Progress Illinois provides highlights from the last Chicago City Council meeting of 2014.
At the last Chicago City Council meeting of the year, aldermen approved a "taxi driver fairness" ordinance Wednesday that is designed to lift the income of cab drivers without hiking fares.
The reforms, backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and sponsored by Alds. Anthony Beale (9th), JoAnn Thompson (16th), Emma Mitts (37th) and others, come in response to concerns raised by taxi drivers demanding better wages and working conditions.
Cab drivers have "been screaming for help" for years, Beale said on the council floor.
"When you look at the industry as a whole, the city has had a stranglehold on the cab drivers, and finally we ... can give them some relief," the alderman said.
Under the measure, many drivers would see lease rates drop between 10 percent and 20 percent. Also, the maximum $1,000 fine for driver violations, such as traffic tickets and rider complaints, would be lowered to $400.
A universal taxi smartphone app to connect cabbies to riders will be created as part of the plan. Additionally, the ceiling on credit card fees assessed to taxi drivers will be reduced from 5 percent to 3 percent. Cab drivers would also get a share of advertising revenue in the form of lease reductions, among other regulatory changes.
The measure is projected to increase the annual earnings of cabbies between $5,000 and $8,000, according to AFSCME Council 31, which has been working to organize taxi drivers.
"This is going to be about $8,000 to some drivers back in their pocket," Beale said. "That's a lot of money when you look at what they have to deal with every single day."
From the council dais, Emanuel, who highlighted the recent work that has been done to regulate the ride-sharing industry, said the reforms will put "more money in the hands of taxi drivers" without increasing fares.
Some, however, were looking to see stronger reforms.
"It is a first step and we're happy about it. But it will not benefit all cabdrivers," United Taxidrivers Community Council Secretary-Treasurer Peter Enger told aldermen at a joint Transportation and License committee meeting Tuesday. "The independent owner-operators who do not pay credit card cashing fees because they process it through their own system and the ones who do not pay leases because they own their own medallions are not getting any benefit at all from this ordinance."
On the council floor, Beale noted that cab drivers could have been helped more "if we passed E15, because that would have put even more money in their pockets, because gas would have been a little cheaper for them to purchase."
E15 Plan Gets Delayed
Beale was referring to an ordinance that would require many gas stations in the city to carry E15, a fuel blend containing 15 percent ethanol opposed to the typical 10 percent, as an option for drivers.
Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) led an effort Wednesday to defer and publish the ordinance, meaning the earliest it can be considered is the next council meeting.
Proponents of the ordinance, which sparked a fierce debate between big oil and big agriculture, say E15 is a cleaner, less expensive gasoline alternative. Corn is often a main ethanol ingredient.
Opponents, who have called into question the cost-saving and environmental claims associated with E15, say the proposed mandate, which would be the first of its kind for a major U.S. city, would force gas stations to leave the city. They also argue that the fuel blend might damage some vehicle engines. Travelers Motor Club and Association Motor Club Marketing, however, support the use of E15 fuel in vehicles.
The ordinance covers filling stations that sell more than 850,000 gallons of fuel annually, or about a quarter of the gas stations in the city. The establishments would have 360 days to comply with the requirements and install new equipment for the fuel.
After the meeting, Emanuel said the proposal, which has drawn the ire of service-station owners, "needs more work," specifically on small business and environmental issues.
"I think this ordinance needs a little more time to be thought through and done in a way that doesn't put undue burdens on the small businesses, but also make sure that our goal as a city from an environmental policy is also met," the mayor said.
Aldermen Call For Hearing Involving Privatized CPS Janitorial Services
Aldermen passed a resolution calling for hearings about a possible reduction in minority- and women-owned business participation after the Chicago Public Schools privatized janitorial services.
At issue are the school district's facilities management contracts with Aramark Education Services and SodexoMagic for custodial services and cleaning supplies approved by the Chicago Board of Education in February. Some principals have raised concerns about the tidiness at schools since the services were privatized, which also resulted in custodian layoffs.
The resolution, spearheaded by lead sponsor Roberto Maldonado (26th) and other aldermen, calls on officials from CPS, Aramark and SodexoMagic to "appear before the council's education committee to answer concerns about the drastic reduction of MBE and WBE participation on such paramount procurement activity and the economic effect that such minimal participation shall have in both the Hispanic and African-American community."
In other news, retired Cardinal Francis George was awarded the Chicago Medal of Merit, the city's highest honor, on Wednesday. George, who delivered the invocation at the council meeting, said, "I am, of course, deeply touched" to receive the award, the first in 15 years.
The Chicago City Council also gave the OK to approve three new settlements totaling $13 million in cases involving two wrongful convictions as well as female, African-American firefighter applicants who filed a discrimination lawsuit after failing an old fitness test they claim was biased against women.
Reforms To Affordable Requirements Ordinance Introduced
Proposed Emanuel-backed reforms to the city's Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) that would help the city create more affordable housing units in Chicago were introduced Wednesday, to the disdain of many developers.
Housing advocates are not entirely pleased with the proposal either.
"Of course everyone didn't get everything that they wanted out of this," Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), one of the plan's sponsors, said before the meeting. "But quite honestly, this is a step further than where we were before. Hopefully we can continue to work to make sure that people have more affordable housing throughout the city of Chicago ... I was just with a bunch of developers yesterday. They're not happy about this, but at the same time, we need to do what we need to do to make sure people in the city of Chicago have a place to stay all over the city."
