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Some aldermen question timeline on parking meter plan

Some Chicago aldermen are worried they won’t have enough time to peruse Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s latest parking meter deal before it comes up for a vote, hearkening back to the much-criticized 2008 privatization plan that was crammed through the City Council just three days after it was rolled out.

Emanuel’s administration said it will introduce its proposed changes to the 75-year parking meter lease at the May 8th City Council meeting, then give aldermen 30 days to review them.

“Thirty days? We’ll see if that’s enough time,” said Ald. Brendan Reilly, whose downtown 42nd Ward would see parking meter hours extended by three hours.

“Frankly, we got snookered once before by some of the very same actors who claim to be wanting to look out for the best interest of the city – the folks who now are leasing this asset,” Reilly said.

Under a settlement the mayor reached with Chicago Parking Meters LLC, which now runs the city’s 36,000 parking meters, the city would pay the company $8.9 million in reimbursements for meters the city takes out of service. The company had been asking for $49 million, but Emanuel refused to pay.

Sunday parking would also be free in neighborhoods outside of downtown.

In exchange, drivers in the city’s River North neighborhood will be forced to feed meters for three more hours – until midnight, instead of 9 p.m. In other neighborhoods, non-residential meter hours would be extended by one hour, until 10 p.m.

The city will also have to pony up $54.9 million to the parking meter company, to make up for revenue lost from disabled drivers who park for free.

But several aldermen say they’re still waiting to see hard numbers from Emanuel’s administration to determine whether the proposed deal makes any sense. The city has not released its calculations for the mayor’s proposal, nor has it explained how it arrived at an estimated $1 billion worth of savings over the remaining 71-year life of the lease deal.

In announcing the deal Monday, Emanuel read a roughly 10-minute statement to reporters, then left the room without answering any questions.

“This is supposed to be an open, transparent government that serves the people of the City of Chicago, and I don’t see it from this kind of transaction,” said 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti, whose ward would also see some meters extended by three hours.

Chicago aldermen drew harsh criticism in 2008 after they approved the 75-year, $1.15 billion privatization of the city’s parking meters just three days after then-Mayor Richard M. Daley introduced the plan. Only later did Chicagoans learn the deal would lead to drastically higher parking rates and the sort of hefty reimbursements that Emanuel has been fighting.

Alderman Joe Moreno praised Emanuel for making an effort to tweak the widely-hated lease deal – with a caveat.
“In this case I think more communication would have been better up front,” Moreno said. “You want partners in this.”

Alex Keefe is WBEZ’s political reporter. Follow him @akeefe.


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