Monthly Archives: May 2015

Man Who Posted Video Smoking Marijuana With Chameleon Acquitted of Animal Cruelty Charges

Gavel, symbol of judicial decisions and justice

A West Side man who had been charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty after posting an online video of him blowing marijuana smoke into a pet chameleon’s mouth has been acquitted by a Cook County judge.

Bruce Blunt, 40 (whose last name has been met with amusement by many online audiences), said that the marijuana seemed to calm the sometimes aggressive behavior of his chameleon, Binna. But the video prompted a complaint from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to Chicago authorities.

Prosecutors argued that Blunt had abused the pet, since marijuana can cause quite a bit of harm to small animals.

But after watching the video, Judge Robert Kuzas said that while Blunt’s actions were “really, really uncalled for and immature,” they didn’t actually appear to cause suffering.

Blunt is now hoping he can get Binna back from city care. “The [PETA] people, they really did a number on me, calling me a jerk … and saying I’m abusing animals,” Blunt told the media after the trial. “Man, if they only knew. I’ve never hurt an animal in my life — I take in stray cats and dogs. I love animals, man.”

Marijuana Policy in Illinois
Illinois currently has a fledgling medical marijuana program in place, and on May 22, the state senate passed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession. It will probably be heading to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk for a signature after the language in the bill has been slightly adjusted.

If signed into law, the bill would make possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana punishable by a simple fine, rather than arrest.

To date, 17 other states have decriminalized possession of similarly small amounts. Only four states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — have actually legalized retail marijuana approved for recreational use.

Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin), a sponsor of the latest bill, says that he doesn’t personally condone marijuana use, but he is concerned about criminal records ruining people’s personal and employment prospects for their entire lives.

“I would encourage the children of this state and my own children to abstain from the use of the substance, but people do use this, and it should not be something that ruins social lives and professional lives as well,” he was quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune.

Cook County Forest Preserve to Open Five Campgrounds Near Chicago

Camping

Just in time for peak camping season, Cook County Forest Preserve will open up five new and improved camping sites to families across the Chicago area, for the first time in more than 50 years.

According to WLS-TV, the five forest preserves slated to open to campers this summer are Shabbona Woods in South Holland, Camp Sullivan in Tinley Park, Camp Reinberg in Palatine, Bullfrog Lake in Willow Springs and Camp Dan Beard in Northbrook.

Shabbona Woods is the first forest preserve to open, officially welcoming campers over Memorial Day weekend. The other four are scheduled to open throughout June and July. All five preserves are located just a few miles northwest of O’Hare International Airport.

On average, about 70% of all campers choose to go camping in public campgrounds such as Cook County’s forest preserves each year. The forest preserves all feature new, deluxe amenities to provide the best camping experience possible, WGN-TV reports. At Camp Reinberg, for example, campers can stay in large cabins that are equipped with both heat and air conditioning, a private bathroom and shower, and enough room to sleep 10 people. There are also six-bed cabins for smaller groups.

If you’re more of an RV camper, Camp Reinberg also features five campsites for RVs that are equipped with electricity and water hookups. For people looking for a truly authentic camping experience, there are 15 tent sites that are specially designed to keep campers dry.

No matter which level of “roughing it” one chooses, each site will include a picnic table and a fire pit — perfect for roasting some s’mores over the campfire at night.

Individuals and groups alike can make reservations by phone, on the Forest Preserves website or in-person at the Forest Preserves of Cook County Headquarters located in River Forest.

To get a breath of fresh air this summer, Chicago’s families and outdoor enthusiasts no longer have to travel far and wide to reach the nearest campground — there’s now a campsite right on the city’s front doorstep.

North Chicago Library Gets Much-Needed Upgrades Thanks to Record Fundraising Efforts

library
A record-breaking year of fundraising efforts has given the North Chicago Public Library the money it needs to undergo some much-needed repairs, upgrades and renovations.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Argonne Drive facility recently unveiled its newest upgrade — a new rental dropbox in the library’s parking lot — at a May 9 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“So far we’ve received over $10,000 for programming and the enhancement of the library,” library director Joan Battley announced at the event.

Library patrons will be able to return their borrowed books, CDs and DVDs in this new drop box during the library’s off hours. The library decided to add the drop box after customers expressed a desire to return their borrowed media on Sundays, a day when the library is closed. While the library already had an outdoor slot for returns, it would only accept books.

“This helps our library users avoid having to pay fines,” Library Board member Vance Wyatt said.

The media drop box is just one of the several upgrades outlined in its 2013 strategic plan that the library hopes to make with its fundraising money.

