We write on the fifth anniversary of the City Council’s approval of Ordinance O2018-7136, which awarded 19.3 acres of former public parkland carved out of Jackson Park to the Obama Foundation for construction of the Obama Presidential Center. As a 2018 Halloween treat, the Foundation was given the site for its use for 99 years for a flat fee of $10.00.
The terms of that agreement and the processes by which it was arranged were challenged in a lawsuit filed long ago in federal court by Protect Our Parks and six other plaintiffs. Finally, just a week ago, on Oct. 24, there was a long-delayed hearing on an appeal of that lawsuit in the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
The POP suit asserts, among other things, that the agreement was an improper transfer of public trust property; that the requirements of the Master Agreement as defined in the ordinance were violated because the Obama Foundation did not have adequate funding for the construction of the OPC and its supporting endowment when the transfer occurred; that the federal reviews were flawed because they improperly segmented the OPC project from the roadwork being performed, despite the fact that such roadwork (and the 200 million plus federal monies associated with it) are necessitated only by the OPC project; and that the environmental impact reviews that assessed the federally-funded work needed to accommodate the siting of the OPC were improperly conducted.
Members of the three-judge panel asked probing questions of both the defendants (City of Chicago and Chicago Park District, Obama Foundation, and US Department of Transportation among other federal agencies) and the plaintiffs. One judge questioned the City on the terms of the 99-year agreement, which sounded to the judge more like a full transfer of property than a lease. Another asked if the Obama Foundation had fulfilled the terms of the Master Agreement simply by filing papers to establish an endowment without also providing funding adequate to fulfill its stated function to maintain and operate the OPC for 99 years. Also questioned was whether the federal agencies had had to defer to the City’s decision to site the OPC in Jackson Park and so could not consider alternative configurations, as had been asserted. The POP attorney Richard Epstein was pushed on why the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the agreement between the City and the Obama Foundation.
The defendants are asking that the appellate court affirm the prior dismissal of the POP suit by the federal district court. The plaintiffs are asking that the appellate court reverse that prior district court ruling (in whole or in part), and allow them to proceed with their claim that the terms of the Master Agreement were violated. Further, the plaintiffs are asking that, at a minimum, construction on the OPC be halted while proper federal reviews that consider the entire unitary project and possible alternatives are performed, while a full environmental impact review is completed, and until it can be proven that the public trust doctrine has not been violated. The Court would normally issue a ruling within thirty to ninety days. However, it took many months to release a ruling on a related issue previously raised by POP.
So, stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!
Thanks to all who have supported us financially. As always, we welcome your contributions. If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at email@example.com and we will get back to you.
You can contribute in three ways:
- You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.
- You can contribute via PayPal here. (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
- You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago IL 60602, ATTN Kevin Winters. Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch.
As always, we thank you.