Chicago - Sep. 13, 2019
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The [Thursday] Papers

"A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from a parks advocacy group that sought to stop construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago's Jackson Park," WBEZ reports.

"On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey said there will be no delay in building the $500 million presidential center in a portion of the South Side park.

"'The facts are clear in this case, and the law is more settled than the parties are suggesting,' Blakey said. His bench ruling surprised both sides after listening to oral arguments from lawyers representing the nonprofit Protect Our Parks and the City of Chicago at Tuesday's packed courtroom hearing."

I wonder why they were surprised. I don't mean that in a snarky way, but did neither side really have an inkling things could go this way? Honest question. Especially because if you take the judge's ruling - and we'll get to that - at face value, it was a slam dunk.

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"Still, the Obama Presidential Center faces other hurdles. Under the National Environmental Policy Act as well as consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the federal government must review any changes to Jackson Park that come with building the presidential center.

"'Today's ruling, while disappointing, is by no means the final word,' said Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, which is an official consulting party to federal level reviews. 'Though the carefully orchestrated local approvals process has been enabled by pliant municipal officials, there are still federal-level reviews underway for this nationally significant work of landscape architecture that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.'"

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The Tribune opined:

"At the core of the case, Blakey said, was the struggle between park preservation and a city's need to, at times, encroach on parkland for the public good. Blakey ruled that it's up to lawmakers, and not the courts, to decide what encroachments on parkland are justified. The Obama Center is a public benefit, a city attorney argued, and the judge agreed."

I'm not sure that's quite right. Blakey did say, essentially and citing precedent, that life is complex and parkland isn't sacred and there will be times when a public body will decide it is in the public's interest to rearrange some of that land. But land use still must meet certain legal tests that it is entirely appropriate for the courts to adjudicate. In Chicago, that particularly applies to lakefront property and its nearby environs, as Blakey's ruling dove deep into the legal requirements specifically governing, for example, previously submerged land. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, Blakey also eviscerated their arguments in finding the city's siting of the Obama Center entirely within legal bounds.

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Trib:

"We're glad Blakey ruled swiftly because the Obamas have options if they decided Chicago couldn't accommodate their plans."

Oh, please! As if!

There has been absolutely no hint of the Obamas taking their Center elsewhere if they received a disfavorable ruling. In fact, if the Obamas wanted to play nice with the city that has so generously begged them to locate their library center here, they could easily accommodate the lawsuit's plaintiffs by nudging their proposed footprint out of the contested corner of parkland, and maybe even not demand that the city permanently close some streets along the way.

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Now, highlights from Blakey's order:

The Foundation performed an analysis of the proposals from all submitting entities, evaluating the sites based upon the following criteria:

• Project Site and Access: desirability of site, surrounding community, control of site, local accessibility, global accessibility

• Project Execution: education impact, tourism impact, economic development impact, enhancements to the physical environment

• Community Engagement: engagement plan, quality/breadth of partners, means of engagement

• Indications of Support: partnership structure, alignment of mission, financial capacity.

The Foundation assigned numerical scores to each site based upon the above evaluation criteria, and ranked the sites based upon these scores. The Washington Park Site received the highest score at 122 out of 150; the Jackson Park site received the second highest score at 121 out of 150; and the UIC's proposed locations received a combined score of 120 out of 150, putting it in third place.

So a wash, basically. From what I understand, based on what people in a position to know have told me, the Obamas wanted the Jackson Park site from the get-go anyway. The "competition" was mostly a dog-and-pony show designed to, yes, collect ideas but also to give the appearance of an open, community-oriented process despite the fact that it was a fait accompli behind the scenes. Also, from what I understand, the UIC bid in particular never had a chance, even though it may have been the most interesting. I also believe the Washington Park site to be better than the Jackson Park site for the same reasons cited by the plaintiffs in this court case. In other words, the Obamas chose the worst site of them all!

See also: Obama Library Follies.