In September, the library replaced its 25-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system that had been malfunctioning — the first step to taking the library “to the next level,” Battley explained.

With the right care and preventive maintenance work, the average HVAC system will last for approximately 12 years, meaning the North Chicago Public Library will be able to keep its 32,500 patrons cool for many summers to come.

The library will also see the construction of a new community room for group meetings and library programming, as well as a new paint job, new carpeting and furniture within the coming months, the Tribune reported.

“This is all a team effort,” said Library Board member Zera Dickerson, who acts a liaison between the board and the Friends of the Library. “Little by little we’re making this a more beautiful space for our children and families to come to.”

Chicago Celebrates Independent Breweries During Craft Beer Week

beer

On Thursday, May 14, Chicago kicked off its annual Craft Beer Week to celebrate some of the Windy City’s finest independent breweries and the endless varieties of stouts, IPAs, witbiers and pale ales they offer.

According to My Fox Chicago, this year’s 10-day celebration features more than 400 different events throughout Chicago and its suburbs, from beer tastings to competitions to determine the best brew of them all.

This year, beer enthusiasts can even check out which microbrews are most popular in each of Chicago’s many iconic neighborhoods with an interactive map developed by Lakeshore Beverage just for Craft Beer Week. For example, Lakeview residents prefer fruity beers, while those living in the West Side Austin neighborhood love a good cider.

“Beer is very social. Bars are very social,” explained Chris Kolodziej of Lakeshore Beverage. “So we might have some people who really enjoy porters and are recommending them to their friends, and that style just kind of grows within a neighborhood,” Kolodziej said.

Chicago’s many craft beer breweries are just a small part of the booming national craft beer scene — over recent years, craft beer has become a $14.3 billion industry as more people prefer to drink more unique, locally made and higher-quality brews.

With massive events like Craft Beer Week, more and more people become exposed to the superior drinking experience that craft beers offer each year.

“We want to expose more and more people to craft beers,” said Doug Isley, co-owner of Aurora’s Hopvine Brewing Company, of craft beer’s growth. “There are a lot people who’ve already jumped onto that bandwagon, but there are a lot of macro beer drinkers who haven’t tried it yet. There are wine drinkers who don’t know the variety of flavors that are out there. The best way to do it is with various events.”

Chicago Craft Beer Week 2015 will come to a close on May 23 at the Welles Park Craft Beer Festival, where 50 of the city’s best independent breweries will have their finest brews on tap.

Illinois Governor’s Mansion in Need of $8.8M in Repairs, Fundraising Campaign Begins

Worker hands installing bitumen roof shingles

This week, Sangamon County will begin efforts to raise enough private funds to pay for the estimated $8.8 million needed to renovate the historic 160-year-old Illinois Executive Mansion in Springfield.

The Illinois Executive Mansion Association, a nonprofit organization, will host a cocktail party on Wednesday with guests such as Gov. Bruce Raunder and former Govs. Jim Edgar and Jim Thompson.

While an initial analysis of the mansion’s deteriorating condition resulted in an estimated $8.8 million in repair costs, those who organized the private fundraising campaign anticipate the figure to be much higher once restoration experts release a more detail report later this month. In addition, officials only expect the cost of repairs to increase the longer the property remains in limbo.

“The position of the board is, let’s do the whole job right, not just a patch again,” said Springfield businessman Andy Van Meter, who joined the mansion association’s board of trustees to assist with fundraising.

Lawmakers will be asked to highlight the mansion’s fundraising campaign with voters, but Rauner and his wife, Diana, who also serves as chairwoman of the mansion association board, have stood firm in their wish to rely solely on private donations, according to Van Meter. “It’s 100 percent private funding,” he said. “It will be through memberships to the association and donations to the association.”

Just last year, $2.4 million in emergency repairs for the mansion was approved but never actually spent. The mansion’s roof was, however, repaired last summer to prevent leaks that have continued to to cause damage to the walls, the floor to warp, and mold to grow in the basement. For most typical residential homes, the average cost to repair basement water damage hovers between $3,000 and $5,000.

In addition to a leaky roof and water damage, the mansion also has extensive wood decay, faded carpets, peeling paint layers, and severely outdated mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems.

Van Meter, whose mother served as chairwoman of the mansion association board for nearly three decades, is hopeful the renovations will foster a sense of community pride.

“It’s also being a citizen of Springfield,” Van Meter said, “and seeing the governor’s mansion turn into essentially a dilapidated property. As a matter of civic pride, I think a lot of people in the city of Springfield feel that something needs to be done about it.”

