Monday, December 29, 2008

Open your checkbook, the City “feels” it won’t cost you more than $10,000…

So, let's get started with correspondence between the City of HP and "Clifton Avenue" in Sunset Park.

[After publishing the blog entry today, the blogger finds that does not allow for unrestricted viewing of PDF documents. Accordingly, some of the hyperlinks below will not work. So, if you would like access to them, you'll need to send me an e-mail at to request access that will be gladly given. The blogger will respect your privacy, will not develop a mailing list from requests, and will not share the e-mail addresses with anyone absent a court order. If anyone has a better idea of how to post the correspondence, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll start to copy the language for you soon.]

On August 15, 2007, the house on Clifton received a letter from City Hall to notify the resident that the City of HP had "awarded a contract to Performance Pipelining Incorporated…expected to begin repair work in September and finish late October or early November." The letter stated that, "at the homeowners request," City staff had explored creating a Special Service Area (SSA) as alternative funding. It is reasonable to infer from this August 15 letter that residents had already complained to the City about charging residents directly for infrastructure repairs and for placing upon the homeowners such a large, unanticipated and unbudgeted expense.

Staff determined that a SSA was not feasible, which makes sense if the plan affects the entire municipality. Yet, it appears in the Master Plan for Storm and Sanitary Sewers that certain neighborhoods had been "targeted." (Is it just a coincidence that no neighborhoods east of the railway tracks had been targeted, even though they contain some of the oldest homes and infrastructure in HP?)

We have not been able to access information concerning complaints made to the City about the Master Plan for Storm and Sanitary Sewers, being told that this can be acquired only through a FOIA request. Another fine example of City Hall's practice of divide and conquer – if you can't access other residents' complaints, you may think you're the only one who wants to challenge City Hall, determine it is futile and just sign whatever they want.

Clifton Avenue was told that there were three financing options: payment in full at the time of improvements, 2) property owner secured home equity financing and 3) a City subsidized low interest loan program available through the First Bank of Highland Park. A fourth alternative was mentioned as possibly being "available in the near future" with regard to the City's Low Income Program. Ultimately, this may have been the enforceable lien for the full amount of the project [N.B., the lien was always "offered" as an alternative for paying 100% of the work to be done, and not as an option for use with the 80-20% (resident-City) split].

In the August 15 letter, there was another request for the Temporary License to be signed within about two weeks, returned by August 31. Notably there wasn't any specific description of anything wrong with the sanitary lateral line at the Clifton Avenue address, nor the work to be done there. The amount to be paid was not provided. Signing and returning the Temporary License to the City of Highland Park would be like signing a check without filling in the amount and allowing the recipient to plug in any figure he'd like – ultimately, the City could charge any amount it wanted. Of course, the City stated in the August 15 letter that it "feels no individual repair service repair will exceed $10,000." Is this how the City Manager, David Limardi, and the City Council manages City funds – on how it FEELS?—or does it just work that way with your money? Who authorizes substantial and costly work on the basis of a guesstimate? And, in speaking with someone at Sunset Foods, I heard of a family that moved into a house and suddenly was required to pay close to $25,000 or be faced with a City lien. I can't say for sure this was a result of the Master Plan, but my friend thought so and, in any event, what a painful welcome to Highland Park upon buying your new home. After all, it's not as if the home inspection people routinely examine your sanitary lateral lines.

The City demanded that the resident sign the (initial, later revised) "Temporary License for Sanitary Sewer Testing and Repair Work" without specifying the type of repair to be done. The license referred to this as "by either open excavation and/or trenchless technology." The resident was required to waive and release any claims ("known and unknown") against the City and Performance Pipelining for any harm caused to the homeowner's property. So, if they did work that caused a bigger problem or flooded your home, well, that's your problem, not the City's. Further, if that wasn't unreasonable enough, the resident had to "indemnify, hold harmless and defend the City," the Mayor, the City Councilmen and all the other people involved in perpetrating the Master Plan. It's a good time to ask the Corporation Counsel, Mr. Elrod… whom do you think you are representing? We'll leave that issue for another day. In any event, numerous HP residents signed the Temporary License in its original form, no doubt feeling that they couldn't "fight City Hall" and upon threat of having a lien placed on their property.

In response to receiving the City's demand, my brother issued a letter to Mary Anderson, with a copy to the Mayor and City Council. Take a look at his August 31, 2007 letter. You'll find in it virtually all of the questions and objections raised by the Ravinia neighbors more than a year later in December 2008.

Please take the time to read my brother's detailed August 31, 2007 letter, which was written on behalf of all HP residents. This is a brief quote it:

"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."

If you sent a letter to the City of Highland Park in response to the Master Plan, please let me know, and it can be posted on this site.

In the next blog entry, we'll take a look into the City Hall's lame response. Thanks for staying tuned.

Oh, by the way, it was 2007 when the City "felt" it wouldn't cost more than $10,000. It seems the top line will be much higher in 2009...wonder what they "feel" it is now?

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