Open Thread 11/14/08

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments on the City Council & Outside Help post. Lots of food for thought there—I’m still munching.

This is a weekend open thread, meaning no topic is off-topic. I’ll kick off with a few questions that have arisen this week:

1) Pevo asks whether local contractors support the Construction Manager approach to building the police station or do they prefer Design-Bid-Build?

2) The new, improved Municipal Parking Lot 4 is laid with real brick. Can you use a regular snowplow on it?

3) I’ve been told that 15 or so good-sized trees have been planted on the lot now devoted to the skating rink at First & Locust. Does this say something about DeKalb’s commitment to finding a developer for this piece of property, or not?

49 thoughts on “Open Thread 11/14/08”

  1. Way to Go City Barbs. I usually read City Barbs before the Tribune in the morning.

    As far as the trees at the skate rink Yes they are there and you can hardly see the rink for the trees.

    Maybe Winkin, Blinkin and Nod figured if you couldn’t see it people would stop complaining about it.

    Pevo

  2. I left a comment for the 3rd question for CM vs. bidding the job by a General Contractor on the police letter itself.

    I do a lot of bid snow plowing and whenever we receive a bid package for driveways, parking areas, and sidewalks with pavers, we are asked to bid using equipment designed not to chip or scrape the pavers. Usually a snow plow blade that has a very heavy rubber blade on the bottom of the blade. Basically a big squeegee if you think about it.

    I’m sure that the company installing the pavers right now have explained this to the city and I’m sure that the city is having to redo old equipment for this purpose or buy new equipment for this purpose.

    You cannot salt this product the same as you would black top and I wonder how fast the water soaks into the ground if we were to have a heavy rain or thaw after a big snow then see a big freeze. Will the bricks pop and heave? Will the parking lot become a big skating rink? Not sure but I do fully believe that our midwest winters are not at all condusive for this type of material for public use. It looks nice but practicality it isn’t.

    Tripping on sidewalks because brick corners are sticking up and people slipping and sliding because the brick is smooth faced. I can’t believe a community that is self insured would use this product in a highly traveled public area. Maybe it’s just me on this.

  3. I hope the City of DeKalb received a better deal on those trees then I could get. They are absolutely gorgeous spruces about 12 to 15′ tall. My price installed for these would be anywhere from $375.00 to $425.00 per tree, depending where we purchased. It is possible that a nursery decided they were getting too big and sold them off for about $250.00 a piece but they were too nice looking to be the cheaper price. Usually the best ones are gone first and the lesser priced ones are considered pick overs.

    This tells me that the rink is more of a permanent fixture of the downtown now. I am also hearing through the professional grape vine that the property is contaminated and was prior to the sale. I now have to question the city manager telling the council that the property was cleared but Rick Monas said that they wouldn’t know until the tanks were taken out. My question is, “What were the results of the ground testing when the tanks were taken out?”

    I’m guessing by the recent actions is that we paid well over prime price for a contaminated piece of property that cannot be sold until mitigated.

    Council needs to demand an answer to these questions and see the full report on the testing of this property. One more question, “Why weren’t boring tests done on this property and other properties the city is purchasing?”. This would help lower the properties value if contaminated but if these properties are contaminated, we the taxpayer will end up paying the price.

    Work on your figure eights for the rink folks!

  4. As usual Ivan made me curious so I sent out some e-mails asking about the trees and the remediation. Haven’t heard back about the boring stuff, as person who knows is at a meeting.

    On trees very interesting story: The trees were sold at a discount by Camelot at $32 thirty-two dollars (sic) a piece. Now hope I get this right as I’m not into tree purchases: they are cut trees and wired and staked, not planted, so they can be easily removed. Also no city money was used for the trees.

    Let me lighten up a bit, as staking rink does bring back warm memories. Last time I was skating I was 17.5, leader of the academic students, and totally devoid of any athletic ability. I got into a rink, was barely moving, when two cheerleaders skated by and each grapped one of my arms and pulled me around the rink. Remember that day 47 years later.