The board has already received a number of donations, and members are hopeful renovations will begin as early as this summer.

Women With Drive Program Provides Cars For Struggling Women

Colorful Cars Stock

“I feel like the kid in ‘Miracle on 34th Street,'” said Caress Pouncy, the new owner of a refurbished 2010 Nissan Altima as she received her keys at the Automechanika Chicago, the largest auto aftermarket trade show in the world. Not quite a miracle, her car was part of a wider effort by various organizations dedicated to fighting poverty.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Pouncy received the car on April 24th after being selected by Women With Drive (WWD) Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Chicago focusing on providing transportation to women mired in poverty. Her car was donated by the National Auto Body Council at the recommendation of WWD.

“The No. 1 reason welfare-to-work programs fail is because of unreliable transportation,” said Molly Cantrell-Kraig, founder of the WWD. “Communities have resources to train, suit and get women to the point where she can get a job, but transportation is where that process breaks down.”

Pouncy was accepted by the foundation after having shown that she not only faced severe obstacles during her life but that she is motivated to become self-sufficient. Pouncy, 28, was orphaned when she was 13 and has spent most of her life in homelessness. With her new car, however, she will be able to start her job as a welder at Midwest Fencing, becoming the first female welder the company has hired. She got the job with the assistance of the Jane Addams Resource Corporation.

“Now that I am receiving a car, I don’t have to look over my shoulder when I walk four blocks to the bus stop at five in the morning,” Pouncy said.

“Our role is to keep that woman moving forward,” said Cantrell-Kraig. “We’re not just about transportation, we’re about transformation.” She added that 56% of American adults living in poverty are women.

Indeed, the United States faces a significant homelessness problem. A Department of Housing and Urban Development report found that close to 600,000 people are homeless on any given night. There are 440,000 people in Philadelphia alone who live under the federal poverty line.

Chicago Police Target Minority Neighborhoods With Sobriety Checkpoints, While White Neighborhoods Remain Largely Untouched

Pursuit
As more DWI task forces are created in police forces across the country, it’s expected that the number of DWI charges could increase by as much as 50% over a period of a few years, possibly totaling as many as 7,000 individual charges per year. But are all of these charges fairly handed out, or are certain drivers and certain neighborhoods targeted more often than others?

With so much focus now placed on how police officers interact with minority civilians, it seemed like the perfect time for the Chicago Tribune to release its findings regarding the practices of police forces in Chicago — and, as many readers may have already guessed, those findings aren’t looking too good for the Chicago police.

In many communities, it’s legal for police officers to set up sobriety checkpoints to curb the number of drunk drivers out on the roads. Officers generally have to follow certain guidelines when setting up and operating the checkpoints to ensure that they’re assessing drivers fairly.

For example, there usually needs to be proof that an area has a high number of drunk drivers on the road during a certain time period, and the police force must publish an official notice in advance that gives the details (time, date, location) of a sobriety checkpoint.

But according to the data collected by the Tribune, the Chicago police seem to have found a way of circumventing these rules. About 84% of all sobriety checkpoints in the city are set up in neighborhoods that have high numbers of minority residents, while major roadways and neighborhoods with high rates of DUI-related crashes — populated mostly by wealthy white residents — are left untouched.

Between February 2010 and January 2014, the Chicago police force conducted 152 sobriety checkpoints in the city. The Tribune states that 127 of these checkpoints were located in districts containing a majority Latino or majority black population.

Only six of the 152 checkpoints were set up in districts with majority white populations.

Furthermore, like the majority of sobriety checkpoints, more tickets for minor offenses were handed out than tickets related to DUI or DWI.

The data is making city residents and officials question whether or not the Chicago police department should be allowed to continue setting up sobriety checkpoints. Although police forces do catch drunk drivers, it seems that the checkpoints are more effective in terms of collecting extra revenue from specific groups of people.

Chicago O’Hare Airport Speeds Up Customs

multitasking in hands

Travelers entering the United States via Chicago’s O’Hare airport have a new option for customs declaration available to them: their phones. Recently, Customs and Border Protection released an app called Mobile Passport Control. Passengers can use the app to submit customs forms and passport information before their flight arrives at the airport, and then, upon arrival, will be permitted to go through an express customs line.

To use the Mobile Passport Control app, travelers create a profile with their passport information. When they reach the United States, they are instructed to take a selfie and answer questions regarding customs declarations. Travelers will use the app to submit the form and receive a receipt with a QR code or bar code. They can then take their phone (with receipt on screen) and passport through the express lane to customs officer for verification.

