Jackson Park Watch Update – February 19, 2019

Greetings, all.  

Judge rules against City’s motion for dismissal of POP lawsuit

Today was the long-awaited federal court ruling on the motion to dismiss the Protect Our Parks lawsuit against the City and the Chicago Park District. The POP lawsuit challenges the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in historic Jackson Park. POP strongly supports a South Side location for the OPC, but opposes a site in a public park.

Federal Judge John R. Blakey, who is hearing the case, had the options of dismissing the suit for lack of subject matter standing, or granting standing to POP on some or all of the charges and allowing the suit to continue with further discovery (that is, court-supervised gathering of evidence for POP’s use).

Fortunately, Judge Blakey chose to grant standing to the majority of the charges filed by Protect Our Parks, meaning that the lawsuit can continue. He also allowed POP to engage in further discovery. At the case management conference already set for February 27, Judge Blakey will rule on any discovery disputes, set a 45-day period for finalizing discovery, and also set a firm six-week schedule for the final briefings and ruling; a trial may follow.

JPW is pleased with Judge Blakey’s ruling today for two major reasons:

  • The rulings will allow the full range of issues included in this complex and controversial case to be aired, including:
    • alleged denial of due process related to this highly controversial grant of invaluable historic public parkland to a private entity;
    • the issues raised in the lawsuit that allege a failure by the Defendants to comply with a host of statutes;
    • the “bait-and switch” involved in converting the Obama Presidential Library to a Presidential Center, altering the site, and insisting on road closures and realignments;
    • the requirement that taxpayers foot an unspecified part of the bill, not only for roadwork, but also for uncapped costs of environmental remediation work related to OPC construction.
  • Importantly, the rulings send the message that public parkland cannot readily be conveyed to a private entity by Chicago City Council legislative fiat without judicial review and scrutiny.

Judge Blakey denied POP standing on two points. First was POP’s claim related to aesthetic and environmental harm to Jackson Park, which Blakey denied on the grounds that POP did not present any plaintiffs who use the Park and alleged such personal harm. Second, Blakey denied POP’s claim that the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights would be violated if municipal funds were used to support possible political activities with which they might disagree, ruling that this claim was “unripe” – i.e., premature – but might be resurrected at a later date.

For more information, you can read Judge Blakey’s ruling and early media coverage in the Tribune .

Looking ahead to other fronts

At some point, the federal Section 106/NEPA reviews of the OPC/road plans will resume. We continue to believe that the current plans negatively affect Jackson Park and the surrounding communities. We look to those federal reviews as another venue to address the adverse impacts of those plans on the historic fabric of the park and on the social, economic, and ecological condition of the park and its surrounding communities, and we will continue to participate actively in the federal reviews to develop solutions to those problems.

We also note that the upcoming City elections will provide an opportunity for a new Mayor and new City Council to revisit the key problematic features embedded in the OPC ordinance proposed by Mayor Emanuel and rubber-stamped by the current City Council.


Yes, we are in need of funds! If you would like to support JPW’s efforts, checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. Checks that need to be funneled through our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks can be sent to FOTP, 17 N. State St., suite 1450, Chicago 60602, with a note indicating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch.

We thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

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