    Herb

  5. I have heard on the radio all day that the DCEDC reports that they have met with 30 companies that were interested in moving to DeKalb during the past year. They also report that 4 have chosen DeKalb. That is good news but if I were on the council I would want to know the exact reasons why 26 decided NOT to come to DeKalb and went someplace else.

    Pevo

  6. The streets around the library on the north side and Huntley Park on the south side are in brick, so the city should already have something for snow removal and have the experience dealing with it.

  7. Those brick are a few years old Kay. I’m sure no one really cares that they have some wear and tear on them. With the fact that the parking lot won’t be completed until the snow falls, not many people are going to be able to see the parking lot in “brand new” condition. The pavers of old are an entirely different type of brick. Some say they were harder then those used today. City uses standard blades to clean the existing streets.

    The first appearance most will get will be next spring after a winters worth of wear and tear. It never looks as good as it does on the first day.

    With the weather turning as it is, I will say one thing. They have a lot more brick to put down before the snow flies. Will it get down? Or will the parking lot sit unfinished until spring?

  8. I think it’s fair to ask about soil contamination testing. Underground tanks wouldn’t necessarily be the only potential sources of contamination of a gas station.

    Herb, while you’re at it might I impose on you to find out how many hours Public Works has spent on this project in dollars, including the trees project, and who paid for the rink underlay.

  9. I think the parking lot will be paved by Nov 22. At least I’m hopeful for that because there are many fine people downtown who could sure use a shot in the arm. Lord knows they’ve took enough kicks in the pants.

    IMO the parking lot is proper use of TIF. Public investment in infrastructure designed to spur private investment in the surrounds. What kind of parking lot — those kind of specifics — can and should be debated but its more effective to do so before the work starts as opposed to after.

    Chadwick has a point I hope he elaborates on that is valid. The investment in the parking lot, and in other downtown projects, only works if it spurs private investment. In consideration of factors such as high property taxes, excessive building code regulations, ADA compliance, etc., will rents be too high for absorption?

    There must be some changes in City attitude towards to business community or there will not be investment forthcoming. Arrogance with a big stick is counterproductive to a successful TIF investment.

  10. Yinn,

    Any citizen can ask the question you pose, need not be me though if I do get a call back I will ask. The fact that the trees were not planted but are decorative came from Renew.
    .
    Maybe Ivan could also check as he was the one who initiated the discussion.

    Pevo, from both my academic studies on economic development and more practical experience locally I’ve learned there are a zillion tentative contacts with businesses for every one that moves to a more serious stage.

    Economic development people do try to find out why firms are interested in an area or why they are not. Doing so turns out to be hard. Sometimes through informal conversations, hints are dropped. (in the past CEOs have mentioned negatively the condition of the high school for example, but that was in passing). Other times companies do formal studies and use these studies for site selection. When economic development people ask about these studies they are told they are proprietary i.e. companies won’t tell us. Very frustrating.

  11. Herb I agree there may be a zillion reasons why DeKalb is not selected but you will really never know the answer until you ask the question.

    Hate to play what if, but, what if several listed the same reason. Wouldn’t we want to correct that shortfall?

    Also I would assume the Director has enough practical experience and knowledge that they could reasonably come to a conclusion as to why DeKalb was not chosen. That conclusion can probably be made by the meetings between the parties and not having to specifically ask direct questions. Anyway I would still want to know why so many say no.

    Pevo

    Pevo

  12. Ed
    Economic development also want to know the why and do ask but as I said businesses tend to be secretive. I’m guessing now, but businesses will talk to several places in order to play off one locale off of another and to reveal their ‘real’ criteria to the public sector would weaken business bargaining power.

