PEORIA, IL -- Democracy may be in jeopardy in Washington DC, but in Peoria it still functions.
The candidates in contested races for the Peoria City Council in the municipal election ending April 4 met in a three hour event on March 23, sponsored by the Peoria NAACP and an activist sorority, the Deltas. A very large audience witnessed the forum.
It proved to be fascinating and enlightening. All of the candidates sounded sane and thoughtful.
Here is a recording of the candidates for mayor:
Here is the recording of the city council candidates:
Some of the questions asked of the candidates were a bit vague or squishy, and the candidates, like true politicians, knew how to dodge giving a 'yes' or 'no' answer to many of them. I didn't detect any outright lies in the answers. There were some omissions, however.
The mayor's race pits incumbent Jim Ardis against challenger Couri Thomas. Ardis is smooth and knows a lot, including where the bodies are buried. (joke). He has strong ties to the police and fire unions, and likely will be reelected.
Thomas can be incoherent and doesn't know enough. He's a young black man, who may be able to learn on the job if elected. He has one great point in his favor -- he opposes the awful apartments in Riverfront Park, and would be a vote on the council to drop the project.
Ardis has a problematic history that was ignored during the forum. First, there was the serious civil liberties and free speech violation that cost the city some $500,000, the Twittergate scandal, where he sent police to arrest a young guy who put up a mock Twitter account in Ardis' name, a practice that is widespread with celebrities.
The ACLU sued, the city settled. Ardis ignored calls to resign this awful abuse of power.
Then Ardis touted the River Trail apartments after taking a campaign contribution from one of the developers. (Others also took the contributions.) That should be made illegal. The project is still in limbo before the National Park Service and a lawsuit against it is likely if the NPS approves it.
There's also the bankruptcy of the Marriott Hotel project with the city on the hook for $7 million -- still unresolved.
A question did come up about failed city projects with developers, and the answer was that this happens because of incompetent vetting or cronyism or both, David Berry said.
Other highlights from the comments: Rob Hanauer: "I don't lie to get votes."
John Kelly: "No public risk for private profit."
Zack Oyler: "Eighty percent of the time people don't move into Peoria because of the schools. We need to better promote the schools."
Ardis: "Punishing bad landlords needs to be done" (with fines, though he could do that now).
Thomas: "I am a fresh face, a different direction."
The group mostly supported a study on whether to buy the water company, if someone else, not the city, will pay for it.
So after all this, here are my recommendations, based on opposition to the River Trail apartments in Riverfront Park. These candidates all oppose those apartments and will vote to stop the project. That's something concrete, not fine words about punishing landlords or promoting entrepreneurs to create jobs.
Mayor: Thomas. He likely will learn on the job. Ardis has too much baggage, too many mistakes in judgment.
At large: Rob Hanauer, John Kelly, Zach Oyler. (Your vote has more power if you vote for only one candidate).
District l: David Berry.
District 4:Either Jim Montelongo or Mike Eddleman, though Eddleman has been opposed from the beginning, and Montelongo took a developer's contribution and voted for the apartments. He now says he's changed his mind.
District 5: Rita Ali.
There were a few mild confrontations with the audience, when some shouted out comments. There are more forums before the election. See the coming post on those.
-- Elaine Hopkins
PEORIA, IL -- A large audience attended the final Peoria City Council candidate forum on Feb. 23, even though it was not nearly as interesting as the previous forum.
The six at-large candidates spoke first, followed by the three District 4 candidates.Perhaps they learned a little from sitting through the boring six, as they were more specific in their answers.
The incumbent, Jim Montelongo, is being challenged by Mike Eddlemon and Benjamin Thornton. The two challengers spoke eloquently about keeping Riverfront Park a park, and not letting it be destroyed by apartments.
Montelongo was not as forthcoming. He initially voted for the apartments in the park, but now says the scheme has dragged on too long and is costing the city too much. But will he vote to drop the contract rather than extend it? He didn't say.
