Culture, Government, Legal, Marketing, Media

When Your Number Comes Up

You know that funny feeling when the cell phone vibrates in your tight jeans pocket, and you struggle to extract it before the caller hangs up. Sitting in a movie theater is tougher because you know to leave it alone. But, it continues to zing—zing—zing, vibrating like a terrified june bug caught in your pants.

A couple days ago, my phone wouldn’t stop zinging. Starting at 10:30 in the morning, I got a call from San Antonio, TX. I know no one there. It’s hot, dusty, and except for the Alamo and the acclaimed Riverwalk, San Antonio doesn’t figure on my list of destinations, let alone origins. But the phone zings insistently.

It’s an unrecognizable number. Area code 210. I skip it.

A few minutes later, another call. San Antonio again. Flush it.

Two more calls after that, and I decide to pick up.

“This is to inform you that your Social Security Number has been suspended, and that there is a warrant for arrest under your name. Please call back immediately…”

I give high marks for originality on this call. It turns out that so does the caller, because they continue to zing in my pocket until a little after noon. 13 calls in total. 13 spoofs: each number changed, but the origin and area code remained San Antonio, Texas.

Next to our annual plague of stink bugs, I think the robo call is the most obnoxious–and noxious–element in our midwest existence. What amazes me is that nothing much is ever done about it.

The telemarketing channel has been a constant irritant to me, and to probably 99% of the adult American public.  In fact, it was the subject of my very first post in 2013: Let Me Get This Call.

In a typical day, we will receive at least 5 calls.  I am thankful for these, as:

  1.  They force me to get up and walk to the phone, providing necessary joint movement;
  2. They frequently remind me that I am eating dinner when they call;
  3. The calls provide a fleeting moment of excitement thinking a family member is calling.

We’ve nearly reached the tipping point to give up our land line, which was the main robo conduit into our normally quiet existence.  And then the cell phone becomes the new target.  What to do?

I looked up the Do Not Call registry, and confirmed that all three of our phones have been registered since 2005.  Fat lot of good that has done.

Checking the FCC page, I read some business-like claims by the department head that multi-million dollar fines have been handed out recently.  $80 million.  $40 million. Serious money, but the zinging doesn’t stop.

The government site points to the measures that phone companies are taking.  AT&T, my server, offers a Call Protect App for the zinging cell phone.  It’s free, and I install it.  Then quickly and effortlessly the app reports I have had no robo calls in the last 30 days!  What about the last three hours?

A Facebook friend has suggested I take a third party anti-robo app.  I may do so. We’ll see how AT&T performs over the next few weeks.

Surely AT&T wants us to keep all of our phones, right?  But mean time, I have this nagging concern.    AT&T is now HQ-ed in Dallas, Texas, area code 210.

Could it be possible?   No, don’t even think of it.

 

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Culture, Environment, Government, Legal, Wildlife

Butterfield: Where To, Now?

A group of 3 year-olds graze on the open space at 901 Butterfield Highway.

Driving down Butterfield last week we spied a herd of deer grazing in the snowy, white expanse of a field cleared in 2016. Among them were at least 4 bucks, with 3-point antlers. Around 2-1/2 years old. They would have been newly born in the spring before the Archdiocese of Chicago cut down 33 acres of sheltering trees on this scenic, colorful piece of woodlot on the west side of Libertyville.

The once colorful woodlot was viewed by more than 20,000 motorists every day.

The deer are a conundrum caught in a quandary. They have multiplied to 28 in number, primarily due to the removal of wooded habitat that housed their arch enemy, the coyote. Left unchecked, they face an uncertain future, either from lack of food, or an unlucky collision with an auto speeding along Butterfield Road. They must wonder, ‘What’s happening here? Where will we live next?’

We might ask the same question ourselves.

Cluster Housing: 148 homes planned for construction on 15.2 acres of land.

Back in August 2016, the Village announced an open meeting of the Plan Commission to present a housing development proposal to occupy a 40-acre lot owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago. The developer, it is now learned, had bid $15 million to buy the land for the purpose of installing 148 ‘cluster homes’ on the lot, plus two detention ponds and roads. 7 acres of woods would offer a treed park for walks.

