Jackson Park Watch Update – February 15, 2019

Greetings, all.    

POP hearing intense, outcomes as yet unclear

The long-awaited hearing on the Protect Our Parks lawsuit against the City and Park District, challenging the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, took place Thursday morning, February 14, at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.  The courtroom was full, media representatives were in attendance, and Judge John Robert Blakey devoted a full hour to the case, focused first on the issue of “standing” (that is, do the issues POP has alleged belong in federal court) and second on the issue of “discovery” (that is, what documents does the City have to provide to POP to allow it to build evidence).

On standing

The City brought in outside counsel to argue vigorously that Protect Our Parks should be denied standing on a wide variety of counts and that the case should therefore be dismissed. In response POP reiterated why its charges merit federal review.  Judge Blakely then announced that he will issue a ruling on the issue of standing by Tuesday, February 19.  At that time he could deny standing and dismiss the case; he could grant standing and allow the case to proceed; or he could deny standing on some of the counts but let others stand, thus also allowing the case to proceed. Given the importance of many of the issues central to the case, we are cautiously optimistic that the judge will grant standing on at least some of the counts.

On discovery

As has been true with virtually all things related to the Obama Presidential Center from the beginning, the City is trying to cloak its actions in secrecy.  POP has asked for numerous documents and the City has produced only a very few.  At yesterday’s hearing, Judge Blakey asked POP to list the information it seeks, and asked the City to respond on each request.  In almost every instance, the City’s response was that the information requested is “categorically irrelevant” and “outside of the corners” of the case.  The City’s position is that the only documents that are relevant for deciding the suit are the Planned Development Ordinance, the OPC Ordinance of October 31 drafted by the Mayor and rubber-stamped by the City Council, and the Use Agreement appended to the OPC Ordinance.

(Importantly, the OPC Ordinance noted above consists largely of 93 “Whereas” clauses to justify approval of siting the OPC in Jackson Park. These statements are a mix of fact, fiction, falsehood, and undocumented promotional claims, yet the City’s position is that, because the ordinance was approved by the City Council, these are legislative findings of fact and must be given unfettered judicial deference.)

After this call and non-response, Judge Blakey ordered the parties to confer and try to come to agreement on which of POP’s requests for discovery would be honored, and to report the outcome to him by February 22.  He then set a hearing for February 27, at which point he will rule on the remaining disagreements, set a schedule for final discovery, and move the process forward.

Reports on the hearing have appeared in the Tribune, Hyde Park Herald, Sun-Times, and nationally via Associated Press.

On other matters

Golf Project Status Check

When the plan to merge and expand the South Shore and Jackson Park golf courses into a single PGA-level course was announced by Mayor Emanuel and Park District Superintendent Kelly in December 2016, they projected that construction on the project would begin in 2017.  That didn’t happen, so what is the schedule now?

Craig Bowen, a representative of  the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, the quasi-private entity created by the Park District to make the golf course project a reality, announced at the February  meeting of the Jackson Park Advisory Council that all is well, ground will be broken this spring at the South Shore segment, local golfers will definitely be protected, and more.  The catch?  When asked for documentation of the plans, Bowen responded only that  “they will be available soon.”

To the contrary, however, Park District staff have since indicated that the only ground to be broken at South Shore this year will be for the a long-awaited new beach house  (perhaps in the summer, after plans have been completed and fully vetted by the community – yes, they are promising community input).  Beyond that, construction on the golf course project cannot proceed until the preparatory engineering and planning work by Smith Group JJR is completed, until the current and additional federal reviews are concluded, and until funds (private and public) are obtained for all aspects of the project.

Meanwhile, the key issues about the golf project – local access, loss of non-golf recreational features, high cost, funding sources – are laid out in a recent article in SwingU.com by Bill Daniels, golf industry expert and avid golfer (in Jackson Park as well as everywhere else).    Daniels notes the many financial, logistical and political obstacles that poke holes in the current CPGA plan, and envisions a more realistic possibility of renewing and improving  the courses in their current footprints for a tenth of the cost.  He promises to address that option in future articles.

The schedule and overall status of the golf project remain in flux.  We will track its course in future Updates.

The Saga of the SSCC     

A central issue of the golf course project is its impact on the role of the South Shore Cultural Center as a community center for arts and recreation.   An informative history of the SSCC can be found in the recent South Side Weekly.  “A Palace for the People” traces the story of what is now named South Shore Beach Park from its first incarnation as an exclusionary country club  through the community activism of the 1970s that saved the building from demolition and transformed it into a mecca for jazz concerts and other arts programming to its current status as a Park District events center in the crosshairs of new development.  Recommended reading.

