This week, the Chicago City Council had their monthly meeting of the full city council. During the meeting, council members debated and voted on a major new debt refinancing proposal, voted on a controversial downzone proposal and restricted home sharing in some parts of the city.
Items discussed and voted on during the council meeting include:
More, potentially cheaper borrowing for Chicago
In a plan aimed at lowering Chicago’s borrowing costs, a new sales tax securitization structure easily passed a City Council vote. The plan, which would authorize the city to issue as much as $3 billion in sales tax-secured bonds, caused aldermen to voice confusion and frustration, saying they didn’t have enough time to familiarize themselves with the 1,200-page ordinance.
During the finance committee meeting, Aldermen spent hours questioning Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s chief financial officer, Carole L. Brown, about the new structure, which she says will cut Chicago’s debt payments by ten of millions of dollars a year, despite offering few specifics on savings projections or oversight of the new entity that would be required to be set up.
Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) said in a press release, “Chicago taxpayers can’t afford for the Emanuel administration to ram through another questionable financial scheme without proper time for comprehensive analysis.”
Downzoning of “Double Door” building
The City Council passed the controversial downzone ordinance of 1572 N. Milwaukee, which formerly housed the Double Door music hall. The ordinance fulfills the threats of Alderman Moreno against the building’s owner that were exposed by a Project Six investigation earlier this year.
By passing the downzone ordinance, Moreno, the mayor and city aldermen risked taxpayer dollars from a federal lawsuit that claims the alderman carried out a vindictive attack on a local business owner for evicting Double Door after they violated their lease.
The building owner, Brian Strauss, appeared before the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards in mid-September as Moreno proposed to downzone Strauss’ property, located in the 1st Ward. This downzone, Strauss explained, cost him millions and is motivated by Moreno’s personal and financial relationship with Double Door’s owners. The downzoning ordinance, which would keep Strauss from selling his property to any business involved with liquor sales, passed the zoning committee with only one objection by Alderman James Cappleman (46th Ward). Moreno originally hoped to downzone the building to allow only residential units.
Strauss and his son Connor also addressed City Council during the public comment section, pleading with aldermen not to pass the spot zoning ordinance on the Wicker Park building, which he has owned since 1974.
Amazon bid land sale
The $105 million sale of the city’s 18-acre Fleet Management site along the Chicago River was delayed for further review in the city’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate. Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward) said that there was a lack of transparency in the selection of the Sterling Bay bid, citing that a higher bid was offered. Sterling Bay has said it owns or is contracted to own approximately 70 acres along the river. Cushman & Wakefield managed the sale, saying the Sterling Bay offer “came with no zoning contingency and the shortest closing timeline, two factors which (the department) determined outweighed the $10,300,000 difference.”
Mayor Emanuel sponsored the sale, in hopes the location would lure Amazon’s proposed second headquarters to Chicago. After further review and public hearings, Alderman Hopkins was also able to allot more park space to the North Branch site of the development.
New police oversight agency
Chicago’s new police oversight agency, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), began operations on September 15. The agency was created, by ordinance, to replace the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) after their controversial response to the Laquan McDonald shooting nearly three years ago.
The new agency will have nearly twice the budget as IPRA and will consist of 120 employees, all of whom are mandated to complete a six-week oversight training program.
The agency is off to a rocky start as its chief administrator, Sharon Fairley, announced her resignation to run for Illinois attorney general just 11 days after its launch. Mayor Emanuel named Patricia Banks, retired Cook County judge, to run the new agency on an interim basis until a permanent director is selected by an advisory panel formed by Emanuel.
Requiring more affordable housing
A pilot ordinance that will require more affordable units in neighborhoods with advanced signs of gentrification passed City Council. The effort expands and strengthens the 2015 Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) along the Milwaukee Corridor and the Near North/Near West areas.
The three-year pilot program backed by Mayor Emanuel, as well as Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward) and Alderman Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward), faced opposition by many aldermen in its limited ability to actually curb gentrification and provide much-needed low-income family units.
The Milwaukee Corridor pilot area would cover approximately nine square miles along Milwaukee Avenue within portions of Logan Square, Avondale and West Town. The Near North/Near West pilot area would cover approximately six square miles near the North Branch Industrial Corridor on the Near North Side and along the Green Line on the Near West Side.
Municipal ID program
During the council meeting, City Hall announced that Chicago’s Municipal ID card, created to help undocumented immigrants gain city access, will double as a Ventra and library card.
During a special hearing regarding the new three-in-one Municipal ID, City Clerk Anna Valencia said she hopes these improvements will attract more people to sign up for the card. However, even as the city continues to ensure all records will remain private from federal agencies, immigrants still voice concerns that these IDs could lead to their deportation.
The city has budgeted $1 million to roll out the first phase of the Municipal ID program for 2017. Adding to the confusion of the roll-out is a proposed Cook County Municipal ID introduced to Cook County by Commissioners Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and John Fritchey this past summer.
Homes for homeless
Alderman Edward Burke (14th Ward) introduced a resolution for the city to consider building “tiny homes” to aid Chicago’s homeless. The homes, measuring about 160 square feet, would increase affordable housing and can be built in less than two weeks.
The proposal was discussed by aldermen during a hearing mid-September in which Burke requested to build a few of the small homes for homeless veterans in the Gresham neighborhood with the help of Catholic Charities, a chicago-based organization.
The city’s Department of Planning and Development is now looking into the logistics of this development, such as zoning restrictions, where the homes will be built, and how they will be financed. No follow-up hearing is scheduled yet.
City Council unanimously passed two ordinances that ban Airbnb and home-sharing services in two more precincts in Alderman Marty Quinn’s 13th Ward. There are 48 total precincts in the 13th Ward, with 16 banning Airbnb and house-sharing to date. Quinn believes, based on the reaction from his constituents, that there is a desire to opt out of Airbnb in the entire 13th Ward. Additionally, Alderman Michael Zalewski (23rd Ward) has banned Airbnb and house-sharing in three precincts in his ward.
No more soda tax
In a 15-1 vote, Cook County Board commissioners voted to repeal the Soda Pop Tax during their Finance Committee meeting. After 3.5 hours of testimony and more than 140 public commenters, Commissioner Larry Suffredin was the only “No” vote among the 16 commissioners present. The repeal will go into effect on December 1. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said that a 14 percent cut in the budget will be necessary, should the Soda Tax be repealed.
Residential Sound Insulation Program
Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans appeared before the Joint Committee on Aviation and Finance. Finance Chairman Ed Burke demanded to know why Evans was a no-show to the last joint committee meeting held in August at a gym near Midway Airport. Evans had planned a family vacation during that time and claimed to try to set up alternative dates with Burke. There have been two joint committee meetings on the toxic odor that is emitting from sound-insulated windows installed in more than 10,000 homes around Midway and O’Hare airports. One window has been tested, and six homes are going to have their windows replaced this month.
Alderman Burke, Alderman Quinn and Alderman Zalewski introduced a demand for the city to extend warranties for the windows. “We side with the residents, not the Aviation Department, in this matter,” said Alderman Quinn, “and we will not act as their voice at City Hall to…demand the city cover the costs of replacing these suspect products.”