Evanston officials are expected to issue refunds on tickets issued to drivers who parked in the Sheridan Square area over a several-year period, where signs incorrectly listed restrictions that were never officially approved.

Members of the City Council’s Administration & Public Works Committee directed officials to move forward with that action at their July 8 meeting.

After discussion at the June 24 Transportation & Parking Committee meeting, officials removed the signs that restricted parking 24 hours a day for 22 spaces on the east side of Sheridan Square, except for those holding special residents-only permits.

The entire length of Sheridan Square, both sides, is now designated as residents’ parking only from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., staff said.

At the July 8 Committee meeting, Alderman Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, asked staff how the situation came about.

“This was a 22-space private parking lot from Nov. 30, 2015, until last Tuesday,” he said. “It should have sunset [a clause in many ordinances making issues subject to review before renewal]; it was affirmatively rejected by this Committee. How did we get to a place where there are 22 parking spaces that are unlawfully restricted? And did we write any tickets to anybody?”

Responding for the City, Erika Storlie, Assistant City Manager and Administrative Services Director, said officials ran a report  indicating roughly 75 tickets had been issued during that time, about half of which were paid.

As for how the situation occurred, “The short answer…is ‘We don’t bat a thousand,” Ms. Storlie responded.

Ms. Storlie said that direction came from the Committee after that group voted down the restrictions, but that the information was not communicated through staff, and the signs were not removed.

In short, “it happens, and it’s regrettable,” she told Committee members.

The sign issue dates back to 2015, when the City ran a pilot program in the Sheridan Square area to address residents’ concerns about parking congestion as well as illegal activities across from the South Boulevard Beach area.

After the pilot program was concluded, City staff proposed changes to the parking restrictions, including recommending the 22 spaces on the east side of Sheridan Square become residential parking only, officials said.

Ordinances were then drafted to amend City Code and brought to the Administration & Public Works Committee on Oct. 23, 2017, for action, Ms. Storlie and Michael Rivera, the City’s interim parking division manager, said in a memo.

The Committee voted unanimously against adopting the ordinances, the officials found, and there is no evidence that the matter was ever brought back to the Administration & Public Works Committee or to the Transportation Committee after the restrictions failed to pass, officials said.

At the July 8 meeting, Ald. Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, asked officials what the City planned  to do about the estimated 75 tickets, some of which were paid and some not.

 Ms. Storlie turned to the Committee for direction on how to handle that issue. She pointed out that in the case of those who received tickets there was “a sign depicting the regulation, even though it didn’t match the Code, so someone did read the sign and decided not to follow the rules.”

On the other hand, “we all know that [the sign] was improper because it didn’t match what was in the code,” she told Committee members

Ald. Fleming recommended the City void tickets for those who have not paid them. Those who paid a ticket should get their money back, “for an error that was ours,” she said

Ms. Storlie told the Committee that officials have undertaken a number of measures since a new interim parking division manager has come on board to safeguard against such situations occurring in the future.

They include an intern currently conducting a block-by-block audit, making sure that signs in neighborhood reflect “what’s actually in the code and that the code reflects what’s in the map,” she said.

Ald. Suffredin asked how long the process would take. Ms. Storlie estimated the project would take approximately six months and said officials would report to the Council with any Code changes where the information did not match.

She told Committee members that officials are also making good progress on creating an online parking site that will list existing parking restrictions in a neighborhood and provide a way for residents to amend information that is not correct. 

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.