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City Council returned from a brief August break and continued in full force on Sept. 23, but the large, confrontational issues (the budget, the Harley Clarke mansion, Noyes Cultural Arts Center) were largely absent from the agenda. A relatively short and civil meeting was the result.
The City’s fall tree planting allocation passed easily, with an added bonus. The “I Heart Evanston Trees” initiative raised nearly $20,000 in private funds as part of a “replant express” program. The result will be about 250 new trees planted, 100 more than budgeted. Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, praised the “crowdfunding” concept, saying, “I think it’s wonderful. It worked!”
The “franchise tax” collected every month by cable television providers – the same franchise tax passed on to residents each month on cable bills – results in “PEG,” public, education and government, funds held by the City. Council voted to allocate some of those funds Monday night. Most of the allocation, $71,600, went to Evanston Community Television (ECTV). School District 202 (Evanston Township High School) received $30,000 and School District 65, $6,500.By law, these funds must be used for equipment purchases only.
PEG funds go to only four Evanston PEG channels. The City spent significant funds on new cameras for the Civic Center prior to Monday’s allocation. The City budget includes $100,000 each for 2012 and 2013, with only $108,100 of that distributed Monday night.
The City’s labyrinth of a liquor code is undergoing renovation. A measure introduced Monday night will consolidate the 32 separate liquor licenses into 25 categories and otherwise clean up the code. The law has not undergone wholesale revision since it was initially passed in 1972, said Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar. A more detailed description of the changes will be published in an upcoming issue of the RoundTable.
City vehicle stickers are on the way out, replaced by the more general term “wheel tax.” The City’s Revenue Manager Ricky Voss described the changes during the Administration and Public Works Committee. New license-plate-recognition technology – with cameras atop parking-enforcement jeeps, allows the City to tie license plate numbers to a “wheel-tax-paid” database. The result is quicker enforcement, no need for actual stickers, the elimination of sticker theft and other benefits, he said. Now to convince Chicago meter readers to not give Evanston residents tickets, a problem Mr. Voss acknowledged but to which he offered no solution.
Stickers are going away immediately – in 2014. Online registration is encouraged, and the City hopes long December lines waiting to pay for City Stickers will be a thing of the past, said Mr. Voss.
Members of the Administration and Public Works Committee endorsed the Environment Board’s “Complete Streets” and “Green Streets” initiative. Under the program, the City will pass an ordinance detailing procedures for streetscaping and engineering that recognize the need of pedestrians, bikers and automobiles to use the same corridors. Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson said such an ordinance will improve the City’s chances on grant applications, and that the City already uses such practices in planning. An ordinance is expected to be before the Committee in November.
The Safe School Zone appeared on the agenda, but was held again pending a report from the police department on incidents in the vicinity of the high school. Local resident Betty Ester said that such incidents are rare based upon her FOIA request, and most occur on school grounds rather than the proposed extended “safe school zone.” The issue will return in four to six weeks.
Finally, Council approved the formation of a performing arts center task force. The outgrowth of the Noyes Center/Piven Theatre negotiations and several studies over the past two years, the committee will have plenty of existing material to study as it seeks a location and funding for a downtown performing arts complex.