| by Kelly Tarrant and Project Six

On Wednesday, March 29, the Chicago City Council met for the March meeting of the full council body. Amendments to City Council rules, ceremonial ordinances, new regulations for street performers, parking in certain areas and a new municipal ID program were among the items debated and voted on.

 New Street lighting

The City Council has authorized the Chicago Department of Transportation and Department of Innovation and Technology to enter into an agreement with Ameresco, a Boston-based energy company, to implement the Chicago Smart Lighting Project. The project will upgrade Chicago’s street lights to LED lights. The total cost of the project is $160 million. This project is part of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which overspent millions and put city buildings at risk of having major portions repossessed from a private loan. Ameresco was one of the companies the city hired to complete the first project of the Infrastructure Trust. 

New municipal ID program

Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed security and system outlines for creating a Chicago municipal ID card program that would be available to undocumented immigrants. The ID program comes as a response to threats on undocumented immigrants. The card will be accepted as proof of ID by all City of Chicago departments. The ID program was enacted by amending Municipal Code Sections 2-12-010 and 2-160-06, and adding new Section 2-176-010 regarding establishment of a municipal identification card program.

City trying to follow the Open Meetings Act

A new amended ordinance to the Rule 59 Open Meetings Act was introduced that would allow for public comment during City Council meetings. To date, the monthly City Council meeting has never had a forum for open public comments. Input and feedback from the public were always reserved for the committee meetings. The change is the result of a lawsuit in which the city was found to be violating the Open Meetings Act and ordered to allow public comment at full council meetings. The proposal was introduced by Alderman Raymond Lopez (15th Ward), Alderman Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward), Alderman Sophia King (4th Ward) and Alderman Deborah Mell (33rd Ward) and referred to the Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics.

(Partially) silencing street performers

Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) and Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward) introduced new “street performer” regulations restricting where and when Chicago musicians can perform on the street. Potential new sites or “performance zones” will be designated and musicians would be allowed to perform only between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. In January, Alderman Reilly proposed restrictions on street performers, whom he described as “mind-numbing and maddening.” Despite many street performers being students or musicians trying to perform during the day, the city has imposed increased regulations and licensing requirements in recent years.

Sanctuary City

A resolution passed reaffirming the City of Chicago as a Sanctuary City supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program and denouncing the practice of deporting military veterans. The resolution was sponsored by Aldermen Danny Solis (25th Ward), Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward), Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th Ward), Alderman Michele Smith (43rd Ward), Alderman Patrick Daley Thompson (11th Ward) and Alderman Ariel Reboyras (30th Ward). This comes amid the threat that federal funding may be pulled from cities not adhering to federal rules. The Obama administration issued the same warning last year, telling cities they risked losing grant money in 2017 if they didn’t comply with the law.

Chicago trying to reduce drug prices

Aldermen Ed Burke (14th Ward) and Alderman Sophia King (4th Ward) are calling for hearings to bring public attention to high drug prices for serious, terminal and chronic conditions. The aldermen hope the public attention (in Chicago) will translate to public pressure for (national) drug companies to lower prices. The aldermen are also asking the Chicago Board of Health to publish annual reports showing the prices of medication the board dispenses.

Crying foul on the Cubs

Alderman Ed Burke (14th Ward) introduced a resolution to plan a hearing on the impact of the Chicago Cubs creating a private channel that viewers would be able to subscribe to for watching baseball games. The resolution and hearing would only be symbolic, but Burke threatened to potentially retaliate against the Cubs in future zoning and license requests if the team creates a new channel.

Making a statement to the governor

A resolution calling on Governor Bruce Rauner to renew negotiations with state employees represented by AFSCME Council 31 and other unions was introduced by Alderman Howard Brookins (21st Ward) and co-sponsored by 45 other aldermen. The proposal was entirely symbolic because the City Council has no real power to influence the stalled talks that have been in court for many months.

In addition, Alderman Carlos Rosa (35th Ward) proposed another symbolic resolution calling on Governor Rauner to regulate the taxation on recreational marijuana. This is in response to the recent introduction of legislation proposing to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Sidewalk café (permit) season

Permits for more than 480 sidewalk cafés were passed, with 125 of them located in the 42nd Ward, represented by Alderman Brendan Reilly. If a restaurant or bar in Chicago wants to have a sidewalk café, its management must first receive the permission and blessing of the ward alderman.

New parks in Chicago’s South Side area, batting cages in Humboldt Park and a new training center

Mayor Emanuel introduced expenditures for three new parks in Wards 6, 24 and 16 using Open Space Impact Fee funds. The Open Space Impact Fee was designed to help create open public spaces in the city. The program allocates fees that are applied to new residential developments to pay for land acquisition and park improvements in each of Chicago’s 77 community areas.

The City has purchased property from the Chicago Board of Education for $1 located at 7401 S. Chappel (8th Ward) for an information and technology, job training and employment center that will be operated by Blue 1647, a technology and innovation center, and Leave No Veteran Behind.

TIF funds totaling $325,000 will be used to build a new batting cage in Humboldt Park’s 26th Ward. The batting cages will be named after Alderman Roberto Maldonado’s late wife, Nancy Maldonado. TIF funding has been criticized for benefiting select areas of the city more than others while taking tax revenue away from much-needed sectors, such as education.

Surged metered parking at Wrigley

The mayor introduced an amendment to MCC 9-64-205 and 9-64-206 regarding metered parking at Wrigley Field that will double in the five hours surrounding game times, from $2/hour to $4/hour. The Mayor’s Office has said that the surge in price is designed to mitigate congestion in the area, create competitive parking relative to other parking alternatives, and encourage turnover for businesses around Wrigley Field.


Food trucks coming to Northeastern Illinois University, airports

Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th Ward) sponsored an amendment to the food truck ordinance to include a food truck stand at 3601 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., at the site of Northeastern Illinois University. Previous bans on food vendors in Chicago have been ruled as “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” by the Illinois Supreme Court. Proposals to allow food trucks at Midway and O’Hare airports were also introduced. The city has been criticized for its strict regulations and restrictions on food trucks.

Honorary street signs

A number of new honorary street signs were passed by the City Council:

In February, City Council voted to amend the honorary street sign ordinance to place a limit of two signs per aldermen per calendar year. Aldermen will now be required to pay for the signs from their expense accounts.

Allowing underage servers

An amendment to ordinance 4-60-143 was introduced allowing waiters and store clerks under the age of 21 years to serve or sell liquor. With the new amendment, people between the ages of 18 and 20 will be able to stock and sell unopened bottles of liquor in supermarkets and serve liquor in restaurants. The amendment is aimed at helping retail sales and reducing youth unemployment. The amendment is sponsored by Aldermen Tom Tunney (44th Ward) and Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), along with others.