    Mac,
    On several occasions you have talked about “city attitude’ toward business. Why not drop a note to the economic development people asking to talk about these issues in front of the EDC. I certainly would encourage staff to put the topic on the EDC agenda assuming you would be willing to elaborate on your concerns. At a citizen’s suggestion we did hold some meetings on the linkage between building codes and downtown redevelopment (and learned how state fire codes and ADA really made some stuff difficult)

    Herb

  13. Happy Birthday, CityBarbs!!!

    I have no problem with the city fixing infrastructure and redoing roads, sidewalks, and parking lots but a regular parking lot would be fine, not a Rolls Royce parking lot.

    We should be happy that any business wants to come here but all I can think about is how much tax money are these unknown people going to want as incentives? Will these be more warehouses whose salaries cannot keep up with the cost of living here?

    What started this insane trend of businesses with their hands out to taxpayers? Was it the auto industry in the Lee Iacocca years with Chrysler? GM has its hands out, again. Sorry, why as a taxpayer should we have to pay for their idiotic business plan during their era of the neo-gas guzzlers (i.e. Hummer, etc.)? They made decent cars in the early 1990s when gas was expensive, but, they did not stick to making cars like that when gas got cheap.

    Any businesses and ReNew DeKalb projects mooching money from taxpayers must come with solid return on investment plans or else get out of town. Just wishing that people will go skating then go shopping should be unacceptable.

  14. Anonymous… I think we agree on most points. One of my worst fears: Socialism, Inc.

    Signs my fears may be realized: Government bailouts via Reaganomics mentality, that being trickle down versus bottom up. Bailouts to subprime mortgage brokers and their investors instead of those who face foreclosure. If bailouts are necessary they should start down here, not up there.

    With I’m sure all good intents and purposes the government and Wall Street has formed an unhealthy alliance. Ask a local independent builder, or an independent local mom and pop shop owner, City Hall has priced the cost of doing business to a level only Corporate Big Box can afford. It’s become a national problem because there are so many City Halls, school, park, library, township, county boards, etc., in America.

    DeKalb’s really a microcosm (sp?) of that with us being a community so dependent upon government as a job source. We may have crossed the line to self cannibalism with local taxes, fees and regulations.

    As explained to me the parking lot investment was made to create a multi-use central gathering place. The idea being that if people gather they would also shop for convenience. The main function remains as a parking lot but the lot can also be used for events.

    The aesthetics of the parking lot is important because it must appeal as a gathering place because that is what appeals to a private investor. That’s the deal as I understand it and the contracts are signed and construction near completed. We, the residents and taxpayers, should hold City Hall and ReNew DeKalb accountable to the performance level of this investment.

    The warehouse job thing… there is a widening gap in the income level between those who hold government jobs and those who don’t — especially at the rank and file levels. Generally and locally speaking those with government jobs have higher education certification than those who do not. Believe me — there are many DeKalb residents who look at those jobs as a significant increase in their quality of life and affordability to living here.

  15. Incentives are only given to the warehouses if they have a salary level above I think it is about 14 an hour and some other benefits for working class people. Reports are that the warehouses are paying more than they had promised and have hired more than expected.

    On a national level, allowing the incentives to fortune 500 companies is a travesity. Locally we are all got up in a game that forces the incentives; the trick is to make sure they are at the minimal level that attracts companies. Efforts to ban incentives nationally have gone no where (I tried)

    Mac, the increasing spread is between those with and without college degrees, aggravated by the decline of the steel and auto industry.

    Gee, we’re in agreement on the warehouses. (actually you were one of those who persuaded me on them)

    Herb

  16. We have no steel or auto industry here though Herb. Locally, I believe the increasing spread is definitely between those with government jobs and those without.
    Many many of us WITH degrees here cannot get the good income nor the benefits unless we get one of those government jobs. Conversely, I know several with government jobs and NO DEGREE that easily make more than their peers in the private sector here.

  17. The trees around the skating rink are not anywhere close to resembling CPTED. If they were just a little closer to the sidewalk, they would be a mugger’s delight. They look nice but safety should be more important.