He touted his efforts in organizing neighborhood associations and business associations in his district, and has coffee with constituents weekly, a good idea.
The two challengers complained about the bad condition of the roads, and wondered why Peoria spends money on consultants to tell them which roads to fix when the bad conditions are apparent.
Here is a recording of their comments:
The at-large candidates spoke mainly in the usual generalities, but the questions they were asked were weak. When that occurs it's difficult to understand which candidates should be elected.
The Riverfront Park apartments did not come up during the questions. But that's a key issue, in that it shows how a candidate can deal with a contentious issue, instead of asserting obvious generalities such as more jobs are needed.
Here is a recording of the at-large candidates comment.
You can also watch the video on the Change Peoria Facebook page here.
-- Elaine Hopkins
PEORIA, IL -- An impressive group of liberals stood with Amr Elsamny on Nov. 21, as he announced his run for an open seat on the Peoria City Council. The election is next spring.
Elsamny, 36, would be the first Muslim elected to the council if he wins a seat. He is the fourth candidate running for two at-large seats.
At his official news conference to announce his run, Elsamny said he was born in Egypt, brought to the US as a child, and has lived in Peoria for a decade. He has also lived in several other cities. "I feel Peoria has a lot of potential," he said.
He spoke of an aggressive effort to find jobs for Peoria's minority community, saying that more jobs will decrease crime. The entire community also needs to be united, he said.
"Minorities feel like they are left out and the government does not care" about them, he said."We can help them be entrepreneurs," he said.
Peoria recently was name one of the worst cities in the U.S. for black residents.
Elsamny did not take questions, but he told me that he opposes the apartments in Riverfront Park and would vote to withdraw the application to give the parkland to developers. The National Park Service has to approve the application since the land was purchased using federal funds.
Elsamny is President and Global Project Director for a not-for-profit group, Mercy for Mankind.
-- Elaine Hopkins
PEORIA, IL -- With poise and razor sharp language Peoria City Council member-at-large Beth Akeson apologized, clarified and explained a couple or recent Twitter comments that some criticized as racist.
Her August 9 news conference in City Hall drew an overflow audience of activists and interested people, as well as the local news media. It soon became clear that some of the activists, who said they are members of the local Black Lives Matter group, were concerned with more than Akeson's unfortunate comments.
They want support from City Hall, some said. "Since we don't own homes down there (Southtown) we don't take care of it," one admitted. "Tell us where the money is," she said. "We're not asking for a handout."
Another said "nobody comes out to help our community."
The woman, a teacher, said "girls feel like our lives don't matter."
(My take here -- that's sad, but they should stop worrying about what others think and learn and achieve something.)
"You didn't validate how I felt," said one, responding to Akeson's detailed explanation, that when she criticized Black Lives Matter after the Dallas police shooting, it was because she saw people on television advocating violence against the police. She later learned that these were fringe characters who were not part of the group's platform, she said.
(My take -- has anyone seen the recent take down on "feelings" as opposed to facts on the John Oliver TV show? Facts win every time.)
Akeson,a Republican but liberal on some social issues, is a strong supporter of urban planning, historic preservation, and other measures that make a city desirable. She works for those goals, she said, but is only "one person out of 11" council members.
She criticized Peoria's "slum landlords" whose tenants may live in terrible conditions.
She had been supporting Donald Trump, she said. But since he lately went "off the rails," she likely will vote for the Libertarian candidate, she said.
She turned to Twitter to express her opinion about a Fox TV show, she said, though she watches all the TV networks, both liberal and conservative.
She had done 842 Tweets, but "nobody ever paid attention." Then a couple of Tweets went viral, drawing so many obscene and vulgar comments that she shut down the account, she said.
But it's not all bad. This an opportunity to talk about race and poverty, she said, and engage people "who feel like they are not heard."
She will hold a Town Hall meeting soon, she said, for more discussion. "Too many people are afraid to talk about these things."
