Chicago City Council Roundup: Legal Pot, Booze For Breakfast, (One) Strike Averted

Chicago City Hall
Chicago's City Hall. Manuel Martinez / Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
Chicago City Hall
Chicago's City Hall. Manuel Martinez / Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

Chicago City Council Roundup: Legal Pot, Booze For Breakfast, (One) Strike Averted

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The Chicago City Council is moving forward with a modified version of Mayor Lori Lightfoot‘s plan to create seven zones where recreational marijuana can be sold across the city.

Aldermen gave final approval to Lightfoot’s plan Wednesday. That’s despite opposition from black aldermen Tuesday led to a late-night hearing to hash out a compromise on how to regulate the emerging recreational cannabis industry within city limits come Jan. 1. Lightfoot’s team made changes overnight, adjusting some of the zones’ boundaries, and secured the votes it needed to pass.

The pot zones ordinance was just one of the big items approved Wednesday. Here’s what else happened inside City Hall.

Black alderman to push for pot equity in Springfield

Despite some last-minute changes made by the mayor to address their concerns, black aldermen plan to take their fight for equity in the burgeoning recreational marijuana industry to Springfield.

One of their chief concerns revolves around a provision in the pot legalization law that allows existing medical marijuana dispensaries to start selling recreational weed on Jan. 1.

None of those dispensaries are black-owned, and that’s sparked concerns from some City Council Black Caucus members that African Americans will miss their chance to invest in a lucrative new industry.

“Jails have been filled up, people have been locked up, and now we are being locked out from benefiting from this particular ordinance,” said Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward. “We have an opportunity to make sure our community can, for once, get a piece of the pie.”

The ordinance ultimately passed 40 to 10. In all, five of the 10 no votes came from black aldermen.

Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin, 28th Ward, said before the vote that doing nothing to regulate legal weed businesses would be worse than signing on to a less-than-perfect ordinance.

“If you want to have [a dispensary] next door to a church, it’s fine under the state statute. If you want to have one next door to a daycare, it’s fine under the state statute,” Ervin said. “If we decide not to deal on [Lightfoot’s] zoning [ordinance], we will open up ourselves for these things to go where you don’t want them.”

Ervin said recent changes to the mayor’s plan would give aldermen and residents more control over the process.

All 20 members of the Black Caucus held a press conference before the meeting, vowing to lobby state lawmakers for changes that would allow black-owned businesses to participate in the early days of recreational marijuana sales. The issue could come up during the fall veto session of the Illinois General Assembly, which starts Oct. 28.

Sunday booze sales expanded

Recreational pot wasn’t the only vice being regulated by Chicago aldermen Wednesday.

Freshman Ald. Matt Martin, 47th Ward, carried a measure to expand which stores can sell booze before 11 a.m. on Sundays. The plan won final approval Wednesday, meaning smaller grocery stores will now be allowed to sell to the church crowd. Previously, only large stores were allowed to sell booze early.

A small grocer in Martin’s ward, Yolanda Luszcz, co-owner of Gene’s Sausage Shop, brought the issue of Sunday sales to his attention and spoke about the problem during a committee hearing earlier this month.

“A family can come in, purchase ribs, hamburger meat, bratwurst, buns, milk, dairy and a six-pack and they’ll come up to the register, [and] I cannot sell them that six-pack of beer,” Luszcz said earlier this month. “But more problematic and more unfair is that we lose that entire sale the following week.”

The change would lower the size threshold for a grocery store from 10,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet. City officials say that will affect fewer than 75 businesses, but those will get to start selling beer, wine and liquor on Sundays at 8 a.m.

Meet Chicago’s new planning commissioner: Maurice Cox

Dozens of aldermen cheered Lightfoot’s appointment of Maurice Cox to lead the city’s Department of Planning and Development. Cox comes to Chicago by way of Detroit, where he worked to revitalize disinvested neighborhoods.

Lightfoot picked Cox to carry out her plans for boosting development on the South and West Sides and pushing for equity in land use and zoning decisions.

“A lot of neighborhoods want action now,” said Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, Chairman of the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, which works closely with the planning department.

Other aldermen said they liked that Cox also has a background as an elected official. He formerly served as the mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Now it’s time for us to get to work,” Lightfoot said after the unanimous vote.

Aldermen also approved architect Angela Hurlock to be chair of the Chicago Housing Authority board, but stalled Lightfoot’s pick to lead the Department of Health, Allison Arwady. Arwady’s appointment was held in committee after a lengthy day of questioning earlier this month that centered mostly around former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to close several public mental health clinics.

Strike averted at Chicago Park District, but teacher talks still going

In the middle of Wednesday’s meeting, news broke that the union representing Chicago Park District workers had reached a deal and would not be going on strike Thursday with Chicago Public Schools teachers and other staff.

After the meeting, Lightfoot announced tentative contract agreement surrounded by members of the Service Employees International Union Local 73, which had previously planned to strike in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union starting Thursday.

“Our parks will be open and available to our young people during a CTU work stoppage,” Lightfoot said twice during a press conference, before turning to the Parks employees behind her to say: “We love you.”

The tentative contract agreement will give workers a 14.25 percent raise over the course of four and a half years, according to Parks Superintendent Mike Kelly. The deal also includes increases to employee health care contributions, which Kelly said will free up revenue to put toward the workers’ struggling pension system.

“I think at some point it just becomes about collegiality and wanting to get a deal done,” Kelly said. “We haven’t had a work stoppage in 85 years and we’re not about to.”

Becky Vevea covers city of Chicago government and politics for WBEZ. Claudia Morell contributed reporting.