City Council Considers Clean Air Ordinance After Pushback On General Iron’s Move

A photo of General Iron Industries on the North Side of Chicago
A photo of General Iron Industries on the North Side of Chicago taken on May 16, 2009. Patrick Houdek/Flickr
A photo of General Iron Industries on the North Side of Chicago
A photo of General Iron Industries on the North Side of Chicago taken on May 16, 2009. Patrick Houdek/Flickr

City Council Considers Clean Air Ordinance After Pushback On General Iron’s Move

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In the wake of the ongoing feud between Southeast Side residents and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration over the relocation of General Iron, future industrial developments could see new restrictions going forward.

The so-called Clean Air Ordinance is up before the full Chicago City Council Wednesday, the result of a months-long compromise between the administration and aldermen, including Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, whose 10th Ward is home to General Iron’s new scrap metal shredder.

The new rules would require a more rigorous site plan evaluation and community review process that would overlap several city departments.

Community activists have been fighting against the move of the North Side shredder facility, arguing that the pollution generated by the company will unfairly impact residents who also say they’ve been left out of the process.

Chicago aldermen will also consider whether it can bring back the Air and Water Show and Taste of Chicago — even though they technically didn’t allocate any money to the programs in the 2021 budget. The festivals essentially fell to the pandemic axe in 2020, but some officials hope federal money can help bring them back this year.

A temporary, two-month delay to the city’s crackdown on home sharing platforms, like Airbnb, also awaits council action. New regulations, like hiked fines for renters found using the platforms to host illegal parties and traffic drugs, were set to take effect next month. But the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection doesn’t have the necessary software in place to track the listings.

Some other key items up for City Council action this Wednesday:

New demolition surcharge program proposed around 606, Pilsen

Aimed at slowing the pace of gentrification that happens when multi-family unit homes are converted into single family houses, a pilot program would impose an additional $15,000 fee on demolition applications within the pilot region, which includes Pilsen and blocks around The 606 elevated trail.

The sponsor, freshman Ald. Daniel La Spata, 1st Ward, represents neighborhoods around the North Side elevated trail. He said the number of multi-unit teardowns far outpaces the number of new affordable units going up in his ward, so he needs all the tools at his disposal.

“Even with our best efforts to increase units, we are losing the war on gentrification and segregation if we don’t find a way,” La Spata said.

But the proposal could be a tough sell to the full council — the ordinance passed on a divided roll call vote of 22-11 in the Finance Committee. One of the vocal opponents, Ald. Nick Sposato, 38th Ward, is not part of the pilot area, but over the course of the meeting he made a point to note his concern that the city was opening itself up to litigation.

Describing the surcharge as a “penalty,” Sposato warned aldermen on the committee: “We always talk about we get sued too much. Well, you heard it here first. We will be sued over it.”

More federal COVID-19 grants allocated

The last time aldermen were scheduled to consider allocating federal coronavirus relief dollars, chaos ensued as a group of aldermen successfully stalled the monthly meeting to prevent the ordinance from advancing. They objected to the large sum of pandemic relief dollars being spent on the Chicago Police Department.

This ordinance allocating the next batch of federal COVID-19 grants shouldn’t cause as large a ruckus — it passed unanimously in committee.

Grants would be earmarked to specific departments for specific programs. This includes more than $87 million for the city’s two airports to help with cleaning, debt service and reimbursements to concessionaires hit hard by the pandemic.

At least $20 million in Community Development Block Grants would be dispersed among the various city departments for neighborhood health centers, small business grants, rental assistance and software upgrades, among other expenses.

Banks selected to hold city and CPS money get reluctant support

Aldermen will consider an ordinance naming 13 financial institutions where the city and Chicago Public Schools will do their banking.

Every year, the City Council is required to designate a list of banks where the city and Chicago Public Schools will hold money. But the routine procedure has managed to fall under the radar — with no council action since 2015.

That’s when Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, held the reins of the Finance Committee, while several of those banks were legal clients of his private law firm. The longest-serving alderman resigned the chairmanship after he was named in a federal indictment in 2019 that alleged he used his position of power to enrich himself.

That case is still ongoing, and he has denied wrongdoing. But Burke appears to still have a conflict of interest. When the item went before committee this week, Burke abstained from voting, invoking the City Council rule that allows abstentions for conflicts.

Meanwhile, the new Finance Committee Chairman Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, tried to use this annual contract to hold some of the biggest banks — like Chase — accountable for their poor lending practices in Black and Latino neighborhoods.

But none of the major financial institutions, many of which the city already banks with, agreed to discuss their poor lending practices. And aldermen were told voting against the agreement won’t change anything — it would just keep the existing banking contract in place.

Last year, a WBEZ-City Bureau investigation found 68% of dollars loaned for housing purchases went to majority white neighborhoods. It found that for every $1 loaned in Chicago’s white neighborhoods, they invested just 12 cents in the city’s Black neighborhoods and 13 cents in Latino areas.

Moving forward, City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin is proposing a task force that would review the application process and find ways to make it easier for smaller neighborhood banks to apply.

“Either we change behavior, or we change the players,” Conyears-Ervin said.

Claudia Morell covers City Hall for WBEZ. Follow her @claudiamorell