Ranting and Raving

your choices for the Chippewa Valley’s best (and worst) in Ranting and Raving

V1 Staff, illustrated by Erik Christenson

BEST REASON TO STAY IN THE CHIPPEWA VALLEY

1st Place: Natural beauty
2nd Place: Family/friends
3rd Place: Comfort/safety

Look around – lakes, rivers, ponds, trees, farmland, rolling hills, bike trails, hiking paths, parks … and yes, bald eagles! We Chippewa Vallians can point in any direction and see bee-yoo-tee-full vistas-a-plenty. And we share it with our family and friends, the number two reason to stay. And we share the natural beauty with family and friends in safety and comfort. ‘Cause it’s relatively safe and comfortable here. And beautiful. So, if you’re a cool person, don’t leave. We love you and will keep you safe. Ignore that upcoming “Best Reason to Leave the Chippewa Valley” post. Did we mention the beauty, comradeship, and comfort? Yeah, we did. – Rob Reid
 

BEST REASON TO LEAVE THE CHIPPEWA VALLEY

1st Place: Job market
2nd Place: Lack of diversity
3rd Place: Too many stoplights, all poorly timed

Oh yeah, we totally understand. You need to move out, so you’ve made up some reasons. What? No, we didn’t say, “made up.” We said, “there are.” No, your reasons are totally legit. Like the job market. You’re right, Eau Claire isn’t the biggest city, and there are some industries that just aren’t present in the area. Like, if you want to be a space ship technician or a high-rise window washer, you won’t find work around here. And that’s what you want to be, right? And your second place reason, the lack of diversity, that’s another totally understandable basis for leaving. The diversity we do have, of ages, interests, and races, you don’t even notice. Maybe if we had a Somali restaurant, you’d stick around. Your third reason, though, we won’t be sarcastic about, because it’s almost driving us out, too – the stoplights. A trip down Clairemont should not take 20 minutes!!! You could time the lights so you’d only stop once or so. Why can’t anyone figure that out!!! – Eric Rasmussen


BIGGEST THING THAT SHOULD HAPPEN AROUND HERE BUT NEVER WILL

1st Place: Development on the river
2nd Place: Home Depot (tied)
2nd Place: Higher wages (tied)
3rd Place: All-purpose arena

Sure, sure, the Chippewa Valley is a cool place to live, but it could be a smidgen better if we finish the development on the downtown riverfront. Nice start, but a long way to go. Unfortunately, bad timing with a little thing called the economy (and other things) have stalled the vision. Never will happen? Maybe. If the dirt piles across from Phoenix Park don’t leave, let’s at least get a row of outdoor dining along the Chippewa River a la San Antonio’s River Walk. And despite the economy, which won’t help the need for higher wages, there’s still a need for a Home Depot in Mr. Menard’s backyard. How else am I going to teach my grandson to build a birdhouse if we don’t go to a Home Depot handy-klutz-man class? And build the arena already, for Pete’s Sake! I have to drive to La Crosse to see Dylan. Dylan should come see me! – Rob Reid
 

MOST ANNOYING HAPPENING IN THE PAST YEAR

1st Place: Clairemont construction
2nd Place: Smoking ban
3rd Place: Farwell closure

Stinkin’ orange barrels! They’re like Tribbles. They keep multiplying and make us merge left, merge right, now merge right and then merge left again. Which side of the road am I driving on today? A lot of fender benders at the beginning of the Clairemont project increased the demand for more orange barrels. They’re downtown (Farwell), too. Want to head to Phoenix Park to see a summer concert? Want to go to the Post Office? Then drive down a skinny side road and don’t hit a library pedestrian or drive into the V1 headquarters. Sorry I’m so cranky. I can’t have a smoke in my local establishment. Have to go to a neighboring community and bring my local bucks with me. Some businesses want the city to wait for a state-wide ban, so nearby taverns don’t suck in (sorry) the Eau Claire customers. Did you like my Lewis Black impersonation? Acting! – Rob Reid


HOTTEST LOCAL TOPIC OF CONVERSATION

1st Place: Smoking ban
2nd Place: Jail expansion
3rd Place: Bon Iver

Have you heard? The hottest topic of local conversation in the last year has folks fired up. Eau Claire’s recent smoking ban graced the lips of locals more than any other topic this year. Before it affected last July, heated discussions on the rights of bar owners and their patrons occurred nightly, over frantically smoked cigarettes. If you’re still yearning to express your views, the smoking debates have reconvened on Water Street sidewalks. Advancements on the jail expansion plan, like Eau Claire County’s purchase of riverfront properties, sparked equally heated dialogue. Petitioners against the jail expansion combed the city for support, bringing the years-old issue directly into daily life. Unlike the smoking ban, all that yakking did make a difference on the jail issue, which is now being reconsidered. Music quells the intensity of these topics, as indie sensation Bon Iver gained notoriety on its last two international tours. The Eau Claire band became the object of much gab and local pride. No surprise, really that the Chippewa Valley can’t get enough. How often is a Midwestern, flannel-wearing man on Late Night with Conan O’Brien? – Carrie A. Weiss