Change is messy, she said. "I am willing to be one of the people that moves in the right direction....If you really want change, you suffer the consequences."
Here is a recording of the first hour of the news conference.
Here's the later version of the PJS story on the event.
-- Elaine Hopkins
Updated 1/17/16. Wednesday, Jan. 20 is the last Riverfront Park hearing. Written comment deadline is Jan. 25. See below:
PEORIA, IL --From various sources:
The River Trail Luxury Apartments proposed for Riverfront Park have a long way to go yet and this issue definitely is not over.
Information from http://www.peoriagov.org/riverfrontpark/· January 6, 2016, 6:00 p.m., City Hall, Room 400, Public Meeting On Concept Plan For Replacement Property· January 20, 2016, 6:00 p.m., City Hall, Room 400, Public Meeting on Concept Plan For Conversion Property· January 25, 2016, 5:00 p.m. Deadline For Comments
PEORIA, IL -- Here's another news release from Friends of Riverfront Park concerning the apartment project proposed there.
It's also a letter to the Peoria City Council, urging an independent opinion from the Illinois Attorney General's Charitable Trust Bureau as to whether the Detweiller Playground land is eligible to be used as replacement property for the acres lost to the proposed apartment project.
Friends of Riverfront Park believes it cannot be used, as it is already land in public use.
FRIENDS OF RIVERFRONT PARK
An examination of facts reveals that the City of Peoria should immediately halt a proposed land swap seeking to replace lost Riverfront parkland for a privately owned apartment complex known as River Trail Development. There are insurmountable problems in the proposal.
Taxpayer money spent to date is likely wasted because the replacement land is ineligible to meet legal requirements.
Here are the facts:
The land owned by Detweiller Playground is already impressed by law for use as public parkland. In order to remove public parkland for the apartment complex, it must be replaced with private land newly designated for park space. That’s clearly not the case here.
Apparently, city staff suspected in March 2015 that the Detweiller Playground land was already impressed by law as public park use and is therefore likely to be ineligible to meet the replacement requirement. In fact, city staff expressed concern to a representative of Detweiller Playground and said, “A seminal question when it comes to IDNR might be (and I don’t know this for sure) is whether this land is already restricted as open space.” Why didn’t staff seek a legal opinion from the Illinois Charitable Trust Bureau to determine if the swap was feasible? Instead, staff spent taxpayer money on appraisals, purchase options, environmental analysis, architect fees and staff resources.
Reviewing the history of Detweiller Playground reinforces the flaws in this proposed land swap:
In his 1947 will, Thomas Detweiller provided for the establishment of the Detweiller Playground and gave the organization all his assets. These include the parcels of Illinois riverfront land that the City of Peoria now wants to purchase. However, Mr. Detweiller states “It is (my) desire and purpose to have the land that I own along the Illinois River in the City of Peoria made available for playground and recreation purposes for the Peoria Community.” The Articles of Incorporation of the Detweiller Playground follow Mr. Detweiller’s will, designating their property and assets for public park use.
In 1972, Detweiller Playground received an IRS designation as a 509 (a)(3) Type III FISO supporting not-for-profit organization that operates for the benefit of the Peoria Park District, a public entity. This designation creates a functionally integrated relationship between Detweiller Playground and the Peoria Park District. As a supporting organization, Detweiller Playground can only take actions that support or benefit the Peoria Park District.
Only the City of Peoria can tell us why when these facts have been known and led to questions about whether this land swap was ineligible, the city moved forward spending taxpayer dollars.
We urge the Peoria City Council to direct staff to stop this process and seek an independent opinion from the Illinois Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Bureau. The public has a right to read the complete opinion of the Attorney General’s office.
PEORIA, IL -- If the city of Peoria and its hapless residents thought the fight to save Riverfront Park from luxury apartments was over, they're wrong.
Friends of Riverfront Park held a news conference on Dec. 14, where they advanced several theories about saving the park from the apartments, and issued a detailed statement showing how it could be done.
