Ranting and Raving

your Best of the Chippewa Valley 2010 winners for local issues

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BIGGEST THING WE SHOULD MAKE HAPPEN SOON

1st Place: High Speed Rail Stop in EC
2nd Place: Revitalize Downtown
3rd Place: Get a Grocery Store Downtown

The Chippewa Valley fosters such a great can-do attitude! Notice that these are things that WE (you and me) should make happen, not the city elders, the Illuminati, or whoever else makes all of our city decisions. In first place is a high-speed rail stop, so here’s what needs to happen – we’ll come up with some track, someone will need to bring nails, and my uncle has an ice-fishing shack that could work as a depot. Sweet! For revitalizing downtown in second place, we have a bunch of old paint in the basement, so if someone could bring some concrete to patch the roads and some snacks for while we work, we’re set. And the grocery store ... that might be tough, but we have a bunch of barbecue sauces we could donate, and I bet our moms would bake some bars to sell, and if someone has a cow, we could stock milk. Grocery store – done. Civic action is so easy! – ER

MOST ANNOYING HAPPENING IN THE PAST YEAR

1st Place: The Jail Expansion
2nd Place: Construction
3rd Place: Stones Throw still unopened

In April, at long last, the city and county finalized the almost $60 million jail construction downtown – much to the chagrin of people who had been protesting the project for at least a few years. Even though 70 percent of Eau Claire residents who voted wanted it downtown, for many it still looms darkly as the “most annoying happening” in the past year. Construction in general got the second-most votes, and if you lived downtown this summer, you’d agree. It seemed that at least three feasible routes “uptown” were – simultaneously – closed. We almost came to expect large piles of dirt in place of smooth asphalt. The third most annoying happening this year was seeing the Stones Throw sitting idle, its doors closed since June of 2009. Though renovations have been made, the bar has yet to reopen. – KJ

HOTTEST LOCAL TOPIC OF CONVERSATION

1st Place: The Jail Expansion
2nd Place: Statewide Smoking Ban
3rd Place: Backyard Chickens

In the weeks that preceded the April 6 vote, I was a walking database of pros and cons concerning the jail expansion debate. I talked pros and cons. I dreamed pros and cons. I regurgitated pros and cons. When the ballots spoke, they spoke clearly: build it downtown. The second hottest topic of local conversation was the administering of a statewide smoking ban, which went in to effect July 5 of this year. Arguments were plentiful, but it’s a done deal now. And thirdly, local group ECLUCK (Eau Claire Leaders for Urban Chicken Keeping) beseeched the city council for an ordinance that would allow Eau Claire residents to pen their own hens. They got shut down on the basis that it’s a nuisance. (Unlike monstrous outbreaks of egg salmonella …) – KJ

LOCAL NEWS STORY GETTING SWEPT UNDER THE RUG

1st Place: The one none of us know about
2nd Place: Why the former school board president wasn’t charged
3rd Place: People elected just to push through the riverfront jail

It happens everywhere – there are always stories that maybe don’t get the kind of exposure they deserve. In a wonderful show of sarcastic solidarity, the Valley voted for The Story None of Us Know About as the most important news story that got swept under the rug this year. An understandable source of considerable debate, The Story has fueled multiple conspiracy theories, intense conversation over whether or not it actually happened, and – perhaps most of all – public outrage over why it was swept under the rug, leaving us all in the dark. On a more realistic note, second place went to Why the Former Eau Claire School Board President Wasn’t Charged with forgery, followed closely by the story about People Being Elected Just to Push Through the Jail. Fox Mulder was, unfortunately, not available for comment. – AW

