I hope everyone has been able to enjoy a safe and happy summer with friends and family. It's been a busy summer for us as we welcomed our second daughter into the world early last month. I think I always say this, but there's lots of good information in this month's update-- scroll down by topic if that's easier.
1. Schnucks/Screw City Food Coop: Over the past couple months, Rockfordians across the city have dealt with further closings in neighborhoods on both the east side and the west side. Working toward addressing the vacant building at 1715 Rural Street continues to be among my top priorities in the neighborhood. In my discussions with our City’s Director of Community and Economic Development, Mr. Franzen indicated the City is willing to aid and assist any group that comes forth with a viable plan. Numerous resources are available for potential firms including Community Development Block Grants and the possibility of expanding the River Edge Redevelopment Zone to include the Rural Oaks Plaza. The City of Rockford will never direct/command an entrepreneur to a location; our Economic Development team certainly guides potential entrepreneurs to a location that might best fit their business plan, but in our free market economy, the City can never order a business to a certain location.
I also reached out to the realtor of the property again to see if she has any new information to share. Unfortunately, there still hasn't been much interest in the property. To reiterate, there is no non-compete clause/restrictive covenant on the 1715 Rural Street location. Both the Director of Community and Economic Development and the realtor of the property tell me they continue to eagerly court possible businesses, but one of the unfortunate realities is the City can't responsibly act on this private property until a group with a viable business plan comes forward. I've never let a difficult challenge suspend action on my part, and we'll keep figuring out ways to solve this complex issue for our surrounding neighborhoods.
In keeping with the spirit and topic of grocery stores, the Screw City Food Coop held an informational meeting Wednesday, May 30th at DiTullio's. I was astounded (and actually a little fearful the crowd would exceed capacity based on the Facebook event RSVPs!) at the energy that is growing around this group and this idea. A food cooperative is essentially a member-owned food and grocery store, oftentimes with special benefits for shareholders. With Screw City Food Coop, becoming an owner is as easy as purchasing two shares ($100/share). Unlike the St. Louis-based Schnucks, a food cooperative can never leave our city, since folks like you and me would be the owners. Given our city's experiences with Schnucks over the past few years, I think we have an opportunity to make sure a local grocery store here will always stay local and accountable.
I advocate for this group because I believe in the mission of the group, responsible business practices, and local ownership. If supporting local farms, keeping money in the community, focusing on healthy living, creating jobs, and YOUR ownership is something you're interested in, I think you should get involved too. You don't have to become an owner, but volunteering for the effort and even spreading the word are also very worthy and valuable activities. Check out WIFR's story of the May 30th event as well as the Screw City Food Coop Facebook Page!
2. Neighborhood Summit: On June 7th, I, along with leadership from our local neighborhood associations, was able to attend the Great Neighborhoods Leadership Summit. In the past year, you may have been to a neighborhood association meeting where, in a partnership with Transform Rockford, you conducted asset mapping of your neighborhood. This summit detailed findings from neighborhoods across the city, resource guides, blight reduction efforts, the City Service Request portal, and the new Great Neighborhoods website.
Check out the website (and this video!) if you have a some time; there is some good information for your neighborhood. Of the 13 neighborhoods across the city that have uploaded their information to the Great Neighborhoods website so far, five are neighborhoods from the 2nd Ward. We have some of the strongest leadership across the city with our neighborhood associations, and I am grateful to partner with you.
3. Officer Thurmond Ride Along/Block Party: Every so often, I think it's a worthwhile practice to conduct "Ride-Alongs" with our area police officers. It helps both the RPD and the local official cooperate and collaborate on behalf of our local neighborhoods. On a recent ride-along with the ROCK House Officer Eric Thurmond, I was able to observe the Orton Keyes Basketball Camp that District 2 was hosting (see picture below). Officer Thurmond and I continued on and patrolled our neighborhoods, discussing some more frequent issues. We even took care of a couple of street issues for residents in real-time as I was notified on Facebook! Officer Thurmond took me by a couple nuisance properties and informed me on all the steps RPD was taking to address these properties.
We have some excellent police officers working among us, and I'm always proud to be a Rockfordian when I see how dedicated they are to keeping our neighborhoods safe, especially through community engagement and community outreach. I think the latest statistics (see attached) show that the technologies City Council has authorized and the strategies of our RPD leadership are moving us in the right direction. More work is ahead for sure, but the collaborative approach by the City and the RPD is making Rockford a better city for all.
4. Flooding in the 2nd Ward: I'm sure I don't have to tell you this, but Rockford experienced its rainiest month on record in June, even besting those harrowing months of September 2006 and August 2007. In meetings with officials in the Public Works Department, they told me areas of Rockford flooded on June 18th that have never flooded before, but thankfully, Keith Creek held the line for most part. In the past few weeks, I've visited numerous homes and basements, heard tales of heroism and neighbors helping neighbors, and even helped put a couple basements back together (not to mention my own). Tough times indeed bring out the best in people, and I think we all can be grateful for a helpful neighbor over these past few weeks.