Here's the statement. It's long -- written by a committee to guarantee accuracy -- but worth reading.
(Full disclosure -- I'm part of the ad hoc group Friends of Riverfront Park.)
-- Elaine Hopkins
Saving Riverfront Park: Evaluating the Replacement Land
The Peoria City Council voted to remove more than six acres of public recreational open space in Riverfront Park by selling land to a private developer. The developer’s plan is to build luxury four-story apartment buildings, which includes a road at taxpayer expense cutting through the park to the private apartments. This Council action involves a complicated and mandatory land conversion and replacement approval process.
In the 1980’s, the City sought and received federal Land and Water Conservation (LWCF) funds to acquire and develop a park. Documents show that the City signed federal grant contracts to “develop a passive park and support facilities…for public outdoor recreation,” creating Riverfront Park. By accepting these federal funds, the city agreed to keep this land as public recreational open space.
The City’s choice of replacement land must be approved by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the National Park Service (NPS), whose regulations must be followed to protect taxpayer’s interest and investment in the land.
City staff has already conducted public meetings to discuss possible uses of the proposed replacement parcels. We have identified several important steps that the City is required to follow. We have concerns about the implementation of these steps.
In addition, the Detweiller Playground since 1972, has been designated by the IRS as a 509 (a) (3) –Type III FISO, a supporting not for profit organization for the benefit of the Peoria Park District. This designation creates a functionally integrated relationship with the Peoria Park District.
The City must ensure that any proposed land replacement property is not already recognized for public use.
Practical Alternatives to the Proposed Conversion Document
The City must make the case to the IDNR and NPS, by providing a written analysis and documentation that alternative sites for the proposed conversion, including private property, are inadequate.
The City has only identified the Simantel property for analysis and rejection. The City does not provide clear identification nor rejection on a sound basis for any other alternative development sites.
The City has artificially created Riverfront apartment demand without any supporting documentation. They also redefined “Downtown Peoria” to extend to Riverfront Park when their Tracy Cross study defined “Downtown Peoria” as being from I-74 and south to State Street, including the Warehouse District. The Tracy Cross study does not include statistics or analysis nor need for residential development of Riverfront Park which is north of I-74.
The City in this document has artificially narrowed the definition of the type of property that is acceptable for new residential development so that the only land that can meet their narrow definition is land in Riverfront Park. As far back as 2008, the City has marketed Riverfront Park for residential development. This is an inappropriate targeting of Riverfront Park as the sole site for this project. This course of action runs counter to the intent of the Land and Water Conservation funds which were used to purchase and develop this land. Over the course of more than 30 years, Peorians have come to expect that Riverfront Park would remain public recreational open space.
Federal regulations require that a critical first step is for the City, State and NPS to agree on the size of the Section 6(f) park land impacted by any proposed conversion to non- recreation, non-public use. Up to this day, the City has only approved a preliminary plat of proposed River Trail Development. Thus, we do not know the exact acreage to be cut out of the park for private for- profit use.
The City has indicated that it will only be conducting a survey of one of the parcels from the Detweiller Playground. How can accurate appraisals be conducted if the City does not know the exact boundaries for all of the proposed conversion and replacement properties?
The City has indicated that it will be adding ½ of Spring Street to both the Simantel and Detweiller Playground properties. This proposed action is against the public’s interest as it inflates the fair market values of all the proposed replacement properties. This future and yet to be decided city council action masks the negotiated price the City has agreed to pay to purchase these properties.
The City has already negotiated purchase prices for the proposed replacement parcels without any appraisals and relied on a 2011 appraisal for the proposed portion of Riverfront Park to be sold.
Current surveys are essential for the mandated appraisals to be accurate. These surveys will show how much land will be lost by the building of the 1/3 mile long road, the guest parking, the apartment buildings, orphan properties, etc. Orphan properties are created when roadways dissect or deleterious environmental conditions are created in the Park in any manner. Some of the existing Riverfront Park will be cut off from Park use and these orphan properties must be included in the total acreage of replacement land.
