The Rosewood Beach Project. Talk about Down the Drain in HP! More than 1000 Highland Park voices have been unilaterally determined to be “obsolete ” by the Highland Park Park District (HPPD). Starts me thinking about just who is really obsolete in HP…could it be the Park District Board of Commissioners?
The HPPD is scheduled to decide tonight (8/23/2012) on the Rosewood Beach Project that most notably includes the alleged Interpretive Center.* While we won't know for several hours the HPPD Commissioners' decision, clearly they consider about 4% of HP’s population (and a much larger percentage of its voters) to be absolutely irrelevant and obsolete.
In a August 22, 2012 letter, the Executive Director of theHPPD, Liza McElroy, tells Amy Lohmolder (who submitted a letter on behalf of the Ravinia Neighbors Association – the RNA) that “…your email is inaccurate in describing the purported “significant” public opposition to the Rosewood Beach Project…The opposition petitions you cite address an obsolete and now-abandoned plan that is significantly different from that which the Park District of Highland Park is now considering…The vast majority of the signatures on the RNA’s petitions were obtained well before the Task Force presented even its preliminary recommendation to the public in May of 2012…”
I’ve news for Ms. McElroy and the HPPD Commissioners: there isn’t “purported” significant public opposition, it is actual significant opposition, and sticking your head in the Rosewood Beach sand doesn't make it go away.
Of course, Ms. McElroy is right about the sequencing of the RNA petition. Can't address whether more or less of them were made previously or recently. Yes, the HPPD held all the cards very close to its vest until recently when the RNA gained enough prominence to ensure that the HPPD would make the process more purportedly “transparent.” By the way, the process has hardly been transparent -- the public meetings consist of residents expressing their frustration or their support and the HPPD Commissioners, staff and consultants not answering any questions. Incredibly, pro forma financials were not presented until the last meeting and at the last minute -- no one in the room could really even ask a question of the financials being presented on the way in the door. Additionally, the RNA had to submit FOIA requests just to get basic information from the HPPD. So much for transparency.
Ms. McElroy is absolutely wrong about any obsolescence of those signatures on the RNA petition. A unifying point for all the people who signed that petition, whenever they signed it, was and is that they were and are opposed to an "Interpretive Center" -- an unnecessary building on the beach of any size intended for class rooms, parties, rentals, etc., as well as any overbuilding on Rosewood. The people who signed those petitions continue to be supportive of the admirable job the RNA has been doing of looking out for the best interests of all HP residents when it is clear that the HPPD isn’t.
The HPPD can’t stick its head in the Rosewood Beach sand and pretend that the 1000+ people who signed the RNA petition and who oppose the beach house don’t really mean it anymore. We did, we do.
The HPPD has all the signatures, phone numbers and, likely, e-mails for all signatures on the petition. They certainly haven’t contacted me to determine whether I am still opposed to a Interpretive Center on the beach. Whether it is 4000 sq. ft. or 1900 sq. ft., whether you call it the Interpretive Center or the beach house, my signature on the petition is still good as are all the rest (and, if there is an exception to that rule, it would be just that, an exception). If we need a referendum concerning the beach house, bring it on!
We can assume that Ms. McElroy issued her letter with review and authorization by Scott Meyers, the President of the HPPD Board ofCommissioners. Perhaps even full Board approval for such a sensitive issue was required. Or, if Ms. McElroy sent it on her own, shame on her! In any event, let's hold the responsible people accountable.
Many in HP may not be familiar with your Park Board. In addition to Mr. Meyers, the Board of Park Commissioners include Cal Bernstein, Lori Flores Weisskopf, Elaine Waxman and Brian Kaplan. Remember these names because they will likely be presented again for another election to the HPPD or elsewhere in the City or County. Hold them accountable for their votes on the Rosewood Beach Project. Remember that one of the best HP City Councilmen (ever!) lost an election in 2009 by only 10 votes. Remember these names. Your 1000+ votes count. Hold your Park Board Commissioners accountable for how they treat you, your neighbors, your Park District and your funds. They are elected by us, and it is our job to ensure that the right people sit in the seats -- people who can be good stewards of our tax dollars.
In a few hours, in a forum designed to give the impression of a transparent process, the residents who still have the patience to show up will be afforded their last opportunity to speak before the HPPD. As before, each one will be given 2 or 3 minutes to voice his concerns and then HPPD Commissioners will finally answer a the ultimate question. Beach house or no beach house? Improvements or no improvements for Rosewood Beach? Yes, President Scott Meyers told us at the last meeting that the beach house simply cannot be carved out of the plan (which may be procedurally correct on an initial vote, but a second vote could be called to adopt the compromise plan without a beach house).
Regardless of the outcome, whether you are glad or not, please remember there are a few issues that go beyond the decision:
- The HPPD has shown 1000+ residents extraordinary and lasting disrespect
- The process has been lacking in transparency
- The HPPD has been intransigent about the beach house from the outset, causing extreme divisiveness in the community and, as a result,
- There has been entirely too much focus on the Beach House, leaving the very real environmental issues concerning the habitat restoration and engineering project for the shoreline left largely unattended by all.
Shameful conduct by the HPPD.
*Regarding the alleged Interpretive Center, really, it appears that it was always intended to be more of a beach house for residents to rent for parties than a center to learn about the beach environment, because, after all, if you want to learn about the beach environment, you’re not sitting inside a building on the beach! This, of course, raises all sorts of questions about the good faith of the HPPD in dealing with residents and the government grantors. At the first HPPD open meeting there were several people passionately supportive about the ability to bring students to the beach's "Interpretive Center", as if that were the primary purpose, and it isn’t. The primary purpose is rentals. Likely one of the reasons the HPPD finally flopped the sham name to the "Beach House."