city council member who should be ecstatic about the concept, it would be Becky Anderson who has been giddy at times with the thought of ‘sticking it’ to online shopping. In fact, the entire Naperville council should be euphoric with the possibilities that roof top activities can provide to the city including more liquor sales, more tax revenue, more entertainment, more activities, more action, and more of everything.

Think of the possibilities:

  • Roof top bars, cafes, and dancing
  • Roof top musical entertainment
  • Zip lining between buildings from Water Street to Quigleys, Peanuts, and the Lantern
  • Rock climbing walls to get to the top
  • Repelling to get down to the bottom (for those who don’t want to zip line)
  • Roof top bowling, archery, and target shooting (Edward Hospital is just a short trip south)
  • Roof top observation; watching the chaos below unfold

The possibilities are endless. The sky is the limit.

Jul 282016

It wasn’t that long ago, that Naperville was ranked #1 in the country for best places to live. Then in the top 50, followed by the top 100, and now we find ourselves ranked 250th. Chanting “we are #250”, just doesn’t have the impact that being #199 has.

Rankings are always a little bit suspect, but sliding down 249 spots is dramatic. This latest ranking was announced by Niche, a company founded about 15 years ago at Carnegie Mellon University, located in Pittsburgh, Pa and ranked #23 according to U.S. News and World Report, which is itself not ranked in the Top-10 of periodicals.

To Naperville’s credit, being ranked #250 in the United States, also qualified Naperville to be ranked #1 in Illinois.  Considering the State of Illinois is ranked at the bottom of most every list, Naperville being #1 is like being the tallest short guy in the county.

Niche’s ‘Best Places To Live’ used the following criteria:

  • Cost of living
  • Crime and safety
  • Diversity
  • Education
  • Family amenities
  • Health and fitness
  • Jobs
  • Nightlife
  • Outdoor activities
  • Public schools
  • Real estate
  • Short commute
  • Weather

Cost of living was weighted the most, with weather the least; Naperville scored lowest in those two categories, along with outdoor activities.

In another listing of best places to live, a few years ago, Naperville wasn’t even ranked #1 within five miles of the municipal center; Bolingbrook ranked higher.

Getting back to Carnegie Mellon University, its mascot is Scotty the Scottie Dog. Scotties are ranked 58th, best breed of dog, by the AKC, which is much better than 250th.

Jul 232016

Now that I’m retired, my schedule is much more flexible, than it was when I was in the ‘fast lane’ of life. I still turn the lights off after 1 am, and wake up fully alert, as if my hair was on fire, at 6:22am. I’m eager to get the most out of each day, and it’s worked for me for about 60 years. One element that I’ve added to my life is that when I wake up, I anticipate something breaking or going wrong. Nothing big, just little things. Today my wife’s gladiolas were bent over from the storm Thursday night, and I had to prop them up, and the FedEx guy dropped off a heavy box on the front stoop, so that I was unable to get the door open to get it. Like I said, no major breakage or big problems, just simple annoyances, ‘Naperville-people’ types of’ problems.

The Naperville city council gets their fare-share of ‘Naperville-people’ problems presented to them. Lawn mowers that are too loud, delivery trucks making too much noise, garbage trucks missing a pick-up, too many bees buzzing around, chickens clucking too loudly, a fence line that two inches off-center, and birds chirping too early in the morning. The last one was my issue. I didn’t present that one to the council, because I knew if I did, the council would grill and pound me like a cheap drum. I’ve tried to minimize my opportunities to be a human pinata.

An agenda topic during the last Naperville city council meeting was whether to require Naperville landlords to consider government subsidy vouchers as income when renters apply for housing in Naperville. Not that big of a deal, unless you subscribe to the concern of incremental encroachment of governmental regulation, and when ‘voluntary participation’ becomes ‘compulsory participation’.

Watch and listen as Kenneth Coles, Executive Director of DuPage Housing, addresses the council regarding vouchers, followed by Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico’s pressing question, “What is the problem we are trying to solve?”

The question wasn’t answered, ‘what are we trying to solve?’. The numbers speak loudly. DuPage County has 2,750 vouchers. Naperville has about 500 vouchers being used, or about 18% of the vouchers in the county, with Naperville having about 10% of the population of the county. Naperville is exceeding the county average.

DuPage County has about 1500 voucher landlords, with Naperville having 225, or about 15%, again exceeding the 10% of the population Naperville has in the county. Again, Naperville is exceeding the county average.