KIND OF EATERY/BAR WE MOST NEED

1st Place: French
2nd Place: An arcade bar
3rd Place: German Bierstube

We have Mexican restaurants and Italian joints. We have townie bars and college bars. But something is missing. Seems like the French are feeling left out. French fries don’t cut it. Neither do crepes. Eau Claire could benefit from a French diner. Picture a nice little café with outdoor seating where Eau Claireians could smoke their skinny cigarettes in their vintage cigarette holders and wear berets. It certainly doesn’t get better than that, oui? Wouldn’t it be great to take a trip into the past and revisit your childhood, in the days when kids played hours of Pac Man instead of Call of Duty, at an old-school arcade game bar? Side ponytails and Donkey Kong shirts welcome. Maybe one day we’ll see not only a darker German beer on Water Street, but someone will open a German Bierstube where wiener schnitzel will be served and people will drink from das boot! Guten tag! – LdF

MOST BIZARRE NEWS STORY OF THE PAST YEAR

1st Place: Two deer enter Stout Ale House
2nd Place: Six bank robberies in a month
3rd Place: WRR explodes … again!

The surveillance videos are on YouTube and the story is on ESPN. Some party-crashing deer broke into the Stout Ale House, busted up the place, and then ran home. The animals ran through the bar’s glass doors, knocking one of the doors off of its hinges. And the best part? The Milwaukee Bucks were playing on the bar’s televisions. “Fear the deer!” On the more serious side of this poll, there were six bank robberies in the Chippewa Valley during the month of October 2009. One of the robberies resulted in a shoot-out, and the robber didn’t make it far. The most recent story is the WRR facility blowing up … again! Talk about déjà vu. Luckily, no one was hurt. And the green flames looked kind of cool. – RT

BEST LOCAL IDEA THAT WORKED LAST YEAR

1st Place: Red Cedar Youth Stage
2nd Place: Saving field trips
3rd Place: Chippewa Valley Roller Girls

Red Cedar Youth Stage enjoyed its first year of vibrant stage performances thanks to the president of the Menomonie Theater Guild, Blaine Halverson. The kids of Menomonie put on historically relevant Caddie Woodlawn and a Christmas program, among other successful productions, at the notable Mabel Tainter Theatre. Second place goes to the June decision by the Eau Claire School Board to reinstate funding for field trips to students in grades K-5. The PTO/PTA had also rallied to bring thousands of dollars to the cause. The field trips were saved. Thirdly, we now have our own glamorous roller derby team, The Chippewa Valley Roller Girls, who have been practicing for a little over a year and are now anticipating their first bout this October. – KJ

STRUCTURE WE’D LIKE TO SEE LOCALLY ERECTED

1st Place: Trader Joe’s
2nd Place: A grocery store downtown
3rd Place: All-purpose arena

Are you paying attention, potential buyers? The people have spoken – here’s what we’d like to see locally erected. First up, a Trader Joe’s would be great, please. The California-based grocery store that specializes in organic food and specialty products would make a fantastic addition to the city. Second, a grocery store downtown would be a great for the already flourishing area. (I mean, just look at Phoenix Park.) Lastly, an all-purpose arena in Eau Claire would be much appreciated. The city is continually growing, and the potential to host larger events would be an all-too-perfect complement to the increasing population. Thanks a bunch! – EL

MOST DISAPPOINTING FAILURE OF THE PAST YEAR

1st Place: 2 S Barstow and the Vernons
2nd Place: The Jail Expansion
3rd Place: Backyard Chickens

This spring, Justin Vernon and his brother Nate were scheming up an elaborate renovation project for 2 South Barstow, also known as the “mural building.” They were going to transform it into a combination nonprofit cultural center and music venue … but it was exposed as a money pit, and problems with the building’s foundation and layout were – simply put – just short of impossible to deal with. The second most disappointing failure was, for some, the city council’s final decision to commence the construction of a bigger jail downtown. Voters turned yet more evil eyes on the council as they recalled the members’ unwillingness to adopt a city ordinance that would allow for domestic chicken keeping. – KJ

BEST USE OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS LAST YEAR

1st Place: Schools/Teachers
2nd Place: Bike paths
3rd Place: Cultural/arts organizations