5. Stormwater Management in Rockford: I have fielded numerous inquiries on steps our City can take to reduce our susceptibility to flood events. I think a good first step for homeowners would be to review this webpage (https://rockfordil.gov/city-departments/public-works/engineering-division/stormwater-environmental-team/stormwater-and-your-home/) on the City’s website. Personally, after my own review, I’ve already made a couple changes to my home; I found it to be a helpful resource.
Residents can also act to help their own neighborhoods with respect to sewer wells and inlets. If these become clogged, residents can absolutely clean them out, or you can notify me and I can work to get City resources to clean it. If you suspect a sewer is clogged, the City can investigate with special equipment to ensure drains are cleared of debris. Oftentimes, as it goes with suspicious activity in neighborhoods, the best and most effective tools are the eyes and ears of neighborhood residents.
So what is the City doing about these issues? The City allocates a couple million dollars each year in the Capital Improvement Program (CIP). I am tracking a couple localized issues where continuous flooding persists even in smaller rain events and am working with those residents and Public Works to come up with some cost-effective solutions. Additionally, I’ve been reaching out to our state and federal elected officials to make sure they are fully aware and can search for funding for bigger projects like the Keith Creek widening. Rockford is not an outlier as far as flooding, and obviously some areas of our town need more urgent attention than others. In my conversations with Public Works, they have told me, with supporting documentation, that our city is right around the middle of the pack as far as flood events across the state. Especially through the CIP, we’ll work to improve our standing.
According to our Public Works professionals, City storm systems can withstand rain events around a “10-year” event. The storm experienced on June 18th was roughly estimated to be around a 50-year event. (Linked here is information on further explanation of what is meant by terms like “100-year flood) With more intense weather events in our recent past and what is expected for the future, I’ll continue to work with Public Works and the Mayor’s Office to expand our storm system water capacity in the CIP. Infrastructure projects are very expensive, but in collaborating with state and federal governments as well as private groups, I think we can all agree there is a need for continued infrastructure improvement in our town.
One final suggestion of mine is to possibly look into flood insurance (linked here). Most of the 2nd Ward is in Flood Zone X, but the areas in and around Keith Creek are at a higher risk of flooding. This, of course, is an individual decision each homeowner will need to make for themselves based on what’s best for their household. It's important to keep in mind that throughout the span of a 30-year mortgage, if a resident lives within a 100-year flood zone, there is a 1 in 4 chance the home will experience significant flood damage. Flooding is 27 times more likely to occur than a fire over the course of a 30-year mortgage as well. Again, I'll be sure to work with the City and Public Works toward further flood mitigation for our neighborhoods.
6. Mayor's Office on Domestic Violence: Family Justice Center: On Thursday, the Mayor's Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention and the 17th Judicial Circuit Domestic Violence Coordinated Court hosted a community forum at the District 3 Police Headquarters. I have appreciated the Mayor's leadership and commitment to action on this issue that deeply impacts our city and far too many of us in our personal lives. Thirty-four percent of calls for service to the RPD are for domestic-related incidents, and if you know any police officers, I'm sure they will tell you these types of calls can quickly escalate to become the most dangerous types of calls for service they receive. In my meeting with Jennifer Cacciapaglia, the Director of the program in the Mayor's Office, she shocked me with a statistic that research conducted internally by RPD showed that 75% of juveniles arrested in the past two years were either witness to or victims of domestic violence. This is an issue that indeed touches all of us, and as Judge Rosemary Collins said, "If we don't deal with this problem now, we will deal with this problem later." In other words, if our city won't address the issue of domestic violence today, our city will certainly deal with the effects of untreated trauma in our citizens in the years to come.
In order for our city to move forward with this project, a Family Justice Center is the next step. As the Mayor said, currently, if someone was the victim of domestic abuse, they would need to travel to 20 different locations in Rockford and tell their traumatic stories multiple times to multiple people. A Family Justice Center, the likes of which are being used in Milwaukee, provides one location for survivors to get the services they need and the support necessary in some of the most harrowing times of their lives. This IS the best practice across the nation, and I'm proud our city is taking the steps necessary to address this pox on our community.
Currently, officials are crafting what Rockford's Family Justice Center would all entail and searching for funding for this Family Justice Center. This certainly is no cure all, but it's yet another example of Rockford taking a big step in the right direction.
7. RVC Highway Construction Program: RVC has been in touch with the City about offering a Highway Construction Careers Training Program (HCCTP), an apprenticeship readiness program funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
HCCTP is completely free to participants and aims to prepare aspiring construction workers in the skilled trades by providing 14 weeks of classroom, safety, and hands-on training. IDOT created this program with the goal to increase access to construction jobs/opportunities for marginalized and disadvantaged individuals while promoting career pathways in the trades. All costs are covered, including school supplies, steel-toed boots, tool buckets, and an hourly stipend for participants.
For further information or if you know of a great candidate, please visit: https://www.rockvalleycollege.edu/Community/CCE/HCCTP.cfm
I suppose I could write shorter updates, but as the saying goes, once I get going, I get too lazy to quit! Never hesitate to reach out; know I will always do everything in my power to advocate for the residents of the 2nd Ward. It's my honor to serve you.