Promontory Point on National Register

Update readers on Chicago’s South Side may remember the successful effort to “Save the Point” of some years ago.  One year ago, Promontory Point Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Now the Promontory Point Conversancy is planning to put a commemorative National Register plaque in the park.  For more information or to support the effort, go to www.promontorypoint.org.

WE NEED YOUR HELP!  PLEASE DONATE!

Having tallied up the tab for the intense work of the last two months, we need your support.  With the help of our legal counsel, we submitted the amicus curiae brief co-authored with Preservation Chicago, and we provided considerable technical assistance to the POP lawsuit. Please give generously. If you have questions, please feel free to direct them to JPW co-president and treasurer Margaret Schmid at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

We thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

Jackson Park Watch Update – January 30, 2019

Greetings, all.   

Despite all the distractions offered by cold weather and local and national politics, the myriad questions surrounding the controversial plans for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, along with all the related discretionary, tax-payer-funded roadwork, continue to be out there and in need of attention.

The federal review process appears to be on deep hold.  Nothing has happened since the September 17, 2018 meeting hosted by the National Park Service.  No more meetings are scheduled until “early 2019.”

The Protect Our Parks federal lawsuit, meanwhile, is alive and well.  The defendants, the City and the Chicago Park District, are doing everything possible to get the suit dismissed at the next hearing, February 14.  We continue to believe that the lawsuit raises key issues about the propriety of using historic public parkland for what is, in the end, a private venture, and hope that the POP charges will be given a full review.  To that end, we partnered with Preservation Chicago to submit a friend of the court brief to make two points:  first, that the argument put forth by the City and Park District (and Obama Foundation) that there is a Chicago tradition of building museums in public parks is factually inaccurate; second, that the status of the eleven museums now situated in Chicago parks is not threatened by the POP challenge to the OPC.

You can review the contents of the Preservation Chicago/JPW brief plus two other important briefs supporting the POP suit in this good summary by The Cultural Landscape Foundation.  The full texts of the briefs are accessible via the JPW website.

You may also enjoy the coverage of the lawsuit in the recent issue of the Chicago Reader.

DONATE!

Even if the lawsuit were to be dismissed on February 14, the federal review process is far from over and key issues remain to be resolved.  We are in need of funds to continue our work. Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.

We thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

 

Jackson Park Watch Update – January 16, 2019

Greetings, all,   

You haven’t heard from us for a time but, beyond taking a break for the holidays, we have been very busy.  The result?  A “friends of the court” amicus brief filed yesterday jointly with Preservation Chicago in relationship to the Protect Our Parks lawsuit.  See below for an excerpt from a press release announcing our brief and two others also filed on Tuesday, all arguing against the City and Park District’s motion to dismiss the POP lawsuit. We continue to believe that the lawsuit raises important issues that deserve a complete public hearing.

We gave considerable thought to taking this step.  While raising many questions, we have not actually opposed locating the OPC in Jackson Park.  Rather we have argued that if Cornell Drive and the Midway Plaisance were kept open with the modifications proposed in our traffic study proposal, much less damage would be done to the historic park and the Olmsted design with better traffic outcomes.  (Note that Obama Foundation officials have twice told us they would build the OPC in Jackson Park even if Cornell were kept open.)  The 235’-tall  Obama museum tower could be modified to better fit with Jackson Park; rather than clear-cutting the site, the designers could situate right-sized buildings among the mature trees.  However, the fact that the “myth” of building museums in Chicago parks is not only totally inaccurate but would pave the way for confiscating much more parkland for other uses prompted us to work with Preservation Chicago on this brief so as to set the record straight.  No one benefits from making an important public policy decision on the basis of false information.

You will find the full texts of all of the briefs and updated information about the suit on the JPW  website.  We hope you will read our brief in full; we also recommend Lynn Sweet’s coverage in the Sun-Times.  