Watch and listen as Anne Houghtaling, Executive Director of Hope Housing, answers ‘why Naperville’.

Isn’t that why most of us are here? It’s a good place to be. It took most of us a while to get here. We didn’t simply magically appear. I took a circuitous route from Des Moines, to Davenport, to Des Plaines (I liked the ‘D’s) to Naperville. For those of you, who are familiar with Joyce Meyer, charismatic Christian author and speaker, she states, “are you willing to do, what I did, to get what I’ve got?”

DuPage County is loaded with cities, not doing half as well with vouchers as Naperville. Cities such as Addison,  Bloomingdale, Darien, LaGrange, Villa Park,  West Chicago, Willowbrook, Winfield, and Warrenville.  These are all cities of ‘opportunity’, for the cities themselves with the percentage of vouchers, and for voucher-holders.

Watch and listen as Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico asks the always important question, ‘what is the goal?.

Great question without a direct answer. The City of Naperville and city officials are getting the job done and exceeding reasonable expectations. What we have here, is a solution in search of a problem, and the problem is not Naperville.

Jul 212016

When Naperville city officials have too much time on their hands, they look around to see what they can regulate, and apparently they have a lot of time on their hands again. This time they are considering raising the smoking age from 18 to 21, under the guise of protecting our health. It’s always about government officials at all levels knowing what’s best for those they govern.

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico thinks it’s a good idea, since it would mirror the age for alcohol regulation. Chirico is also the head of the liquor commission, which is pumping our liquor licenses in Naperville at a quickening pace, while DUI arrests in Naperville are among the highest in the State of Illinois.

Chicago recently (July 1) enacted an ordinance banning anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing tobacco products.

Naperville city officials always speak with pride in being among the first Illinois cities for just about anything. However it’s not always wise to be the first kid on the block with a new untested Pogo stick. In this case, if Naperville did enact an ordinance further regulating tobacco use, they wouldn’t be a leader; it would simply be tag-a-long regulation.

If Naperville city officials really want to protect the health of those they govern, and be a true leader, I suggest they outlaw tobacco use and purchasing of tobacco products at any age. Or, if raising the age from 18 to 21 is good, then raising it more would be even better. Naperville could enact an ordinance requiring anyone wanting to purchase tobacco products to be 65 years of age, and be accompanied by his or her parents at the time of purchase. That should solve the ‘problem’. Of course, that creates another problem; lost revenue from tobacco tax.

There is another way that Naperville city officials could tackle the problem of protecting our health. Rather than raising the age from 18 to 21, lower it from 18 to age 5. I am living proof that it works. I began smoking at age 5, and I stopped five minutes later; never had a cigarette after that moment.

My dad was a smoker, Chesterfield, Old Gold, Pall Mall, you name it. One day he left his cigarette in the ash tray and I decided to try it. He caught me doing it, but rather than getting angry with me, he said, “If you’re going to smoke, you might as well do it the right way.” He told me to inhale slowly and as much as I could, and then hold my breath, which I did for about three seconds. I must have turned another color as I sprinted to the bathroom and immediately upchucked in the toilet, viewing my oatmeal breakfast for a second time. Nothing was ever said, and I officially stopped smoking on that day.

Jul 172016

Naperville city officials live by the ‘Golden Rule’; he who has the gold makes the rules. The City of Naperville has the gold in the form of tax dollars, and ordinances, so it’s not often that the Naperville city council gets snookered. It happened last month when a townhome development was approved 7-1 by the council. The lone ‘no’ vote was caste by councilwoman Rebecca Obarski. Council member Patty Gustin was not present for the vote.

The original 30-townhome project, which residents fought against, was proposed by Oak Creek Partners, and presented by local attorney Len Monson. Ultimately the project was compromised down to 22 units. Residents were more than concerned that a development of that size would be too dense for the residential area and drastically change the overall peacefulness of the neighborhood. What was not known by residents, and supposedly council members, at the time of the vote was that Oak Creek Partners had plans to buy a piece of land directly across the street and build an additional six units, bringing the total to 28.

The parcel of land was zoned for town-homes and didn’t require approval from the council. Local attorney Len Monson representing Oak Creek Partners wasn’t legally required to disclose the additional information to residents or the council. It was Monson’s job to get approval for the 22-unit project, and that’s exactly what he did. It was the Naperville city council’s job to know exactly what they were voting for, and apparently they didn’t.