The open meeting attracted over 100 residents who voiced their concerns and asked pointed questions that set the commission, and the developer, back on their heels. The meeting adjourned with a promise of refinements, and for a follow up, which was scheduled in January, 2017.

An astounding disregard for optics, and the local parish.

The machines made fast work of the Church’s order.

Then, in November, just before Thanksgiving, with an astounding disregard for optics, and an unconscionable dismissal of its local parish, the Church decided to spring into action. After receiving approval from the Village, it cut down 33 acres of mature trees which grew on the development site. The sheer sight of the woods coming down, so swiftly, leaving a naked field behind, shocked many in Lake County. More than 20,000 drivers passed the scenic woods every day.

By January, the development had surfaced all sorts of debate and before long, it became clear that the residents were pushing back. Their concerns ranged from traffic to congestion, from design to pollution. Ripping out the woods was the final straw. A summary of 19 specific concerns were circulated, and became talking points for review.

Looking north on Butterfield Highway, homeowners will enter and exit just left of the power line pole.

The Village Board became closely aware of the situation, and received a final proposal from the Plan Commission to halt the development. In a special March 2017 meeting, held at the high school auditorium, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously against the development as proposed. The pivotal issue was traffic congestion and safety.

Looking south on Butterfield, the commuters’ treks just begin.

It could have ended there, but a dose of reality was dispensed. Libertyville had just killed the Church’s $15 million dollar deal, and the Archdiocese, reputedly in search of cash, was miffed.

In June of 2017, the Catholic Bishop of Chicago filed a suit against the Village for its “capricious, arbitrary decision” which denied the Church its constitutional rights to sell the land. And so, it ended up in court.

The trial commenced in November 2018, and concluded December 7. The judge was buried under boxes of memoranda, reports and legal papers along with 10 days of procedural testimony. The sole subject: traffic safety.   Nevertheless, he offered a decision perhaps as early of January 31, 2019.

A portion of the 28 white tail deer that grazed on January 20, 2019. Not a coyote in sight.

We wait. But back to the deer. Where do they go? Ironically, their numbers swelled because the coyotes lost their homes in the woods. But what now?

As an FYI, the Lake County Forest Preserve is closed at night until March because they are thinning out the deer population. In their books, 15-30 deer can safely occupy a square mile (640 acres) of open land. Yet here we have 28 deer grazing on the corner of the 33-acre open patch. Maybe they hale from St.Mary’s and Pine Meadow golf course. Interestingly, on the Forest Preserve website I picked up their regrets about development and how it affects Lake County’s natural resources:

“Natural processes are disrupted. No harm was meant, but 150 years of settlement has greatly changed local habitat. The surface may look okay, but many habitats are not healthy. The gradual impact of people settling in this area has been astounding:

  • Prairies were plowed
  • Wetlands were tiled and drained for agriculture
  • Wildfires were suppressed
  • Predators and pollinators were wiped out
  • Invasive species were introduced and their populations exploded
  • Habitats have become islands in a sea of development
  • Streams are muddied
  • Prairies, woodlands and wetlands shrink smaller and smaller”

Three bucks in a quandary: where to now?

It’s all sobering to think about.  We wait for the judge to announce his decision.

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Culture, Environment, Government, Legal, Politics

Butterfield: A Look Back

Dear Reader: The following is primarily of interest to Libertyville residents. The 19 points below are a review of the concerns about a housing development on Butterfield Road in Libertyville, proposed in August 2016. A final court decision is due shortly.

For my many readers who may not live here, if you are interested in the potential impacts of housing development in your neck of the woods, read on! These were originally posted March 24, 2017.

“The proposed Planned Development at 901 Butterfield is not in keeping with Libertyville tradition, standards, or our treasured quality of life. Here’s why:

Density
1. While R6 zoning may allow as much as 232 dwellings on 40 acres, the developer’s proposal of 148 is not a salve. Indeed, those 148 homes are built on 15.2 acres, or approximately 9.7 dwellings per acre. This is an urban solution in the midst of spacious, open R3, R4, and R5 subdivisions.

