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City Council slows down in the summertime, with the heat, vacation season, and a general lull in the policy calendar, combining to grind everything to – not exactly a halt, but more a slow motion chug. Add to it a general “lame duck” feel brought on by the Mayor’s announcement that she will not be seeking re-election, a City Manager finishing his seventh year, and a City Council facing at least some turnover, and Council meetings this summer have been relatively uneventful affairs.
Still, the show must go on, and some business cannot wait for autumn to arrive. The Aug. 15 meeting addressed a number of such items.
The Harley Clarke mansion “next steps” discussion was not among such items. Though on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, staff asked that Council continue the matter until Sept. 12. The requested continuance met with no resistance from the six aldermen present.
Parking-lot improvements sailed through at a cost of just under $1 million collectively. The broad ranging project includes the James Park lot, lot #32 on the 800 block of Hinman Avenue, the police headquarters parking lot and the Mason Park basketball court. Most of this work is scheduled for completion in early November.
Another part of the project is the replacement of the porous parking spaces along the south side of Davis Street between Ridge and Elmwood avenues. According to the staff memo, the Davis Street project will be completed in April 2017, with the porous concrete being replaced by “porous concrete paver blocks. … The work will be paid for using funds withheld from the contractor that installed the deficient porous concrete in 2013.”
Although the contract to pave several alleys was approved by Council on the consent agenda, it did not pass quietly into the night. Property owners on one alley, between Darrow and Dodge avenues south of Lake Street, took the allocation issue before a Cook County Court – and won, at least temporarily. “We have some research to do,” said City Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons.
The issue was how to allocate the property owner’s share, generally 50%, of the cost of paving alleys. The City argued and has calculated for years that the number of units should determine the share. The resident argued instead that assessed value should be the determining factor. The judge asked the City “what would be the cost if it was based on assessed value?” and gave the City two weeks to come up with a response.
Mr. Lyons recommended that the bid go forward despite the possible roadblock, saying it was the first time a challenge actually worked.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, expressed concern about the possible impact of the Court’s decision on the rest of the City, and Mr. Lyons acknowledged it “might open up a can of worms” and could turn into “a property tax issue.” Creating special service areas might be one way to accomplish alley paving, he said, but the City does not want to create dozens of SSAs across the City.
“This property owner looked up every type of challenge” possible, and found success at the Cook County level, said Mr. Lyons.
The result may or may not work in the property owners’ favor, though, speculated Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “Maybe they’re shooting themselves in the foot,” she said, as the assessed value of their property may end up increasing their contribution rather than decreasing. An answer should come shortly, though its impact on the actual alley paving project could go in any of a number of directions.
A car towing contract with North Shore Towing was held at the committee level at the request of Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. Mr. Lyons said the Mayor asked staff to review the history of City towing contracts “to see if we could get a better deal” or if “there are other towing services out there.” The matter will return, along with staff research, on Sept. 12.
Ald. Rainey reminded the Administration and Public Works Committee members that the North Shore contract expired July 31. Mr. Lyons assured the Committee that the old contract could continue month-to-month, and that North Shore was aware of the Mayor’s request.
A contract seeking a “Park and Community Outdoor Space Score Card” evaluating about half of Evanston’s 80 or so outdoor spaces ran into opposition from Ald. Rainey, who expressed indignation that none of the parks in the Eighth Ward was selected for the first round of evaluation. City Assistant Director of Parks Bob Dorneker said the project was split into two parts, with about half the public spaces examined this year and half next year. Ridgeville Park District and Lighthouse District parks, as well as school playgrounds, would be included in the assessment. Oakton and Chute Schools are both in the Eighth Ward, and their playgrounds are on the list.
“I feel like south Evanston got slighted,” said Ald. Rainey.
The cost of the project, about $40,000, was expected to cover all Evanston open spaces, but only covered about half. The Committee, on motion of Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, voted to expand the project to cover all open spaces this year increasing the cost of the project from $40,000 to $80,000.
Ald. Rainey continued to argue that the initial proposal “completely redlines the south end of town” out of the project, and did not even include James Park.
Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, pointed out that James Park was indeed on the list, just under its more complete name, “Robert E. James Park.”
“I take it back, there is one [Eighth Ward] park on the list, which is the biggest park in Evanston,” said Ald. Rainey.
Council voted to make the debate moot, however, and examine all parks this year. The amended measure passed unanimously at full Council.
Flashing “You are speeding” signs are coming to school zones, and they will not be temporary. Council passed a resolution authorizing 20 new solar powered signs at a cost of $110,000. Of that amount, $88,000 is covered by a Federal Safe Routes to School grant.
“Did others get an email from a vendor saying they could provide a much more secure machine, not subject to vandalism, and a much lower cost?” asked Ald. Rainey. Apparently no one else did. The project came with IDOT approval, meaning any changes would have to go back through the State of Illinois. With a $22,000 City share at issue, Council decided to go ahead with the current IDOT- approved machines, though staff will research alternatives for future consideration.
Building benchmarking returned to Council, but just in the form of an informational presentation. Council held the benchmarking ordinance earlier this summer, a measure that would have required building owners to gather energy usage data and report it to the City.
Kumar Jensen, the City’s Environmental Projects Coordinator, addressed some of the concerns raised by members of the Administration and Public Works Committee the last time benchmarking was presented to them. At the Aug. 15 meeting, Council appeared to remain lukewarm on the ordinance.
Ald. Miller asked how much time was involved in complying. “It took me three to four hours” to set up the City’s 17 buildings in the Portfolio Manager System, said Mr. Jensen. The ordinance would require all Evanston buildings over a certain threshold size to use Portfolio Manager to report data to the City. Support would be provided for landlords by volunteers, or during office hours at the City, he said.
Portfolio Manager’s definitions of property characteristics might be different from those building administrators are accustomed to, said Mr. Jensen. They may not know the number of occupants of a building outside of normal business hours, he added. All this information needs to be entered into the program’s database to provide complete and accurate data.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, was not at the meeting, but his question from the last time the matter was presented seemed to linger: “What does the City really gain from this ordinance?” he asked at the time.
At full Council, and in response to the parade of citizens complaining about the new Dodge Avenue bike lanes at the last Council meeting, a parade of residents rose to praise the protected lanes running between Howard and Lake street. A number of school-age kids spoke – always an effective way of delivering messages about safety. It would appear there is a real divide over this issue, evident from the start, when the contract to create the bike lanes passed by 5-4. The RoundTable’s letter page and website comments section reflects the same divide – an informal review of comments across all media show about a 50-50 split. The City has its work cut out for it in trying to craft a solution that makes everyone happy this time.
Finally, Council voted to add a $75-per-month technology allowance to aldermen’s compensation “to assist with the costs of high-speed Internet, a mobile phone device/service or other communication needs.” Ald. Rainey argued the allowance was too low, saying, “I think the minimum we should be reimbursed is $100 per month.” Her motion to amend, however, failed because no one seconded it.