Three other United States airports offer the Mobile Passport Control service: Seattle, Atlanta, and Miami. The service is expected to continue to expand this spring. Aside from Mobile Passport Control, O’Hare offers four other ways to go through customs: self-serve kiosks, traditional customs lanes, 1-Stop for passengers with just carry-on luggage, and the Global Entry trusted traveler program. Because an estimated 50% of mobile phone owners rely on their phones as their primary internet source, the Mobile Passport Control app is expected to be very effective at reducing airport wait times.

Kiosks and automated passport control were installed in the airport in 2013, and have dramatically reduced the instances of missed connections and lowered wait times for travelers. Wait times were actually cut in half in the first full year of kiosk use, dropping from 30 minutes to 15.

Passengers who wish to use the Mobile Passport Control app are not subject to pre-approval, and can download the app from Google Play or the App Store depending on the manufacturer of their phone. The app’s form does not require WiFi or a cellular connection to be filled out, though it will need a connection to successfully be submitted. The on-screen receipt is good for four hours.

Landscaping, Construction Work Focus in Chicago Suburb Renovation Project

Summertime garden
For more than a month, a major Chicago suburb has had major landscaping work done on its downtown main street.

The Chicago Tribune reports that since early April, Plainfield’s Lockport Street has undergone $134,000’s worth of renovation work. Though the project is expected to be wrapped up in June, town officials hope to have most of it done by May 26th, when the town’s annual Tuesday night car shows begin.

The renovation work includes restoring the sunken concrete and bricks along the sidewalks and sealing the cracks. The sidewalks will be washed by power washers and steam-cleaners, the latter being needed to remove the gum stains sorely embedded in the pavement.

“When we get done, [people] are going to be really happy with it,” said Plainfield Village President Mike Collins. He said the work will encourage more commerce downtown.

The project is the first major renovation work the town has done since spending $7 million in 2008. The project dramatically upgraded the town’s water and sewer systems and widened walkways, streets, and intersections. The town also added more tables, fixtures, as well as decorative lighting and a new sound system downtown.

“We’re maintaining the investment downtown,” said Randy Jessen, the Superintendent of Public Improvements in Plainfield.

During the renovations so far, town officials have noticed that some of Plainfield’s landscaping needed extra work. Due to the street construction, some of the landscaping was damaged (not to mention the fact that one side of Lockport Street receives more side than the other). The new landscaping projects will do their best to make both sides match.

Plainfield officials claim to do their best when scheduling construction and landscaping work, keeping in mind the disruption it may cause to nearby restaurants and businesses. Some of the work, for example, is done during slow times and after hours.

Town crews and outside landscaping contractors will complete the work. Landscaping services in the United States draws in billions of dollars every year. This year, it is expected to reach $80 billion.

League of Women Voters Educates Chicago Residents on Flood-Fighting Options

entrance and staircase of the House invaded by mud 1
Throughout the metropolitan Chicago area, homeowners are plagued with chronic flooding throughout the summer months. In 2014, the city’s storm water management system was almost always overwhelmed by an increasing number of heavy rainstorms.

In order to help residents better prepare for these severe seasonal floods, the League of Women Voters of Evanston and Skokie recently initiated a program at the Skokie Public Library, entitled “Storm Water From the Ground Up.”

“We have a problem. With climate change, what’s projected for the Midwest is more frequent, intense rainstorms,” Krista Grimm, vice president of the League of Women Voters in the Lake Michigan region, said at the April 12 program. Grimm has given this talk on flood awareness more than 20 times throughout Illinois.

According to the Chicago Tribune, climatologists are predicting that rainfall will only continue to intensify throughout the region as climate change’s effects become more apparent, meaning Chicago will continue to see rampant flooding in future decades.

When it costs anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 to remediate the damage that a basement flood can do to one’s home, Grimm advised Chicago’s homeowners to take proactive steps like disconnecting downspouts, planting trees, and using rain barrels and cisterns to keep water out of basements.

In addition to educating residents about flood awareness, the city also recently allotted $55 million toward a new pipeline that will help relieve flood waters throughout the Albany Park neighborhood.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, the underground pipeline’s construction began in February and will continue throughout the spring. The project is a response to growing complaints from Albany Park residents, who have dealt with “storm of the century”-esque flooding twice in the last few years.

“We need to make sure the residents of Albany Park every three or four years do not have to clear out their basements because everything is destroyed in a flood,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

As Chicago continues to become one of the hardest-hit flood locations in the Midwest, its residents will need to keep adapting to seasonal torrential rainfall — or pay for the consequences.