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  5:30 P.M., TUESDAY, JANUARY 15, 2019

BRIEFS FILED IN OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL CENTER LAWSUIT

Briefs rebut claims made by Defendants in Motion to Dismiss Protect our Parks lawsuit

Chicago, IL (January 15, 2019) – Three “friends of the court” (amici curiae) briefs were filed today in Federal Court concerning a lawsuit by Protect Our Parks, Inc. (POP) that challenges the legality of using some 19.3 acres of Jackson Park for the site of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) (Case No. 18-cv-3424: Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District and City of Chicago)

  • The Preservation Chicago and Jackson Park Watch brief rebuts the claim of a “tradition” of building museums in Chicago’s public parks;
  • Professor Richard Epstein, with the University of Chicago and New York University Law Schools, asserts the taking of parkland for the OPC violates the public trust doctrine and merits stricter scrutiny; and
  • The Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C. says building the OPC would result in irrevocably harming the nationally significant park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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In the meantime, our funding balance has been much depleted by our recent work, and the end is nowhere in sight.  We are in need of funds to help sustain our work.  If you have questions about making a contribution, let us know at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  We thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

Jackson Park Watch Update – December 15, 2018

Greetings, all.

LOOKING AHEAD: As 2018 comes to a close, we offer an overview of key issues related to the increasingly controversial Obama Presidential Center proposals, as well as other relevant points. This admittedly lengthy Update will cover:

  • OPC process problems
  • Substantive problems with the OPC proposals
  • The attempted resurrection of the Park District/Mayor Emanuel/President Obama golf course proposal
  • The Friends of the Parks “State of the Park 2018” report

Enjoy reading! HAPPY HOLIDAYS and best wishes for a HAPPY 2019!

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★OPC process problems

Community input lacking

Genuine community input about the Obama Presidential Center and related road proposals continues to be lacking. While the Obama Foundation has sent canvassers to some neighborhoods to promote its message and while it has hosted numerous, private and invitation-only meetings, it remains the case the it has convened only two actual community meetings where broad, unfiltered input could be given.

The community drive for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) has been a particularly hot issue. The Obama Foundation and former President Obama himself have been adamant in their opposition to a CBA, even though such agreements have proven elsewhere to be win-win propositions. The endorsement of a CBA by six mayoral candidates in a recent forum and the recent overview in the Hyde Park Herald demonstrate that the issue is live and gaining support, as does the recent CBA Coalition success in getting the issue on the ballot as a referendum in key precincts.

Problems with mandatory federal reviews

Because the OPC and its related road proposals would have major impacts on the Olmsted-designed historic Jackson Park, federal reviews under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the National Environmental Policy act of 1969.

The City and two city agencies – the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) – have major roles as day-to-day managers of these federal review processes.   Unfortunately, these agencies along with the Chicago Park District have not always been timely in communications, have not always been fully forth-coming with the information they share, and have not always honored the requirements of the federal review processes themselves.

For example, although the connections between the plans for the OPC and the required replacement of the existing track/field facility on the planned OPC site were clear, the Park District went ahead with the destruction of 40 largely mature and health trees in preparation for that replacement facility, only to be required to stop work until the federal reviews are complete.

As another example, although preliminary discussions between the National Park Service (NPS) and the City on the required replacement “UPAAR” parkland were still underway, the City’s DPD began a series of so-called “community consultations” targeting the east end of the Midway as the replacement land based on a misrepresentation of what had been decided. Fortunately, that effort appears to stopped after several parties called it to NPS attention.

The federal reviews process has been extended repeatedly and the original timelines for the OPC have likewise been repeatedly extended. At this point, the timeline for the next Section 106 meeting, originally scheduled for late spring 2018, is set for “early 2019.” It is unclear when the review process will be complete.

The related POP lawsuit

Much attention has been given to the federal lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks, a not-for-profit organization, charging that for a variety of public trust and public interest reasons construction of the OPC in historic Jackson Park should not be permitted.   (Note: POP does support construction of the OPC on Chicago’s South Side, just not in a public park.)

The lawsuit is ongoing. In the most recent hearing on Nov. 29, the City’s motion to dismiss the suit was pushed back until a hearing on Feb. 14. At the same time, the City’s motion to end the Court’s previously mandated discovery process, allowing POP to subpoena relevant documents, was denied. (Note: it was a POP subpoena that was responsible for the release of the University of Chicago OPC bid package). The judge did allow the filing of several amicus briefs in support of the City. Other amicus briefs might be forthcoming.

