It is a bizarre, historically uncharacteristic, and sad day in Oak Park when our village government chooses to defend how a resident chooses to impact their neighbor’s property. For my family, this sad day has, in reality, been a nine-month ordeal that revealed a lack of integrity in the village’s code enforcement process, encouraging incivility and threatening property rights. 

It started one evening last July when an intensely bright light burst into my family’s home. Our new neighbors had installed a floodlight on the side of their house, directly facing and illuminating the interior and exterior of that entire side of our house, including our kitchen, dining room, basement and garage, as if it were daytime. 

Having lived in Oak Park for over 40 years, my experience is that easy-to-solve issues like redirecting a light can be, should be, and usually are resolved between neighbors. However, when the light continued to shine into our home after I spoke to one of our neighbors about redirecting it onto their property alone, I reluctantly filed a complaint with the village. 

The village formally declared the light a “nuisance,” initiated “nuisance” code enforcement, and set a standard of code compliance for our neighbors by giving them written and in-person instructions to “remove or redirect” the light off of our property by established deadlines. Multiples deadlines were missed and a second intrusive light was installed, escalating noncompliance. Although superficial changes reduced the (now two) lights’ brightness and duration, the still intrusive lights were never “removed or redirected” from our property as per village instructions. 

Despite this, the village decided, bizarrely, to end the code enforcement process prematurely, abandoning its standard for compliance, and permitting the light trespass and pollution to continue at our neighbors’ whim, even knowing that one light sometimes flashed on and off into our home over 100 times in a single evening, similar to the erratic lighting of a haunted house. 

The village, instead of defending how I prefer to use my property, chose to defend how my neighbors prefer to use my property. It abandoned the standards it had set for code compliance and for protecting a resident’s property rights, revealing a lack of integrity in village code enforcement. 

Reflecting this lack of integrity, village officials suggested that my family initiate “mediation,” and the village president declared that we should “sue” our neighbors. But why does the village expect residents to take over a problem that persists only because it failed to complete the code enforcement service paid for by residents’ ever-increasing taxes? 

Others have noticed a decline in village governance also. According to the biennial National Citizen Survey (NCS), Oak Parkers’ 2017 evaluations of the village’s “general” governance decreased in all areas, with dramatic drops in “Overall Direction,” “Acting in the Best Interest of Oak Park,” and “Being Honest.” 

The village must recommit to Oak Park standards by enforcing the abandoned compliance standards until the lights no longer intrude onto our property, adopting a lighting ordinance to prevent others from experiencing such light trespass and pollution, and developing a formal process to correct village mistakes and failures. 

It is Oak Park residents’ responsibility to maintain civility, but, at least until the next election, it is the responsibility of village administrators and board members to restore our government’s standards and integrity. 

I hope that those in office have the will to do so. 

Bonita Robinson has lived in her current Oak Park home for 40 years.

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