I say ‘apparent’ because if they did know about the additional 6 units, it would have been more difficult for them to approve the 22 unit project. Maybe they didn’t want to make it more difficult for themselves because rather than having some residents upset with the council, they would have had many residents very upset with the council. It’s also possible that the council would have approved the 22-unit development even with the additional information.

City staff could have helped the council by providing that additional information. By not doing so, they set-up the council to look foolish. If city staff did provide that information to council members, then in a sense the Naperville city council was involved in a cover-up against residents by approving the 22 unit project. Either way, it doesn’t make the Naperville city council look good. They are either a bit incompetent, or a bit ‘looking-the-other-way’, neither of which are characteristics of strong leadership.

Two things are for certain. 1) local attorney Len Monson outsmarted the Naperville city council. 2) sooner or later he will appear again in front of the city council seeking approval for another project. That could be interesting.

Jul 142016

Can you remember way back in time, when burning leaves was part of every day life in autumn, and the aroma of burning leaves was emblazoned in your sense of smell. For me it was baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet all rolled into one. Then the EPA arrived, and that part of the olfactory system was shut down.

As with just about all government programs and mandates, reality catches up with common sense, and unintended consequences dictate a change in direction. In this case, Naperville is spending too much money to haul the autumn leaves to outlying farms, and replacing the program with burning leaves by using huge leaf incinerators.

Naperville city officials estimate that a “burn box” bigger than a bread box and smaller than a railroad car could be purchased for about $150,000, which is about half the cost of hauling last year’s leaves to farmland. City officials also estimate this would handle about 50 – 80% of the leaves collected by residents, deposited at curbside, and picked up by leaf-picker-uppers.

That still leaves 20-50% of the remaining leaves to be hauled elsewhere at about $60,000 to $150,000 yearly. That begs the question, why not purchase another ‘burn box’ at $150,000 (and maybe get a quantity discount) to take care of the entire issue; no more yearly hauling expense.

If the plan works like city officials believe it will work (and when hasn’t a city plan worked), then city officials could expand, purchase more ‘burn boxes’, and open it up to other communities hauling their leaves to Naperville for incineration. It could turn into a money-maker and a huge profit center. The sky is the limit. A city motto could be born, “Turning your leaves, into dollars for us”.

As a bonus to the residents of Naperville, city officials could open the lid of the incinerator on a windy day during the fall, so residents could remember bygone days with the pleasant aroma of burning leaves reigniting their olfactory sense.

Of the nine members on the Naperville city council, two are business owners (Mayor Steve Chirico and Becky Anderson), so surely they can see the upside of this opportunity. If they can make a buck selling a carpet, or a book, then the city can make a buck burning leaves. Managing government like a successful business. Now that would be innovative.

Jul 092016

When Naperville council member Judith Brodhead begins talking about money, you’d be wise to hold your wallet very tightly. It happened again during the last Naperville city council meeting, when council member Brodhead said, “if this ($5,500) were a huge amount of money, I might have some problems with it”. The “it” is SECA funds, which the Naperville city council voted 5 to 3 to approve for temporary traffic controls for a Harry Potter Book Reveal Party event in Naperville on July 30 and 31st.

On the surface it seems like a worthwhile event, however a lot of things sound like good ideas, hence making it easy to approve all those ‘good’ ideas. The problem is that the Naperville city council is playing too loose, spending taxpayer dollars for purposes in which they were not intended.

SECA is an acronym for Special Event and Cultural Amenities Fund, a tax approved in 2004 “to establish a separate fund used solely for funding of social and artistic events and entities, providing cultural experiences for the Naperville community and its visitors”. OK, so far, so good.

The sponsoring organization “must be a non-profit organization”, and funds “will only be reimbursed for what was approved in the application”. Oops, there’s the problem. The application originally approved was not for purpose of this event, hence SECA funds should not have been approved.

Council members voting to approve included Mayor Steve Chirico, Kevin Coyne, Kevin Gallaher, Rebecca Obarski, and Judith Brodhead. Those voting not to approve the diversion of SECA funds included, John Krummen, Paul Hinterlong, and Patty Gustin.

Remaining council member Becky Anderson recused herself from the discussion and vote. She is the one council member who would directly benefit financially from a vote to approve, since she owns Anderson Book Store in Naperville.

The vote to approve this ordinance is wrong on two levels; first it did not follow SECA guidelines. Secondly, council member Judith Brodhead’s comment that $5,500 is not a ‘huge amount of money’, whereas Mayor Steve Chirico acknowledges that it is a $5,500 decision without downplaying it.

