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The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him: adam.belz@gazcomm.com

Reality and the Chicago connection

Eastern Iowa fears of the Chicago migration are nothing new, and they’re beginning to become cyclical. This is the lead of a big Sunday story in The Gazette on Aug. 18, 2003:

Christina McGowan remembers well those days when she lived on Chicago’s south side. She was called First Lady. She was respected and feared. She had money….

McGowan, 26, and her three children live in a two-bedroom Cedar Rapids apartment across the street from a cornfield, eking out a much more meager, but quieter, living.

“I am on my way to that happy ending, so to speak,” said McGowan, who moved to the area last year. “I think I was supposed to be dead or in jail right now.”

McGowan is among a growing number of new Eastern Iowans moving to the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Technology Corridor who are fleeing the poverty and crime of inner cities.

Many are coming from Chicago, which is displacing families while tearing down its projects and replacing them with mixed-income town houses. The majority are African-American families – typically single mothers with children.

But I just got off the telephone with a woman named Susan Popkin, and she doesn’t buy the notion that black people have left Chicago in large numbers as housing projects have been torn down.

Popkin is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., and she’s been tracking Chicago public housing for almost a decade. People who left Chicago’s old public housing have largely moved to other parts of Chicago, or the south suburbs, she said.

“They have not moved to Iowa,” she said. “They’re in Chicago.”

The gentrification of Chicago is the driving force behind any migration, she said.

Popkin admits no weaknesses in the Section 8 subsidized housing program that several people around here blame for importing Chicago problems into Eastern Iowa cities, except this:

High concentrations of Section 8 vouchers in one neighborhood can ruin a neighborhood, Popkin said. This is the contention of Dale Todd, a Wellington Heights resident who grew up in Chicago and moved to Cedar Rapids in 1974.

“When we develop concentrations of Section 8 housing…it can have a negative impact on the people we’re trying to help,” he said. “The inability of regular landlords to rent in that neighborhood forces them to turn to Section 8. It’s a cycle.”

Popkin said it’s up to the local housing authority to be prudent in how it directs the vouchers. This requires outreach to new landlords, so more will accept them, so the vouchers will be spread out evenly across a community.

“When you have a modest number of voucher holders in a neighborhood it’s often good for property values because it’s a guaranteed income stream for landlords,” she said.

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Filed under: Cedar Rapids Library, Public Safety, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Crime way down across the nation (and in C.R.)

The Washington Post is reporting huge declines in violent crime this year across the country: “The District, New York and Los Angeles are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades.”

While homicide is so rare in Cedar Rapids that it’s difficult to draw statistical conclusions about it, Cedar Rapids’ declining rates of reported crime reflect this national trend (whether you believe it or not).

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Public Safety, , , , , , , ,

Supes haggle on AOB vs. Juvy Courts

Linn County will submit two projects to the state I-JOBS board for funding, and lines were drawn Monday on which of the two is most important.

Supervisor Jim Houser said the county’s Administrative Office Building should be the first priority in obtaining state economic stimulus dollars. Supervisor Brent Oleson thinks a new juvenile courts facility should be the top priority.

“We’ve got to put county government back together in a county seat,” Houser said. “We’re taking care of our county functions first.”

Oleson argued that juvenile courts was left without a home in the “musical chairs” at the county courthouse since the flood, and it’s more important because it serves children, a disproportionate number of which are minorities.

“I think that’s a whole lot more compelling a story to tell I-JOBS than that me and a bunch of other elected officials need new offices,” Oleson said.

The supervisors want to spend about $12 million to renovate and expand the Administrative Office Building, 930 First St. SW. The I-JOBS application will ask for $8.8 million. A new juvenile law center and courthouse could cost up to $4.5 million, and the supervisors will submit an I-JOBS application for roughly $3.4 million.

Supervisor Lu Barron wants the board to prioritize the two projects in case state officials ask which is more important. “No doubt, both are extremely important,” she said.

Supervisors Linda Langston and Ben Rogers said they would rather not prioritize the projects, since it might pit the projects against each other.

Houser said he’d “like to see both projects funded,” but points out the office building is an explicit county function, while juvenile courts will house state services.

The supervisors will make a decision on the question at Wednesday’s meeting, 10 a.m., Linn County West.

Filed under: County Government, , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Sideways” director working on new film called “Cedar Rapids”

Alexander Payne, director of “Sideways,” the 2004 movie about two middle-aged guys touring California wine country, is directing a new movie called “Cedar Rapids.”

No word yet on why the name was chosen, or if it has anything to do with our fair city, but hey, news is news, right!

Shooting will begin in October. Variety is reporting that the film, which will star Ed Helms from “The Office,” is about “a sad-sack insurance agent who goes to an industry convention to try to save the jobs of his colleagues.”

