Five City Council Committees met Tuesday to approve several key items ahead of today’s final meeting of the full council. Agenda highlights included:

  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed ordinance and resolution for alleged Jon Burge torture victims in Finance Committee.

  • Two last-minute police-related settlements totaling $765,000 in Finance Committee.

  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to launch a so-called “People’s Plaza Program” in Budget Committee.

  • An ordinance co-sponsored by Mayor Emanuel and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) to crack down on businesses that are chronic public safety threats in License Committee.

  • A last minute addition to the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety. Mayor Emanuel introduced a new ordinance to address the city’s red-light camera program thirty minutes before the meeting started.

Budget Committee Report
The day started with a 9:30 a.m. Budget Committee meeting that went 45 minutes over schedule after several aldermen raised concerns over Mayor Emanuel’s proposed ordinance to launch a so-called “People’s Plaza Program”.

According to representatives from the Chicago Department of Transportation, the program would make better use of the city’s current public space by finding innovators to host community activities and cultural events at city plazas, malls and traffic triangles. It’s an offshoot of a previous City Department of Transportation (CDOT) initiative called “Make Way for People Program.”

Luann Hamilton, Deputy Commissioner of Project Development at the Department of Transportation and Janet Attarian, the Livable Streets Director of the Department of Transportation, testified on behalf of the program. They said the goals are:

  1. Year-round activation of People Plazas
  2. Equitable geographic distribution of People Plazas–the city was divided into five regions and at least one plaza from each region must be activated each year with 10 plazas the first year and 10 plazas in each additional year.
  3. Local community events
  4. Generate revenue through sponsorships and “limited” advertising
  5. Cover maintenance and minor capital improvements

CDOT needs Council approval on the ordinance so that they can sign a contract with Latent Design, the architecture firm picked to oversee the program. Council approval would also let the city move forward on a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant the city applied for to help build the program.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) raised concerns over the “revenue component of the program” and asked CDOT what their revenue expectations are compared to the vendor’s expectations, and how that would lead to an equitable distribution of plazas, since some spaces are more valuable than others.

Ald. Reilly was also concerned that cultural expression would take a backseat to retail advertising, and that the program sounds like CDOT is selling off public space for revenue. “The concern is that the vendor may have this incentive to really go all out in these people plazas and, frankly, making marketing, and advertising, and product distribution, and retail opportunities the thrust when in fact the Bloomberg grant is to support cultural affairs and bring more culture into the neighborhood,” Reilly said.

The representatives from CDOT said that would not happen and the revenue would be invested back into the public space for upkeep, among other things.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), Ald. Ariel Reboyras (31), Ald. Pat Dowell (3), Ald. Tom Tunney (44) and Ald. Jason Ervin (28) also expressed concern that the program would encroach on local community groups and aldermanic control over the public spaces.

But their concerns and frustration were nothing compared to Ald. Leslie Hairston (5), who declared it “ridiculous” that the ordinance is described as “equitable” but it only applies to existing public spaces. No new public areas would be created through the program.

Since the Budget Committee ate into the Finance Committee’s time–both were held in the Council Chambers–many aldermen stayed for both meetings, since they were all moving in and out of the Chamber. The following aldermen who were present for Budget, Finance or both:  Bob Fioretti (2), Pat Dowell (3), Will Burns (4), Leslie Hairston (5), James Balcer (11), Marty Quinn (13), Finance Chairman Ed. Burke (14), Toni Foulkes (15), Latasha Thomas (17), Lona Lane (18), Matt O’Shea (19), Willie Cochran (20), Mike Zalewski (23), Walter Burnett (27), Jason Ervin (28), Ariel Reboyras (30), Scott Waguespack (32), Budget Chairman Carrie Austin (34), Emma Mitts (37), Margaret Laurino (39), Brendan Reilly (42), John Arena (45), James Cappleman (46), Harry Osterman (48), Debra Silverstein (50).

Finance Committee Report
The Finance Committee meeting started with the Jon Burge torture reparations ordinance and resolution. Unlike last week’s meeting, when the settlement deal was first announced and almost a dozen people testified on the matter, only two people testified yesterday, both in opposition to the ordinance because of a section of the reparations fund that excludes family members of deceased victims from taking part in the fund. Those testifying included George Blakemore, who regularly provides citizen testimony, and Wallace “Gator” Bradley with United In Peace, Inc. Neither of the sponsors for the original ordinance–Ald. Joe Moreno (1) and Ald. Howard Brookins, Jr. (21)–attended the hearing.