When it comes to taxpayer dollars, every dollar is important to the folks paying those tax dollars, and council members should acknowledge the importance of every dollar spent.

Jul 072016

Naperville must really be a wonderful place to live, based upon what city officials consider problems, including noise from lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and delivery trucks. What a great world this would be, if those were the problems of concern in other cities.

In Chicago, it’s gunfire, in Boston, it’s a bomb, and in some towns it’s the sound of silence because nothing is happening, no construction, no jobs, and little hope. But in Naperville residents get irritated because they can’t sleep-in in the morning, or take a nap in the afternoon, or have a party on their deck in the evening, because it’s too noisy. What is a Naperville resident to do with such inconvenience? Call 911? I’m sure it’s happened.

In Naperville, you call a council member, or at least that’s what council members say. Who knows if that is really happening, or just an excuse for a council member to appear to be a problem solver for a problem that doesn’t exist. Maybe it’s the council member who is upset about commercial landscapers getting an early start on the day, while the council member wants to doze until noon time.

Not only are the lawn mowers and leaf blowers getting in the cross-hairs of city officials, so are grocery store delivery trucks. Naperville city officials and residents want their avocados, charcoal, and six-packs of beer, when they want them whether if it’s early or late, but they don’t want delivery trucks making noise, especially at the newly opened Mariano’s at 75th and Naper.

I can think of many places where noise is at a minimum, including deserts, mountains, jungles, and the Grand Canyon, but that’s not Naperville. Now as Naperville city officials begin to approve more and more Water Street projects, just imagine the amount of noise that will be created.

It’s amazing how supposedly one resident can call a council member about a supposed problem, and the Naperville city council is poised to pass another ordinance for over-regulation, but when thousands of residents sign a referendum for action about an issue (Smart Meters), it falls on deaf-ears of the council. Or when hundreds of residents attend a council meeting about an issue, the city council expresses empathy but does nothing to address the issue. Or when tens of tens of Naperville residents voice their concern about annexation of land, the council respectfully acknowledges them, but ignores their position.

If lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and delivery trucks, are going to draw attention and action of the city council, then I might as well jump on the bandwagon and express my problem with noise in Naperville in one word. Birds. Every morning beginning at about 5 am, I hear birds chirping, non-stop. I’d call a council member to complain, but I doubt the Watchdog would get any satisfaction. Something needs to be done to stop this intrusion on my serenity. How about an ordinance limiting the number of trees, or the number of branches per tree. Then to make matters worse, every night about midnight, I hear an owl and see it perched on my neighbor’s roof. I think the council should regulate the height of roof tops to be high enough to lessen if not eliminate the hoots of owls.

Jul 032016

Trying to navigate through downtown Naperville is getting more and more challenging all the time, and finding a parking spot is turning into a game of survivor. It’s only going to become more intense when projects such as Water Street get approved by city officials and become reality.

Naperville city officials created the problem, and now they are being called upon to fix the problem. Committees are formed, discussions start, surveys are created, followed by more committees, more discussions, and more surveys. This is probably how Chicago became Chicago. Two-story buildings, became 5 story buildings, followed by committees, discussions and, well you get the idea.

The City of Naperville turned the “let’s-be-like-Chicago” corner, when the Naperville city council approved the Water Street Project, and Naperville changed direction from being known as a ‘family friendly’ city to become a destination for entertainment and business. Many Chicago area towns have come to the same fork in the road, and most have chosen to remain family-friendly with a quaint downtown area along with limited and modestly planned growth goals.

There was a time, not that long ago, that Naperville was the same size as Hinsdale, Geneva, Barrington, and Lake Forest. Now Naperville is rivaling Aurora, Joliet, Rockford and aiming towards Chicago. That won’t happen for quite some time, but the machinery is in motion to move in that direction.

Naperville city officials have been quick to approve ‘bigger and more’, but not as quick to address traffic and parking issues. The last Naperville city council left the problem for the current city council, and this city council will probably pass it forward to the next city council, and, well again, you get the idea. Driving through Naperville and looking for a parking spot, is making every day like Ribfest weekend.

It doesn’t take a genius or a high-paid consultant to determine that parking choices are evident:

  • Build more
  • Build up
  • Build out
  • Build not

I think Watchdog just saved the city $150,000 in consulting fees.