Financials
2. The developer’s proposed sell prices for the homes are virtually unobtainable. The attached neighborhoods’ single family dwellings, have median sell prices of $550,000, vs. the $750,000 proposed for the tightly packaged single-family dwellings. The total property assessment of $109,000,000 is most likely unachievable. The more likely assessment will be $76,000,000, affecting tax revenues significantly.
3. Surrounding neighborhood values will decrease as a direct result of the removal of open space. The additional traffic and registration pressure on Butterfield School will also be a negative to existing property values.

Schools
4. An additional 104 students at Butterfield will require 3-5 additional classroom equivalents. Using the developer’s Fiscal Impact Study model, District 70 will be underwater financially when property assessments are realized at only $76,000,000, requiring incremental tax dollars.
5. School bus transit will be required for all students in the development, further stalling any LCDOT decision to add a signal at the development’s entrance.

Traffic
6. There will be an additional 300 cars in the immediate vicinity. Traffic on Lake Street will increase from 3,800 car trips per day to 5,000.
7. Commuters exiting the development during rush hour may incur accidents turning left, northbound, onto Butterfield in order to reach the Metra Station.
8. Commuters exiting the development during rush hour turning right, southbound, will use Ridgewood Lane as a cut through passage to the Metra Station, disturbing residents on Hillcrest, Sedgwick, Blackthorn and Paradise.
9. Left turn lineups on southbound Butterfield at Park Ave (176) will increase, causing illegal stacking of cars.
10. Pedestrian traffic across Butterfield is in severe jeopardy regardless of time of day, every day, especially drawn to the Butterfield School campus. 23,000 cars per day, average car speed: 47mph. There are estimated 150 school-aged children in the proposed development.

Butler Lake Pollution
11. Private contractor snow removal in a high-density subdivision leads to expedient salting practices. Chlorides are permanent, non-removable threat.
12. Butler Lake pollution is a real risk from indiscriminant use of chlorides which will be washed away by 20,000,000 gallons of storm water run off from the development, into the Bull Creek watershed annually. Libertyville spent $3,450,000 in taxpayer dollars to clean Butler Lake.

Design
13. The 6-foot-high, white vinyl fenced yards are minuscule, with limited opportunity for school-aged children to play near home. They will be lured to parks out of sight, or across Butterfield highway to the school campus.
14. Street designs are straight, encouraging dangerous car speeds.
15. Alley loaded homes are fraught with challenges: traffic, unsightly storage, litter, pet disturbances and fouling, parking, ambient pedestrian traffic , loitering, noise and unwanted gatherings.
16. The 1,000-foot long, 8-foot-high reflecting sound wall on Butterfield is a visual obstruction, and a road noise nuisance to Ridgewood residents and to Butterfield School. The wall will encourage driver speeding as well.
17. The design hides the development’s open space from Libertyville residents, tucking the park out of sight from commuters and local residents alike.

Zoning Compliance
We do not believe that the proposed development is in the best interests of the citizens of Libertyville. It is not a fair offer to be made to potential first home buyers or “moving down” buyers either. We ask all responsible to acknowledge accountability in respecting these considerations as stated in the

Village Zoning Code:
18. Planned Development approvals are subject to Libertyville Zoning Code Article 16-9.5 . This development does not adequately comply with our guidance for adverse impacts, interference with surrounding development, adequate public facilities, traffic congestion, destruction of significant natural, scenic features in the vicinity.
19. According to Article 16-9.5-c Special Use Permits are dependent upon meeting the standards of public benefit, assessing alternative locations, and mitigating adverse impacts. “

The Village and Archdiocese of Chicago are awaiting the final decision of 9th Circuit Lake County Judge on whether the development will go forward. The crux of the argument is traffic congestion and traffic safety. Decision is due on or around January 31, 2019.

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Government, Legal

Apples, Oranges and The Pits

The Church’s plan: 148 cluster homes on 33 acres. One access point.

Yesterday the Lake County 19th Circuit Courtroom 205 heard closing arguments from the Archdiocese of Chicago vs. the Village of Libertyville, case 17MR0001013.

After 9 full days of throwing paper at each other and the judge, witnesses grilled, the final decision comes down to choosing between safety and due process.
While the weight of the issue is whether the Church can go ahead with its 148 houses on 33 acres, or not, the arguments came down to the definition of “safe”, and a village board’s right to vote its conscience.

