Public Watchdog.org

Park District Needn’t Be In A Pickle Over Pickleball

09.19.18

An article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Pickleball could replace tennis courts at Park Ridge park,” Sept. 17) caught our attention, if only because the existence of something with a name as silly as “pickleball” deserved a bit of investigation.

To save you readers the trouble: Pickleball has nothing to do with pickles. You don’t eat them while playing. You don’t throw them. You don’t hit them. You don’t even tickle them.

Instead, it’s a game played with a wiffle ball, a paddle and a modified tennis net, on a badminton-sized court.

But if certain folks have their way, the four tennis courts that have been at Woodland Park for decades will be replaced by six to eight pickleball courts, assuming a big chunk of the cost is picked up by a grant from our semi-bankrupt State of Illinois.

The push for pickleball courts appears to be led by…wait for it…the Park Ridge Pickleball Club, whose 60 members reportedly overcrowd the single pickleball court in Park Ridge (wherever it’s hiding), forcing them to drive to Northfield, Wheeling and even Hoffman Estates for their pickle fix.

The removal of the Woodland tennis courts is being vigorously opposed by members of the Park Ridge Women’s Tennis Association and other local tennis players, rumored to number in the hundreds if not thousands.

The editor of this blog served on the Park Board for eight years (1997-2005), during which time the demand for tennis court time was always high. During his tenure no courts were removed, and lights were added to the courts at Hinkley Park to enable after-dark play. Based purely on admittedly anecdotal, drive-by observations, the District’s 21 outdoor courts still get plenty of use.

So rather than rip out the four tennis courts at Woodland and replace them with pickleball courts, we’ve got a better idea: Put the pickleball courts at that newest jewel in the Park District’s crown, Prospect Park, along with a couple of paddle tennis courts.

After all, the District pulled a bait-and-switch on the taxpayers when it promised them, before the April 2013 Prospect Park $13 million referendum, that the new facility would include at least two paddle tennis courts and a warming shelter. The District reneged on that promise shortly after the referendum passed once it became clear in late 2014 that the District had seriously under-budgeted the Prospect Park project and was going to fall significantly short of cash if it built all of the features it promised in order to win the taxpayers’ votes.

We suspect Supt. Ken “Snow Job” Wallace and his 7 Board Dwarfs over at School District 207 are employing a similarly crass political tactic with their  $195 million ($340 million, all-in) “trust us to replace what we intentionally neglected to maintain and/or repair over the past several years.”

But we digress.

The District – and especially current Board president Mel Thillens and member Jim O’Brien, the only two current Board members who were also on the Board for the Prospect Park paddle tennis bait-and-switch – might be able to redeem some of its credibility by finally building the paddle tennis courts and warming house as originally promised, while also adding four pickleball courts.

We would like to think that such a plan would get a ringing endorsement from economic and social class warriors like Mary Wynn Ryan, Kathy (Panattoni) Meade, Dena Lucy and Ashley Hawkes – given that the only paddle tennis courts in Park Ridge are at the Park Ridge Country Club and not generally available to non-members.

They could bill their support of the paddle tennis courts as striking a blow for all of Park Ridge’s commoners and groundlings who can’t afford a PRCC membership.

And also for our town’s tiny and oppressed pickleballer minority.

What a great dill it could be!

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The 100s Of Millions Of Dollars Question: Renovated Schools Or Flood Remediation?

09.14.18

Readers of this blog know that we have crossed swords with former 6th Ward alderman/former Park Board member Mary Wynn Ryan on numerous occasions. Ms. Ryan and this blog’s editor rarely see eye-to-eye on local – as well as state and national – governmental and political issues.

And that’s okay: A thriving marketplace of ideas needs competing views, not concurring ones.

So consider today one of those rare occasions when this blog acknowledges the merit of a point raised by Ms. Ryan in a couple of comments she made to a post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page, in which she suggests that the Park Ridge City Council and the Maine Township School District 207 Board may have reached some sort of accommodation to give the latter first crack at Park Ridge taxpayers’ wallets.

Ms. Ryan is a battle-tested class (and race, and gender, etc.) warrior skilled in the art of identity politics, which explains her analogy of Park Ridge residents to “poor folk, choosing between heat, rent, groceries and medicine” – except that we “poor folk” live in $385,000 (median value, per Zillow) residences; and our choices are between $200-350 million to address D-207’s decades of neglect of its physical infrastructure, or $106+ million to address the City’s decades of neglect of its sewer system.

