Thursday, January 29, 2009

Google subpoenaed about two anonymous Chicago blogs

On the corner of Wilson and Broadway, in the heart of Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, a tax increment financing district (TIF) was created after on the site of a bus-barn, the Wilson Yard, had burned down. A mixed use development site was promised, with movie theaters, retail, and mixed-income housing.

What will be built instead, if the developer and the alderman have their say, is what Fix Wilson Yard calls "two ten-story towers of densely packed low income housing that will poorly serve its residents and undermine the safety and economic progress of the neighborhood surrounding it."

Opposition is fierce, which has led to Google being subpoenaed. More on that in a bit.

Here's what Crain's Chicago Business wrote last month about Fix Wilson Yard's lawsuit to stop the development:

"When you have a city with a significant budget crisis and underpaid pensions, it's time to stop frittering away the taxpayers' dollars," says Thomas Ramsdell, the attorney representing Fix Wilson Yard, which says it has more than 2,000 members. "You've got a group of citizens who are tired of it and are ready to fight City Hall."

The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court, asks a judge to prevent the city from providing TIF financing to the Wilson Yard project. Among other things, the complaint alleges that the city improperly approved changes to the development—including an increase in its budget to $150 million from $130 million—without adequate review of public input.

Moreover, it charges that the city violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act by not giving enough notice of an October meeting in which the TIF agreement was approved.

Uptown residents "will be irreparably harmed by the illegal diversion of substantial tax revenues from public bodies to private development projects" like Wilson Yard, the complaint says.

TIFs are for the most are a scam. Oops, let me rephrase that, in my opinion, TIFs are for the most part a scam. I don't need any subpoenas.

One blog, Uptown Update, run anonymously, has led the charge against the abuses, oops, alleged abuses of the Wilson Yard TIF bunch.

I am not an anonymous blogger, but there is nothing wrong in choosing to blog is such a manner. The Federalist Papers, written mostly by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, were written anonymously, Hamilton and Madison are the spiritual fathers of bloggers like Uptown Update.

Sometimes it's best to keep your name out of the argument.

However, the attorney for Peter Holsten, Wilson Yard's developer, doesn't share my admiration. This is where Google comes in. From the News-Star:

The attorney representing Wilson Yard developer Peter Holsten in the lawsuit filed against him by Fix Wilson Yard has subpoenaed Google seeking information about two Uptown blogs.

News-Star learned that the blogs in question are Uptown Update and What the Helen. Each blog was notified by e-mail that they had been subpoenaed as third parties through Google and that they have until Feb. 4 to file a motion to quash the subpoena. Both blogs are maintained anonymously and neither is affiliated with Fix Wilson Yard.


(Holsten's attorney) Johnson said the subpoena asks for ownership information of the blogs. Uptown Update is an active blog that has gained popularity as a clearinghouse for information about the neighborhood. What the Helen was active during the 2007 aldermanic election and has not been updated in over a year.

Both blogs have been highly critical of 46th Ward Ald. Helen Shiller. Shiller's supporters and detractors often debate the alderman's policies and neighborhood issues in both blogs' comments sections.

This is bullying plain and simple.

Google should tell Holsten and his attorney to go to Hell.

H/T to Chicago News Bench

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Cal Skinner said...

Sounds like a SLAPP suit action to me and Illinois has a law (sponsored by Jack Franks, I think) with protections for those exercising their Freedom of Speech in zoning cases.

John Ruberry said...

Great insight, as always, Cal.

Poi said...

My guess is that Google will not protest these efforts to break these blogs. IMO, the efforts of the Chinese government and the Google response will serve as a model for their actions.

yo said...

Ah. But that's China.

Update, though ... from the Fix Wilson Yard newsletter:

We are happy to announce that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has agreed to assist in filing motions to quash these outrageous subpoenas soon and end the defendant's fishing expedition.

Tom Mannis said...

William A. Jacobson said...

Hmm... I thought Blago was the only bully, but I'm not from Chicago, so how would I know. Good to see you guys keeping up the fight now that the rest of the world has moved on.