From airport security to debt transparency, Progress Illinois rounds up highlights from Wednesday's Chicago City Council meeting.
In light of lengthy wait times at airport security checkpoints in Chicago and across the country, some aldermen want to privatize the security screening process at O'Hare and Midway International Airports.
Alds. Ed Burke (14th), Michael Zalewski (23rd), Daniel Solis (25th) and Margaret Laurino (39th) introduced a resolution at Wednesday's council meeting on the issue.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a Screening Partnership Program, which allows qualified private contractors to assist with passenger and baggage screening at airports. The program is already being used at 21 U.S. airports, including San Francisco International, according to the resolution.
The aldermen's proposal asks Chicago's Aviation Department commissioner "to apply for the TSA's Screening Partnership Program to enhance flexibility in the staffing levels, assignments, and operating hours of screening staff in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of passenger screening at O'Hare and Midway."
"The authorities in New York and the authorities in Atlanta have both now sent letters to the TSA requesting they be included in this privatization effort, and I think Chicago should also be doing the same," Burke told reporters. "We're the best and the busiest air hub in the nation, and people who are flying out of Chicago, whether it's O'Hare or Midway, shouldn't be subjected to the kind of hardships that they are today because of the ineptitude of the TSA."
U.S. airports are currently facing an influx of travelers. At the same time, TSA has fewer screeners nationwide than in past years. According to the resolution, TSA screeners dropped from 45,000 in 2011 to the current 42,525. As a result, travelers are facing longer security lines, which have caused missed or delayed flights.
The aldermen's measure, which goes to the city council's joint Aviation and Finance Committee for consideration, comes after the TSA said it plans to send more security officers and take additional steps to help alleviate long security lines at Chicago's airports.
"Despite recent promises by the TSA to rush in extra TSA officers to Chicago to help clean up this massive problem, I have little faith that this situation will not repeat itself in the future," Laurino said in a statement.
Zalewski added, "With the summer travel season fast approaching, we must act now to ensure that Chicago's airports, which serve more than 90 million passengers annually, are positioned to effectively and expeditiously screen all of those passengers."
After the council meeting, Emanuel said he has requested to meet with the TSA administrator Friday to discuss the long airport security lines and "make sure that this doesn't happen again."
"He will be clearly aware of ... the introduction of the new ordinance," Emanuel said. "And the fact is, with both New York looking at this, Atlanta looking at it, now Chicago, it's a wakeup call to TSA that this was a human error of a tremendous magnitude, and it's unacceptable."
That's not to say Emanuel is open to privatizing security screening at Chicago's airports.
"I'm not saying I'm open," the mayor said. "I'm saying it's a tool in the tool box, and that's why I asked [the] TSA director to be here on Friday for a meeting."
Aldermen OK Debt Transparency Ordinance, $600 Million Borrowing Plan
Chicago aldermen approved an ordinance designed to strengthen the city's financial transparency and accountability.
The Debt Transparency Accountability and Performance Ordinance, spearheaded by Progressive Reform Caucus members and crafted in partnership with the Emanuel administration, will require the city to provide extended public notice and hold special hearings before entering into non-fixed rate debt transactions, like the controversial interest rate swap agreements.
"This is a meaningful step towards involving the taxpayers of Chicago in the decision-making process when it comes to how their tax dollars are used," said Progressive Caucus Chair Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd). "The passage of this ordinance is a commitment from the city council and the Department of Finance that the curtain is finally being pulled back on the financial actions of the city of Chicago."
Ald. John Arena (45th), the ordinance's chief sponsor, added, "This ordinance is the product of months of work to determine how to better hold the city of Chicago accountable for its financial undertakings in the future. Through this ordinance, we seek to acknowledge the economic missteps made in the past, and ensure that reckless investments and debt transactions remain just that: a thing of the past."
On Tuesday, Arena and Waguespack penned an op-ed in Progress Illinois about the importance of the proposal. Check out their column here.
Also at Wednesday's council meeting, aldermen authorized a $600 million borrowing plan for capital projects, equipment and legal settlements for years 2016 and 2017. The city plans to issue the bonds during the third quarter of 2016.
