Tag Archives: Rahm Emanuel

Saving Starved Rock and Losing Logan Square Kitchen

May 20, 2012

Starved Rock update: IEPA hearing next week – you can weigh in

I received a newsletter the other day from Tess Wendel at the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club concerning the ongoing process to site an open pit sand mine next to the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park. It read in part:

The fight to protect Starved Rock State Park from Mississippi Sand’s frac sand mine isn’t over! Our push for transparency and public involvement in the permitting process has paid off.

The Illinois EPA is holding a public availability session to answer questions about the permits Mississippi Sand has applied for and collect comments related to the air and water permits under their jurisdiction.

Representatives from DNR and the Historic Preservation Agency and Mississippi Sand will also be available to answer questions.

Mississippi Sand has applied for its mining permit from the Department of Natural Resources and related air and water permits from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency but none have been granted due to the numerous concerns voiced by Sierra Club and our partners.

The Sierra Club has coordinated with locals in the area to write a detailed citizen complaint letter to the IDNR about our concerns for the project and to request a public hearing under the Illinois Rivers and Streams Act. We also requested a hearing for the air permit and asked that Mississippi Sand be required to obtain an individual permit for wastewater discharge from the mine, which will offer more opportunity for additional environmental protections. Recently we have been working with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and local tribes to require Mississippi Sand to do a phase one archeological survey because a 1987 University of Illinois study found relics from as far back as 10,000 years old on the site.

There is a link to a page on the Sierra Club site where you can write to IEPA to voice your concerns. There is also a page of talking points about this issue.

Tess Wendell is on the show this morning to talk more about the meeting next Wednesday, May 23 at at Illinois Valley Community College, 815 N Orlando Smith Road, Oglesby, IL 61348 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

She tells me that this should not be considered a traditional public hearing because it is more informal than that. She likens it to an open house, where each agency will have representatives to answer questions about the permits and how the mine will affect their organization and constituents. She’s also counting on the IEPA to report pertinent comments and information to other agencies, including the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

She considers the session an opportunity to ask tough questions about how the natural areas near the site as well as the health of residents and visitors to the area will be protected. Ultimately, IEPA has to decide if the project is likely to cause enough detriment to deny permits.

What I can’t figure out is why the IDNR hasn’t played a larger role in this decision…at least not to this point. After all, it is the IDNR that issues the mining permit and, according to Illinois Sierra Club, must “consider the short and long term impact of the proposed mining on vegetation, wildlife, fish, land use, land values, local tax base, the economy of the region and the State, employment opportunities, air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, noise pollution and drainage.”

Wendel argues that IDNR should have its own public hearing and comment period. And it’s strange that IDNR did not particpate in the LaSalle County hearings on the proposed mine, even though they are an adjacent landowner. Says Illinois Sierra Club:

The Department did not represent the citizens of the state to protect OUR lands. IDNR needs to establish a mechanism by which it can both serve its role as the permitting agency for activities such as mining and oil and gas drilling while also standing up as the protector of our state’s lands.

I received this message just the other day from Vicki Tracy, a concerned citizen who lives in Ottawa:

Since the initial flurry of activity when Mississippi Sand first made their intentions known, it seems that there has been the feeling that…..well, that Mississippi Sand has gotten their way. What people need to know is that it is not a done deal, this is not some forgotten piece of land, abandoned to those who see no other value in it except the dollars that they can put in their pockets at the expense of our native people’s ancestral history, or the water and air quality of future generations. Do we really think people want to come to Starved Rock to breath the freshly disbursed silica dust?  This land sits at the feet of our crowned jewel!

This whole thing reminds me of the story of “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg”. Are we really that eager to tear open this beautiful land, rich in great natural diversity and of archeological importance. The only gold in this goose is for Mississippi Sand, and the people of LaSalle County will be left with the carcass.

