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The City Council is poised tonight, July 8, to authorize the City Manager to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Northwestern University about the “operations of the beach located at end [sic] of Lincoln Street.”

Under this MOU, which would stand for 10 years, Northwestern would be a big winner, and the residents of Evanston would be significantly shortchanged. Northwestern will pay for lifeguards and other staff deemed necessary. The City will monitor the water quality daily and clean and comb the beach weekly.

The beach was created by sand accretion that resulted from Northwestern’s construction activities at the lake, beginning in the 1960s with the lakefill. Under the Public Trust doctrine, the beach belongs to the people of Evanston – some would suggest, to the people of Illinois.

Although the City has called this beach “Lincoln Street Beach” for several years and has termed it one of Evanston’s public beaches, the MOU cagily avoids that term by calling it “the beach at the end of Lincoln Street.”

The MOU shortchanges the residents of Evanston in several ways. Although Evanston’s other beaches are truly public, the “beach at the end of Lincoln Street” will be accessible to Evanston residents who are not affiliated with Northwestern only about three months of the year and only at certain hours of the day. Moreover, the parking situation essentially forecloses most Evanston residents from using the beach at all.

The MOU curtails the times the beach will be available not only by limiting the “beach season,” roughly from Memorial Day to Labor Day but also by allowing Northwestern to further remove days for public access if Northwestern has scheduled activities or for any other reason.

The other public beaches in Evanston are truly public. We are talking not just about swimming but about uses of and access to the beach. Evanston residents use the beaches year-round even when they do not swim in the lake. They walk along the water’s edge and look for rocks, glass, wood and other things offered by the lake. They enjoy the serenity; they take pictures; they bring chairs and read or look at the sunset, the stars, the moon and the night sky or the twilight before dawn.

The University’s construction of roads and buildings around the beach area restricts access to the beach; and the parking offered, when available, does nothing to mitigate that. While the MOU notes that free parking will be available on a first-come, first-served basis after 4 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends, the University will charge $8 per hour during the day – the prime beach hours. Adding $16 to the cost of going to the beach for even a couple of hours – or less, because the walk from the garage will be 15-20 minutes – essentially shuts most residents out of using this beach. Moreover, Northwestern would have the right to adjust or even terminate the parking arrangements with a 30-day notice.   

This MOU seems to allow Evanston residents to use the Beach at the End of Lincoln Street only at Northwestern’s whim. We do not see any benefit for the people of Evanston.

Barring Evanston residents access to one of its public beaches for most of the year – and allowing access to the beach only by way of onerous parking restrictions and fees – would essentially return the beach to Northwestern for private use – and with the City’s blessing.

By agreeing to these terms and validating the privatization of what is clearly a public beach, the City will have perpetrated an egregious wrong upon the people of Evanston. But over at Northwestern, folks will likely be smiling.

We are posting this only hours before the scheduled vote, but we hope that all who read it will ask their aldermen either to vote against the MOU or to hold it over for a time.