    I showed the list of property taxes by county from: http://www.taxfoundation.org to a county board member I know from a county that shall remain nameless. This official was astounded.

    Mac–I am with you on trickle down Reaganomics not helping the ‘little people.’ I saw that “60 Minutes” segment on CDOs, CDSs, and derivatives. I cannot believe that was considered an ‘investment strategy.’ It should be on a list next to a full-blown Ponzi scheme, as in a practice that should be illegal. What did people learn in business school . . .

    When Warren Buffet goes, he fully deserves “I told you so” on his tombstone.

  18. ANON Writes

    “We should be happy that any business wants to come here but all I can think about is how much tax money are these unknown people going to want as incentives? Will these be more warehouses whose salaries cannot keep up with the cost of living here?”

    Maybe, just maybe, we should look at the opposite. Instead of saying they are just warehouse jobs that cannot keep up with the cost of living maybe we should at least try to lower the cost of living here. Can the town really afford government jobs in the Fire Department that average $88,000.00 per year? Maybe, just maybe, lowering the cost of government (trickel down to lowering the cost of living) will make these other jobs more attractive and maybe, just maybe, they could affford to live here.

    Grace is on POINT when she writes
    ” Locally, I believe the increasing spread is definitely between those with government jobs and those without.”

    Which is the entire point I will try to make in POINT III on the other post later today

    Pevo

  19. CPTED:

    Enter a new approach to crime prevention – Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design – or CPTED. Much more far-reaching than dead bolts on doors and locks on windows, CPTED crime prevention principles can be applied easily and inexpensively to building or remodeling, and have been implemented in communities across the nation. The results have been impressive; in some CPTED communities, criminal activity has decreased by as much as 40 percent. What is the secret to CPTED crime prevention? Design that eliminates or reduces criminal behavior and at the same time encourages people to “keep an eye out” for each other. These are just a few of the ingredients that go into creating an effective CPTED crime prevention environment; that is, a safer more livable community.

  20. Ed,
    Well the fire contract is up for negotiations. Hope you show up at council and present the data and elicit a reaction.

    Paying someone too much for a position is not right. But equally being upset that a person is earning what a position does pay also is bothersome. Balance is needed.

    Also comparisons need to be made carefully. My figures tend to be national comparisons and these comparisons show for better or worse that in general educational attainment is the biggest factor in distinguishing people’s earnings. Yes, Bill Gates is super rich and dropped out of college and my friend …. with a Ph.D. earns in the low thirties, but examples are not aggregate statistics.

    The mean income for people with terminal post graduate degrees is over 130,000. Do I get resentful that i never ever saw a figure anything like that sum or do I stay happy as I’ve never been hungry (except before a fasting blood test. ).

    Herb

  21. Herb, ever look at the focus title of this website? “The Growing Pains of a Small Town in America, DeKalb, Illinois”. We are talking about LOCAL problems.
    Your reoccurring focus on ‘national comparisons’ does not apply locally in my opinion. Nor does it help us to reign in the obvious overspending of our local government entities.