It is well documented that the replacement land has regularly experienced flooding on over 40% of its surface area in the past 10 years, while the existing proposed Riverfront Park conversion land has not flooded in at least 35 years. The public cannot realistically use this flooded area for up to six to eight weeks during that time.
If floodwalls or placement of fill are part of the plan for the proposed replacement parcels, the US Army Corps of Engineers must pre-approve both their design and any changes in the Peoria Lake floodplain. These changes would be very expensive and difficult to achieve.
Eliminating any floodplain land is a poor way to reduce flooding, and seems to contradict the City’s application to the US EPA with its promise to create an ecologically friendly storm water management plan.
An environmental analysis for each of the proposed converted and replacement sites must be conducted, and the City has indicated that this process is under way. The impact of the converted portion of the Park on the remaining park must be considered. This includes items such as noise, light, creating orphan park property, etc.
The impact of the extension of Water Street, added traffic and pedestrian safety issues for the Riverplex users must be included. The Riverplex was the first conversion of Riverfront Park and now the proposed private River Trail Development is not only eating away the Park, it will have an adverse impact on this first conversion, the Riverplex. The Peoria Park District recognized this negative impact and voted against the River Trail Development if it included the Water Street extension.
Federal regulations also require that the environmental analysis must address known brownfield conditions including potential buried hazardous waste, potential damage to or excess drainage into the Illinois River. Remediation will be necessary at an additional cost, which has not yet been calculated. A funding source also has not been identified, important during Peoria’s challenging economic outlook. We are concerned that money already publically earmarked for brownfield remediation in the Warehouse District will be diverted to the proposed replacement land.
Due to the complexity and volume of documents to be released, we request that the City realize the importance and value of public comment and increase this required comment period to 60 days.
Our research indicates that there is no documentation that an archeological assessment of all proposed conversion and replacement parcels has ever been conducted. This is part of the NPS and IDNR application process.
In November 2001, IDOT sponsored an archaeological study on nearby Adams Street that confirmed a portion of the location of the oldest French settlement and fort in Peoria, dating from the 17th century. It is located no more than 1,500 feet from the middle of the proposed conversion properties.
Sadly, no archeological evaluation of this portion of the entire Riverfront Park appears to have been completed. This omission should be corrected and included as part of the required application process.
Replacement Land Can Not Already be Designated for Public Use
It appears that the Detweiller Playground’s property is ineligible to be used as replacement property.
The Detweiller Playground (DP) Board of Directors which has agreed to sell three of the four replacement parcels to the City, is a not for profit organization. The DP was established after the death of Thomas H Detweiller in 1947 and received all of his assets. Mr. Detweiller’s will is very specific in defining his wishes for the use of his assets, including his land. In his will, Mr. Detweiller states:
“…at the present time there is very little access to the river front for the community and very little ground or land along the river available for recreation and playground purposes. It is my desire and purpose to have the land that I own along the Illinois River in the City of Peoria made available for playground and recreation purposes for the Peoria Community…”
The Articles of Incorporation of the DP designates that all of their property be for public use and recreation per Mr. Detweiller’s will.
In addition, the DP since 1972, has been designated by IRS as a 509 (a) (3) –Type III FISO, supporting not-for-profit organization for the benefit of the Peoria Park District, a public entity. This designation creates a functionally integrated relationship between the DP and the Peoria Park District. In addition, the IRS regulations state that the Peoria Park District as a supported organization must have a significant voice in the investment policies of the supporting organization, the timing of grants and generally the use of the income or assets of the supporting organization. Operationally, the DP as the supporting organization must engage solely in activities that support or benefit its supported organization, the Peoria Park District. Thus, it is likely that since 1972, the DP proposed replacement parcels have been designated for public recreational open space by virtue of the DP corporation’s supporting organization relationship with the Peoria Park District.
A bike trail used by the public apparently is on a parcel of the DP property proposed as replacement land.