Ms. Ryan’s analogy is not an apples-to-apples one, however, because the $200-350 million cost of D-207 projects will be spread over a much larger taxing district than the City’s $106+ million of flood remediation projects.

Whether that difference in taxing districts will result in Park Ridge residents paying more for the D-207 projects or more for the City’s projects is unclear to us. Park Ridge generates much higher residential RE tax revenues than does Des Plaines ($245,000 median, per Zillow), Morton Grove ($301,000 median) and Niles ($276,000 median). Nevertheless, we understand that those other communities generate significantly higher commercial RE tax revenues than does Park Ridge.

Not surprisingly, those intra-District residential value differences are not highlighted in the pro-referendum propaganda created by those public relations professionals that Supt. Ken “Snow-Job” Wallace and his 7 D-207 Board Dwarfs hired back in January – at over $115,000 of taxpayer money – to run a pro-referendum political campaign masquerading as “community engagement,” which we wrote about in our 08.24.2018 and 08.31.2018 posts. Snow Job, the Dwarfs and their p.r. pros know that reminding Park Ridge homeowners about how much more they will be paying than their counterparts in neighboring D-207 communities “wouldn’t be prudent.”

But is this really about a choice between neglected schools or neglected sewers?

We think that depends, in no small part, on who the voters are.

Those of us who live in Park Ridge know that 100% of the money spent on local flood remediation would directly benefit Park Ridge residents. But because the D-207 projects will require allocating referendum funding to each of the District’s three high schools – the exact percentages of which we don’t know because Snow Job and the 7 Dwarfs apparently don’t want to tell us – it’s very possible that no more than 1/3 of the new referendum taxes contributed by Park Ridge taxpayers will directly benefit Park Ridge residents.

On the other hand, those Park Ridge residents who live in areas where flooding is not a regular or substantial problem, and/or who currently have kids in D-207 schools or have kids who will be attending those schools in the future, might prefer paying extra taxes for school improvements instead of flooding.

One way to find out whether Park Ridge taxpayers are willing to pay enough extra taxes to remedy both neglected schools and neglected sewers – or to find out whether those taxpayers prefer one of those sets of projects over the other – would be to have both referendums on the same ballot.

But because the City dragged its feet for months on making decisions about what to do with those 8 projects identified in the December 2017 study by the City’s long-time flooding consultant, Burke Engineering – or because, as Ms. Ryan suggests, the City had some understanding with D-207 about not pursuing a flooding referendum that might compete with the schools referendum – the City had no flooding remediation referendum question ready for placement on this November’s ballot.

That deprived Park Ridge taxpayers of a direct choice, this year, between neglected schools and neglected sewers – assuming, for the sake of this argument, that they aren’t willing to pay for both sets of projects.

So the only way for Park Ridge taxpayers to regain such a choice would be if: (a) the D-207 referendum loses in November; (b) D-207 comes back to the taxpayers with the same referendum question, or its smaller Plan B referendum question, on the April 2019 ballot; and (c) the City decides to respect its taxpayers and give them a vote on the whole $106+ million Burke enchillada by putting a funding referendum question on the April 2019 ballot.

Does the City Council have any desire to do all 8 of those flood remediation projects, and to do them over the next 5-10 years? Or is it fine with doing them over 20-40 years as funding from the Storm Water Utility trickles in?

If either of those two possibilities is the case, it’s way past time the Council said so – in public and in no uncertain terms.

Because even if the D-207 referendum fails in November and Snow Job and the 7 Dwarfs respond with another referendum in April 2019, if Ms. Ryan’s suspicions are correct, the Council will continue to wink-and-nod itself silly over these flood remediation projects rather than go for the gold, literally and figuratively, with its own referendum question this coming April.

But first things first.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Why Have City’s Flood Remediation Plans Stagnated?

09.10.18

Does the City of Park Ridge really care about dealing meaningfully with its flooding problems?

We’re beginning to have our doubts.

Last October we published a post about what was then the “new” Christopher B. Burke Engineering comprehensive flood remediation plan. It was designed to provide protection against those 100-year floods that we seem to get at least once or twice a year.

Burke published a more comprehensive version of that plan in December 2017. The price tag was $106 million for eight (8) “prioritized” areas, not counting the $10 Million or so of debt service expense if 20-year bonds were issued to finance the project. Part of that plan included a Storm Water Utility (“SWU”) fee – to be calculated by each property’s size and amount of rain-impervious surface area (e.g., the house’s footprint, concrete patios and concrete driveways) – that Burke suggested be set at $11 per Equivalent Residential Unit (“ERU”).