This should not be a rush to rip open the land only to find later that we should have thought about it more carefully, studied it more thoroughly and planed out what kind of legacy we really want to leave future generations. I understand there needs to be a balance. There comes a point however when the scale may tip  in the wrong direction and we have thrown away what can not be replaced.

If you want to get involved, write to Tess Wendel at Tess.Wendel@sierraclub.org. All comments to the IEPA should be submitted by May 31st to Brad Frost, Illinois EPA, 1021 N. Grand Ave. E., P.O. Box 19506, Springfield, IL 62794.

Chicago bureaucracy wins; Logan Square Kitchen will close

I can’t believe that it’s been more than two years since I first reported on the difficulties that shared use kitchens were facing in the City of Chicago. It started when Department of Health inspectors destroyed thousands of dollars of fruit purees owned by pastry chef Flora Lazar and stored at Kitchen Chicago.

It wasn’t a health issue, it was a licensing issue. And while the food destruction was not repeated over the next couple of years, the harassment of shared use kitchens by various city agencies, specifically the Dept of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), continued. Why? That’s the $64,000 question. To some degree, it was because shared use kitchens represented something bold and new–and bureaucracies abhor pretty much anything bold and new.

In January of 2011, I met Zina Murray, owner and operator of Logan Square Kitchen, in my own neighborhood. In fact, I spent some time in court with Murray last August, when she fought and successfully beat an attempt by the Chicago Department of Health to fine her $500 for a violation that she considered “groundless.” This was after LSK was inspected 19 times in 2 years (the law requires 2 inspections per year, FYI).

But Murray continued to fight, coming up with a 5 step program to reform the Chicago Department of Health. This was on the heels of a city ordinance that was passed in May of 2011 and which was suppose to make it easier for shared use kitchens to exist.

And then, wonder of wonders, Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself showed up at Logan Square Kitchen on April 17 to announce a new ordinance that would streamline business licensing, making it faster and easier for businesses to operate in Chicago.

Less than a month later, Zina Murray announced that Logan Square Kitchen would close forever on June 28.

What the hell happened? From her own post about her decision, Murray writes:

It’s a sad time when our government kills the very things that can heal our City.  Logan Square Kitchen was designed to heal the local economy, environment and food system all at once.  It was an innovative, bold idea that never had its chance.  The Dept of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) began hammering nails in its coffin before we even opened our doors in 2009 and hasn’t stopped.  Unfortunately, we see no end to regulatory burdens, which will continue to block our ability to grow a healthy business.

Over and over we heard, “you did everything right.” See the Alderman before building purchase. All City Depts approve us through Green Building Permit Program. Go to BACP in advance of applying for license, completely disclosing the business model.   Spend 3 months talking about what licenses we needed. Apply as directed.  Told we ‘misrepresented’ our business. Told we can’t have license caused we’ve failed our “furniture inspection.” Correct that, and get licenses contingent on conditions we can’t meet.  Then the Zoning folks try to shut us down. 20 health inspections.  18 months wrapped in red tape.  Enduring intimidation and harassment, the resources we set aside to ramp up the business were instead used to pay lawyers and our mortgage while we were denied the right to operate.

When our licensing difficulties ceased, they were just beginning for our clients. Before the “helpful” Shared Kitchen Ordinance that took effect Sept 1, 2011, we got clients licensed in a week or two.  Of course, we had to be inspected by Health each time. Now, we’re the inspections have stopped, but it takes 1-3 months and multiple trips to City Hall.  Unfortunately, Mayor Emmanuel’s new ‘streamlining’ of business license ordinance that passed last week does not offer any streamlining for shared kitchens.

It should come as no surprise that we must close.  LSK is collateral damage from choices that City employees make each day—people that have lost the ability to connect their actions with the consequences they cause.  In all the many, many meetings I’ve had in City Hall in the past three years, there’s a question no one ever asks.  “Is it good for our City?”