Whatever. Maybe it’ll be like “Fargo” was for Fargo, and the movie will change our city forever. Wait, nevermind.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Other, , , , ,

911 tapes released in Ed Thomas shooting

Dispatcher: “Butler County 911.”

Daryl Myers: “This is Daryl Myers. I work for the school. We, uh, had, a, I think a shooting right now in the bus barn down at the high school.”

Dispatcher: “Where at?”

Myers: “At Parkersburg.”

Dispatcher: “Yeah, at the high school where?”

Myers: “Uh, in the bus barn.”

Dispatcher: “In the bus barn? Do you know who it was?”

Myers: “No I don’t, uh, kids just come running out and said somebody shot Ed Thomas.”

Dispatcher: “Ed Tho—! OK.”

Myers: “And they’re still in the building.”

Dispatcher: “They’re in the building?

Myers: “Yeah.”

Dispatcher: “All right. All right. We’ll get someone right there.”

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation on Friday released dramatic 911 tapes in which shocked but calm residents of Parkersburg report the fatal shooting of iconic high school football coach Ed Thomas. Mark Becker, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in Thomas’ death.

The tapes — three of five are intelligible — show concerns about a slow ambulance response and less-than-perfect communication between emergency responders.

The DCI withheld six 911 tapes, contending they contain information that’s part of the ongoing criminal investigation.

In one tape, Police Chief Chris Luhring told dispatchers he couldn’t reach an ambulance by radio.

“This is going to be a load and go. When they come in here and load that cot up, you’re out of here,” Police Chief Chris Luhring said.

The dispatcher told Luhring that a helicopter would be there in 15 minutes, and then the dispatchers spent a few seconds tracking down a cell phone number for someone in the ambulance.

In another call, Leah Vanderholt called 911 because several students had fled the weight room where Thomas was shot and were gathered at a house nearby.

“We can see the building right now, and all we see is a police blazer. We don’t see any ambulances, we don’t see anything,” Vanderholt told the dispatcher.

“The ambulance is on the way right now,” the dispatcher said. “They had a hard time getting a crew, but they are on the way. We also have paramedics that have been en route for about ten minutes.”

Vanderholt told the dispatcher the address of the home where she and the kids were waiting, and the dispatcher asked them not to leave until police arrived, and they had spoken with the officers.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , ,

Hey! Crime is actually down in Cedar Rapids

It has declined dramatically.

The six-month crime statistics, released into my hot hands by police Wednesday, refute the popular perception (see soundbite from wild-eyed resident on local telecast) that crime is out of control and the city is growing less safe.

Compared to the first six months of 2008, robberies dropped by 36 percent. Theft dropped 35 percent. Assault dropped 14 percent. Burglary dropped 13 percent. Homicide held steady. There were two by the end of June in 2008, and there have been two so far this year (one of those, the Cain-and-Abel stabbing of Matthew Hanson by his brother Jason, was reduced in court to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury).

So things aren’t too bad.

“This is the difference between perception and reality,” said Sgt. Cristy Hamblin, spokeswoman for the Cedar Rapids Police.

Perception may have been skewed by the flareup of crime along First Avenue East that culminated in the life-threatening, community-wrenching, civil society-defying attack on Officer Tim Davis on March 29. He was assaulted while trying to break up an armed robbery, was injured very badly, was hospitalized for several weeks, was later fitted with a titanium plate in his skull, and now his return to the police force is uncertain.

Police responded by descending on Wellington Heights and Mound View, the neighborhoods that flank First Avenue from Coe College up to 19th Street.

They handed out jaywalking and loitering tickets and arrested 148 people in three weeks. Chief Greg Graham announced the department would open a new substation at the corner of First Avenue East and 15th Street in an effort to build trust among police, business owners and local residents.

But amid the community forums, marches against violence and calls for greater landlord accountability, 2009 has so far been a better year than 2008.

It’s also been better than 2006 — the earliest year for which police keep monthly crime stats — when there were 611 assaults reported by the end of June, compared to 413 this year.

“The officers are being more proactive, more directed, more focused on what they’re doing,” Capt. Bernie Walther, head of criminal investigation for the Cedar Rapids police, said. “They’re out there walking, making contact with the public.”

He said the assault on Davis was a “wakeup call” and the flurry of activity in subsequent weeks was the community’s response, but he rejects the widespread view that crime has been on the uptick.

“The bad stuff makes the headlines, and that’s what people see,” he said. “Between the city being brought down with the flood, with the economy, I think people are somewhat pessimistic and somewhat more likely to believe that things are worse than they really are.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , , , , , , ,

Dog kills cat, dog must go. But must it die?

Mitch Bingham will get a letter later this week ordering him to get rid of his dog.

The Blairstown city council will decide whether that means death or the pound, or a farm in the country for Sam, Bingham’s two-year-old Alaskan husky.