As part of the borrowing package, bond proceeds would be put toward sidewalks, bridge repairs, equipment and other capital projects.
Emanuel's Neighborhood Development Initiative Passes
The mayor's initiative meant to spur downtown development and generate funds for economic development projects in underserved communities won city council approval.
"Today was a significant day of ... putting another arrow in our quiver to make sure there's economic development, jobs and economic opportunity throughout the city of Chicago, not just in some parts of the city of Chicago," Emanuel told reporters.
Under the initiative, the Downtown Zoning District will be expanded and developers can add extra square footage to downtown buildings, in exchange for making a payment into a neighborhood development fund. Developers would have to pay for each additional square foot, with 80 percent of the contribution put into a "Neighborhood Opportunity Fund," which will support commercial development projects in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
A "Citywide Adopt-A-Landmark Fund" and "Local Impact Fund" will each get 10 percent of the developer payments under the new system. The respective funds will be used to restore landmarks and support public improvements within one mile of a development site.
The plan was approved 46-2, with Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) voting "no."
Critics are concerned the program will become another mayoral "slush fund" similar to the city's tax increment financing (TIF) program.
The mayor's office says the "Neighborhood Opportunity Fund will have multiple layers of accountability and transparency," including a "community-based planning" system and grant application process. The program also calls for regular reporting of fund receipts and expenditures, plus an annual program report.
Grants over $250,000 would require city council approval for each project.
"For smaller grants, to neighborhood businesses that are trying to stay afloat or expand in underserved corridors, the [planning and development] department will issue grants administratively rather than subject businesses to a months-long council process," according to the mayor's office. "Even then, the department is required to regularly seek council approval to obtain the funding allotments for those small grants."
Committee Approves Airbnb Ordinance, Full Council Vote Expected Next Month
Emanuel's proposal to place a 4 percent surcharge and restrictions on home-sharing platforms like Airbnb advanced in committee Wednesday morning.
By a 17-9 vote, the joint Housing and Consumer Protection Committee moved the proposal to the full city council, where a vote is not expected until next month. The measure has sparked fierce debate among aldermen, home-sharing users and hosts, the hotel industry and community stakeholders.
Under the measure, a limited number of units in certain buildings could be used for home-sharing, among other regulations. Some $2 million in funds from the proposed 4 percent surcharge would be used for city homeless services.
The proposed ordinance underwent last-minute changes before being approved in committee, despite much confusion among aldermen about the measure's latest provisions. Some aldermen were concerned the measure was being rushed. The legislation could be tweaked in committee before it goes before the full city council.
Emanuel said home-sharing companies are currently operating in Chicago under no "oversight" and "regulation."
"So, the effort wasn't so much a rush, it was so much the fact (that) something is happening out in the city of Chicago and we don't have the regulatory oversight that is necessary to protect our neighborhoods and our communities," he told reporters.
Emanuel said the ordinance would have passed the council, had it gone up for a vote today.
Proposal To Fine Homeowners For Dog Poop On Their Property Gets Delayed
An ordinance intended to control rats by requiring that property owners clean up dog poop in their yards on a daily basis, or face a $50 to $500 fine, was delayed for consideration for a least one month.
Hairston moved Wednesday to defer and publish the measure over concerns from some aldermen.
Dog walkers who fail to pick up their pets' messes already face such fines laid out in the proposal, introduced by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) with the mayor's support.
The measure says pet excrement is a main food source for rats. In 2013 and 2014, Chicago was ranked the No. 1 "rattiest" city in the nation, according to the pest control company Orkin.
"We were hoping to get this in before the hottest days of summer," Ramirez-Rosa told Progress Illinois after the measure was delayed. "We'll hopefully still be able to accomplish that in June."
Ramirez-Rosa said the proposal has caused some confusion among aldermen.
As it stands, the city's Streets and Sanitation Department will sometimes issue health hazard citations for dog excrement in backyards, the alderman said.
"But that is a very complicated process that you have to prove in court, and sometimes the judges that are hearing the case on these fines will throw it out," Ramirez-Rosa explained, adding that his proposal sought to fix this problem and provide the city with "the tool that it needs to effectively go after those" who refuse to pick up dog feces on their private property.