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"The site selected for the OPC within Jackson Park comprises 19.3 acres, or 3.5 percent of the 551.52 acres comprising Jackson Park."

Three percent of 551 acres is indeed a tiny sliver - of the total. But 19 acres is still a huge chunk of land. For comparison: A football field is about 1.32 acres. Buckingham Palace's total floor space is 19 acres. Nineteen acres is about nine-tenths the size of Alcatraz. And so on.

I get that the point is that there is plenty of Jackson Park left over after the Obamas take their cut. But let's also remember it's no small cut.

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It also raises the question: Just how much parkland would an entity like the Obama Foundation be allowed to take before it would be considered against the public interest?

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"The OPC site also includes land within the park that currently exists as city streets: the portion of East Midway Plaisance Drive North between Stony Island Avenue and South Cornell Drive, and a portion of South Cornell Drive between East Midway Plaisance Drive South and East Hayes Drive. Id. As part of the OPC construction, these street portions would be closed and removed 'to restore' the landscape's connection to the Lagoon and Lake."

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"In early January of 2015 - before the Jackson Park site selection - the Foundation expressed 'concerns regarding the City's lack of control' over the proposed Jackson and Washington Park sites and indicated that 'consolidating ownership of the sites and local decision-making authority in the City was a prerequisite to a successful bid.'"

In fact, as I've reported before, the City Hall belatedly realized that the park district hadn't taken care of this matter as expected and rushed to get it done. This part of the process was indeed "rigged."

From Blakey's ruling:

"Subsequently, in February 2015 - in an open meeting during which members of the public spoke and submitted written comments - the Park District's Board of Commissioners voted to approve the transfer of 'approximately 20 acres of property' located in Washington Park or Jackson Park to the City. Following this meeting, the OPC site's boundaries within Jackson Park shifted to the north and east.

"In February 2018, after a public meeting, the Board of Commissioners confirmed authority to transfer the reconfigured site to the City . . .

"[T]he Plan Commission found that the OPC project conformed with the LPO and approved the Foundation's application under the LPO. In doing so, the Plan Commission adopted the DPD Study as its findings of fact. Under the City's Municipal Code, the Plan Commission serves as the final decision-maker as to whether a project complies with the Lakefront Plan of Chicago and the purposes of the LPO.

"Also at the May 17 hearing, the Plan Commission recommended approval of the Foundation's application for a zoning amendment. Again, the Plan Commission adopted the DPD Study as the Commission's own findings of fact."

It was all Rahm's show, I remember it well. If Blakey's point is that the city's controlling authorities all did their due diligence, he is sadly mistaken. I'm not sure that can propel a lawsuit to victory, though.

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"The City did not perform a comparative analysis of the economic or other community impact on the City as a result of building the OPC at one particular location versus another."

The City did not want to know what such an analysis would show.

"Rather, the DPD Study looked at the Jackson Park site specifically, while studies performed by private institutions analyzed the impact of generally placing the OPC in Chicago and the State of Illinois."

Done. Deal.

"The DPD Study first looked at the environmental and community impact of placing OPC on Jackson Park. Generally, it concluded that the OPC would increase recreational opportunities on the South Side of Chicago, bring more visitors to Jackson Park and the surrounding communities, increase the use of surrounding open space, and improve safety.

"Specifically, it found that by closing certain streets within Jackson Park, and by expanding or reconfiguring other streets in and around Jackson Park, the OPC would, for example: (1) improve access by pedestrians through the park, across the lagoons to the lake; (2) offer unimpeded pedestrian and bike access to the Museum of Science and Industry from the South Side"; (3) replace some of the land currently occupied by Cornell Drive with a "restful Woodland Walk"; (4) create new pedestrian access points and ADA compliant design features; and (5) reduce air and noise pollution, improve existing bird habitats, and attract new wildlife to the OPC site area. In total, the DPD Study found that the roadway work conducted in connection with the OPC will create a net gain of an additional 4.7 acres of publicly available park space throughout Jackson Park.