Later in the meeting, Chairman Ed Burke (14) announced two new items on the supplemental agenda, amounting to $765,000 in settlement payments. Leslie Darling, with the City Law Department, testified on the settlements, one of which is related to a sexual assault case involving two Chicago Police Officers.  The settlements included:

  1. Jane Doe v. Chicago Police Officer Paul Clavijo, Chicago Police Officer Juan Vasquez and City of Chicago, cited as 11 C 3502 [Amount $415,000]

  2. Rosaura Cordero v. Richard R Jeschke, individually and as an agent of the City of Chicago, a municipal corporation; and the City of Chicago, a municipal corporation, city as 10 L 14773 [Amount $350,000]

License Committee Report
Meanwhile, in Room 201A, the Committee on License and Consumer Protection discussed and passed Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Brendan Reilly’s proposed ordinance to enable the Chicago Police Department to close bars and nightclubs that are chronic public safety threats, spurred on by a murder at the Dolphin Chicago nightclub. Pat Doerr with the Hospitality Business Association testified against the measure.

License Committee Members present: Bob Fioretti (2), Natasha Holmes (7), Marty Quinn (13), Deborah Graham (29), Ariel Reboyras (30), Chairman Emma Mitts (37), Mary O’Connor (41), Brendan Reilly (42), John Arena (45), James Cappleman (46), Debra Silverstein (50).

Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development Report
Later, in what was the quickest meeting of the day, the Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development listened to a 15-minute presentation from representatives of Chicagoland Beverage, a local coffee and tea distributor. The company had requested a 6b certification for a warehouse expansion in the 27th Ward. The ordinance passed by voice vote.

Committee members present: Natasha Holmes (7), Toni Foulkes (15), Willie Cochran (20), Chairman Tom Tunney (44), John Arena (45), Ald. Walter Burnett (27) attended to support the project.

Committee on Pedestrian Safety and Traffic Report
Finally, at 1:30 p.m., it was the Committee on Pedestrian Safety and Traffic’s turn to meet in Room 201A. Nothing was listed on the online agenda for the committee–it had already met last week–but about a half an hour before the meeting was scheduled to start, Mayor Emanuel’s press team sent out a news blast announcing that the Mayor had just introduced a new ordinance to “reform” the city’s Red Light Camera program. The release listed Ald. Anthony Beale (9), Ald. Tom Tunney (44), and Ald. Walter Burnett (27), Chair of the committee, as co-sponsors.

Text of proposed ordinance

Many of the aldermen on the committee wanted to know why the ordinance didn’t include extended yellow lights or countdown clocks, despite Chicago Tribuneinvestigation highlighting the shorter yellow light times. CDOT’s Rebekah Scheinfeld said that’s because the those times are based on national regulations. Several Aldermen also asked, numerous times in numerous ways, if the city’s red light and speed cameras improve safety and prevent accidents on Chicago’s streets. Scheinfeld responded the same way every time, noting “numerous national studies” say they improve safety. She never cited local data, but did note that there are currently 149 intersections with red-light cameras and 362 cameras around the city, after factoring the 50 cameras that have been removed since Emanuel took office.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2) asked most of the questions and took up a significant portion of the meeting, which eventually prompted Chairman Burnett to remind Fioretti that he isn’t even on the committee and that he should yield the floor to aldermen on the committee.

Ald. Beale and Ald. Tunney had previously introduced their own ordinance on the subject requesting for an extension of yellow light times and a City Council approval on all new cameras. While yesterday’s introduced ordinance does neither, it does have a provision that says if the ordinance passes, CDOT can’t install or remove a red-light camera without holding a neighborhood meeting first. The meeting would be scheduled through the local alderman.

In committee Ald. Tunney questioned whether there had been “fudging around with the yellow time” and demanded to know why CDOT needed to do another comprehensive review of the cameras, another provision in the ordinance. “A lot of studies have been done, why do we need another?” he said.

The Committee passed the ordinance and it is expected to go before the full Council today. Chairman Burnett ended the meeting reminding everyone that Mayor Emanuel was not responsible for the cameras and that most of the discussion about red light cameras this past election was, “a bunch of lies that hurt a lot people,” in the Council.