  22. I used to be involved with a regional economic development group largely sponsored by the BNSF Railroad. For one of our meetings, a fellow member had a friend of her’s come in to discuss how developments were sited. The speaker worked for a company that found sites for other companies. What he told us was that the siting depended on the type of development intended. Warehousing was coming into the I-80 and I-88 corridors because it was becoming too difficult to fit any more facilities onto the I-55 corridor. The kiss of death to any development was a history of labor unions and their associated strife. Schools made some difference, but the most important things were a large, hard working labor pool, and access to rail and interstate highway systems. If it was going to be a company headquarters, then high end shopping and residential housing availability were important. They expected tax abatements and incentives, but these were not really the most important part of setting up a deal. Most of us in attendance were from various municipalities, and thought that the incentives were the most important thing. We were surprised, but he supported his ideas with examples from his own experience. I later toured the UP’s GLobal 3 intermodal yard in Rochelle. There, the tour leader told us that industry in the U.S. was dead, and everything was going to be made in China. If it was coming in to the area a day’s truck drive in radius, it would probably come in there, and be shipped out by a truck. That facility is quite impressive. We were not too happy to be told that our hard efforts to lure in manufacturing were going to be wasted. Now, there is a real problem with all of this. It is all based on the failing model of consumer capitalism. One of the chief tenets of this is that wages and salaries of normal mortals fuel the dreaded demon inflation. Strangely, economists do not seem to consider corporate profits and executive salaries and bonuses as being inflationary. Now, if people are making the same or less money, the only way they can support consumer capitalism is to borrow the money. And, if they do not have any good way to increase their earnings, how are they going to buy more stuff, much less pay off their debts. The way most people made a decent living in the past was to work in a unionized manufacturing plant. Even with the unions, their productivity tended to improve over time. How do you increase your earnings in a warehouse? In fact, warehousing is increasingly being automated, so fewer people will be needed. With this as our main “industry” here in DeKalb, how are we going to afford economic growth? If peoples’ incomes do not rise, how much growth potential is there going to exist even for warehousing? I think that our economic development people are working hard to bring in businesses. But, what built this town were the railroad, heavy industry, and services to agriculture. Now what sustains it are the university, warehouses, and its close proximity to where the decent paying jobs are in the Fox Valley. How much longer is this model going to work? Before the local governments here embark on more grandiose projects, we really ought to be thinking about where we are really headed.

  23. Gracie,
    I’m just trying to keep comparisons between apples and apples. So for example, Pevo cites local costs of city employees often using total compensation packages; that’s fine, that’s a good number to use. Yet, some people on this site have posted their take home pay, again a perfectly fine number for comparison. All i am saying is we should compare total compensation packages with total compensation packages or take home pay with take home pay, not total compensation packages with take home packages.

    So in this case I suspect it is possible to find average salaries by occupational group by geographic area; you are part of the web wizard group and are far more skilled than I at web stuff. All I’m asking is if you are comparing government salaries with local averages use the aggregate local numbers not just selected ones.

  24. For Pete’s sake, what is so bloody complicated about saying that normal people’s salaries CANNOT KEEP UP with what is going on with the city’s (and the schools’) spending?

    Pevo and Steve are on spot. Manufacturing is just about dead in this country. Ald. Naylor went off on how the Peace Road area shouldn’t be a Shodeen’s because that should be for manufacturing. What manufacturing? That told me how out of touch he is with what is going on here. C’mon Ald. Naylor, say, “post-industrial.” GM has not been the largest employer in a long, long time. That ‘honor’ goes to Wal-mart.

    Those of us who LIVE HERE have to PAY for the city workers’ TOTAL compensation packages with the SCRAPS that we have left in our paychecks. On the other post, Pevo compared firefighter salaries to those of other communities, apples to apples.

  25. Completely off-topic… Is it just me, or is Channel 14 “frozen” more often than it is actually functioning? Seems like every week now it breaks down and doesn’t get fixed until the next Monday.

  26. ANON

    Your kidding right!!

    I just thought that was the normal speed for the decision making process of the council. Now your telling me there is something wrong with the telecast!!

    Pevo

  27. Good luck in the mayor’s race!!!

    Who owes me lunch for the bet that the skating rink would not be ready in time for the opening? ;-)

    Chronicle bloggers are saying the site is contaminated. They say a lot of things that are not completely accurate. Does anyone know for certain?

  28. Thanks Kay.

    OK Mark, you don’t have broadband so you won’t be able to view the opening page. In that case, go to fazekas4dekalb.com/info .

    The opening page was originally a placeholder for the site. Guess we may not be able to keep it as is if it is causing problems.

    I must be losing my mind. For the life of me I can’t remember the “heavy rains” to which they are attributing the delay of the skating rink. Rain, yes, heavy, no. I see rain delayed the finish of the parking lot as well.

