| by Kelly Tarrant

On Wednesday, the Chicago City Council met for the monthly meeting of the full council. Several controversial votes were made, such as the red-light camera lawsuit settlement and the industrial corridor project. Alderman Joe Moore (49th) and Alderman Willie B. Cochran (20th) were absent from this month’s meeting.

This was the first full council meeting at which members of the public were allowed to comment or ask questions, the new (lackluster) opportunity is possible because of a lawsuit against the city claiming that it is in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Twelve people spoke for three minutes or less apiece.

Some of the significant items that were voted on or debated in City Council as well as Cook County this month include:

Members of the public allowed to speak, members of council didn’t listen

This month’s full City Council meeting provided members of the public the opportunity to comment or ask questions during the full Council meeting. The city’s proposed attempt to comply with the Open Meetings Act is to allow just 30 minutes of total public comment time and limit each person to only 3 minutes.

During the public comment time, nearly every alderman and the mayor largely ignored the members of the public and instead had loud conversations among themselves or left the Council chambers entirely.

Planned Manufacturing District development project

The City Council passed a development bill for the industrial sector on the North Side by a vote of 46 to 2. Aldermen Michele Smith (43rd Ward) and Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) were the two no votes.

The City Council vote comes after this proposal was debated for more than three hours in the Joint Committee on Finance, Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards. The ordinance makes major zoning map modifications regarding industrial corridors in the city.

Commissioner David Reifman, from the Department of Planning and Development, testified during the committee meeting and explained that most of the zoning changes will occur predominately in the 27th Ward and the 2nd Ward, in addition to portions of the 32nd Ward and 43rd Ward. The land is on both sides of the Chicago River from Kinzie on the south to Fullerton on the north.

The proposed ordinance removes three Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMD) established in 1988 and reverts land into the previous zoning classifications (C1-2, M1-2, M2-2 and M3-3). A new Industrial Corridor Supplement Fund will be developed to pay for transportation, infrastructure and open space improvements to be paid for by developers. However, the ordinance provides a loophole that could allow developers not to pay into the fund.

Critics of the proposal worried that the ordinance will allow City Council to spend money in a possibly uncontrolled and unmonitored manner and with little oversight. Critics also pointed to possible negative impacts on the city’s industrial sector.

Airbnbs being banned in the 13th Ward

The City Council unanimously passed 10 ordinances that ban Airbnb and home-sharing services in 10 precincts in the city’s 13th Ward. In the committee meeting, Alderman Marty Quinn claimed that his constituents are overwhelmingly against Airbnb, as evidenced by the number of signatures far exceeding the number needed. There are 48 total precincts in the 13th Ward—four of those precincts have already had Airbnb banned. Quinn believes that, based on the reaction from his constituents, there is a desire to opt out of Airbnb in the entire 13th Ward. When asked how many Airbnbs are in his ward, Alderman Quinn knew of only two. The precincts in which Airbnbs are being banned are 3, 4, 11, 20, 22, 31, 32, 33, 38, and 42.

Red-light camera settlement

The City Council passed the proposed $38 million settlement of a lawsuit on the city’s red-light camera scandal.

The city’s red-light camera system has been racked with scandal from bribes being delivered for city contracts and faulty notification systems for drivers receiving tickets. The city settled the lawsuit in an attempt to limit the number of tickets that would be required to be paid back—which could have reached more than $700 million.

During debate at the meeting, Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward) expressed how disturbing it is to pay out $38 million for a corrupt system that had been corrupt from the beginning. “This system was designed not for public safety but to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue…from the people who could least afford to pay,” said Beale. The attorney fees for the lawsuit would be approximately $11.5 million and would come out of the total settlement. 

Truck parking allowed

The City Council passed a repeal of the parking restrictions that were imposed on commercial vehicles parking in residential zones in the city.

Ordinance 02017-5161 repeals the municipal code that states that commercial vehicles are not allowed to park in residential areas, unless for deliveries and repair work. Prior to this repeal, only a handful of wards offered street parking to residents who owned trucks, which meant many residents were ticketed or towed for parking their vehicles on their street.

City mortgage deals for 26th Ward

The City Council passed the sale of city-owned property located in the West Town neighborhood. Alderman David Moore (17th Ward) was the only no vote. The sale includes six lots, valued at $2 million in total, will be sold to L&MC Investments LLC for a total of $6 on the condition that affordable single-family homes will be constructed on the lots.

The property is in the 26th Ward (Alderman Roberto Maldonado). It was formerly the location (2327-2341 W. Erie) of a city garage, a ward office building and a firehouse, which were demolished some time ago. The base sale price for the homes will be $247,750. They will be priced at 120% of the area median income (AMI), assuming that a household pays no more than 30% of their income for housing. Buyers will be allowed to have incomes of up to 140% AMI. The department wants potential buyers to be able to afford future property tax increases. These properties will not be assessed property tax at the home sale price but at the market value. It will cost approximately $1,258,620 for total production of the six three-bedroom, 2½-bathroom single-family homes. Each home will have an underlying land value of $330,000, which will be held as a mortgage by the City of Chicago. The city is holding the land mortgage to prevent any attempts to flip the homes.

The Department of Planning and Development, in coordination with Alderman Maldonado, will hold a lottery for the six housing contracts. The lottery will be open to any person who is pre-approved and goes through the income qualification process. The application for the homes will be open for a 30-day period, once announced by the Department of Planning and Development.

Controversy over TIF funds and Navy Pier financing

The City’s Finance Committee discussed a last-minute agenda item regarding the recent Crain’s Chicago Business report that disclosed that the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) diverted $55 million that was proposed for the acquisition of land and the construction of a hotel to Navy Pier projects instead. TIF funds are tax dollars that are intended to go toward blighted areas of the city.

“My colleagues and I deserve answers,” said Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) to Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development David Reifman. During the committee meeting, Reifman claimed that the Crain’s report fundamentally misunderstands TIFs and stated that no TIF funds were distributed to Navy Pier despite data unveiled in the report.

Alderman Waguespack discussed several committee hearings in which nothing was mentioned about Navy Pier. “Never in any of those hearings did anyone from MPEA mention that money would flow to Navy Pier,” he said. Waguespack asked for all supporting documents, testimony and emails relating to those committee meetings.

Alderman John Arena (45th Ward) expressed his frustration that the process was not forthcoming to the City Council. “We fundamentally and continually create myths and misinformation about TIFs…and say trust us, we are doing the right thing with the money. If in fact, at the end of the day, what is being presented as a simple answer now, why go through all of this and not articulate this from the beginning?” Alderman Arena also said he did not accept the answer “It’s complicated” from Commissioner Reifman.

Hearing on Cook County property assessments

Alderman Beale requested a hearing be held on Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios’ methods of assessing property taxes. At a Cook County hearing held last week, Berrios offered testimony in which he claimed that his office values properties fairly and accurately. The hearings are in response to a Chicago Tribune investigation that exposed inaccuracies, waste and unfair systems being used to assess property values in Cook County.

More than 680 items were introduced as new business to City Council. Most notable were the following:

The next City Council meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 6, 2017, at 9:30 a.m.