The key word is arguments. The parties had different paths of logic.  Like apples and oranges.

The Church first of all defended its development plan on the precedent of the LaSalle/Sinclair Factors, which is a set of Illinois measures used to evaluate zoning changes.

One by one, the Church counsel ticked off their presumed compliance with the factors. Will the development fit the neighborhood, yes. Is the Church losing money as is, yes.  Will the Village make money, yes. Do health, safety and welfare benefits offset any downsides, yes. Is the land unsuitable as currently zoned, yes. Has it been vacant a long time, yes. Does the Village need the homes, yes. Was it in the Village Plan, yes.

Each of the points is debatable, but that wasn’t the pivotal point of the Church’s argument.  Their real bone to pick was the “arbitrary, unreasonable, unjustified and capricious” decision by the village board to vote down the plan because it was unsafe for access and egress.

The Church’s “arbitrary etc” charge is based on two dueling traffic consultants’ reports, spiced with a good measure of Lake County DOT traffic data, computer models, and some established science about traffic weight times, traffic gaps, highway capacity, and mixed up–no, osterized with a lot of math.  Recall Twain’s concern about lies, damned lies, and statistics.

The Village had decided back in 2017 that residents presently have difficulty making left turns in and out of the neighborhood, and the development’s single access would further aggravate the situation, with the certain threat of an accident.  The lack of a traffic signal, and a second access are at the bottom of this scrum, and how they got there is not important today, other than to say that the Church knew of the problem long ago, and should have planned it better when they had the chance.

Northbound on Butterfield during morning commute. Choosing the right gap may be difficult.

But where the Church built its argument was on the “non-credible” village consultant’s findings.  Instead, its own consultant should be the respected source.  To that end, their counsel spent considerable time stressing that all published reports regard the access “adequate” and it was never claimed that they were “unsafe”.  That is solely the village’s determination.

But in fact, when the DOT witness had testified earlier that the access was adequate, she also offered that other people may disagree.

When confronted with the notion that a high traffic area may complicate entry and exit to the development, including those difficult left turns, the Church’s comment was, “We have an arterial highway that has to move traffic fast.  The property is in direct conflict.  But that’s the risk of all development today.”

For the Village, the argument was from a different angle.  While the Church pointed to all of the LaSalle Sinclair factors as the standard,  the Village focused only on one factor: health, safety and welfare.   “Despite the beauty and luxury of homes promised, they pale compared to safety.  The proposed increase in home values won’t compensate for safety and loss of life.”

The judge himself intruded on the closing argument for the Village.   He asked if the safety is any worse at Ridgewood and Lake streets, to which the Village counsel replied that just because those intersections are also difficult, doesn’t justify adding yet another.  When the judge challenged the supposed hardship of drivers waiting for a gap in the traffic, Village counsel observed, citing the Highway Capacity Manual, that while statistics may indicate that the intersection is relatively open for turns, the reality of a long wait in a car to make a left turn may reduce a driver’s tolerance to choose the right gap in the traffic.  The judge countered, “that’s just common sense,” to which the Village replied, “that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.”

There is much give and take between the judge and village counsel about a traffic lights, wait times, gaps in traffic, and there is a moment when it’s suggested that the Village’s position is somewhat hypothetical.  The reply is noteworthy: “Actually, everything here is hypothetical.  The home values are hypothetical.  Home sales are hypothetical.  Nobody knows.  We just have to guess.  The Village decided it was unsafe.”

In his conclusion, village counsel noted that the evidence supported the Village’s legislative determination to be a reasonable, rational decision.  “At peak times, both morning and afternoon there will be an inadequate gap decision made by a driver.  We aren’t going to test it out and see how it goes.  The beauty and luxury homes are not worth it.”

Since the beginning of the trial, the judge has frequently returned to the viability and feasibility of a signal light at the Lake/Butterfield intersection.  It may factor in the nature and specifics of his decision.  He complimented and thanked both attorneys for their preparations and comprehensive presentations of the arguments, and after requesting a 15-page summary of all facts from each, hoped to reach a decision by January 31, 2019.

