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No Such Thing As Free Parking

From the alderman's constituent e-mail newsletter.

Dear Neighbor:

At City Council on Wednesday, Mayor Emanuel introduced a new Parking Meter proposal to govern the remaining 71 years of this flawed, disastrous lease agreement. Although the new proposal includes some attractive components, there are controversial changes to meter hours that many aldermen do not support. In fairness to the Mayor, he inherited this horrendous contract from his predecessor and has spent much of his first two years in office working to find a way to get out of the contract or improve it for taxpayers. We are fortunate the Mayor has been so persistent in aggressively pushing-back against the parking meter company on our behalf.

To that end, the Mayor directed his Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton and Chicago's Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott to assemble a team of smart, talented lawyers and financial experts to deconstruct every aspect of the Lease for the purpose of identifying leverage opportunities to dispute annual multi-million dollar invoices being sent to the City by Chicago Parking Meters LLC (CPM) and to negotiate a better deal for taxpayers moving forward.

I applaud the Mayor and his team for their excellent work to secure a settlement agreement that would limit the City of Chicago's exposed liability on annual reimbursements to CPM for meters taken out of service by the City (for free handicapped parking, rush hour parking restrictions, etc.). The Mayor's team compelled CPM to accept our econometrics in calculating annual "true-up" money owed to the Company. Without this great work, the City would have been obliged to pay CPM roughly $20 million per year over the remaining 71-year lease (slightly over $1 billion). This is a big victory for taxpayers.

Unfortunately, the Administration's new proposal goes far beyond the legal settlement of the $1 billion in potential future liability for the City. At the Mayor's insistence, this proposal would also extend paid parking meter hours during the week and on Saturdays until 10 PM or Midnight for 29,000 of Chicago's 36,000 metered spaces - to offset the cost of "free" Sunday parking in less populous areas of the City.

This proposal would extend paid meter hours from 9 PM to Midnight across most of the 42nd Ward and extend hours from 9 PM to 10 PM for tens of thousands of meters located in other wards across Chicago. Over the past week, I have heard from hundreds of my constituents and hundreds more from across Chicago who object to the City Council lengthening meter hours in exchange for "free" Sunday parking in areas outside of the Central Business District and Near North side.

We all know nothing is truly "free" and this certainly applies to the Sunday parking proposal. Rest assured, families from every corner of the city will be paying for that "free" parking until 10 PM in their neighborhoods during the week. When they visit downtown for dinner, a movie, or concert they'll pay to park until Midnight. No matter where you live, you'll pay for that "free" parking one way or another.

Some aldermen have expressed concerns that "free" Sunday meters in their neighborhood wards could actually inhibit local businesses because those spots would be occupied all day and not turn-over for shoppers on a regular basis. Visitors could take advantage of those free meters by parking their car in a spot on Saturday night and not picking it up until Monday morning. In some wards, that would make it very difficult for residents to secure short-term street parking to support local businesses on Sunday.

Crain's Chicago Business recently editorialized against the proposed swap of extended meter hours in exchange for "free" Sunday parking saying: "instead of providing real relief, this renegotiated deal just pushes the slop from one trough to another." The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board also recently opined: "But here's what keeps gnawing at us. If this deal is so good financially for the city, why would Chicago Parking Meters LLC agree to it?" These opinions regarding extended meter hours are currently shared by a majority of aldermen on the City Council.

The Mayor has given the City Council a tight deadline to review this proposal: 28 days to review a tremendous amount of data and complex calculations - not to mention wading through the complex legalese contained in the 3-inch thick, phone-book sized settlement proposal we received five days ago.

Although 28 days is far better than the 72 hours the Daley Administration gave the City Council to review the original Parking Meter Lease - setting this artificial deadline to review such a complex proposal and reams of data is somewhat reminiscent of the very process that resulted in the City of Chicago making the mistake of approving this disastrous lease agreement in the first place.

In the meantime, I have also been meeting with municipal bond experts to try and identify ways for the City of Chicago to potentially buy-back this valuable public asset. Although we would have to potentially pay more for the asset than we originally leased it for - buying it back now could limit our exposure to future, costly litigation by CPM and allow the City to again control the asset decades before the Lease would be due to expire. Bond experts have informed me that this approach is within the art of the possible and I will continue to aggressively pursue this option.

I consider myself one of Mayor Emanuel's supporters on the City Council and have enjoyed a solid working relationship with him over the past two years. I truly believe his team did an excellent job negotiating a settlement to the $1 billion in potential liability over the term of the lease and I would vote to approve that good work in a heartbeat. However, extending meter hours until 10 PM or Midnight for more than 29,000 parking spaces across the City, six days a week, would be a burden for many families across Chicago and could result in yet another windfall for CPM. I simply cannot support this proposal.

I do not relish this public disagreement with the Mayor. But, as I proved during the Daley Administration, I will always stand up and oppose policies when I genuinely believe they could hurt downtown Chicago or the city at-large. My first loyalty as Alderman of the 42nd Ward is to the thousands of constituents who have trusted me with protecting their interests on the City Council.


Comments welcome.


Posted on May 13, 2013

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