Failure of Democracy: Stop Alderman Maldonado’s new “Special District”

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Greg Schultz
Greg Schultz signed this petition

Politics of Exclusion: Alderman Maldonado’s “Special District” and designation of our neighborhood as “Puerto Rico Town.”

Did you know that on October 31, 2018, the 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado passed a Resolution (R2018-1155) through City Council to extend the Paseo Boricua? This Ordinance tripled the length of the Paseo Boricua which has historically been a half-mile strip of Division Street between Western and California (2400W-2800W). Maldonado tripled it to 1.5 miles long. It cuts directly through parkland and has been extended all the way west from California to Grand Ave (2800W-3600W).

Is this your first warning?

Prior to presenting this Ordinance to City Council and even to the present day there has been zero communication from the Alderman with residents, business owners and current stakeholders in the community whose homes, livelihoods, investments and neighborhood will be affected by this abrupt change. Why was this done without our input? Why have we been excluded from any discussion? This is not the action of someone who is a proponent of representative democracy. No, he has excluded his constituents and the people who occupy and who have made Humboldt Park what it is today. The fact that Maldonado excluded us is reason enough alone to question his motivation and ability to lead. For me, it is enough of a reason to exclude Maldonado from the pool of candidates who could better represent us following the February 26, 2019 election. He does not deserve my vote. And he doesn’t deserve your vote.

You may ask why you should be concerned. You may think that an Alderman makes decisions that affect us every day and things seem OK around here. Well, the reason you need to be concerned is that this isn’t a small change. It is enormous, and will permanently impact you, your property values, your property taxes, and the future of this neighborhood now and for generations to follow.

It is not in name only that our community has been changed. It is not just the street or our neighborhood that has been renamed. No, the area has been designated a “corridor” and steps have been taken with the State of Illinois to establish a “Special District” designation.

What’s the big deal? Never heard of a Special District? Or if you have, why be concerned?

The big deal is that a Special District operates independently of the City and has a special purpose. It has the authority to ignore current zoning restrictions and eliminate community oversight, and it can build almost anything it wants for almost any use. It eliminates the need for consideration of the surrounding residents and our voices will be silenced. A Special District is self-regulating, has an appointed Board of Directors, has control over local liquor laws, and has the power of eminent domain (acquisition of property through a forced sale). It is funded by property taxes and other state revenues. It also has the right to levy taxes and/or fees and once approved the state of Illinois has no established method of dissolution. In other words, there is no method to shut it down if we don’t like what it does to our community. Once started it is unstoppable.

Why establish a Special District corridor cutting through a half mile of parkland? Measuring 205 acres Humboldt Park is the largest inland recreational park and green space in the city of Chicago and it requires protection. This beautiful stretch of parkland which Maldonado recently named “Puerto Rico Town”, is for now devoid of commercial development and is dotted only by trees, shrubs, grass, and lighted bicycle and walking trails, whose landscape is interrupted only by the Queen Anne styled-turret and multiple rooflines of the visually exuberant Stable and Receptory building. Why should parkland become a Special District and be wrested from community oversight? A Special District could pave the way for parking lots and building a town in the newly commissioned "Puerto Rico Town" all along Division Street right through the park! The park belongs to everyone and the continued use as open space for all is under siege at this very moment.

If a Special District is created, the community will lose it's ability to take control of issues that directly affect it. For example, years of documented gang activity including drug sales emanated from a liquor store at 3251 W. Division. For years, residents asked for help from law enforcement, the city, and the Alderman. It was a constant topic of concern at CAPS meetings for 5 years. After a few shootings in 2010, Maldonado was called upon by residents in an emergency community meeting for help but was unable or unwilling to assist us. Law enforcement could not be there to stop the shootings. By the Fall, 10 people had been shot in front of the liquor store including one homicide. Plagued with violence and left with no other option residents used the only tool of self-determination available to them and got on the 2011 ballot. Almost 80% of voters made a difference in our community by voting our need for safety into reality. A Special District removes this and other tools and options from residents and places command of our fates in the hands of a appointed Board of Directors.