That prompted a response from the city, specifically the BACP:

“We are sorry to hear that an innovative, neighborhood business such as Logan Square Kitchen is closing. From Day 1, BACP worked with Logan Square kitchen to properly license their facility – just as other businesses with the same activities require – and even helped them with their state liquor license. BACP has not had any issues with LSK or issued any citations since assisting them through the permitting process. The City wants to help businesses while also ensuring that they are safe, sanitary, and operating legally. This is why we now have an emerging business permit to help new business models get up and running while we determine how to license and regulate.”

And that led to this from Murray:

As many times as I’ve heard these statements of deep denial, I’m blown away every time. I imagine that BACP Commissioner Rosemary Krimbel approved this statement for release. And you can see her standing behind the Mayor in the video of the press conference at our place (she’s the blond in the black jacket.) So how does she reconcile this statement with the statements the Mayor made, as she nods away? About 9 minutes in to the video, the Mayor describes how the proliferation of licenses and burdensome process has “small businesses focused on City Hall and not on their customer. And that is wrong.” As I said yesterday, we are BACP’s collateral damage. Yet here we are, staring at BACP’s statement that my experience is required and BACP conduct was normal.

The Mayor said he believes that “small businesses are the lifeblood of economic activity and job creation” in Chicago. Unfortunately, too many of us leave too much blood on the 8th floor of City Hall.

Here’s the real problem that the BACP statement illustrates. The same people and culture are still in place. Many BACP bureaucrats said NO to LSK to relieve themselves of the responsibility of YES. And plenty more watched silently while we twisted in the wind. We are all responsible for our conduct. And our conduct defines our character. We must hold our public servants accountable for their actions– otherwise we give tacit approval to their behavior, and on it goes.

In the green world, we would describe BACP’s behavior as unsustainable– it is destroying the resources upon which it depends. It’s a pretty short walk from vital business activity to the salaries, benefits and pensions of our public servants. BACP, your choices have consequences, and the LSK closure is the tip of the iceberg. I hope you can begin to connect the dots, cause we don’t get out of this mess unless we work together.

Last but not least, Murray thinks that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is unfairly being blamed for the demise of her facility. In her post, Our Mayor’s getting a bum rap, she explains that he was a victim of bad timing.

Well, Ms. Murray is entitled to her opinion and I’m entitled to mine. Just as I hold former Mayor Richard M. Daley accountable for not getting recycling done in Chicago, I can hold Mayor Rahm Emanuel accountable for not reigning in unreasonable bureaucrats. That’s part of the job, you know. If you want to take credit for the City’s accomplishments, you have to take some of the heat for its failures. Logan Square Kitchen should never have been allowed to go under.

Putting gardens to bed, waking up recycling in Chicago, and promoting WCPT’s food drive

November 13, 2011

Dr. Wally helps you put your garden to bed for the winter

A gardener’s work is never done, it seems. Even as we roll, kicking and screaming, into the holiday season (at least some of us), it’s important to remember that a little attention paid to your garden’s soil at this time of year will reap huge benefits in the spring.

That’s why I welcome “Dr.” Wally Schmidtke, manager at Pesche’s Garden Center in Des Plaines, back to the show for some advice on how to get a head start on spring…as odd as that sounds in the days just before Thanksgiving. Wally has put together a very helpful page of tips that I think you will find useful, especially if you like to grow vegetables.

Speaking of Pesche’s, I want to personally thank Chris Pesche for helping Green on McLean, the community garden on my block in the Logan Square neighborhood. Thanks to a generous donation of Back to Nature Cotton Burr Compost, we have been renewing our planting beds–just as Wally suggests–in anticipation of an even more productive 2012 growing season.

America Recycles…can Chicago?

This Tuesday marks the 14th annual America Recycles Day, the only national day dedicated to recycling in America. And once again, Mike Mitchell, Executive Director of the Illinois Recycling Association, joins me to talk about the state of recycling in the state of Illinois.

