March 20, 2010

Chants of 'NO!' kept tea party crowd warm



It seemed like a good idea at the time -- when the event was planned during Friday's relatively balmy weather -- but Saturday's "instant Tea Party" in front of City Hall was notable mostly for its 20-degree wind chill.

A smaller than usual crowd -- there were about 125 people present, many bearing hand-made signs -- was bundled in winter coats, but did their best to keep warm by chanting their opposition to the health care bill scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives Sunday.

Speakers came at the issue from various directions. Lou D'Abbraccio started the rally by reminding participants "we are the last great hope for the world. If our healthcare system is destroyed, where will they go?" And then, holding his bullhorn high, he led the crowd in a spirited chant of "We said no! We said no!"

Organizer Lora Halberstadt complimented those present for coming out in the cold weather, and urged them to "keep saying no."

Dave Westlake, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, called the health care bill "a threat to our liberty and to our freedoms," and "the third wave of socialism." Brett Davis, who is running for lieutenant governor, asked, "Are you ready to elect conservatives?" The crowd shouted back, "Yes!" Van Wanggaard, who is running for the State Senate, asked: "Why are we here? To say no!" When he mentioned President Obama's name, the crowd erupted in boos.

Milwaukee Pastor David King compared the current debate to a football game. "Just because we get to say no to this health care bill doesn't mean the game is over. This year, November will be the half-time, when we'll get all the garbage out of office. The end of the game is 2012," he said.

Halberstadt wound up the rally 30 minutes after it began by saying, "the only people who are going to stop this thing are 'we the people.' "

The Racine Tea Party's next event is a transportation forum Tuesday at the South Hills Country Club. The topic then will be KRM.

Organizer Nancy Milholland and Pastor David King

Van Wanggaard voiced opposition to President Obama

Anti-war protesters rally on Monument Square


The season's first anti-war rally took place Saturday afternoon on Monument Square, sponsored by the Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice..

Today marks the seventh anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and anti-war rallies took place all over the country. Since March 2003, there have been 4,387 U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Washington, USA Today reports, "Thousands of protesters carried signs reading "Indict Bush Now" and flag-draped cardboard coffins, urging President Obama to withdraw troops from Iraq."

There was just a small rally in New York, where a few dozen people gathered near a Times Square recruiting station. The Raging Grannies sang, "The country is broke, this war is a joke."

About 75 people marched through downtown Milwaukee Friday.

John Heckenlively, who sent us these pictures, says about 30 people took part in Racine's Downtown rally, which lasted from noon to 12:30 p.m.

It's almost Spring (Close, but no ceegar!)



Somebody forgot to look at the calendar, eh, Mother Nature?

Tomorrow's vernal equinox marks the first official day of Spring, but Ol' Man Winter had one final pile of snow for us Saturday, just to confuse the poor robins. The seven-day forecast predicts no more snow, and temperatures in the 50s before you know it.

Honest!

(Please!!)



March 19, 2010

Tea Party calls 'instant' rally at City Hall Saturday

President Obama's attempt to get a health care bill through Congress this weekend has spurred a local organization to action -- in opposition.

The Racine Tea Party -- the "Taxed Enough Already" folks -- have scheduled "an instant TEA Party" for Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in front of City Hall. "In light of what is happening in DC this weekend on The Health Care Plan, we made a urgent decision," said an organizer. An email blast to over 1,000 on its mailing list states the event will be "very informal, last-minute and we will be using a bullhorn! Please be there if you can."

Says one member of the organization: "This is HUGE and we have only 24 hours to Stop the Health Care Debacle! It looks like it was dead, but it's almost back."

Yesterday, on its website, the Racine Tea Party issued an "action alert" calling upon members to call any and all Wisconsin Congressmen to urge opposition to the health care bill. The site states:
"We learned at the American Dream Summit that every Congressman keeps a "scorecard" for comparison with their peers. Wouldn't you love to hear the following: "I received 2,000 calls today opposing the health care bill! Maybe I should consider voting NO."
Racine's Tea Party is the same organization that held a bonfire tea party in Franksville in January, that drew more than 3,000 people to hear speakers that included Joseph Wurzelbacher, a k a Joe the Plumber. LiberTEA Racine also held a previous anti-tax rally at City Hall back in April 2009.

Picture from the Jan. 16 bonfire tea party in Franksville

New Uptown restaurant, Gerald's, eyes May opening

Gerald Bester at Thursday's Access Corridor Review Board meeting. 

Plans for a new restaurant in the former "Bank" building in Uptown are on track for an opening in the first or second of week of May, according to the owner.

Gerald Bester, owner of the soon-to-open "Gerald's" at 1501 Washington Ave., appeared before the Access Corridor Review Board on Thursday to get awnings and a facade grant approved for the building. Both easily passed the board.

Following the meeting, Bester said he's tentatively planning to open in early May. He said he's installed a full commercial kitchen and is now going through the permit approval process, hiring staff and getting the restaurant ready.

Here's our initial story about Bester's ambitious plans for the site.

If the health care vote comes down to money...

We're trying not to be cynical about the upcoming vote this weekend on President Obama's health care proposal -- but it's hard.

We don't remember who first came up with the line, "We have the best politicians money can buy." but the phrase keeps coming to mind.

A Washington Post database (hat tip to the Journal Sentinel for finding it) shows in which direction every member of the House is leaning... and also how much he or she may have been influenced by health care industry cash.

Why, lookee here, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, has received $1,125,233 from industry lobbyists -- more than any other Wisconsin lawmaker. And the payoffs -- um, campaign contributions -- received by some others aren't so shabby, either: Rep. David Obey, D-WI, 7th District (Stevens Point), got $886,894; and Rep. Ron Kind, D-WI, 3rd District (LaCrosse), got $841,913. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-WI, 4th (Milwaukee), by the way, scraped the bottom of the barrel in health care industry contributions -- a paltry $88,472, the only Wisconsin lawmaker who failed to reach six digits. For the record, only 33 of the House's 435 members, received more than Ryan. The leader was New York's Charles Rangel, D-15th, with an eye-popping $3,867,249.

All told, Wisconsin's eight House members collected $4,347,116. So much for influence you hoped to achieve with that $10 you were gonna mail in...

The Washington Post's database also shows the percentage of uninsured people in each of the Congressional districts. Our First District figure is 10.1% uninsured. Obey's 7th District is the worst in Wisconsin, at 12%. Best is Jim Sensenbrenner's (R-5th District, Waukesha), with just 6.2% uninsured.

The Post's prediction, by the way, is that Ryan will vote no, along with Sensenbrenner and Tom Petri, R-WI, 6th (Sheboygan); It predicts yes votes from Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, 2nd (Madison); and Moore. No surprises here; that's how each of them voted in November when the health care proposal failed to get the necessary 216 votes, going down by 208 nay, to 168 yea.

Bugging Out: Racine Art Museum coordinates insect invasion

The Racine Art Museum is ready to bug out this summer with a wild new exhibit that's all about insects.

"All the Buzz: Insects Invade RAM" is a collection of works by artists such as Catherine Chalmers, who poses dead cockroaches in miniature home settings. You can see her work here.

Beyond providing fascination through the bizarre, Chalmers (who was featured on the cover of Art News) offers interesting insights into the relationship between humans and animals, in this case, an insect most of us would rather never encounter. Here's a comments from Chalmers in Aperture magazine:
With American Cockroach, I am interested not so much in troublesome behavior as in an animal humans find problematic. The roach, and the disgust we feel for it, make for a rich conduit to the psychological landscape that inculcates our complex and often violent relationship with the animal world. I can think of few species that are as thoroughly loathed as the cockroach. But interestingly enough, although they carry this heavy burden of our hostility, they don’t do very much in terms of behavior. They don’t eat in a dramatic way, and they certainly don’t have the wild sex life of, say, the praying mantis. They don’t sting, bite, or carry the dangerous pathogens that flies, mice, and mosquitoes regularly do. Having a cockroach in your kitchen is not like having a venomous snake living in the house. There’s nothing about the animal that is life-threatening. The dichotomy of the roach being a loaded subject, yet in habit, a fairly blank canvas, allowed me to bring more to this work.
It's in this spirit RAM is bringing in Chalmers along with Jennifer Angus' exhibit "Patterns of Insect Life" and JoAnna Poehlman's exhibit, "Insectopedia." RAM will also pull insect-related pieces from its personal collection. All together, bugs will dominate the museum this summer.

Here's RAM's description of the event
This summer, the Racine Art Museum (RAM) will be invaded by insects – as depicted by contemporary artists. RAM announces an exciting array of exhibitions and programming that feature these crawling, flying, hovering, and often times, beautiful creatures at both museum locations.
For many individuals, insects create a sense of uneasiness, and may be seen as a predictor of uncleanliness and disease. However, RAM showcases the works of three women artists that challenge the viewer to wonder why these creatures are so maligned. To further engage audiences, the museum will also host a variety of bug-related activities and family-friendly events in partnership with other cultural institutions, such as: the Racine Public Library, the Racine Zoo, the Racine Heritage Museum, the Racine Arts Council and the Milwaukee Public Museum.
In addition to the exhibits, RAM has a series of interesting events from April to September to promote "insect art" at the museum. One event in the planning stages is a partnership with Real Racine to hold a kids race on Main Street in Downtown Racine on the First Friday in July. Kids would be invited to dress up as their favorite bug and run a few blocks down Main Street.

Adam Smith, marketing director for Real Racine, came up with the idea. He's scheduled to meet with the City Council's Public Works Committee later this month to discuss closing the street for the event.

Other upcoming bug-related events include a kids camp during Racine Unified's Spring Break in April. Here's the details:
Bug Off!
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, April 6 - 8
9:00 am – 4:00 pm
For ages 7–13
Camp is coming back! Is it creepy or crawlie, squishy or squirmy, wiggly or jiggly, buzzy or busy ...what is buggin’ you? The endless possibilities of the Class Insecta will be put to test and examined under the microscope of art! Explore the beauty of butterflies, the scariness of spiders, the peacefulness of praying mantis and more. Inspect bugs through art. Disect all their details and create creepy creatures to be on display at RAM during the BUG exhibitions Catherine Chalmers: American Cockroach, Jennifer Angus and The Insectopedia of Joanna Poehlmann.
Dress to get messy and bring a lunch each day!
$80 Members $100.00 Non-Members
Call 262.636.9177 to register. This camp is held at RAM's Wustum Museum located at 2519 Northwestern Avenue, Racine.

Poelmann will offer a class on Saturday, June 5 to teach people how to create "bug books." Here's the details:


Bug Books!
1 Day Saturday June 5, 2010
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Learn from master artist JoAnna Poehlmann to create your own book, all about insects. Join JoAnna for a day of exploration and play as she shares her vast knowledge of nature, her technical skills as an illustrator and her talents as a bookmaker. JoAnna’s long time love of nature and art will inspire you to immerse yourself in the beauty of bugs. Work in your favorite media and bring items to personalize your book. A supply list will be sent. Please bring a lunch.

RAM and the Real

Adam Smith, marketing director

March 18, 2010

She Said, He Said: Gasiorkiewicz refutes Herrera

UPDATE, March 19: It appears that Georgia Herrera's campaign was blindsided by UW-Parkside, which is now "retracting" its former "thorough check" of employment records relating to Herrera's judicial opponent, Gene Gasiorkiewicz -- upon which Herrera based one of her statements that Gasiorkiewicz had inflated his resume for the campaign.

Herrera today released the following letter, dated yesterday, from Dennis M. Rome, interim associate provost at UW-P, which says:
Upon receiving further details and looking into this matter more extensively, I would like to provide you with the following statement:

The University of Wisconsin System records indicate that Mr. Eugene Gasiorkiewicz was employed in a Lecturer position at UW-Parkside in the academic year 1977-78.

I would like to retract my previous letter which read: "After a thorough check of our human resources system, we have determined that we have no record of attorney Eugene Gasiorkiewicz teaching any course or employed in any other way at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside."

I apologize for any inconvenience which this may have caused.
Herrera's latest statement on the matter is at the bottom of this post.

Original post:

The race for the Circuit Court seat to be vacated by Judge Stephen Simanek has escalated to a new level. Or has it descended? You decide.

Instead of lists of endorsements, the campaign turned nasty yesterday, as Georgia Herrera charged Gene Gasiorkiewicz, her opponent in the April 6 election, with "a concerning pattern of misleading statements."

Among other things, Herrera says Gasiorkiewicz falsely lists himself on campaign literature as a "former special prosecutor" in the Racine County District Attorney's office. But after searching public records on CCAP (the Wisconsin Consolidated Court Automation Program), Herrera says there is "no record of him ever being a prosecutor."

Herrera also says that Gasiorkiewicz claims he lectured at UW-Parkside, but "a public records request" she filed with the university found "no record of him ever teaching at Parkside."

Gasiorkiewicz calls Herrera's charges "a desperate attempt...to make herself look more qualified by resorting to negative political attacks," adding, "I was practicing and lecturing on law before she was out of high school."

He lists three periods of time in the 1970s and '80s when he served as a prosecutor, and notes a reason why Herrera might have failed to find any records on CCAP: "Racine County only began using the CCAP system in 1992."

As for Herrera's statement that he never taught at UW-Parkside, Gasiorkiewicz tonight submitted to RacinePost a letter written today by Sylvia Coronado-Romero, UW-Parkside director of Human Resources, stating: "The University of Wisconsin System records indicate that Mr. Eugene A. Gasiorkiewicz was employed in a Lecturer position at UW-Parkside in academic year 1977-78."

Georgia Herrera's statement, March 17:
The voters rightly expect that judicial candidates won’t mislead them. I believe the public rightly holds us to the highest standard in our campaign statements and literature.

I wouldn’t raise this issue if it was one incident, but I have now seen a concerning pattern of misleading statements from my opponent on several issues.

First, his campaign mailed a post card just days ago that purported to list the “number of cases handled in circuit court” with a bar graph, citing CCAP as the source. My opponent must know that CCAP doesn’t show the attorney handling juvenile cases, guardianship cases, or mental health cases, all of which I’ve handled over that time period. More importantly, he apparently neglected to show the number of cases I’d handled as Circuit Court Commissioner during the same time period. As Circuit Court Commissioner I’ve handled thousands of cases since 1999. I have the court calendars to show it, and as example in 2009 I handled 1,678 cases as Circuit Court Commissioner. In 2008 I handled 2204 cases as Circuit Court Commissioner. Even that doesn’t tell the whole story. As Assistant District Attorney I tried hundreds of cases to conclusion. His “Number of Cases Handled in Circuit Court” bar graph distorts my significant career and experience.

Second, my opponent’s campaign literature and web page claim he was a “Racine County Prosecutor” and was a “Former Special Prosecutor – Racine County District Attorney’s office.”

I worked in the Racine County District Attorney’s office as a prosecutor for over a decade, and never heard of him ever working there or being appointed “special prosecutor.” I checked CCAP because it has the ability to search for cases by prosecuting attorney, and it says it has no record of him ever being prosecutor. We did a public records request for whatever record existed in the Racine County Circuit Court Clerk’s office and the District Attorney’s office of him working as a prosecutor, and the response we received was the County has no such record. I understand he may claim he had one incident referred to him well over 20 years ago to prosecute a battery misdemeanor because the victim was then an employee of the DA’s office, but he never filed a case according to court records, and he apparently just dismissed it. This record clearly does not describe an attorney being a “Racine County Prosecutor.”

Third, his campaign literature claims he was a labor law lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. We asked Parkside in a public records request, and found that school has no record of him ever teaching at Parkside. His campaign materials are all over the County misleading the public on this asserted qualification. It is an important qualification issue.

I’ve taught constitutional law and criminal procedure at Concordia University for 15 years.

I firmly believe that as Circuit Court judge you must firmly and accurately speak the truth, not bend or distort it. The growing pattern of misleading statements from my opponent has no place in Wisconsin judicial elections, and is reminiscent of the “politics” as usual he says he wants to avoid.
Gene Gasiorkiewicz's response, March 18:
I am greatly disappointed at this desperate attempt by my opponent to make herself look more qualified by resorting to negative political attacks. Her claims are simply not true, and this sort of negative personal attack is exactly what is driving voter dissatisfaction with politics today.

First, as an attorney with over 34 years of professional experience in nearly every area of the law, I can understand why my opponent cannot recall some of my activities. I was practicing and lecturing on law before she was out of high school. Her claims that, while digging through my past looking for political ammunition, she was unable to find some records to verify some of my experience are the classic tactics of a desperate campaign. Though I don't doubt the zeal of her search, just because she was unable to locate some documents does not mean she is correct.

Regarding her claims related to comparing her appearances in Circuit Court to mine, I stand my my numbers. Furthermore, the Circuit Court records actually understate the full breadth of my experience in Circuit Court, because those records do not go back far enough to track my entire career. The voters clearly have the right to know and compare the level of relevant experience each of us has in the very courts we aspire to preside over. The numbers in my literature fairly and accurately compare our relative Circuit Court appearances over the past decade. The source of these numbers is also present on my literature in case voters wish to review the basis for my conclusions. While my opponent would like to make it seem as though she has much more experience in many areas of the law than I, the facts do not support her claims.

Her assertion that I have never been a special prosecutor is also false. Her claim on her website that she is the only candidate with prosecutorial experience is also false. I prosecuted cases for Racine County Corporation Counsel in 1973, under Dennis Flynn. I have also prosecuted cases for Caledonia, which can be verified by Retired Chief Tomachek. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, I was appointed a special prosecutor by Gerald Ptacek (who, though a supporter of my opponent, I understand acknowledges my appointment). My opponent's documentation referring to her searches on CCAP fail to produce results for my activities before 1992 because Racine County only began using the CCAP system in 1992.

My family has a long history of serving at UW-Parkside. Despite the claims of my opponent, I did in fact serve as a Lecturer at UW-Parkside in academic year 1977-78. Among others who can likely recall my time there is my father, who is an Emeritus Professor at UW-P. As it turns out, you don't have to take my word for it, because after contacting the University, they have provided me with documentation that proves my opponent's claims to be untrue. (The letter from Sylvia Coronado-Romero of UW-P.)

Clearly, my opponent's campaign is making these claims in a desperate attempt to avoid being rejected by the voters once again. While she continues to make personal attacks, I stand by my record.
UPDATE: Georgia Herrera issued the following statement on March 19, after receiving the retraction and correction from UW-Parkside interim associate provost Dennis M. Rome printed at the top of this post:
We just received the attached correction from University of Wisconsin Parkside. Apparently they dug deeper into old records in Madison and found that over 30 years ago my opponent was a lecturer at Parkside in the academic year 1977-78.

I spoke with Interim Associate Provost Rome, who informed me the class appeared to be Labor Economics. I wanted you to have this as soon as I received it. While this correction is important, it does not support the impression left by my opponent’s statements at forums and the implication of his campaign brochure that this teaching experience is recent, ongoing, or significant. This is especially true when it is stacked up against my ongoing and 15 years of teaching Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure at Concordia University.

I want this campaign to be based on facts so that the voters are fully and completely informed when they cast their ballots for their next judge.
Check the candidates' websites for more. (Photos above from Saturday's St. Patrick's Day Parade.)
Gene Gasiorkiewicz's is here.

Georgia Herrera's is here.

Two stabbed outside Park High

Ugly incident near Park High School today. Here's a press release from the school district:
At approximately 3 p.m. Thursday, an incident occurred outside Park High School in which two students were stabbed and one student was punched in the face. All three were transported to the hospital. The incident was confined to a small area in front of the school. The Racine Police Department and school administration responded immediately to the incident.
As a precaution, additional security personnel will be at the school Friday.
Racine Police reported:
The incident started when a lone individual was specifically targeted by a group of people he did not know. The individual was surrounded by this group and they began to strike and kick him. The targeted individual then pulled out a knife he had been carrying and stabbed two of the parties that were attacking him. It is believed their injuries are non-life threatening.

This was not a random incident, the lone individual was specifically targeted by the group and this was a planned attack. There are four people in custody, all students at Park High School.
Here's hoping everyone is OK, and things get back to normal tomorrow.

Board shows support for West Racine grocery store, gas station, but city still has questions


Architect Ryan Rudie, of Butterfield, Rudie and Seitz, stands before the Access Corridor Review Board Thursday to discuss a proposed grocery store, restaurant and gas station in West Racine. Rudie designed the $4.2 million project proposed by Tom Tousis.


Pieces may be falling into place for a proposed grocery store, restaurant and gas station in West Racine.

The $4.2 million project took a small step toward City Council approval Thursday night when the Access Corridor Review Board took up the project. The board voted unanimously to defer the project to a special meeting sometime before the March 31 Plan Commission meeting.

(Photo-Right: Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tom Tousis's West Racine development, talks with city planner Matt Sadowski following Thursday's Access Corridor Review Board meeting.)

City Planner Matt Sadowski ran through a list of concerns the Planning Department had with the projects ranging from more windows and the placement of doors, to the location of fuel tanks near utility easements and proposed signage. Also, the state may have to review the entrance and exit off of Washington Avenue, Sadowski told the board.

But Sadowski also listed positives. Most materials selected for the 14,000-square-foot building fit with the West Racine design guidelines and the copper, historic-style canopy over the gas pumps fits the need for an architecturally significant design, he said.

Discussion among the board focused more on process than whether the proposed design was a good fit for West Racine. After a flurry of procedural moves, the committee settled on holding another meeting and directing staff to work with Tousis to address their concerns.

Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis, said the city's concerns could be addressed with "minor changes" settled in a half-hour meeting.

"Tom feels good about tonight," Williams said.

(Photo-Right: Frank Smith and Alderman Jim Spangenberg, both members of the Access Corridor Review Board, talk after Thursday's meeting.)

Despite the unanimous vote, it's still unclear where the majority of the board sits on the proposal. If Tousis can work out a deal with city planning, it appears he'll have the support of aldermen Mike Shields, Jim Kaplan and David Maack. But it's clear Alderman Jim Spangenberg has not softened his opposition to the project, which he describes as a gas station in the middle of a neighborhood.

Spangenberg also raised questions about additional traffic the development will bring to the corner and the value of the new construction, which he suggested may not be valuable enough to pay off the loans the city took out to clear the site for redevelopment.

"If we wanted a gas station we could have had it five years ago," Spangenberg said.

Shields (left with Kaplan) took the lead on the board's discussion, immediately moving to approve the project's design. Kaplan seconded the motion, and both aldermen came out firmly in support of the proposal with changes recommended by city development.

Maack attempted to serve as the voice of clarity in a confusing discussion over what, exactly, the board could approve or defer. After settling procedural disputes, he seemed to give tentative support to the proposal with the changes recommended by city planning.

Kaplan is clearly in favor. He held up a picture of the empty gravel lot that's now on the proposed site at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard and said Tousis' project would be a much better gateway to West Racine.

"It's a lot more attractive than an empty lot with a pine tree and a bus stop," Kaplan said.

He added: "This is a wonderful business for Racine. If West Racine doesn't want it, you can come to Douglas Avenue and the Fourth District any time you want."

As a side note, there's a peculiar dispute going on over the estimated value of Tousis' project. The JT, like us, reported Monday that the scaled-down project - it's smaller because of easements on the property - was valued at $4.2 million, which is about $1 million less than the original proposal.

JT reporter Michael Burke then corrected their story the next day saying the new project costs $2.8 million, and attributed the number to Williams. The problem is Williams denies ever saying the project was worth $2.8 million, and the JT now has a story on its site correcting the correction and returning the project's total value to $4.2 million.

Meanwhile, the JT "corrected" its original story by changing the project's estimated cost to $2.8 million, but has yet to change the number back to what it's now reporting is the correct number.


Racine County Board honors Women's History Month

County Board Supervisor Dan Sharkozy wrote in to tout a resolution the Racine County Board passed in honor of "Women's History Month."

Here's the resolution passed unanimously by the County Board:

RESOLUTION BY INDIVIDUAL SUPERVISORS DESIGNATING THE MONTH OF MARCH AS “WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH”
To the Honorable Members of the Racine County Board of Supervisors:
WHEREAS, American women in Racine County of every race, class and ethnic background have made historic contributions to the growth and strength of our nation and Racine County, in countless recorded and unrecorded ways; and
WHEREAS, American women in Racine County have played and continue to play a critical economic, cultural and social role in every sphere of the life of the Nation and in Racine County by constituting a significant portion of the labor force working inside and outside the home; and
WHEREAS, American women in Racine County have played a unique role throughout the history of America and Racine County by providing a majority of the volunteer labor force of the nation and Racine County; and
WHEREAS, American women in Racine County were particularly important in the establishment of early charitable, philanthropic and cultural institutions in our nation and Racine County; and
WHEREAS, American women in Racine County of every race, class and ethnic background served as early leaders in the forefront of every major progressive social change movement; and
WHEREAS, American women in Racine County have been leaders, not only in securing their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity, but also in the abolitionist movement, the emancipation movement, the industrial labor movement and other movements, especially the peace movement, which have created a more fair and just society for all; and
WHEREAS, despite these contributions, the role of American women in history has been consistently overlooked and underemphasized in the literature, teaching and study of American history.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Racine County Board of Supervisors that March is designated as “Women’s History Month” in Racine County.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED by the Racine County Board of Supervisors that the Racine County Board Chair is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation making this designation and calling upon the citizens of Racine County to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.

March 17, 2010

Zhane Pica is Racine Lutheran's student of month

Zhane Pica was named Racine Lutheran High's student of the month for February. Students are nominated by faculty in light of this year’s theme, “Learn from Me” from Matthew 11:28-29.

Teachers wrote, “Zhane is a great example of how a Christian teen should conduct life. She has been a quiet leader in her class, encouraging others to follow the rules. She has been active in volleyball and basketball while maintaining a 3.8 GPA. Zhane has helped fellow students adjust to high school life and routine. Pleasant to have in the classroom, she adds positive comments and asks questions that will increase other students’ understanding as well. Her smile is contagious.”

Food donations up 40% at Thoughts for Food

Food Bank director Dan Taivalkoski at last year's concert

There's mostly good news from this year's Thoughts for Food, as the final numbers are tallied.

Attendance was up 8 percent over last year, and food donations were up 40 percent. Income was also up, 7 percent -- but so were expenses.

Nonetheless, by all accounts, Dan Taivalkoski, executive director of the Racine County Food Bank, tallies up this year's concert a success.

Here are the final numbers (subject, as always, to minor tweaking):

Net income from the benefit concerts was $15,495, just $207 less than last year. But 3,628 pounds of food were collected, compared to 2,588 last year. Total attendance this year was 1,812, compared to 2009's 1,681.

Some of the money collected came from the friends and family of Lester Eaton, a World War II vet who, before he died on Feb. 24 was a member of the Circle 8 Square Dance Club. Memorials in his name totalled $900.

Supervisor wants to talk about county losing $880,000 juvenile detention contract

County Board Supervisor Ken Hall is raising questions about how the county lost an $880,000 contract to house Kenosha County juveniles in the Racine County Juvenile Detention Center.

Hall, who represents the Wind Point area on the County Board, said he raised the issue at the end of the County Board's March 9 meeting because board members had not publicly discussed the lost contract. He asked the board's Committee of the Whole to discuss the lost contract and what it means for the county budget. Hall (right) said it will have a big impact.

"The loss of that long term contract leaves an $800,000 hole in the county budget, so it is a major fiscal issue that needs to be offset," he said.

Racine County lost the contract because it was unwilling to switch to a flexible pay system that would have allowed Kenosha County to only pay for beds they use during the year. Instead, it wanted Kenosha County to pay a flat fee for the year.

Washington County, located north of Milwaukee, allowed Kenosha County to switch to the flexible pay system. Kenosha County estimates it will save $200,000 a year by sending juveniles to Washington County.

Here's a Kenosha News story detailing the end of the 13-year arrangement between Kenosha and Racine counties for juvenile detention.

Here's a Journal Times' response with County Executive Bill McReynolds explaining the lost contract this way:
"Negotiations just broke down. It was a big contract. We felt it was a good deal for Racine County and Kenosha County. Things change. Things evolve. It is what it is."

Peace Learning Circles holds community meeting Thursday



Peace Learning Circles, an innovative program designed to teach peace skills to local elementary students, is holding a community meeting Thursday night to share the program's successes and map out its plans for the future. If you're interested in learning more about a great local program, check out tomorrow night's meeting (details below):

Here's a preview of the meeting from Sue Hollow, executive director of Peace Learning Circles:
Peace Learning Circles (PLC) is having a very important meeting tomorrow, March 18 from 4:30 - 6:30 at UW-Parkside.
The purpose of the meeting is to bring awareness of what PLC has accomplished since we began and what our vision is for the future, as well as an opportunity for PLC to network with people from the communities we serve.
Following the introduction of our history and vision for the future, participants will have the opportunity to participate in a brainstorming session.
We are also looking for partnerships, collaborations, stakeholders, and candidates for our Board of Directors and Advisory Board.
Anyone that is interested in participating, is welcome to attend. Space is limited. Please call or email to RSVP or for more information.
Peace Learning Circles Community Meeting
Thursday, March 18
4:30-6:30 p.m.
UW-Parkside Student Center - Oak Room
Light refreshments served

Background on Peace Learning Circles 
Since we began with our first pilot program in May, 2006, over 4400 students have benefited from our program in 21 elementary schools in Racine and Kenosha. One hundred and twenty-six 4th and 5th grade classes have participated in our Peacemakers Workshop.
The students participate in an experiential, five-hour workshop where they learn and practice pro-social relationship skills, values, teamwork, how to be a positive impact, how to resolve a small problem before it becomes a bigger problem, conflict resolution without violence, and how to be a peacemaker and peace mentor in the home, school and community. Following the workshop, each classroom receives three follow-up visits to reinforce what was taught at the workshops and teach new skills.
However, we realize that in order to have a real impact, PLC would need to expand to include all grades, K-5, as well as give additional training and support to all school staff and parents. In September of 2009, PLC began an all-school pilot program with two elementary schools in Racine and one in Kenosha. Students in all grades, kindergarten through 5th grade have participated in the PLC program in their classrooms. The teachers are receiving additional training so they can be role models to the students and incorporate the skills into their classroom environment. Parents are also invited to special meetings so they can learn the same skills that the students are using in the classroom and reinforce the skills at home, as well as support their use in the classroom.
Our main goals are to teach pro-social relationship and communication skills, values, empathy, compassion, and respect for every individual. We achieve this by teaching and reinforcing the concepts of teamwork, inclusion, compromise, listening, point of view, and “communication fouls”. With the understanding that conflict is a natural part of our lives, members of the community learn safe and effective ways to address conflict when it occurs and prevent the escalation that can lead to violence. Parents are also being taught the skills so they can teach the same behavior in the home. In addition to the schools we work with, PLC has offered an Outreach Program to 152 elementary schools in southeastern Wisconsin, so that schools that do not participate in PLC programs can implement some of the concepts and projects themselves.

New Racine league brings flag football to the spring


A new flag football league debuting in Racine this spring is bringing some contact to local rec football.

The Racine Flag Football League, created by league founder Zach Hansen, will feature full-contact blocking with three-man lines. That's a change from other city leagues, which don't allow a full pass rush.

Hansen said local players were looking for a flag football league with a little more contact.

"We're looking to make a fun, competitive league that's a little different than what's out there," said Hansen, who has played in several local football leagues, but is running his first one.

Hansen, a Racine native, has ambitious plans for the league. He's hoping to draw 14 teams to play a four-month season starting April 24. All games will be played at Lockwood Park and include paid referees and individual stat-keepers.

Hansen is charging $700 per team for the season, which he said should be enough to break even.

"I'm not trying to make money on the league," he said. "It's a lot more expensive to run than people think."

Along with the referees, Hansen also needs to rent the fields at Lockwood and buy flag equipment. He's also  planning a banquet at the end of the season to give out individual and team awards. The banquet will include individual skills competitions to test the fastest league players and who has the biggest throwing arm.

Hansen said he chose spring for the Racine Flag Football League so it won't compete with existing leagues in Racine or Kenosha.

"We're filling the early season gap for football," Hansen said.

For more information about the Racine Flag Football League, visit: www.racinefootball.com

March 16, 2010

West Racine grocery store faces buzzsaw of opposition

The proposed grocery store in West Racine is headed for a buzzsaw of opposition this week.

The Access Corridor Review Board is set to take up Tousis's $4.2 million project on Thursday. The committee, which is advisory to the city's Plan Commission, is stacked with opposition.

Opponents include Alderman Jim Spangenberg, who has publicly fought the project for several months, Dave Namowicz, president of the Douglas Avenue Business Improvement District who has been quietly angling against the project, and Mitch Wemmert, owner of Mitch & Marty's gas station, which competes with Tousis' Better Day BP on Douglas Avenue.

Other members of the committee include: Chief Building Inspector Rick Heller, Aldermen David Maack, Jim Kaplan and Michael Shields, Linea Anthony, Randy Aukland, Steve Joosten, Frank Smith, Kelly Jensen, and Mark Madsen.

The three opponents could cause problems for Tousis's proposal, but they can't outright kill the project.

The Access Corridor board focuses on projects in the city's main corridors - including Washington Avenue and Douglas Avenue - and determines if they're a good fit for what are, essentially, the welcome mats to Racine. Members will vote on Tousis's project, but the Plan Commission, chaired by Alderman Greg Helding Mayor John Dickert, doesn't have to take their recommendation.

The same goes for the City Council and the Plan Commission. The council, which has final say, can go against the Plan Commission, though it's rare, particularly if the commission votes against a proposal.

So in that sense, Access Corridor could sway the Plan Commission, which could sway the council, which will decide if the West Racine grocery store, restaurant and gas station move forward.

That sets up a showdown between Tousis and three of his critics - public or otherwise - at Thursday's meeting. Should make for some interesting exchanges.

TIF district's rebirth holds promise for lakefront

Pointe Blue is dead, long live ... um, whatever its successor is called. And whenever it appears.

The city outlined its plans to move ahead with steps that will pave the way for that successor at a meeting today of the Joint Review Board, which holds sway over the city's Tax Increment Financing Districts -- one of which woulda/coulda been the site of the aforementioned condo development that came along at exactly the wrong time.

But that was then, this is now. The Legislature gave Racine a unique tool -- nobody else in Wisconsin has one like it. Wisconsin Act 67 of 2009 was enabling legislation permitting a ten-year extension of the city's Lakefront Tax Increment Financing District #2, thus allowing Racine to reserve for another 10 years its substantial cashflow for development. Without the legislation, TIF #2 was set to expire, having reached the end of its legislatively allowed lifespan of 27 years.

TIF #2 kicked off $1,117,339 last year, so this is no inconsequential deal. In 2010, the windfall is $1,150,537. Without the extension, this money would be divided among all the relevant taxing districts: Racine County, say, and Racine Unified School District. With the extension, the money belongs to City Hall and only to City Hall.

Until recently, this "donor" TIF, having paid off all its own debts, has been shoring up some of the city's "laggard" TIF districts, giving $59,529 of its largesse to TIF #3, the JT/Shoop TIF; $811,503 to Downtown's TIF #6; and $246,306 to State Street's TIF #8. "We thank you for letting us share, because TIF #3 would never have paid off," said city finance director David Brown.

TIF #3 will be paid off this year, and some others, paid or not, will expire anyway, their 27 years over. TIF #5, the Olsen Industrial Park, will be done in 2012; it, too, is a donor, kicking off $453,725 last year , almost evenly divided between Downtown TIF #6 and State Street TIF #8.

But because of the enabling legislation, limited to this one TIF district in all of Wisconsin, the Lakefront TIF #2 still holds promise for the city, offering its not inconsiderable cashflow to help prepare the former Walker Manufacturing Site, and the Pugh Marina site, for future development. Part of that land is encompassed by TIF #14, which was going to be Pointe Blue...and now has no mapped-out future except for a share of donor cash from TIF #2.

City Development Director Brian O'Connell noted that Pointe Blue was a development from another era, from "back in the day" when a single developer came in with a diverse plan for the entire piece of land. He doesn't expect that to happen again, instead looking to the phased-in-over-time development of Gaslight Point, or Kenosha's lakefront.

Still, work needs to be done to get the land ready for whatever project plans arise. The Walker site will need environmental remediation -- a cleanup of whatever Walker left underground. And there are infrastructure needs -- the land along the waterfront is lower than Main Street, and any water and sewerage needs will require a lift station. TIF #2's donor money may be all-but spent.

The city has prepared a "draft timetable" to prepare a project plan, present it to the Joint Review Board, the Plan Commission and the Common Council. All the approvals need to be completed by early June, for presentation to the State, to take advantage of that enabling legislation that makes it all possible.

And, then, of course, to wait for developers to beat a path to our lakefront -- again.

Preview of tonight's City Council meeting

The City Council is set to name the Racine Metro Transit Center in honor of Civil Rights Activist Corinne Reid-Owens. The council, which will vote on the transit center name tonight, will also ask the Racine Public Library, the Racine Unified School District and Gateway Technical College to also honor Owens, who started the Racine chapter of the NAACP, led campaigns for fair housing and more minority teachers and police officers. She also worked as a teacher and was elected to the Wisconsin Educator's Hall of Fame in 1994, and served on the Gateway Technical College Board.


* (Above) Welcome to Dottie-Kay Bowersox, Racine's new Public Health Administrator. This photo was taken at last week's Board of Health meeting. She started Feb. 16.

* The city is looking at shutting down the tax incremental finance district used to build Downtown's Shoop Parking Ramp. The TID has reached the maximum duration for a Tax Incremental District and must be closed, Development Director Brian O'Connell wrote to the City Council. The Finance and Personnel Committee will take up the item.

* Alderman Jeff Coe wants to waive all fees for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade and the Christmas parade. he Finance and Personnel Committee will take up the item.

* The city is pursuing $200,00 from the Department of Education for after-school programming in its community center.

* The police department is seeking a $150,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice for solving cold cases with DNA evidence.

* The city is in line to receive $21,825 for North Beach mats to create a walkway to the water.

* Real Racine and the Racine Art Museum want to close Main Street from Third to Sixth Street on Friday, July 2 for a children's race.

* The city is looking at new restrooms for Horlick Field.

* Johnson Park Golf Course is replacing three greens and one tee. It's also open for play on Friday!

* The city may enter into an agreement with J&D Enterprises to provide canteen concession services at the 5th Street boat ramp.

* Helding wants to allow brief discussion following the public comment section during city meetings. Now, city rules prevent any sort of response to public comment.

* The State Street drawbridge will be repaired for about $456,000. Zenith Tech, of Waukesha, is the low-bidder for the work. All costs are 100 percent reimbursable by the state.

* The passenger elevator at Memorial Hall broke. The emergency repairs are expected to cost about $30,000.

* City restrictions on Class A liquor licenses may have chased a new wine shop to Sturtevant. Michele Bachmann applied for a Class A license to open Grapes 2 Glass LLC at 2909 Durand Ave. (where the former "We Can Sell it On Ebay" was located). But Bachman withdrew the application and it was recently reported she's opening at 10351 Washington Ave. The city limits Class A licenses and only allows new businesses to exceed the limit if they meet certain criteria for economic development and impact.

* The city is set to buy 1922 Deane Blvd as part of its Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

* Former Alderman Tom Sollman is up for reappointment to the Wastewater and Water commissions. It's a four-year term.

McCarthy, Helding consider changes to purchasing ordinance

Aldermen Terry McCarthy and Greg Helding are considering changes to the city's policy for purchases over $25,000.

The aldermen have a communication on tonight's City Council agenda to discuss the city's Purchasing Ordinance (see below).

City ordinance requires departments to request bids for contracts over $25,000, unless contracts are for "professional services." This is relevant now because the proposed $40,000 to hire a consultant for CAR25, the city's cable-access TV station, fell under the professional services clause and was not required to go out for bid.

McCarthy asked City Administrator Tom Friedel last month to review the city's policy on bidding out contracts and to consider dropping the exception for professional services.

Here's the ordinance in question (emphasis added):
Sec. 46-28. Purchases over $25,000.00; advertising for bids.
(a) Bids shall be required for every purchase of materials, supplies, equipment or contractual services, excepting professional services, the estimated cost of which exceeds $25,000.00. Bids shall be advertised for in the manner provided in Wis. Stats. § 62.15, except that the notice shall be published not less than twice and bids shall be received not less than ten days after first publication. Advertisement for bids shall not be required for any purchase, the estimated cost of which does not exceed $25,000.00, but in such case the purchasing agent shall secure and record at least three informal bids, if practicable.
If the estimated cost of public construction exceeds $5,000.00 but is not greater than $25,000.00, the purchasing agent shall publish one notice of the proposed construction before a contract for the construction is executed. This provision does not apply to public construction if the materials for such a project are donated or if the labor for such a project is provided by volunteers.
The common council may, by resolution, dispense with the requirement of advertising for bids in any particular case.
(b) A summary of the bids received for each item listing the name of each bidder and a copy of his bid shall be submitted to the appropriate committee of the common council for its recommendation to the common council. The adoption of the committee report by the common council shall constitute the final action of the council upon the bids and shall authorize the purchasing agent to issue a purchase order, countersigned by the finance director as to availability of funds, for the purchase of the items on which such bids were received.
(Code 1973, § 3.18.040; Ord. No. 1-91, pt. 2, 1-15-91; Ord. No. 1-00, pts. 2, 3, 3-7-00; Ord. No. 50-04, pt. 1, 1-18-05; Ord. No. 13-06, pt. 2, 5-24-06)

March 15, 2010

Forget the equinox, it's already Spring



No special significance here, just the first robin of Spring (that we saw), alighting in a crab apple tree long enough to have his picture taken in Mount Pleasant.

New Lutheran bishop knows Racine's basketball courts

A local resident writes in with some interesting background about the Rev. Jeff Barrow, who was installed Sunday as Bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Barrow was senior pastor at Holy Communion Church in Racine for 18 years, when he was selected to the senior post in December.

They write:
He's an avid basketball player and we all call him "Mr. Hustle" at the gym, everybody knows him by that name, he's a real good down to earth guy, so I thought he deserves a little recognition for his accomplishment on being selected the new bishop of the Lutheran faith.
Here's a nice Journal-Sentinal story about Barrow's installation.

Share your All Saints experience ...

I just have a minute here before running off, but wanted to bring a little more attention to local resident Heather Rayne's Facebook effort to collect stories about Wheaton-Franciscan All Saints.

A few weeks back the community exploded over a near rebellion among local doctors over a series of issues ranging from billing problems to doctors feeling micromanaged. But as quickly as the issue rose, it dissipated.

We took a brief step back because people were starting to get scared. The reality is Wheaton can handle medical emergencies - I took a tour of their emergency department and will have a story on it this week - and there are several dedicated local doctors who provide good care to local residents.

That said, Wheaton deserves "watching," as the JT puts it. By all accounts our major health care provider has a miserable record billing patients and a terrible reputation among local residents. Sure, people complain about their doctors and how expensive it is for even minor procedures. But it's clear from last month's explosion of public outcry that fundamental changes are needed at Wheaton.

So let's start building a case. Heather has a brilliant idea of collecting people's stories through Facebook and using them to write a letter laying out the need for better health care in Racine. If you have a moment, take the time to write her note or add your story to the page.

We'll jump back into the story in the near future, hopefully with a closer look at our local health care system.

Stepping into the world of couponing

Standing in the checkout aisle at Sentry, I felt like the cashier had socked me in the gut.

"Oh, we don't take those," she said, barely concealing her disapproval.

I'd just handed her five coupons worth a total of $6.50. Four were $1 off coupons for McCormick's spices, one was a $1.50 off of Kashi bars and one was for a dollar off a box of Good Earth tea. It was my first serious attempt to enter the world of "couponing," and it'd taken a disastrous turn. Did I really need four types of grilling spices? Or coconut chocolate breakfast bars? Or even the six boxes of Rice Krispies I'd landed for $9?

Yes and no. It's all stuff my wife and I would eat, but it'd all taste better at a buck or two cheaper. The rejected coupons were all printed out from a reputable online website called Coupons.com and vouched for by two leading hardcore-couponing websites: AFullCup.com and thekrazycouponlady.com.

Alas, the first rule of couponing seems to be you're at the mercy of the local store. If they don't want to take legitimate coupons, it's really their call.

OK, before I go on, let me acknowledge this whole post is a diversion for RacinePost. We typically write about City Hall, community events, people ... all the traditional newsy topics. Couponing doesn't typically fall under investigative journalism. But it's a huge and growing activity for cash-strapped families looking to save a few bucks. (Think about it: Saving $20 a month in coupons - a pretty easy goal from what I can tell - pays for a nice dinner out every couple of months, a good start on a family trip or some padding for the savings
account.) So, commenters, be nice, OK?

Four things motivated me to look at couponing:

1. My mother-in-law. She's meticulous about going through the Sunday paper and spotting deals. She's setting aside the money she saves with coupons for an upcoming vacation. She saved $40 in recent months, enough to get my attention.

2. An article on a journalism website pointed to a number of online communities that exist around coupons. I visited the two above and was blown away by the dedication people have to saving money. Not only do they find good deals, they can actually make money using coupons, rebates and "cantalinas" offered by stores.

What's a catalina? It's any deal where a store pays you to buy certain items. For example, Pick N Save has a deal right now were if you buy $6 worth of Suave products you get $2 off your next shopping trip. Savvy couponers pair catalinas with manufacturer coupons to get products for pennies on the dollars. On the above example, there are coupons to save 50 cents on Suave products, which means you can save a dollar or two on shampoo and still get the $2 store credit. The result: $2 in coupons + $2 in store credit gets you a couple of containers of shampoo for $2. Not bad - and other catalina deals are even better. Some times you can get products for free, or even make money on the deal.