Many of us have watched the 2400W-2800W Division stretch of The Paseo Boricua struggle to get the storefronts occupied, and some buildings have sat vacant for 15 years or more. Many of us would be delighted to see that stretch revitalized in a way that encourages development and opportunity. There are already substantial taxpayer investments in place on the Paseo without a Special District designation, such as the 12 million dollar Ordinance (O2018-7580) dated 09/20/2018 for a mixed-use building containing  24 low-income residential rentals at 2709-2715 W. Division developed by Paseo Boricua Arts, LLC and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

However, we do not think that any revitalization attempt of the 2400W-2800W stretch of Division known as the Paseo Boricua should come at the cost to the community of establishing a Special District corridor cutting a half mile through our beloved Humboldt Park, and another half mile through our neighborhood to Grand Ave. None of us should have to give up our property rights, our right for self-determination, our identity or our right to have our voices heard or to have a say in what occurs in our neighborhood. Giving these rights up to an appointed Board of Directors who have power over zoning and use of our community, using taxpayer funds, without any community input is an outrageous and overreaching act of tyranny. The oligarchy must stop and the community must stand up for representative democracy.

Together, we have built something healthy, strong, and desirable west of the Park. The success of our neighborhood as it stands has been through resident advocacy and activism, has happened slowly and steadily over time, and has been for the most part organic, inclusive, and diverse. There is no need for large-scale social or cultural engineering here. Our neighborhood should not be used as an experiment or a pet-project for an Alderman and his cronies.

The only way to retain any control over our homes, investments, and community is to rally and stand strong against those who seek to permanently and irrevocably alter and destroy what we have built.  We may not have grocery stores, restaurants or coffee shops that we can walk to, but we have enjoyed a lengthy period of stabilization as public safety and reinvestment has hand-in-hand returned and we now rest on a strong foundation for continued private development, one house, building or vacant lot at a time. We do not want the sweeping change that the Alderman proposes which will give him and a Board control over both sides of the street for 1.5 miles. That is too much power even for Maldonado, who as the Alderman with one of the largest Real Estate portfolios has been called in the media the “Real Estate King” of Chicago’s powerful City Council. Our rights matter and our current way of life is at stake. We do not want politicians with deaf ears in positions of unchecked power.  In February let’s take back our neighborhood.

Educate yourself about this. Take action. Google "Special District" and watch the John Oliver video you find. Research how much unchecked power a Special District designation gives to an appointed (NOT ELECTED) hand-picked Board. The first step to stop this is to understand what is at stake, and then share your concerns with your neighbors.  Like and share other’s social media posts, and post your own concerns on social media.  THEN, ON FEBRUARY 26, 2019 VOTE FOR SOMEONE ELSE BESIDES ROBERTO MALDONADO.

Sign this petition to confirm that you reject Maldonado's plan of exclusion and Land-grabbing, and to receive updates. Then share it with others and spread the knowledge about this imminent threat.

If you are uncomfortable signing this petition, we understand, but this is not a time to stand on the sidelines. This is a time to take action and stand up for your community. There are powerful forces and voices that will defend their special interest projects at all costs. The most important action to take is:

ON FEBRUARY 26, 2019 DO NOT VOTE FOR MALDONADO. Vote for someone else. Give Democracy a chance.

If the Special District is approved, their plan is to use your tax dollars to fund it by steering controversial TIF funds (Tax Increment Financing) and through lobbying for grants and funding financed by income tax revenues and other sources from the State of Illinois. What is built inside a Special District is funded off the backs of hard-working taxpayers like us. From all fronts, the reports have come in that our State, County and City are fiscally unstable. Putting new pressure on our weakened economic situation by allowing the creation of a new, unregulated and permanent slush-fund that is devoid of community oversight is a bad idea.

Renting in Humboldt park? Rents will increase and affordability will suffer. 

Don't let Division Street divide the community! 

Viva Humboldt Park!

Your neighbors and friends,

M. Paula Cabrera and Kurt Gippert