Yesterday morning, I was alone in the Logan Square Kitchen when I listened to a voice mail from my attorney. He was telling me that the Zoning Board of Appeals had unanimously ruled in our favor. After 14 months of persevering, we were no longer in danger of losing our business license. I sat down and cried.
I know I won’t have a clear perspective on this experience for a long time. I’m old enough to know that the wisdom I gain is in retrospect. This is a final, legal ruling that protects us from our own City government. Boy, does that sentence sound messed up. Many a time in the past year I have wondered what country I live in.
More observations on the hearing: It was pretty amazing, now that I look at it. Most citizens that attend the Zoning Board of Appeals do so to OPPOSE a matter being heard. Rarely do people attend in SUPPORT. As we waited for our turn, I heard other Appellants offering letters of support– one had six, one had seven. We had over 275.
When our case was called, we walk from the upper gallery in City Council Chambers down to a desk in the front with microphones. Like a trial, the opposing sides have two front tables. As we walk down, the roughly 40 supporters followed us down and sat behind us. From my perspective, I only saw the expressions on the faces of the Board Members. They had a look of…not sure how to describe it. Like when you’re seeing something you’ve not seen before, and you’re not quite sure…anyway, the Chairman asked, "who here is in support of the Logan Square Kitchen?" Everyone raised their hand. Then, "Anyone opposed?…(long pause…turns his head to left) besides the City?" It was a great moment to start on.
I know our lawyers have had that many people against them at ZBA before– they had this new experience of being supported in huge numbers. I saw firsthand the huge difference everyone made– showing up, being present, changes outcomes.
After we testified and were questioned by the Board, the Chairman was ready to close the case. Representing the City Zoning Dept., Steve Valenziano interrupted to argue the City’s position. He was certainly outnumbered, and as I watched him argue against us, I couldn’t help but feel some compassion. I’ve been that stubborn in my life. It hurts. Luckily I was able to independently document every interaction and decision with City officials for the past three years. (Being Type-A can come in handy every once in a while.)
One person made a comment on facebook that we should make sure this doesn’t happen to other good businesses in the future. I’m in. I’m SO in. Many of our regulators and administrators have forgotten who works for whom. They have lost sight of the fact that we’re intimately connected– it’s a very short walk from private prosperity to the next pay raise, or pay cut, in City Hall. The problem is, we don’t feel the connection anymore. Somehow, we need to find our way back to that together.
The only way that happens is if we stay involved. I dreamed of a business that would help people start and grow little food businesses. I never knew the twists the road would take, or the kind of work I would need to do to fulfill that dream. And I’m just in the first inning.
I’m so lucky to have all of you! I’ve been so inspired by all the emails, phone calls, thumbs-up’s, tweets, letters and outpouring of support. Every single one of those actions made a difference. Each of them gave me strength each day. It created an energy in City Hall that was magnificent. Thank you to each and every one of you. This is the kind of energy that can heal our City services, our environment, our food system. You guys have seen me through some dark days, and I’ll always be grateful to you. I still have my zero-energy, zero-landfill goals ahead, so I’ll be back in City Hall getting permission for all kinds of groundbreaking stuff. We need good guys in that building. But I know with this amazing community behind me, I’ll feel protected as I continue to live my life out over my skis.