Of course, that means Chicago, too. So, I gird my loins once again as I prepare to talk about recycling in the Windy City. (Full disclosure, I am the volunteer president of the all-volunteer Chicago Recycling Coalition) However, as many of you know, things have begun to change under the Rahm Emanuel Administration.

On October 3, Emanuel’s “managed competition” program began. Now and for the next half year or so, public and private employees are engaged in a three-way fight for the right to run all or part of Chicago’s recycling program. Those workers are represented by the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation, and private companies Waste Management and Sims Metal Management Municipal Recycling.

At the outset, it seemed a foregone conclusion that city workers would never be competitive enough to hold onto their recycling jobs. However, a couple of weeks into the competition, the Sun-Times reported that city union workers were “holding their own” by working more efficiently and, remarkably, reducing the absenteeism rate to zero. It does make one wonder why that couldn’t have been done when those workers weren’t under the gun. But I digress.

Under Mayor Emanuel’s plan, the city has been divided into six areas, two served by city workers, three by Waste Management and one by Sims Metal Management. I’m pleased to be able to talk today to Tom Outerbridge, General Manager of the Municipal Recycling Division. We’ll see what the state of curbside recycling is a little more than a month since the start of managed competition.

Tomorrow, Monday, November 14th, the day beforef America Recycles Day, Sims will be doing an e-waste pick up and a full day of recycling education at Wadsworth School, at 6420 S University Avenue in Chicago. Given that education is such a vital part of any recycling program, it’s good to see Sims reaching out to this south side community.

Last but certainly not least, plastic bags have gotten back into the news, thanks to Alderman Proco Joe Moreno of the 1st Ward. He has proposed an ordinance that would outright ban them in the City of Chicago. In 2008, the City Council passed an ordinance that called for plastic bag recycling containers in retail or wholesale businesses other than food service establishments where 25% or more of gross sales include medicines (I never understood that part) and/or food.

Since its inception, the ordinance has been marked by confusion as to which businesses must recycle, and a general reluctance on the part of smaller companies to comply. In The 2010 Annual Plastic Bag Recycling Report Update, two items caught my eye:

The biggest difference from 2009 to 2010 is the increase in number of businesses reporting that they did not recycle any plastic bags, which went from 95 to 486. Based on phone calls and report entries, the primary reason for this was that although businesses placed a container in their store, customers did not return plastic bags.


The maximum amount reported in 2010 (Jewel Foods) is a business with multiple store locations across Chicago and accounts for 47% of the total weight reported. In addition, almost 90% of the plastic reported as recycled was from only five companies (Dominick’s, Jewel Foods, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, and GM Warehouse), all of which were either large-footprint stores and/or have multiple
locations in Chicago.

We’ll see just how much traction Alderman Moreno’s proposed ordinance has. Already, the dark side is making its voice heard.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
The latest on WCPT’s Holiday Harvest

Last week, Mike Sanders of Our Town joined me in studio to announce the WCPT Holiday Harvest, which we are doing in partnership with Faith in Place. Our goal is to do a drive that is “healthy, local and sustainable,” at least to the extent possible and practical. The drive will be from December 1 to December 11 of this year. On December 4, Mike Sanders and I will have a joint broadcast of Our Town and The Mike Nowak Show from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., when we will talk to food experts, our listeners, and perhaps even welcome people to the WCPT Studios parking lot to drop off their goodies.

Last week, on the Holiday Harvest page on this website, we discussed the importance of non-perishable protein. This week, the subject is preserved foods–dried and canned.

As I said last week, I’ve taken on this challenge as a chance to teach folks about the kinds of foods–and other goods–that can and should be donated to food pantries. It’s not simple, and I hope my listeners and followers on this site and on Facebook and Twitter will help me figure things out.