Under the Affordable Requirements Ordinance, which took effect in 2007, developers of residential projects currently have to designate 10 percent of their units as affordable for middle-income families when utilizing a zoning increase or building on city land. When projects get tax increment financing dollars or other city financial assistance, developers have to set aside 20 percent of their units as affordable. Developers, however, don't have to meet the affordable unit targets if they instead pay $100,000 per required unit into a city fund for affordable housing.
Since 2007, the ARO has created 247 affordable housing units and generated $19 million in housing funds, according to a release from the mayor's office.
As part of the proposed changes to the Affordable Requirements Ordinance, based on recommendations from the mayoral-appointed Affordable Housing Task Force, developers would have to include in their buildings at least 25 percent of their required affordable units. However, for rental projects downtown and rental or for-sale projects in higher-income areas, developers have the option of building or rehabbing required affordable units within a one-mile radius from the original project.
Developers could opt out of the 25 percent requirement by paying a $225,000 fee per required unit.
Among other changes, the proposal looks to "reduce the in-lieu fee for a project's remaining affordability obligation to $50,000 in low-moderate census tracts; increase the in-lieu fee to $125,000 per unit in higher-income census tracts; and increase the base in-lieu fee to $175,000 downtown," the mayor's news release reads. Developers would be eligible for reduced opt-out fees for remaining unit obligations when they allow the Chicago Housing Authority to buy or lease ARO units.
The mayor's office estimates the changes would create 1,200 affordable housing units and generate almost $100 million in housing funds over five years.
"There are parts of this ordinance that we are very happy with," said Ethnie McMenamin with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, one of several groups that spoke about the reforms before the meeting. The group, for example, supports the increase in fees for projects in rapidly-developing areas of the city.
"Where we have concerns is in where the ARO money gets spent," McMenamin said. "Almost none of the money has been used to build affordable housing in the neighborhoods where new development is happening, where the most affordable housing is being lost."
Housing activists also argue that the lower in-lieu fees in low- and moderate-income communities would make it easier for developers to gentrify neighborhoods.
"There are parts of Logan Square and nearby communities that are moderate income, but are already rapidly gentrifying," explained Lisette Castaneda, with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. "In those areas, the mayor's office proposal would lower the fees developers have to pay if they don't build affordable units on site. The coalition will continue to meet with city administration to find a solution to that and other areas of concern."
Limiting Petcoke Storage
Emanuel is throwing his weight behind another measure introduced Wednesday involving petcoke, an oil refining byproduct being stored on the Southeast Side. The plan, introduced by Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and Ald. John Pope (10th), would cap how much petcoke a company can stockpile in the city.
It calls on the "Department of Planning and Development to issue one or more orders by March 31, 2015 that would limit the amount of petcoke stored in the city," a release from the mayor's office says.
The proposal would impact KCBX Terminals Company, a Southeast Side petcoke facility operator controlled by the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The company is currently allowed to store up to 11 million tons of the substance per year under a state permit, reports the Chicago Tribune.
The city has recently adopted petcoke regulations, prompted by health and environmental concerns raised by residents of the Southeast Side. Petcoke facility operators in the city are required to enclose their petcoke piles by 2016, among other regulations.
KCBX had asked for city approval to increase the height of its petcoke mounds, but that request was rejected by the Chicago Department of Public Health on Tuesday. The health department also denied a second variance from KCBX seeking to delay coverage of conveyors.
The Koch brothers-controlled firm also wants to put off enclosing its petcoke piles until 2018. The city has not yet issued a decision on that latter request.
Racial Profiling Definition
Under a measure introduced Wednesday by Burke and other aldermen, Chicago's racial profiling ban would be updated to be consistent with the definition at the federal level.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Justice Department is expanding its guidance on racial profiling for federal law enforcement to include religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. The new guidelines follow protests over the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Chicago's racial profiling ban, adopted in 2001, already prohibits police and law enforcement personnel from profiling based on "race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, military discharge status, financial status or lawful source of income."
Under the plan, "national origin" and "gender identity" would be added to the city's definition.
"The city of Chicago can proudly reflect back to 2001 when we broke new ground by adopting a landmark ordinance banning the Chicago Police Department, or any law enforcement agency operating within the city limits, from engaging in racial profiling," said Burke, a former Chicago police officer. "However, the federal government has added new changes that the city of Chicago should now incorporate into its municipal code."
This proposal comes after Burke and other council members introduced a separate ordinance to ban the use of chokeholds by police and private security personnel.
Chicago police department directives already prohibit using such a technique. Aldermen said the ordinance would make that ban more clear and ensure that chokeholds are not used by other security officers.
"As it relates to the chokehold, one it underscores already the police department's stated policy and training," Emanuel said of the proposal in remarks after the council meeting. "But I'm supportive of it because I want to be clear, as the city of Chicago unambiguously with one voice, that chokehold is not in the police practice or training, and it's not acceptable here in the city of Chicago."
The pending ordinance states, "No peace officer, private security contractor or private security personnel shall apply a chokehold in the performance of his or her duties, unless faced with a situation in which the use of deadly force is justified under applicable law. A chokehold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air."
The measure comes after last week's Staten Island grand jury declsion against indicting a white New York City police officer involved in the July chokehold death of Garner, who was black.