Evanston officials tell us over and over again that we strive to be “the most livable city” in the country, and in many ways we are ahead of the game. We have great schools, a phenomenal library, a world-class university, scores of parks and playgrounds, and an unmatched natural setting with the lakefront, our trees and green spaces and the North Shore Channel.
To keep and protect these assets and safeguard our population, we of course need policies, laws and guidelines. On some subjects, we must adhere to state laws, but, as a home-rule community, we have the freedom to regulate other areas. Any law must carefully balance the rights of those whom it would affect with the necessity to protect the population, institution or property at issue.
The City Council has at times seemed so ordinance-happy that this community is often called the People’s Republic of Evanston. We regulate the height of weeds and grass on private lawns and the space between a parked car and the curb. We cede public parking spaces to private businesses and residents and fine those who can’t decipher the “explanatory” signs.
We could go on – and we would hazard a guess that many residents would be delighted to give us examples of having received punitive fines or petty admonitions for infractions of Evanston ordinances.
This summer a mean-spirited attitude appears to have settled on our lakefront like an arrogant and unwanted seagull. A few examples are illustrative, but City Council members and City staff should know that, as we talked to residents in preparing this editorial, almost all of them had a story about unpleasantness on the beaches this summer. In fact, it seems beach issues have long stuck in the craw of residents wanting a more livable city
For instance, smoothing the sand at the beaches should be part of the prep work before the beaches open after 10. Yet just a few weeks ago the beach-smoothing machine was out on Clark Street during beach hours, throwing sand here even on a group of 4-year-old campers from the McGaw Y – who go there every Friday. A concerned caregiver finally pried the beach manager away from his lunch and got him to call to correct this potential danger to the children, but only after she said she would make the call herself.
Contrast that lackadaisical concern for the welfare of children at the beach with the whistle-wielding tyrants bent on restricting fun in their tiny, wave-lapped fiefdoms.
Beach balls? Forbidden. Splash fights? Only if dignified. A child on dad’s shoulders? Never! A couple of waves? Evacuate the beach! Over time, many have learned to accept the regime, but many others simply skip down to Chicago where the rules are more reasonable, and the beaches are free.
Boaters are not immune from this pettiness. A rude and threatening email was sent to users of the Dempster Street boat launch, some of whom apparently “ feel that they can ignore the policies of the facility.” The writer, who identified himself by a different title from the one given him on the City’s website, continued, “I wanted it to be made clear that we are taking down permit numbers and this will affect who will be allowed to return in 2016. Ignoring the policies, or the staff who are trying to enforce them is not acceptable.”
That “policy” requires boater and beach-goers to use separate entrances.
These incidents and similar heavy-handed steps taken by City staff every day, call the entire notion of “livability” into question.
Does it make sense to allow sand-throwing machines on beaches when patrons are present? Does the fact that some policies are not followed warrant an email that, while pretending to offer a threat to boaters, in fact threatens future City revenue? Perhaps the policy itself – in fact, all beach policies – should be revisited.
We are not alone in suggesting this. More and more residents are voicing a need for re-examination of beach policies as a whole, with an eye toward balancing livability with safety. We can and must do better.