Monday, December 29, 2008

The House on Clifton Responds to City Hall, August 27, 2007

The plan was to give the readers exact copies of letters with the simple double click of a hyperlink. After finding that the Google Docs technology did not work as anticipated with regard to sharing PDFs, the next adventure will be through Adobe. Meanwhile, readers have not been able to access the documents referred to yesterday. Very frustrating!

So, while still trying to fix this technical glitch, following is a "cut and paste" version of the first letter my brother sent to the City of Highland Park, after receiving the City's demand that he sign a "Temporary License." The letter was addressed to Mary Anderson, with copies to Mayor Belsky, all City Councilmen and the Corporation Counsel. If this is your first visit to the blog, please be sure to go back and read previous entries. Thanks for taking the time to be informed. Please share your comments.

From the home on Clifton Avenue to:

Ms. Mary Anderson August 27, 2007
Director of Public Works
City of Highland Park
1150 Half Day Road
Highland Park, IL 60035

Dear Ms. Anderson,

The City of Highland Park and the Department of Public Works have notified me in various mailings that repair work related to storm sewers and “sanitary service lines” is being planned for the Sunset Woods neighborhood and a few other select neighborhoods. I have serious concerns and objections about the work that is planned, apparently now contracted, and the way it has been “proposed” to various homeowners by the City of Highland Park and Department of Public Works. As it appears that the City Council voted on many of the related issues, Mayor Michael Belsky and the City Council members are copied on this letter, as well as the Corporation Counsel.

I, and other homeowners as a class, have been told that our service lines need to be repaired based on tests that were conducted; and that we as the homeowners must bear at least 80% of the financial burden of paying for those repairs. To date, we have never been told specifically the results and findings of the “testing,” house by house, the nature of the specific problem with our particular line, where it was in the line, and precisely what work would be done to correct the problem if a city contractor performed the work.

With the original notification, not only were we not told the specifics of the problem, the City had not yet selected a contractor (one must assume this is done by competitive bidding but information about the bidders has not been shared with homeowners) who would outline the nature the of the work to be done for each line, for each homeowner, and provide a specific and detailed bill for the anticipated work. Detailed information about those bids is relevant to the homeowners, as each repair may differ, and especially if resident homeowners wish to contract with any other service provider at less cost.

The City of Highland Park has provided only very limited information, without any detail to which we are entitled. Individual homeowners were originally informed only that they would be held financially responsible for some undefined “sanitary service line work” contracted by the City to be done on our respective private properties. Furthermore, we were originally informed that we would be required to sign a “Temporary License for Sanitary Sewer Testing and Repair Work” (“Temporary License”). This license agreement was little more than an unreasonable blanket waiver of all rights and claims against, and a complete indemnification of, the City and the contractors. The demand was made with the threat against the homeowners that, should they not sign this agreement on the City’s schedule, they would suffer from a “violation notice with [a] time frame to correct and no City cost share” as well as “fines and penalties which may include water shutoff.” Serious demands, serious threats – all without the City providing a stitch of relevant information to the homeowners about cost, results of testing, or specifics concerning individual properties.

One doubts whether the Mayor or any member of the City Council has received such a notice for their own homes. If any have, one could only question their judgment and knowledge of the way a city government should work for the benefit of its residents. Further, the initial message sent to the taxpaying voters and homeowners of the Highlands, Ridgeway and Sunset Woods focused on “financing options” including “1) payment in full at the time of improvements; 2) property owner-secured home equity financing; 3) the City-subsidized low interest loan program available through the First Bank of Highland Park.” (How was the First Bank of Highland Park chosen over other area banks? Who decided on the percentage of the loan? The City again has not been forthcoming and we have a right to expect answers.) The amount of these costs remained a mystery through several letters to these homeowners, until, finally, in an August 15, 2007 letter – within 15 days of the date in which the City demands a return of the “Temporary License” -- the City reveals to the homeowner a glimpse of financial burden: “We understand an exact amount may not be known, however the City feels no individual service repair will exceed $10,000.”

In case the City has not been paying attention to the news, there is a serious credit problem in the housing market now. Homes are losing their value. Credit is crunched. How many residents will be pushed over the edge based on this unreasonable demand for unbudgeted and unanticipated expenses demanded by the City?

Whom should the homeowner trust to ensure that the (as yet unspecified) work is done properly and for fair value? The City which has apparently bungled this matter from the outset? The audacity of requesting that residents sign a waiver and indemnify the City was just a small part of the mismanagement of this issue. Fortunately, it seems that other residents spoke up and the City has now backed off from that thoughtless, capricious and unfair demand – which until a few days ago had the imprimatur of City Hall and the threat of penalties and water shut off for refusal to sign.

I hope that my fellow residents of Highland Park will reject this action taken by the City, based on the inherent unfairness of the proposal, as well as its lack of specific information and the considerable financial burden that will be placed on homeowners for making these repairs.

The City needs to have a historic perspective on the issues at hand. When my parents built the home at xxxx Clifton Avenue during 1954/55, the home, including its sanitary system, was built according to City code. From the time the house was built, there were serious issues and problems pertaining to storm and sanitary sewers in Sunset Woods and several other neighborhoods in the City. Year after year, my parents paid their taxes, asked for relief and infrastructure appropriate for our neighborhood yet these issues were neglected by the City. This is a situation which many of my fellow neighbors throughout the City are very familiar with in their neighborhoods, with their homes, particularly those who’ve been a part of this community for many years. I have been the tax paying owner of the house for many years and I and my neighbors deserve to be treated fairly, and not by fiat. The City should have budgeted to address the storm and sanitary sewers rather than foist, what the City calls, this “unexpected expenditure” on individual homeowners.

Indeed, instead of the City resolving the issues with taxes, it continues to allow the builders to increase the density of Highland Park beyond the ability of the infrastructure to absorb the increased population. And, it has allowed for more impervious surfaces, more houses, condominiums, commercial development, parking lots, placing greater demands on streets, sanitary lines, storm sewers, flood plains. It requires new and remodeled homes to hook up to the storm sewers. It is hardly equitable that the City is going to homeowners of older properties and demanding that we bear the financial responsibility for this management of storm sewers. The work to be done is intended to benefit the whole and the whole should pay for it.

It is inappropriate to demand that residents sign agreements and proceed with significant financial decisions based on a lack of information. Please provide the results of the testing done at my property, describe the work to be done, provide an accurate estimate for it which any reputable contractor would have provided by now and disclose the contractor(s), so I can call others to seek other bids.

I also request that you provide the names and contact information for all homeowners who have been contacted by the City with regard to these repairs. If the City Council does not take care of these issues, it will be appropriate to reach out to everyone who is affected by the City’s demands.

The residents of Highland Park deserve a plan for infrastructure that’s equitable, not an ad hoc “plan,” hastily construed, that’s imposed without regard to what’s fair and reasonable. When the City of Highland Park provides the requested and specific information for our home (and would expect no less for our fellow homeowners) and can answer some of the troubling questions raised, I will then decide the best alternatives to pursue concerning repairs.


Cc: Mayor Michael Belsky; Council Members: Michael Brenner, Terri Olian, Scott Levenfeld, Steven Mandel, Lawrence Silberman, James Kirsch; Corporation Counsel, Steven Elrod.

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