LOCAL NEWS STORY YOU WISH WOULD GO AWAY

1st Place: Continuing saga of Brett Favre
2nd Place: Gay teachers
3rd Place: Jail expansion

There are a few adjectives (and adjectival phrases) that are associated with local news and the consumers who love it – “current,” “informed,” and “willing to beat the ever-loving crap out of lots of dead horse stories.” Of course, Wisconsin’s favorite bicep, which happens to be attached to waffling, non-committal Brett Favre, won this category, as the hours spent on retirement vigils recently seem like wasted time. Over at South Middle School, a health teacher shared her sexual orientation with her students, and some parents and community members ended up talking about it about 700 times more than the actual students did. And, of course, the jail expansion disaster comes in third. Just about no one wanted the jail, the county clearly didn’t care, and the whole thing fizzled at the city level, but not before the county purchased several homes, which we assume will be used for government-sponsored parties. – Eric Rasmussen


LOCAL NEWS STORY YOU WISH WOULD SHOW UP

1st Place: Leinie’s declares free beer day
2nd Place: City announces huge pothole-filling initiative
3rd Place: Convention center arrives

“In a unique marketing ploy, the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company has declared Free Beer Day for Saturday, Nov. 1…” What? According to voters, that is the No. 1 local news story everyone wishes would show up. Hopefully, the city would also declare free bus ride day, as everyone and their brother would be stumbling around enjoying Creamy Dark, Honey Weiss, and Sunset Wheat. If an all-you-can-drink beer day is not at the top of your list, perhaps seeing the headline “City declares huge pothole-filling initiative” would excite you – at least, it would for those who voted this potential story into second place. Just think: without the fear of blown tires, bent rims, or blown shocks, Chippewa Valley drivers could spend more time texting 20 of their closest friends while they drive from home to the gym rather than concentrating so much on where to swerve. In third place is the arrival of a convention center in the valley. Not only would the creation of such a place be a boost to the local economy, but residents could stay in the area rather than driving out of town to attend something really cool. Perhaps it could have some nice green space nearby? – Emily Thierfelder
 

MOST MEMORABLE HAPPENING IN THE PAST YEAR

1st Place: Obama at Zorn Arena
2nd Place: Menard’s donation to Luther Midelfort
3rd Place: McCain at Altoona Family Restaurant

Zorn Area was full to the brim with waving posters, stomping feet, and screaming people – and no, it wasn’t because the UW-Eau Claire women’s basketball team was beating the pants off UW-La Crosse. Rather, it was because Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama chose a cold day in February to grace Eau Clairians’ presence with a political rally. Almost 4,000 people packed into Zorn to listen to the presidential hopeful speak, and 500 people who couldn’t get in waited outside. Clinging to the coattails of that event is home and garden hotshot – and one of Wisconsin’s richest men – John Menard and his $15 million donation, which he gave to Luther Midelfort over the summer to establish the Menard Center for Emergency Care, a multi-level building that will cover over 900,000 square feet. Last on our list of most memorable happenings is Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s impromptu stop at Altoona Family Restaurant in Altoona in July, when he surprised lunchgoers with a half-hour-long, unplanned, and casual appearance. He greeted people, took photos, and walked out with a to-go meal of fish, chicken wings, and milkshakes. – Emily Thierfelder
 

BEST LOCAL IDEA THAT WORKED LAST YEAR

1st Place: Citywide smoking ban
2nd Place: Chalkfest
3rd Place: Jail expansion project roadblock

Eau Claire’s decision to ban tobacco smoking in all (all!) public places made for the most riveting city council meetings in the entire history Eau Claire having a city council. The Smoking Ban meetings brought out enraged bar owners, enraged health nuts, concerned citizens, and everyone in between. There was cheering and booing and even some tears. Given the city’s bipolar response to the passing of the ban, it’s no wonder you rated the issue as “best local idea” and “biggest loss.” Those in the “best idea” camp are undoubtedly loving their stench-free clothes, hair, and lungs. You voted Chalkfest  as the Valley’s second best idea, where over 40 chalk artists turned Eau Claire’s Wilson Park into a city block-sized collage of  sidwalk masterpieces. Your third best idea was the citizen-lead success in blocking the county jail expansion project. – Mike Paulus
 

BEST LOCAL IDEA THAT FAILED

1st Place: Native Bay Restaurant
2nd Place: Dog Hut
3rd Place: Holding former school board members accountable

