The Southeast Evanston Association’s (SEA) mission includes serving as a source of community information and advocacy on behalf of Evanston residents.
Consistent with that mission, we feel compelled to take a position on the negotiations being held between Northwestern University and the City of Evanston on the ownership of Lincoln Street Beach. As reported in the RoundTable (“Council Delays Vote on Lincoln Street Beach MOU,” 8-8-18), this beach was created through sand accretion across many years due to Northwestern University’s lakefront construction.
Northwestern claims this area of the lakefront as their property. However, others contest this claim. A guest essay for the RoundTable (“Public Trust and Distrust: Evanston’s Newest Beach,” 8-8-18) by Jeff Smith, former General Counsel for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, presented a detailed analysis of the history of this lakefront area and how the “public trust doctrine” protects public property from acquisition by private entities and limits the power of trustees to betray the public trust. There seems to be little question that the Lincoln Street Beach accretion, which now extends for more than 1000 feet, is public property.
At the July 30 City Council meeting, a vote on a memorandum of understanding between the City and Northwestern was scheduled but was postponed, at the urging of a number of City residents and some City Aldermen. This allowed time for the city to gain a definitive answer to ownership of this property prior to beginning negotiations about its use.
Northwestern’s stance was to retain its claim to ownership, but allow Evanston residents with beach tokens to access the beach during the summer swimming season only. Unlike all other Evanston beaches, where the public can access the beach during non-swimming hours as well as the off-season, this would not be the case for the Lincoln Street beach, according to Wally Bobkiewicz, our City Manager, said.
At this same meeting, Mr. Bobkiewicz stated that he didn’t expect the conversation with Northwestern to be an “easy one,” and asked, “Is this the path we need to walk down?” Mayor Stephen Hagerty stated that “it’s awfully nice that NU lets us walk on their property,” which gives us a clear indication of his resolve in working through this situation.
At the Sept. 17 City Council meeting, Mr. Bobkiewicz stated that staff continues to review the details surrounding ownership and use of the Lincoln Street Beach. Dave Davis, a community relations official from Northwestern University, seemed to take a proprietary position, stating that “Although the issue is complicated, I just want to be clear that the university has invested to modify the beach, and that we will continue to maintain the beach, and that we welcome Evanston residents to use the beach.” (Evanston RoundTable, Sept. 19).
SEA feels that every effort should be made, in a transparent way, to establish ownership of Lincoln Street Beach. We, along with most of our fellow Evanstonians, view our lakefront as one of the most valuable resources we have as a community. We have no patience with the idea that confronting NU with the facts of ownership would be too “difficult” for our City administration. We also disagree that NU’s allowing us to walk on what in all likelihood is public property is “nice” of them. Negotiations with NU need to be approached with clear facts and resolve from our City administrators, not with platitudes. To answer Mr. Bobkiewicz’s question, “Yes, we definitely should walk down this path. If not now, we may never have another opportunity to do so.” In this and all other circumstances, our City officials must aggressively protect the best interests of Evanston citizens, rather than meekly acquiesce to those of private entities. We applaud Alderman Judy Fiske for her insistence on the due diligence of our City officials in this matter before any decisions are made.
This will likely be a topicfor an upcoming City Council meeting. Hopefully, at that time, we will see that City officials have finally done their homework and will take a more conscientious role in careful stewardship of our precious public resources.
Jean Prindiville, on behalf of Southeast Evanston Association