Chicago aldermen, some dressed in elaborate Halloween costumes, met for a packed day of tricks and treats on Wednesday. Some big-ticket development projects got the greenlight from aldermen, including a land lease for the Obama Presidential Center, despite a legal challenge to that deal.
And with the city election around the corner, aldermen are introducing plans to get ahead of neighborhood issues that could decide some city council seats, like parking tickets and affordable housing.
Here’s a look at what else went down in your city government today.
Aldermen: Make the rich pay for homeless services, lead abatement, pensions
With limited options for new revenue in Chicago, all eyes are on a one-time tax the city imposes on sales of expensive properties. Three aldermen who represent rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods want to increase the tax to cover homeless services, most of which are funded at the whims of state and federal governments, and private grants. The Council’s Progressive Caucus wants that revenue to cover lead abatement in the city’s water pipes. And Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th Ward) wants that money to cover police and fire pensions.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) says with the election around the corner and serious tax fatigue among voters, it’s the only practical option. The Association of Chicago Realtors opposes the plan, saying home sales shouldn’t be tied to any of those issues.
All three proposals have been sent to Rules Committee, chaired by Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward).
If any resolution makes it out of the committee known as “the place where legislation goes to die,” the question would go before voters in February.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel shot down the idea of increasing the tax on expensive property sales.
“I don’t think you should treat the homeowners as an ATM machine,” Emanuel said. “I think that’s a mistake and I think that will actually impact other things economically that affect the well-being of the city.”
Most ballot questions in Chicago are nonbinding, meaning even if it ended up as a question on the ballot in February and people voted in support of it, city law wouldn’t change. State law requires a binding referendum for any increase of the real estate transfer tax. The last time this happened was in 2008, when the city hiked the tax for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).
Anticlimactic end to civilian control of police
There were no eruptions from the gallery, no grandstanding by the lead sponsor, no discussion at all, just a quick note that the plan for civilian control of the Chicago Police Department died in committee earlier this week. Public support for the plan known as “CPAC” was made known at dozens of community meetings on police reform held across the city.
It would have made sweeping changes to how allegations of police misconduct are investigated. An elected board, one representative from each of the city’s 22 police districts, would have had sole control, because it would have abolished the city Police Board, the newly minted Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), and the Bureau of Internal Affairs within CPD.
A less dramatic plan, known as GAPA, is still in play. With the election around the corner, more aldermen are signing on to that plan as co-sponsors.
New office to enforce minimum wage, workers rights
Chicago has passed a number of laws to protect workers in recent years, including an increase to the minimum wage, a requirement to offer paid sick days, and an anti-wage theft ordinance. But as the new laws went into effect, advocates grew concerned that many businesses were not complying.
Over the last year, they lobbied aldermen and worked with city officials to create a new Office of Labor Standards. Aldermen approved the creation of the office at today’s meeting and it’s expected to launch in 2019.
At a press conference before the vote, members of ARISE Chicago, which fought for the new office, celebrated its creation, and thanked aldermen who ushered it through City Council, including Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward).
“It is a shame that there are so many businesses in the city of Chicago that take advantage of the workers that make their profits keep going up, up, and up every year,” Maldonado said. “I’m going to make sure that moving forward, once we open up the office, that it is really doing what it’s supposed to do.”
Several major redevelopments approved
In addition to clearing the way for the Obama Presidential Center to break ground in Jackson Park, the city greenlit a few large redevelopments downtown.
The first is the redevelopment of the former Tribune warehouse along the Chicago River. According to the zoning change approved Wednesday, the waterfront site will now include offices, a hotel, retail space, and nearly 6,000 residential units. The location is prime real estate given its proximity to downtown and connection to the soon-to-be re-developed North Branch Industrial Corridor. Residents close to the North Branch area have expressed concerns with increased development causing traffic congestion and limiting potential green space around the river.
At full build out, the project would cost $2.5 billion in current dollars. The developer would pay $67 million into the #ChicagoNOF system, and $13.7 million into the Industrial Corridor System Fund. About 50 percent of the site area would be public open space. pic.twitter.com/hUgwVtRGgM— Chicago DPD (@ChicagoDPD) October 18, 2018
The council also approved a major construction plan at Union Station, including an extension on top of the historic Head House building that will house a hotel. There will also be a new office tower next door and a park where a parking garage now stands.
Commission approves new Union Station-area plan that will permit a one-story addition to the "Head House" building, with 400 hotel rooms, and a new 50-story office tower across the street featuring a 1.5-acre public park. pic.twitter.com/bTdMzVZCWz— Chicago DPD (@ChicagoDPD) October 18, 2018
Some aldermen want to legalize, regulate video gambling in the city
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) introduced a measure that would “allow for sweepstakes machines to operate in the city of Chicago,” he said.
The sweepstakes devices operate much like video gambling machines — which are forbidden in Chicago — and have spread across Chicago, WBEZ reported in August.
The state’s Gaming Board says sweepstakes machines are not legal, but operators of the devices say they’re just taking advantage of a loophole in Illinois law.
“There’s some confusion about whether they’re legal or not,” Villegas said.
He said his proposal would let the city license sweepstakes machines — and tax them.
A council committee recently held a hearing on another proposal to clearly ban the devices. The chief sponsor of that pending ordinance is mayoral floor leader Patrick O’Connor (40th Ward), and a majority of aldermen have signed on to the measure.
Dan Mihalopoulos contributed to this report.