The City must ensure that all proposed replacement property land is not already recognized as public open space, the federal regulations say.
IDNR requires and the City of Peoria has promised to hold a public hearing about this project. We request that this public hearing be properly noticed and be held no sooner than 60 days after all required land conversion and replacement documents have been released to the public and placed in a prominent place on the City’s web site.
Friends of Riverfront Park will continue to research other applicable state and federal regulations that apply to the LWCF conversion process.
We hope that the City will approve our request for both a 60 day public written comment period of the environmental analysis as well as holding a public hearing no sooner than 60 days after all required land conversion and replacement documents have been released to the public and placed in a prominent place on the City’s web site.
Friends of Riverfront Park maintains that the highest and best use for Riverfront Park is public recreational open space instead of being transformed into a dead-end public roadway that leads to private apartment buildings for a privileged few.
Here's the Journal Star's story on the news conference.
Here's WEEK-TV's coverage.
PEORIA, IL -- The city of Peoria has set a public hearing at 5:30 pm on Wednesday Nov. 4 in the Gateway Building to let the public say what it wants in the new park, to be created so seven acres acres of Riverfront Park can be sold to well connected developers for apartments.
Let's see -- grass that can withstand flooding? That's about it.
About 40 percent of the proposed site floods every time there is a flood, roughly every two or three years. Riverfront Park never floods.
Here are 2 photos of the 2015 flooding, at the century old Peoria Boat Club site, which will be taken if this scheme occurs, and the foot of Spring Street, the other proposed site:
Flooding 2015 at the Boat Club
Flooding 2015 at the foot of Spring Street
-- Elaine Hopkins
Here's the city's press release:
OFFICE OF THE CITY MANAGER
Peoria City Hall
419 Fulton Street, Suite 207, Peoria, IL 61602
Phone: (309) 494-8524 Fax: (309) 494-8559
PEORIA – The City of Peoria will be hosting a public planning session regarding the extension of Riverfront Park on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at 5:30 p.m. in the ballroom of the Gateway Building (200 NE Water Street). The City is seeking input from the community regarding what recreational and design elements should be included in this new park area.
The City has identified approximately 8 acres of property immediately adjacent to Riverfront Park that will serve as an extension of the park. The proposed new park, a combination of private property and currently unimproved public property, will add an additional 750 linear feet of access to the Illinois River. It will also ensure public ownership of the entire river front from I-74 to Detweiller Marina.
The planning event will allow citizens and other stakeholders to share their thoughts about the design of this new area. Facilitated small group discussions will yield input on landscaping, recreational elements, interaction with the water and other park elements. The City will also use an Internet-based survey to solicit ideas from those who cannot make the meeting.
This survey will launch the week of November 2, 2015. Designers will incorporate community preferences into a master plan and budget that will be presented to the public. Project information will be housed on the City’s website: www.peoriagov.org/riverfrontpark.
As part of the River Trail project, the City needs to acquire property to convert into recreational open space in order to compensate for the loss of parkland to the development. The City will need the approval of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and National Park Service (NPS) in order to finalize the land swap.
A key step in obtaining that approval is submitting a plan for how this newly acquired property will be improved into a park. While creating an improvement plan is a critical activity, the City is pursuing the other steps in obtaining the proper approvals that will allow the River Trail project to proceed.
The City will host at least one public hearing, separate from the upcoming planning session, which will allow citizens the opportunity to support, oppose or otherwise comment on the entire conversion. That date has not yet been set.
Questions can be directed to Christopher Setti, Assistant City Manager, at (309) 494-8618 or email@example.com.
Here's the map from the news release:
PEORIA, IL -- The rumors were true!
The Daily Show on the Comedy Central cable channel has done a comedy sketch on Peoria's very own scandal, Twittergate.
The sketch ran on the Oct. 15 show, which repeats throughout the day on Oct. 16.
It's pretty good, not great, but worth watching.
-- Elaine Hopkins
Here are a couple of links: