In the November 2004 election, the Bush campaign contrasted its “faith-based” view of the world with the “reality-based” community of journalists, war critics, and liberals?#34;and then dismissed the latter. The essence of the “faith-based” view is that it is perfectly acceptable to base policy on belief rather than on rational analysis. Besides, it’s often easier to get people to believe things they’d like to believe if you keep repeating your assertions and don’t let the facts get in the way. Hence, the large percentage of Americans who still think that Saddam Hussein was linked to Al Qaeda.
Some members of our village board apparently think the same strategy will work here in Oak Park: If you repeat your conclusions often enough, no one will question whether they have any basis in reality. In Oak Park, some board members are dismissing reality-based analysis while simply stating that their fantasy-based positions are true.
At a study session last Thursday night, Trustee Milstein and several other board members indicated their preference to go ahead with the parts of the Citizen Steering Committee plan that will require the most investment of public funds?#34;building a new $12+ million parking garage and undertaking extensive reconstruction to open and landscape Marion and Westgate?#34;while stripping the plan of its income-generating heart: The redevelopment of the Colt building site and the introduction of new retail and residential elements to Westgate, Lake, and New streets.
Where will they find the money for these new infrastructure investments? Where will they find the additional $5 million to purchase the Colt building and another $6+ million taxpayer subsidy to rehab it? There was no discussion of these realities Thursday night. The closest we heard from Trustee Milstein was a reference to a mysterious “plan” he has in which the preservation of the Colt building will somehow be cost-effective because the building “might” qualify for some tax credits and would generate tax revenue from “heritage tourism.” He simply dismissed the reality-based plans that are already on the table and that are backed up by solid financial analysis conducted by impartial business, preservation, and TIF consultants, as well as experienced developers.
Then there are the repeated assertions that trustees who want to purchase the Colt building are somehow “supporting” the steering committee plan. On Thursday, two spokespersons for that committee explained that if the trustees were rejecting the heart of the plan, they should discard the entire plan and go back to the drawing board. The committee members couldn’t have been more clear: The committee plan is an integrated whole; the public investment in infrastructure can’t pay for itself if the income-generating portions are left out. Yet within minutes, Trustee Milstein and others were repeating their mantra: But we are supporting the steering committee plan. They seemed convinced that repeating it will make it so.
Trustees who oppose the plan continue to reiterate their support for local business owners and citizen input in the planning process. But in reality, they have dismissed overwhelming support for the plan from both groups as “special interests” who are backed by (apparently evil) real estate and development interests. Support for the plan has come from a wide cross-section of the village, and simply asserting otherwise and demonizing developers won’t change that.
Finally, some trustees seemed to be bothered by the fact that there are different cost estimates. In the real world, it is not unusual to have professional estimates of costs for future projects vary. That’s why they are called estimates. At the same time these trustees repeatedly ignore the clear fact that all of the estimates show that rehabbing the Colt building is a money-losing proposition that will require substantial village subsidy and will not generate substantial village tax revenue.
The estimates by business, development, and architectural preservation experts show that the taxpayer subsidy would be $6+ million. Yet Trustee Milstein summarily dismisses the reality-based estimates, pointing to numbers produced by a local citizen whose main qualification is a shared faith that the Colt building be saved. Milstein’s conclusion: There are a lot of numbers floating around out there, so let’s buy and rehab the Colt building on faith. Perhaps if he closes his eyes and clicks his heels three times he’ll end up back in Kansas too.
Our plans for the future of Oak Park should be optimistic and hopeful. But they need to be based on real, concrete data and analysis by qualified experts. They need to be grounded in reality, not fantasy.