We are continuing to update the Holiday Harvest page, and I hope I hope you’ll check it out from time to time and begin gathering food to donate during our drive. We will have a number of drop off locations in the Chicago area, which we hope will make it easy for you to contribute to the cause. Our motto: Feed the Need. Thanks for whatever you can do.

Controversy in the local food universe

October 30, 2011

Michelle Obama fights food deserts…why is that controversial?

Here are some depressing statistics about Chicago’s food desert, as presented in a report released by Mari Gallahger Research & Consulting Group on October 24:

  • The Food Desert population could fill U.S. Cellular Field to capacity ten times over with its nearly 384,000 residents. 70 percent are African American.
  • Of that number, more than 124,000 are children, the population of Naperville, Illinois.
  • Chicago’s Food Desert children could fill to capacity 2,484 school buses. If all of these busses lined up bumper-to-bumper, they would stretch from President Obama’s Chicago house in Hyde Park, to City Hall on LaSalle Street, and then to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house.
  • Nearly 70,000 Food Desert households are headed by single women with children.
  • 40,000 Food Desert households do not own cars.

That being said, the study also revealed that the food desert has declined nearly 40 percent over the past five years. The report was released on Food Day, and a day before Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel held what he called a “Food Summit” with First Lady Michelle Obama, a group of U.S. mayors, CEOs of various food retailers (including Walmart and Deerfield-based Walgreens) and even some local food organizations, including Growing Power.

That same day, the City of Chicago website announced:

Today Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined First Lady Michelle Obama and executives from major grocery chains across the country to announce plans to open 36 new grocery stores in communities across Chicago: 17 traditional grocery stores and 19 expanded Walgreens Co. stores that include fresh food. The majority of the stores will be located in communities with food deserts, as part of the Administration’s ongoing commitment to expand access to fresh and healthy foods across in the city. The Mayor also announced that one of Chicago’s major urban farm networks, Growing Power, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Walgreens Co. and Aldi to increase access not only to locally grown produce, but to job opportunities and economic development across its farm locations in Chicago.

Wow. Cool beans. Let’s all sing Kumbaya and have some Quinoa and…um, cool beans.

So why did some of the subsequent coverage look like this?

Yikes. Okay, in the interest of being “fair and blanaced,” here’s one from the “other” side:

So what’s the problem? Personally, I think it’s pretty much the same old same old: too much money concentrated in the hands of too few, politicians working with the rich and powerful instead of listening to the communities, the fear that local institutions can be co-opted by what are large contributions for them but a pittance for the contributer, etc., etc. (See Occupy Wall Street.) It doesn’t help when Mayor Rahm Emanuel, according to an article by Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke in the Chicago Reader, seems to be a guy who’s more likely to pal around with multi-millionaires than community activists. Okay, that’s nothing new in Chicago politics, but it’s not encouraging.

So I urge you to take a look at this statement prepared by a group of those activists, Chicago’s Advocates for Urban Agriculture. I had a little to do with this document (I’m a signatory), but not very much, really. It outlines in a very clear way what many people who have been working in local, sustainable and urban agriculture have been preaching for years. Among the recommendations suggested by AUA:

This is a moment for redefinition of the city’s economic vision and policy, a window of opportunity for the establishment of neighborhood-based models and institutions. We urge that the City of Chicago:
• Direct the majority of federal, state, and local funds and investment mobilized for healthy food access to medium-scale and neighborhood-based owners and operators of food enterprises.
• Incentivize and expedite infrastructure for sites and systems, business ownership and ongoing support for neighborhood enterprises; and
• Hire a Food System and Enterprise Coordinator at the level of the Mayor’s office to oversee an inter-departmental accountability team and navigate among city, county, and extended region staff and functions: to solve problems, interpret between and among departments, Statement in Support of Local Food Economy in Chicago and seek coherent, comprehensive application of services and resources within all dimensions that impact the local food system.
• Complete a multi-stakeholder analysis of demand and supply chains to propose ways to provide as much food locally as needed and possible, produced at scale from hyper-local to regional and beyond.
• Work with a Chicago Food Council that is more fully representative and comprises practitioners, governmental officials, and neighborhood residents, and that operates within a responsive, transparent, and accountable communication and democratic decision-making structure.