The dog attacked and killed a cat in Blairstown on Monday while Jess Mangiaracina, Bingham’s girlfriend, was taking the dog for a walk.

The dog spotted a cat belonging to Deb Johann, and got excited. It was on a leash, but Mangiaracina was caught by surprise and the dog broke loose and chased the cat, named Jill, toward a tree in front of Johann’s house.

“The dog kind of jumped up and snatched him out of the tree,” Mangiaracina said.
Before long, the cat was dead. Mangiaracina put the cat’s body into a garbage bag, knocked on the door and talked to Johann’s daughter. She then called Johann.

“I apologize, but your cat wasn’t in your yard. It was just running around,” Mangiaracina said.

Johann, who runs a hair salon out of her home, was upset. The cat was nine years old, and had been with the family ever since they’d lost everything in a fire nearly a decade ago. Johann said her cats never leave her yard.

“They might think this was a minor thing,” she said. “It was a cat. But it was our cat, and she didn’t need to die that brutal death.”

She asks that, at a minimum, the dog be taken into the country.

“An animal like that doesn’t belong in town,” she said.

The two families don’t agree on whether the cat was in Johann’s property when the dog spotted it, but when it comes to the dog’s future, it really doesn’t matter.

Blairstown city ordinance requires that if a dog attacks another domestic animal and was “uncontrollable” at the time of the attack, the dog is “vicious” and must either be destroyed or sent to a humane society. Rodney Kubichek, the mayor of Blairstown, said two years ago the city council was lenient and allowed a “vicious” dog simply to be removed from city limits.

“In practice, what’s probably going to happen is he’ll just have to get it out of town,” Kubichek said.

Filed under: Other, , , , , , , , , ,

Would-be midnight intruder gets seven days

Daniel Kvidahl, the man who has been scaring the dickens out of his neighbor over the past six months by trying to get into her home in the middle of the night, will serve six days and six hours in jail after pleading guilty to criminal trespass and public intoxication for a March 31 incident.

Kvidahl was sentenced this morning at a brief court proceeding in the basement of the Palmer Building, 123 Fifth St. SE.

Sara Marino, a divorced mother of two who lives next door to Kvidahl, testified before the sentencing, with Kvidahl sitting a few feet away. The criminal justice system has not been able to keep him from repeatedly acting in a way that seems threatening, she said.

“I would like to have him just stay away,” she said. “He scares me. He scares my kids.”

Kvidahl scoffed at this, and his lawyer touched his arm to restrain him.

Linn County Attorney Nick Scott sought the seven-day jail sentence and a substance abuse evaluation.

“There’s an opportunity for the court to make an impression on the defendant as to the seriousness of the offense,” Scott said. “This is inappropriate behavior, and it should not continue.”

Kvidahl admitted having a problem with alcohol, and said he’s taking medication and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

He said he thought Marino’s house was his own, and tried to enter by mistake, because he was drunk. (It’s worth mentioning here that Marino and Kvidahl have quite different front doors. She has a covered porch, with a few wooden steps up to it. He has no porch, but only a cement pad almost at ground level.)

“I really, really, truly never meant to do no harm,” Kvidahl said. “Anything I have done, I’m truly, truly sorry.”

But he and his attorney argue he shouldn’t be sentenced to jail time. He never has before, in three separate instances where he was arrested on Marino’s property. He said The Gazette’s report about what has transpired between him and Marino, and the embarrassment it caused, has been punishment enough.

“The embarrassment and all the things that I’ve been through is like a punishment in itself,” he said.

The judge, Magistrate Lorraine Machacek, gave Kvidahl the jail sentence prosecutors asked for, citing “some indication” that Kvidahl’s behavior has been repeated and his “extensive criminal history.”

“I quite frankly can’t imagine anything more frightening than to have someone enter my house uninvited when they’re under the influence of alcohol,” she said.

Kvidahl will serve his jail sentence in chunks on weekends.

Filed under: Courts, , , , , , ,

13 commute using county vehicles

Thirteen non-sheriff’s office county officials use county vehicles to commute to and from work – five from conservation, five from the engineer’s office, two from the emergency management agency and one from public health.

Iowa law allows this, as long as the government employee reports that he or she uses a public vehicle for their commute, and that $3 per day is added to their taxable income. If the worker stops at a county work site on the way to work, she doesn’t have to report the commute.

At the request of The Gazette, Auditor Joel Miller obtained a list of county employees who commute to work using a county vehicle.

“There’s no policy,” Miller said. “If you don’t give them some guidelines, then everyone’s open to abuse this thing.”

Read more about this in tomorrow’s Gazette.

Filed under: County Government, , , , , , , ,

Where are Section 8 housing vouchers used in C.R.?

There’s a huge cluster in Wellington Heights. Here’s the map:

Section 8 Housing Map

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

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