In that October post we encouraged the City Council to determine taxpayer support for the Burke plan by putting a $100 Million-plus bond issue to referendum on either the March 2018 or November 2018 ballot. And we voiced our concern that the Council – or at least those aldermen whose terms will be expiring next May – might choose to play “Springfield-style politics” and delay such a referendum (and any controversy that it might cause) until AFTER the April 2019 election.

Since then, what has the Council done to advance those prioritized projects or to give the taxpayers a referendum vote on a bond issue and/or the SRU?

As best as we can tell, nothing. Nada. Niente. Τίποτα. Nichts. Ничего. Zip.

Even though the Burke study provided a map that showed how approximately one-half of Park Ridge was “at risk” of sewer back-up from storms as small as a “1-year event (1.2” rain in 1 hour duration)” if residents don’t install their own on-site devices (like check valves and/or overhead sewers), it appears that the Council has been fiddling for the past year while Park Ridge has continued to flood from both sewer back-up and overland water.

Why the delay?

We don’t know. But we have to wonder if former 6th Ward ald. Mary Wynn Ryan might be onto something with her suggestion, in a couple of comments on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page, that there’s a “gentleman’s agreement with the school district [207] not to put a competing ‘ask’ on the ballot in Nov. or April.” She goes on to “suspect a sewer referendum will not be offered while the [D-207] school referendum is in play,” analogizing Park Ridge voters being given a choice between school renovations and flood remediation to “poor folk, choosing between [sic] heat, rent, groceries and medicine.”

Ryan is an unabashed fan of big government and unrestrained tax/borrow/spending who views referendums the way most people view root canal surgery: To be avoided at all costs unless absolutely necessary. While on the Park Ridge Park District Board in December 2012 she helped engineer the District’s $7 million non-referendum bond issue for the second-rate Centennial water park so that there would be no water park referendum competing for the taxpayers’ votes with the District’s $13 million bond issue referendum for the Prospect Park project on the April 2013 ballot.

So if there’s some kind of “deal” by the City  and D-207 to let the latter get first crack at the taxpayers’ pocketbooks, she might be someone likely to know about it.

Although we can find no evidence of any overt “deal,” that doesn’t preclude an informal wink-and-nod understanding between various aldermen and their corresponding D-207 Board members. And that kind of understanding could explain why the Council has done nothing during the past year to put the Burke priority projects to a referendum vote, or to adopt the proposed $11 per ERU or some other rate.

Even all that Labor Day weekend flooding – along with articles in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Talks planned on stormwater utility fee, future capital projects following Labor Day flooding in Park Ridge,” Sept. 5) and Park Ridge Journal (“Park Ridge Hit Hard By Storms,” Sept. 5), and a rash of social media postings about the City’s inaction on flood control – appears to have done nothing more than motivate Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) to schedule a discussion of funding projects solely with SWU fees at the Council’s September 24 meeting.

Why is all of this disingenuous and/or just plain screwed up?

How about because Burke’s proposed $11 per Equivalent Residential Unit (“ERU”) is projected to yield a mere $2.4 million of revenue annually. That’s not nearly enough to get those 8 identified projects done on anything more than a snail’s pace timetable.

Are all you folks whose basements flooded on Labor Day, or will flood during the next big rain or the next one after that, willing to wait until 2058 for just those 8 priority flood control projects to be completed through funding with SWU fees?

With the November 2018 ballot referendum deadline already blown because the Council members sat with their thumbs up their kazoos for the past year, the next opportunity the City will have to get objectively-measurable taxpayer support for a $100 million-plus bond issue via referendum will be April 2019, when Alds. Moran (1st), Wilkening (3rd), Melidosian (5th) and Joyce (7th) presumably will be running to retain their seats around The Horseshoe.

And if we’re right about D-207’s master plan of using the November 2018 referendum as a type of stalking horse for a smaller, gentler Plan B referendum question on the lower-turnout, easier-to-win April 2019 ballot, the Council might very well let D-207 have another unchallenged shot at the taxpayers if its November boondoggle fails.

Will the Council respect the taxpayers enough to put a $100 million-plus anti-flooding funding referendum on the April 2019 ballot so those 8 projects might get done within the next decade instead of the next four decades? That would appear to be a no-lose proposition given that, even if that referendum were to fail, the Council could go forward with its current 40-year SWU-funded plan.

Or will the Council continue to kick the flooding can farther down the road, either to give D-207’s bigger bonding referendum questions first dibs on the taxpayers’ pocketbooks, or because it just doesn’t care that much about flooding…but isn’t willing to say so?

To read or post comments, click on title.