Native Bay, out on Lake Wissota, was unlike other local restaurants in a lot of ways. They were committed to local and organic ingredients, their dishes were unique, and they were one of our few options for true fine dining. Whether it was from the drive or the price tag, Native Bay closed their doors over the summer. Dog Hut was on the opposite end of the spectrum – they stood for simple, yet tasty on-the-go food served by actual big-city people (with Chicago accents and everything!). Western Wisconsin apparently has yet to embrace the hot dog as anything other than a kids’ food, and Dog Hut also closed over the summer. And in third, Carol Olson and the former members of the local school board that backdated contracts and did Lord-knows whatever other unethical actions faced no consequences, save for our collective disapproving looks. That sounds fair, right? – Eric Rasmussen
 

BIGGEST LOSS OF THE YEAR

1st Place: Tobacco in public places
2nd Place: Native Bay Restaurant
3rd Place: Brett Favre

To all the smokers out there, this needs no explanation. The delicious and satisfying cigarette puffs that used to accompany dinner or drinks are long gone. To everyone else who is not mourning the loss, just hang on. That cigarette-fueled bar smell that forced you to wash your clothes was an incredible boon to the laundry detergent industry, so we didn’t just lose smoke – we lost jobs. And all that nicotine that the smokers were sharing with you – that greatly improved local happiness. So there. Second, Native Bay, a restaurant out on Lake Wissota, was a painful loss. The food was outstanding, they were committed to local and organic ingredients, and they added a lot of class to an increasingly corporate local eating scene. And of course, whether you were riveted or disgusted by all the retirement charades, Brett Favre could really throw a football, and you can’t. – Eric Rasmussen


BEST USE OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS LAST YEAR

1st Place: Schools
2nd Place: Police/Fire/EMS
3rd Place: Clairemont reconstruction

Chippewa Valley schools have had a rough couple of years, between school board controversies, declining budgets, and Mrs. Grunsveld, who totally gives out way too much homework and won’t let you eat in class or anything. None the less, it is reassuring that V1 readers still appreciate public education in the area, as schools take the number one spot. Western Wisconsin regularly blows away other parts of the state in standardized test scores, the students are committed and active, and the teachers are attractive and generally fun to be around. In second place, the emergency responders of the area receive some well-deserved props – our streets are safer and we all sleep a little better because of them. And in third, even though it was a giant, ridiculous, awful pain in the neck all summer long, the brand new Clairemont Avenue is one impressive stretch of concrete. – Eric Rasmussen


BIGGEST THING TO MOST LIKELY HAPPEN IN THE NEXT 3 YEARS

1st Place: Downtown revitalization
2nd Place: More sprawl
3rd Place: YMCA

In a progression of choices that goes from positive to negative to inevitable, all three of your top responses in this category involve buildings. Once again, downtown revitalization tops your list of likely developments in the next 36 months. Everyone’s definition of “revitalization” is probably a bit different on this one. In terms of concrete and lumber, downtown Eau Claire’s physical landscape is certainly in the midst of revitalization – with new structures in various states of completion and new businesses moving in. On the geographical flipside, your votes pushed “more sprawl” into second place, affirming your faith that the Chippewa Valley’s cities will continue to add strip malls, factories, and housing developments to its outer, non-downtown-related borders. Your third most popular response was the YMCA’s plan to move from its downtown Eau Claire location, possibly to the corner of Menomonie Street and Clairemont Avenue … which is kind of like saying you believe a new president will be elected within the next  four years. – Mike Paulus
 

WORST USE OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS IN THE PAST YEAR

1st Place: Superintendent’s salary
2nd Place: Carson Park sign
3rd Place: Jail expansion

That fourth-month investigation of superintendent Bill Klaus carried right into the span of our poll. Apparently many of you voters felt that the allegations that he tried to access his retirement stipend (about $267,000) were true, since you voted that the worst use of your hard-earned tax dollars this year went to his salary. Now lets keep an eye on the damage lawsuit he filed against the school board for a whopping $1.9 million! Your other vote for wasteful spending went to the big new Carson Park sign that scrolls text to alert you of tennis courts, festivals, museums, games, and all-out revelry. And even though the jail expansion project was halted, all you voters know that the hours of planning and meetings costs money. Don’t be surprised if this item moves to No. 1 next year, seeing as how the debate still continues. – Trevor Kupfer
 

YOUR FAVORITE CITY COUNCIL MEMBER

1st Place: Kerry Kincaid
2nd Place: Dave Adler
3rd Place: Larry Balow

One of the most important elements of a community is the feeling of security you get from knowing that your civic leaders are out there fighting for the stuff you care about. Jumping up two slots from last year is Kerry Kincaid, vice president for city council in her third term. Kerry has a broad range of community involvement, is a strong female figure for Eau Claire, and she’s always pushing important items such as downtown development, job creation, and the arts. Also jumping two spots from last year is City Council President Dave Adler, the most dashing man to ever hold a gavel. At-large member Larry Balow snuck into your hearts as you voted him in third, and re-elected the long-time firefighter to a second term in April. – Trevor Kupfer

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