In the Valley, we are proud of our students and we are always looking to make their education better. Although facing tough times, it seems people still find no use more constructive than offering tax dollars to improve our schools and support our teachers. (But it begs the question as to why referendums fail…) Bike paths are also a local favorite, where maintenance can make a huge difference for outdoor lovers and wanderers searching to get in touch with nature – without having to wrangle with encroaching weeds and debris. And don’t forget organizations that make sure we share the amazing arts and culture scenes we’ve got. That means you, city council: consider this proof that locals don’t want to see these budgets on your chopping block. – KS

WORST USE OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS IN THE PAST YEAR

1st Place: The Jail Expansion
2nd Place: Bill Klaus
3rd Place: Roundabouts

Measuring the top three “winners” from last year (does that term really qualify for this category?), we learned that some things really grind your gears. Featuring the same top three from a year ago, not much has changed in the perceptions of ill-spent money in the area. Though it came in second last year, the Jail/Courthouse expansion edged out first place by three votes this go-round. Barely slipping to second is Eau Claire School District’s ongoing squabbles with former superintendent Bill Klaus, what with court costs amid contract disagreements and an aching notion that he was paid less than superintendents in similar school districts. Third last year and this year is public spending on roundabouts, those lightless circular intersections that city officials say exponentially increase safety. – TG

THINGS THE CHIPPEWA VALLEY IS GOOD AT

1st Place: Farmers markets
2nd Place: Drinking
3rd Place: Natural beauty

Let’s celebrate homegrown goodness. Whether you grow it, sell it, eat it, or just look at it, our farmers markets are the shizz, if you forget about the gnats. With delicious produce and products that come straight from the local folk, these open-air heavens are a signature of the Valley. And while the bar numbers here are creeping up beyond our restaurant numbers, what does it matter? Let us be proud of what we are good at. Drink that beer down with love, my friend. As for affection, don’t miss out on the beauty that surrounds you. We have glaciers to thank for our winding Valley filled with blooming life and wild richness. Perhaps that lumberjack and his cookie monster-colored ox should get some credit, too. – KS

THINGS THE CHIPPEWA VALLEY IS BAD AT

1st Place: Thinking outside the box
2nd Place: Developing the riverfront
3rd Place: Retaining/attracting talent

The Chippewa Valley is all about tradition, and while that’s normally not touted as a bad thing, it makes “change” a difficult sell. Whether it was backyard chickens, roundabouts, or four-story buildings that got shut down, voters say we’re bad at thinking outside the box. The jail decision certainly had something to do with the second place finisher, as our city is blessed with two great rivers and we have little to no local development on them (Phoenix Park being a proud exception). And despite consistently being voted as a good place for homegrown talent, we just can’t seem to keep it around. The solution is simple: we need to build a four-story business on the river that employs recent college grads. – KS

FAVORITE CITY COUNCIL MEMBER

1st Place: None of the above … get a mayor
2nd Place: Andrew Werthmann
3rd Place: Kerry Kincaid

Whether it’s because of a dislike for our city manager style of government or because it’s trendy to hate on politicians, voters don’t have a favorite city council member this year. City officials have repeatedly said they’ll stack this system against mayoral any day, and ripping on people that you appoint isn’t hip – it’s dumb (if you don’t like ‘em, why aren’t you running?). But at least there’s no question as to why they named Andrew Werthmann and Kerry Kincaid in the top of the heap. Throughout their terms both have been unbending forces of progressivism, repeatedly voting to defend/promote the arts, sustainability, and downtown. Great qualities to have in a young councilman (Werthmann) and the body’s leader (Kincaid). – TK

BEST REASON TO STAY IN THE CHIPPEWA VALLEY

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

Mom, dad, brother, sister, friend, grandpa, grandma, cousin, aunt, uncle – you are the main reason we live here. Your presence and proximity is what makes living in Eau Claire extra enjoyable, because – let’s face it – it stinks to have to fly home for Christmas. While you’re hanging out with your besties, you’re probably also traipsing about the countryside, picking flowers and berries, because the Chippewa Valley is so darn pretty. “Natural Beauty” takes second. In third place this year is “Comfort & Safety,” because unlike residents of New York City, we love our soothing familiarity – as opposed to being robbed. – KJ

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