"The DPD Study also addressed the OPC's economic benefits. It found that the OPC would create nearly 5,000 new, local jobs during construction, and more than 2,500 permanent jobs once the OPC opens."

This will not happen. It never does.

"Deloitte Consulting similarly completed a report, commissioned by the Chicago Community Trust, assessing the OPC's economic impact on the State of Illinois and City, as well as the South Side. It projected that the OPC's construction and operation would create an increase of $11.3 million in revenue generated on an annual basis from state and local taxes within Cook County."

The next time a study like this comes true will be the first.

"A study commissioned by the University of Chicago and conducted by Anderson Economic Group also projected that by building the OPC on the South Side, tax revenue for the City and for Chicago Public Schools would increase by a combined $5 million annually."

If not, the study's authors should be responsible for making up the difference.

"The City has estimated the costs for roadway alterations and other infrastructure work in Jackson Park at $174 million to $175 million."

Take the over.

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All that said, again, I'm not sure it's enough to beat the Obama folks in court. It just illustrates that the Obama Center is the fruit of bad public policy pushed through by a mayor with no patience for the public and an ex-president whose hypocriticality is matched only by his ego.

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I don't want to assume the judge's reading of the facts is the correct one, but here is where he really ridicules the plaintifffs, who argued that the Jackson Park site was previously submerged land, which is legally significant.

(Excerpt of 1822 Map of Federal Township, including Far West Section 13 in which the OPC site is located).

Nevertheless, Plaintiffs contend that the OPC site constitutes formerly submerged land, based solely upon an Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) Technical Report. Plaintiffs fail to note, however, that the map to which they site in the ISAS report documents the "Late Pleistocene and early Holocene lake levels."

In other words, Plaintiffs invite this Court to find that because the OPC site may have been submerged approximately 11,000 years ago, it constitutes "formerly submerged" land for purposes of the public trust doctrine.

Respectfully, this Court declines Plaintiffs' invitation.

Respectfully.

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Also:

Here, as in Paepcke, sufficient legislative intent exists to permit diverting a portion of Jackson Park for the OPC. The relevant piece of legislation - the Park District Aquarium and Museum Act (Museum Act) - explicitly states that cities and park districts with control or supervision over public parks have authorization to: purchase, erect, and maintain within any such public park or parks edifices to be used as aquariums or as museums of art, industry, science, or natural or other history, including presidential libraries, centers, and museums . . . (emphasis added).

Yeah, the Illinois General Assembly added that part in 2016. Skids greased.

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"Unconvincingly, Plaintiffs attempt to twist this public benefit into a private purpose, arguing that the Museum's mission merely 'seeks to preserve and enhance the legacy of the former President and his wife' rather than benefit the public. But this Court cannot accept such a mischaracterization; under Plaintiffs' theory, any museum with which a select group of individuals disagree could violate the public trust."

First, now it's a Museum. It started as a Library. I thought it had become a Center. Perhaps it's all three. But is there really a question as to its central purpose? To preserve and enhance the legacy of the former president and his wife. Full stop. Everything else is public relations.

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See also: Law Professors Clash Over Suit Challenging The Obama Center Location.

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Who Is Judge John Blakey?
A Notre Dame guy who previously worked as a prosecutor for Cook County and then for the feds here.

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"Sen. Mark Kirk on Friday recommended a high-ranking prosecutor in the Cook County state's attorney's office for the federal bench in Chicago," the Tribune reported in May 2014.

"As head of special prosecutions, John Blakey, 48, drafted the state's anti-racketeering statute designed to target street gangs and has also been involved in prosecutions brought against sex traffickers and organized retail theft rings. His father, G. Robert Blakey, now a professor emeritus at Notre Dame Law School, drafted the 1970 federal RICO act originally designed to target mobsters.

"Blakey was most recently the lead prosecutor at the closely watched trial of the so-called NATO 3 - three out-of-state men who were the first to be tried in Cook County under the state's terrorism statute. A jury rejected the terrorism counts but convicted the three of possessing Molotov cocktails."