Building owners and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) have voiced opposition to the proposal. Lopez is worried that the measure will make it even harder for dog owners to find apartments allowing pets. If dog-friendly apartments become harder to find, Lopez says more dogs may be surrendered by their owners to shelters.
"This unintended consequence will disrupt our efforts to keep dogs out of shelters," Lopez said in a statement. "We need to find a comprehensive approach to the rat population problem that doesn't result in an increase in dog intake to animal shelters. Anyone who doubts the very real possibility of that happening obviously doesn't understand animal welfare in Chicago."
Ramirez-Rosa said he has not heard directly from Lopez about the alderman's concerns.
"Again, I think that there's some aldermen that are just confused about how the Department of Streets and Sanitation works, how our violations are enforced when it comes to private property," he said.
Emanuel, LGBT Caucus Introduce Anti-Discrimination Legislation
Emanuel and the city council's LGBT Caucus introduced an ordinance aimed at protecting transgender people from discrimination in hotels, grocery stores and other public accommodations.
"The ordinance would prohibit public accommodations like hotels, restaurants or grocery stores from requiring patrons to show a government issued ID upon request to access its facilities that are private in nature, such as restrooms, based on a person's biological category, his or her gender identity, or both," reads a statement from the mayor's office.
The proposal, which comes amid controversy over North Carolina's restrictive transgender bathroom policy, seeks to strengthen provisions under the city's Human Rights Ordinance.
"The city of Chicago celebrates diversity and has a long and proud history of being a welcoming place for LGBT residents," Emanuel said in a statement. "Despite measures being enacted in other states, we as a country should be adding more protections - not taking them away - to prevent discrimination, which is why we're proposing this additional measure to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals from discrimination in Chicago."
Earlier this month, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system announced new policies to support transgender students and adults who move about the district. Students now have access to restrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity.
Earned Paid Sick Time Advocates Speak Out
At a press conference before Wednesday's meeting, Chicago aldermen and advocates urged the city council to make the pending earned paid sick time ordinance a priority. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who co-chairs the mayor's Working Families Task Force, acknowledged that aldermen have a lot of other issues on their plates. But, he stressed, earned sick time should not be put on the back burner.
"Earned sick time is an issue that will touch 460,000 workers once we pass it," Pawar said. "So, frankly, I'm tired of having to stand here with my colleagues, with the advocates, asking for scraps, for basic human decency, so that people can call in sick, when they are sick, to work and not worry about losing their jobs."
Supporters want the proposal, which was introduced last month, considered at June's city council meeting.
Protest Over TIF Project
About an hour into the council meeting, activists staged a protest inside the council chambers. Demonstrators chanted "No TIFs for the rich! Keep your promise CHA!" Three small groups of protesters held banners and chanted before security removed them from the chambers.
Activists, including leaders with ONE Northside, the Chicago Housing Initiative, Uptown Tent City Organizers and other groups, are upset that a proposed $125 million luxury housing development, planned for Uptown near the city's lakefront, calls for a $15.8 million TIF subsidy.
They also took aim at the Chicago Housing Authority, saying the agency should use more of its large cash reserves to house people in need. Protesters have been pushing for passage of the so-called Keeping the Promise Ordinance, which would give the city council greater CHA oversight.
"Spending TIF monies on luxury high-rises -- literally in spitting distance of people sleeping under Lake Shore Drive viaducts -- is a gross misappropriation of taxpayers' money," Andy Thayer with the Uptown Tent City Organizers and the Gay Liberation Network told Progress Illinois before the protest. "It's an insult to all working-class people in this city that we continue to waste money on the wealthy for these projects that benefit a tiny percentage of the city's population when huge numbers of people are in desperate need of housing."
Although the Emanuel administration is working to place 75 homeless individuals who live under Lake Shore Drive viaducts on Chicago's North Side into permanent housing, Thayer said the mayor's effort falls short.
"It's a cruel joke to say we're gonna give 75 units in a city that has 125,000 homeless" people, he said.