3. Food pantries are starving for, well, food. Couponing seems like a great way to find deals on items to donate while also covering personal needs. For example, this week there's a bunch of buy-one-get-one free (B1G1 in couponing code) in the local ads. Why not use them to buy one for your family and give the other to the Racine County Food Bank? It just makes sense.

4. I've been trying to figure out what to do with the RacinePost Facebook page. It doesn't seem like enough to just re-post stories there. Instead, I've been thinking of turning the page into a resource of good local deals through coupons and sales. Then "fans" of RacinePost may actually get something out of visiting the page instead of just a rehash of what's on RacinePost.com.

So that's my interest in couponing. As for my experience, well, I'm basically on day two of trying to navigate what's truly a foreign world. It's interesting to see my own stigmas with using a coupon, especially along gender lines. It feels a little odd to be a guy surfing websites for $1 off coupons on Grab-Its or wondering if B1G1 Purex for $5.99 is a good deal.

But then it's like, "So what?" Saving a few bucks on groceries frees up a few bucks to use somewhere else, like donating to a food pantry or giving to a spiritual community. Plus, to be honest, it's kind of fun reading about a coupon expert who got $400 worth of stuff for free or someone using a coupon to buy something on sale and getting a rebate where they come out ahead.

Is it hard-hitting, down-and-dirty journalism? Nope. Is it something I bet a few people would benefit from? Yeah, I think so.

So if you're into couponing, and you have some local tips, I'm all ears. Post any coupon secrets you're willing to share in the comments and maybe we can all save a few bucks this week.

And, to end on a happy couponing note, I went to Target after Sentry and walked straight to the Customer Service counter to ask if they take Internet coupons. "Yup, we do," the girl said to my relief. I was able to use the 4 for $10 coupon to buy cereal and Pop Tarts and get a $5 Target gift card. 

With a $1.50 off two boxes of Frosted Miniwheats I got everything less than a buck a box ... not bad!

Tousis adds urban garden to West Racine proposal


Tom Tousis' loss may be urban gardeners' gain.

His plans for a West Racine grocery store, restaurant and gas station now include an urban garden along Grove Avenue. The garden was added to the plan after Tousis shrunk the size of his buildings to accommodate a utility pipe that runs through the property.

While the utility pipe reduced the estimated cost of the project from $5.2 million to $4.2 million, it led to some interesting change in the building's style and the project's overall feel. The proposed buildings are modeled after the Milwaukee Public Market and similar public markets in Seattle and Toronto. They combine a historic feel with a modern look to create a unique structure Tousis hopes will become a hub for the community.

"This is the way grocery stores used to be," said Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis. "People can come here to the grocery store, eat at the restaurant, fill up their car and have an opportunity to have a community garden."

Other unique features of the project include a stylized copper canopy for the gas station modeled after a train depot, space for the West Racine Farmers Market, the latest lighting technology from Ruud Lighting and a large mural along Grove Avenue reminiscent of the advertising on the side of historic brick buildings.

"The building lends itself to the architecturally consistent nature of the neighborhood," Williams said.

An artist's rendering of the copper canopy Tom Tousis is considering for his
development at Washington Avenue and West Boulevard in West Racine.

The new design marks a turning point for Tousis's controversial project, which drew objections for being a gas station despite also bringing a grocery store and sit-down restaurant to West Racine. Tousis eventually secured an option to build on the site, but then nearly backed out of the deal after questions arose over a utility pipe on the property that forced Tousis to rework the proposal.

His new building is about 14,500 square feet with 7,200 square feet for the grocery store, 2,000 square feet for a 100-seat restaurant and another 5,200 square feet for a second story above the grocery store. The original plans called for a 10,000-square-foot grocery store and a 3,000-square-foot restaurant.

The community garden would be about 7,500 square feet with water available to the plots, Williams said Tousis is working with Patti Nagai at the UW-Extension to run the garden.

The proposed site plan for the "Washington Market" at Washington Avenue and West Boulevard in West Racine. The grocery store and restaurant are located at Washington and Grove avenues, with the community garden just south along Grove. The gas pumps are located east of the building, and a 56-car parking lot is south of the gas pumps.

While the garden space is designated for potential future construction, Williams said there are "absolutely no plans" to build on the site in the near future.

The proposal heads to the city's Access Corridor Design Review Committee on Thursday. Alderman Jim Spangenberg, an outspoken critic of Tousis' plans, sits on the committee, which is chaired by Chief Building Inspector Rick Heller. Other members of the commission include Aldermen David Maack, Jim Kaplan and Michael Shields, David Namowicz, Linea Anthony, Randy Aukland, Steve Joosten, Frank Smith, Kelly Jensen, Mitch Wemmert and Mark Madsen.

While the committee will consider the proposal, it does not have definitive say over the project. It serves as an advisory committee to the Plan Commission, which could take up the plan as early as March 31.

March 14, 2010

City starts home loan program for energy retrofits

Low interest loans for home energy improvements will be available to Racine homeowners, under a new city program funded with federal stimulus funds. Loans for the replacement of furnaces, water heaters or insulation will be available to all homeowners, regardless of income.

Mayor John Dickert, Brian O'Connell, director of city development, and Dora Garcia of the City Housing Department, announced the program Saturday.

A press release from City Hall stated that the Racine Energy Efficiency Program (REEP) will pay for comprehensive efficiency retrofits of qualifying older houses, with no upfront costs to the homeowner. Owner-occupied houses within the city constructed between 1946 and 1975 are eligible.

“These retrofits will save homeowners money, put people back to work, and reduce pollution,” said Dickert. O'Connell said the program pays the upfront costs, and the loan is then repaid "with a portion of the monthly savings.” A fact sheet put online by the city says, "The costs will be spread out over a period of several years. This bill will in most cases (unless you greatly increase how much energy you use) be smaller than the reduction in your energy bill – meaning more money stays in your pocket each month."

The Journal Times reports that the revolving loan fund has $160,000. That means that initially, assuming an average loan of $5,000, only 32 loans could be granted until repayments are made to replenish the fund.

Signup information is available from the Racine Housing Department, City Hall, Room 102, or by calling 262-636-9197 or online.

A similar approach was announced last month by Rep. Cory Mason and others, who proposed a statewide program with much more money behind it, to provide low-interest loans for weatherization -- with the requirement that the work be done by local workers. The estimate they offered on Feb. 1 was that the cost of doing a typical home would be $6,500.