Uh-oh.

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"The issue before a jury has rarely been so divergent: Did three out-of-state men who came to Chicago in the days before the NATO summit in 2012 want to violently bring about an anarchist revolution or were they just loud-mouthed simpletons who liked to brag?" the Tribune reported in February 2014.

It's the question both sides agreed that jurors must settle as they began deliberating Thursday night after sitting through nearly three weeks of testimony and about five hours of closing arguments Thursday in the first terrorism case brought by Cook County prosecutors.

Both the prosecutors and the attorneys for the so-called NATO 3 told jurors that their verdict would be a reflection on American society and that they would help define the line between terrorism and violence.

"When your hatred boils over into plots of violence, you've crossed the line - the line that protects us all," said Assistant State's Attorney John Blakey, who got the last word with jurors.

"Is this what the war on terror has come to?" attorney Molly Armour, who represents Brent Betterly, asked jurors.

Betterly, 25, Jared Chase, 29, and Brian Church, 22, were arrested in May 2012 after allegedly assembling four Molotov cocktails using empty beer bottles, gasoline and an undercover Chicago police officer's cut-up bandanna . . .

In closing rebuttal to jurors after the defense lawyers had spoken, Blakey gave each defendant a nickname - calling Church "Mr. Cop-on-Fire," Chase "Captain Napalm" and Betterly "Professor Molotov" - and accused them of trying to conceal their violent plans "behind the legacy of nonviolent protest."

"Martin Luther King? Gandhi? Mother Teresa? I don't see them in court," he told jurors.

Oh boy.

But defense attorneys said the undercover recordings showed that the three were too stoned, drunk or just plain stupid to be terrorists and were goaded into building the Molotov cocktails by inexperienced officers desperate to find a "bogeyman" after months of searching for criminal activity among activist groups.

Church's attorney, Michael Deutsch, said the decision by prosecutors to charge the case as a terrorism "denigrated" both the "real" terrorist-fighting work done by authorities and "real victims" of terrorist attacks.

"To me it trivializes terrorism - the most serious type of case," Deutsch said. "You think of al-Qaida or the people who blew up Oklahoma City. This is not a case of terrorism."

At times Chase's attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, took an openly mocking tone in his closing argument, drawing laughter in the courtroom when he held up the slingshot that Chase planned to use to fling marbles at the windows of the Prudential Building, then home to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign headquarters.

Durkin sarcastically referred to the slingshot as the "tools of the terrorism trade for sure" and called the wacky plot the "coup de grace" of the state's terrorism case.

See also the link between this case and Homan Square.

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Blakey's Obama Center ruling is persuasive, despite my misgivings, but given his over-the-top prosecution of the NATO 3, I'm less inclined to believe he issued it in good faith.

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P.S.: Bone Zone
An addition to Wednesday's Bone Zone item:

"As I've been in office for two weeks now, we see people coming to the office with promises that were made. People say there were promises for liquor licenses or permits. They have already invested money without the permits. Without the proper channels. It goes back to the mayor's concern about how . . . aldermen have used their prerogative," Sigcho-Lopez said.

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See also: Byron Sigcho-Lopez Blasted "Greedy" Developers For Years. What Happens Now That He's In Charge?

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ChicagoReddit

Good Car Hookup Spot? from r/chicago

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ChicagoGram

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ChicagoTube

GWAR intervew at the Riv, 1995.

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BeachBook

Minneapolis Institute Of Arts Dedicates Exhibit To Philando Castile.

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TweetWood
A sampling.

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The Beachwood McRibTipLine: All night and day.



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Posted on June 13, 2019


MUSIC - How Africa Adopted Jimmie Rodgers.
TV - Sinclair, ABC Light AOC On Fire.
POLITICS - SCOTUS's Border Wall Fiasco.
SPORTS - Black Athletes' Underused Trump Card.

BOOKS - The Hidden Places Of World War 2.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Wisconsin Is America's Goatland.


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