If you feel strongly about the direction in which the food movement is headed and you agree with the proposals put forth by AUA, you are welcome to sign the document on behalf of yourself or your organization. Contact Martha Boyd: martha@learngrowconnect.org.

The Statement has been sent to the Mayor and First Lady, groups and lists, and interested members of the media. I ask you to send the statement to your friends and allies, aldermen and policymakers, and to talk with them about it and this growing coalition.

Eden Place Nature Center:
Making a difference on Chicago’s south side

Last week I had the priviledge of being invited to the Openlands 2011 Annual Luncheon, where more than 700 of this area’s foremost environmentalists renew their commitment to what is sometimes known as the Chicago Wilderness. And schmooze. And have some lunch. And perhaps one tiny little glass of wine. Good times.

This year’s event honored TreeKeepers, which has grown into an internationally renowned model for urban forestry. TreeKeepers classes have been attended more than 1,300 people including me (I’m TreeKeeper #417, thank you very much), representing a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and neighborhoods. Collectively, these volunteers have combated issues such as the emerald ash borer (EAB) , developed a community arboretum in North Lawndale, and undertaken a comprehensive tree inventory in Chicago parks. In 2010 TreeKeeper volunteers dedicated more than 15,000 volunteer hours to protecting our urban forests.

Also honored at the luncheon was Michael Howard, who received the Conservation Leadership Award for his work at Eden Place Nature Center in Chicago’s Fuller Park neighborhood. Howard has been described an an environmental hero for his work in changing a lead-choked brownfield into a place where the community can see and appreciate wetlands, monarch butterfly habitats, vegetable gardens–and even a solar bus theater.

Howard is one of those people who literally change the world around them, seemingly by force of will. I have interviewed him before, but not in too long a time. It’s a pleasure to welcome Michael and his wife and partner Amelia to the show.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
Faith in Place winter farmers markets are here

November can be the cruelest month, if only because so many farmers markets go away for the season. But not all of them. It’s that time of year for the Winter Farmers Markets, sponsored by Faith in Place.

Free and open to the public, these markets offer consumers an opportunity to purchase cheese, meat and poultry, soap, syrup, honey, wool, raw fibers, vinegars, dried fruits, milled flours, sauces and salsas, preserves, cider, and fresh produce as available.

For the farmers, there is no fee to participate, but they donate 10% of what they take in at the market (after a threshold amount) to the Illinois Farmer Crisis Fund. Modeled after Wisconsin’s Harvest of Hope Fund, the Farmer Crisis Fund will give monetary gifts of up to $1,000 to farmers in crisis due to illness or unexpected expenses. Through these markets, consumers continue to purchase farm-fresh items and cultivate relationships with local farmers beyond the summer farmers’ market season.

I’m delighted to have Robin Schirmer from Tomato Mountain Farm in Wisconsin and Leila Shooshani with Faith in Place’s Congregational Outreach & Support in the studio to talk about the upcoming markets. Here’s the schedule for November and December:

  • Sunday, Nov 6 | 12-3 pm
    Faith Lutheran Church, Brookfield
  • Sunday, Nov 13 | 12-3 pm
    UU Church of Elgin, Elgin
  • Sunday, Dec 4 | 10 am-2 pm
    North Shore Unitarian Church, Deerfield
  • Sunday, Dec 11 | 11:30 am-3pm
    First Evangelical Free Church, Chicago
  • Saturday, Dec 17 | 10 am-2 pm
    Church of St. Benedict, Bolingbrook

I also have a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT about The Mike Nowak Show and Faith in Place…maybe I’ll announce it on Sunday morning, and maybe I won’t. So there.