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Culture, Legal

The Case Grinds Exceedingly Fine, And Slow

In our Village, we are seeing the end game take place between the Church and Libertyville about the disposition of a piece of Church property designated for a housing development.  Many of us feel it could have been settled with some discussion, but that’s not what’s happening.  As the saying goes, “See you in Court.”

Today was the fifth session of the Catholic Bishop of Chicago vs the Village of Libertyville case # 17MR00001013, Lake County 19th Circuit Court. Witnessing the event is a little like church, in that strange things happen up at the front, and the seats are bone hard down at the back.

Early on day 1, we watched as the opposing attorneys pushed sheaves of papers at each other, forcing the opening of massively thick three-ring binders to extract pages and replace them with others. Through it all, the judge kept a steady, grave face as he too had to change out documents in his own set of binders.  Keeping right up, he referenced exhibit numbers with the speed of a vigorous game of Whackamoley as the attorneys swapped pages before him.

After some additional scuffling about admissibility of late-arriving evidence, the attorneys finally got down to their opening statements.  For the Church, it was a clear cut case of capricious, arbitrary decision-making by the Village that infringed upon their constitutional rights.  They referenced the LaSalle Factors, which were a set of standards established by the Illinois Supreme court years ago about the rights of property owners.  At the base of it, the Church believes the LaSalle factors support them completely.  The Village decision caused the Church hardship.

For the Village, the argument throws the LaSalle Factors back at the Church.  The hardship was self-made.  Years ago, when they knew they would develop the land on Butterfield Road, they should have created a safe right of way, and they didn’t do it.

What is this debate all about?  Traffic safety, and the need for a set of lights at Lake and Butterfield.  Without those lights, and the connected access to the proposed development, it was a non-starter for the Village, which voted the project down.   For four days, the Church presented hundreds of documents testifying to the safety of the Butterfield access, and to the development process, supported by the consultants and officials who wrote them.

Now after five days and one sumptuous, turkey-laden Thanksgiving-week-long hiatus, plus a full-court snowstorm to kick things up a notch, the attorneys have returned to continue the debate before the ever-game judge.   The Village will now present the defense of their decision, again referencing their own bushel of documents testifying to the development process and to the non-safety of the access.

You may think it a simple case to sort out a simple highway safety issue, but then why would we need lawyers?

It was striking to see that there were only two attorneys for each side, but the real measure of intensity is in the volumes of paper presented.  The Church team brings in 13 bankers boxes of files every morning and spreads them across two rows of court benches.  They have two luggage carts.  There is a law clerk who is constantly running into the court bleachers to fetch another file folder.  The Village also has two luggage carts, but only about 3 boxes of files.  You can see who has the larger budget for photocopying.

The chatter in the room is between the judge and the two attorneys, while the witness gets to offer yes and no testimony.  Faithfully, diligently, the court reporter is forever typing her keys to create a transcript of thousands of lines of give and take.  It’s like recording the laying of a million bricks in an infinite wall of legalese.

Through it all, the judge is playing referee on the admissibility of every utterance.  He is patient, but not sympathetic with either side particularly.  His is not an easy task.   He is taking in mountains of detail about a subject he had no interest in, yet there he is, stuck in the middle of it.  The halting pace is interrupted by objections about admissibility, form, substance, relevance, foundation.

For instance,

Attorney 1: “Did a camel pass through the eye of a needle?”

Attorney 2: “Objection.  Foundation.”

Attorney 1: “Camel hair coats are sewn with #8 needles.  Would you agree?”

Witness: “Yes.”

Attorney 1: “Speaking of needles, did you see that camel?”

When the two sides finally close down this week, then the judge will take his numerous binders, thousands of pages, gratuitously thrust upon him, packed in his own luggage rack, and he will read everything again, and come back with a decision.

It makes me think of a parent being charged with the onerous duty to sort out a mess the kids made.

After watching these two sessions, and the grindingly slow development of the respective arguments, my advice to anyone who is at odds with another person: go figure it out.  Talk.  Find a way to avoid court.  I think the judge would agree.

This case will finish around Thursday this week.

December 1: The case has been continued to Friday, December 7, upon which day we will hear closing arguments.

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