    Ever since people got a peep at the rink foundation and the trees, there has been speculation about why that lot was chosen for the rink instead of being put up for sale, considering the primo commercial location. I hope they are not passing this off as fact without asking for soil test results.

  29. Oh the city workers are working in full force done there today to get it put together.

    It’s real easy to see if the ground is contaminated or not. I saw them digging the tanks up and one tank was ripped open. I cannot believe that there wasn’t any spillage at all from that tank. I didn’t see a lot of dirt taken away from the site either.

    Tests would have been performed and should be public. Should be just that simple. If not, the EPA should be contacted and made aware that tanks were taken out of the ground. I do believe that the EPA should have been notified about the tanks.

  30. I can check on that Ivan, My father is a civil engineer, owns his own business in Chicago, and used to work for the City of Chicago, many years ago, as part of the water reclaimation district. He recently stopped construction near his home on the north side of the city when they tried to remove tanks in the ground on a site that use to be a gas station and was slated for construction of a bank on the corner of Western and Montrose. With his close friends in the EPA, he would be more than happy to have it checked out, should they have removed tanks and not notified anyone of their removal..

    However if they did that, and they did not notify anyone of the removal, get ready for a HUGE Fine to the city of DeKalb…they don’t look kindly on that.

    I will give him a ring and let him know and get his opinion on this.

    Mark

  31. All I can remember the city manager saying at a council meeting when asked if that site was contaminated and he said no and that they had a letter from a previous fire chief stating that it was not contaminated. Well I’m not sure why a fire chief would even have anything to do with ground contamination from an old gas station but if I was paying over market prices for a property I would make sure that the EPA stated it was clean and not a fire chief from 20 years ago.

    It is said that the previous owner of that corner property wanted for years to sell it but that he knew it to be contaminated. My question still today is why that property owner didn’t declare that property in the “brownfield amnesty” period a few years back or maybe he did??

    The fact is that the tanks were dug out, I saw them personally, and what they did with them I’m not sure. Also, the contamination was more of a result from the Amoco station at the top of First and Lincoln Hwy when their tanks leaked and that fuel trickled down to the other corner.

    It would bring a huge fine but also definite grounds for someone to be fired.

  32. If the tanks were removed and not inspected upon removal, and the tanks were removed without the right permits. DeKalb, is going to have alot of fun explaining that.

    I think its time to have a few investigations by the EPA, on whether or not the tank removal was done correctly, and that ground contamination has been covered, and abated properly, before any rebuilding on the site takes place.

  33. For anyone still visiting, Chronicle bloggers reported that the Park District is putting in an ice rink that will have real ice in Lions Park. I took a drive through there and sure enough, there looks like something in the works that would be the right shape for an ice rink. Whatever this thing is, it might be large enough for hockey, although maybe not 100% full sized? If it turns out to be an ice rink, it would be larger than the downtown skating rink.

  34. lets add Kay, thats its FREE…to use…hummm, maybe a shot across the bow for the city?…lol…

    I spoke with my father recently about the tanks, if the permits were not in place to remove the tanks, and they were not done correctly, he stated a fine is the least of the cities worries…

    I am having him look into whatever he can on the subject, and if necessary he will call in the EPA himself….

    I hope they had their house in order….I don’t take this lightly…and neither does he.

  35. I am with Ginger on that–if it is a sanitary lift station, yuck. It is close to the playground.

    That is too bad because it is the perfect place for an ice rink, and the right shape, at least what they had done so far on Saturday.

  36. OK, for this week’s installment of ‘DeKalb Rumors,’ does anyone else know if there is a boycott planned of the downtown in protest of all of the city spending??

    And, under the did I hear that right in the city meeting category . . .

    The school district got to purchase land at a discounted price for the new high school yet the impact fees for any future land use in the area will be reduced by the difference between the land’s original value compared to the school’s discount?

    OK, so where was the so-called “discount”?

Leave a Reply