★Substantive problems with OPC plans

Demands for discretionary, tax-payer funded road closures/realignments

On June 21, 2017, the Park District hosted an event featuring the new OPC plan and a radical new road plan developed by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to “accommodate new traffic and parking demands of the OPC”. The CDOT road plan, to be implemented at taxpayer expense ($175 million or likely more), would have a major impact on Jackson Park:

  • It would dramatically impact local and commuter traffic patterns, raising major concerns about traffic delays and pedestrian safety.
  • It would chop off strips of existing parkland west of Lake Shore Drive and east of Stony Island Avenue.
  • It would reduce available street parking throughout the park, limiting ready access to central areas and the beach.
  • It would destroy key elements of the Olmsted design for the Park by eliminating Cornell Drive between 59th St and 63rd St., laid out by Olmsted in 1895 as a 40’ wide carriage pathway; it would also destroy the Olmsted design at the juncture of the Midway Plaisance and the Park.
  • It would eliminate the current Perennial Garden at the east end of the Midway Plaisance and replace it with a “Woman’s Garden” whose primary actual purpose would be storm water management.
  • It would convert Hayes Drive, now a moderately busy road with parking along both sides to serve users of local playing fields and the 63rd Street beach, into a high-speed, high-capacity roadway.  It would ban parking on the street and erect a permanent concrete media, thus establishing Hayes as a barrier between the north and south portions of the Park.

Despite these concerns and others, and despite the fact that Obama Foundation officials have acknowledged to JPW that the OPC could and would be built in Jackson Park even if Cornell Drive were to be kept open, the Obama Foundation has been adamant in its refusal to reconsider its demands for these road changes. The Obama Foundation demands for road closures/realignments are a major focus of the federal reviews now underway.

Displacement/gentrification

There have been major concerns about the displacement of long-term, low and moderate income residents as property values and property taxes increase pursuant to the construction of the OPC. The dramatic gentrification and displacement that accompanied the construction of the “606” elsewhere in Chicago has only fueled this concern. While savvy, persistent organizing by the CBA Coalition is making good headway in forcing attention to this important issue, the Obama Foundation continues to oppose any CBA and the City has promised only to “monitor” the situation.

What about economic development?

The Obama Foundation and former President Obama himself as well as various City politicians have made extravagant claims about the economic development benefits that will accrue to the Chicago’s South Side as a result of the OPC. There are reasons to doubt that any such benefits will develop. Review of the site chosen by President Obama himself, close to the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry, shows a dearth of adjacent open land on which restaurants or shops could be constructed. Had President Obama chosen to locate the OPC close to 63rd Street or on the west edge of Washington Park, available adjacent open land within walking distance could well have become prime development sites. As it is, there are concerns that the OPC will have the same de minimus impact on the neighborhood as the Museum of Science Industry: people drive in and park, view exhibits, buy some food and souvenirs, get in their cars, and leave.

Plans for the building and site

Less attention has been given to the Obama Foundation’s plans for the buildings and site, thought by many to be inappropriate for an historic public park. At the personal behest of former President Obama, his Obama Museum building will be 235’ high, the equivalent of 23 stories. The site will be clear-cut, taking out close to 400 trees, the vast majority of which are mature and healthy according to the professional inventory the Obama Foundation itself commissioned. Replacement trees will be provided, but it will take decades for them to provide the same benefits as those that will be destroyed. The Olmsted-designed berms too will be leveled, and in its place there will be a Maggie-Daley-style park; all traces of the current park with its open spaces and natural character will be gone.

★Golf course resurrected?

After languishing for months, the proposal for the merged/expanded PGA style golf course originally promoted by Mayor Emanuel and Park District CEO Mike Kelly with encouragement from former President Obama suddenly appeared on the Park District Board meeting agenda on December 12. It took the form of a proposal, passed without discussion or dissent, to “modify” a much smaller prior contract with Smithgroup JJR to a new total of $3.9 million for further design work on the proposed remake of the existing golf courses.

Follow up discussion with a key Park District Board staff member emphasized that this new contract is for design only and that there is no funding to actually redo the golf courses or related projects. This appears to JPW to be a part of the not-so-lame-duck Mayor Emanuel’s attempt to lock in as many of his plans as possible even as he is about to leave office. Note that Park District CEO Mike Kelly and the Park District Commissioners are appointed by the Mayor and are not accountable to the public.

★Must read: FOTP State of the Parks 2018  

At that same December 12 Park District Board meeting, Friends of the Park’s Executive Director Juanita Irizarry described the highlights of the FOTP’s just-released State of the Parks 2018 report. (Coverage in Crain’s and the Sun-Times) Based largely on data provided by the Park District itself, and echoing complaints of disparate treatment often heard on Chicago’s South Side, the report documents park disparities based on local residents’ income and color in a wide variety of areas, including programming, safety, facilities, budgets, capital projects, and maintenance. If the indignant reactions of Park District CEO Kelly, Board president Jesse Ruiz, and vice-president Avis Lavell are any gauge, the report seems to have hit home. We encourage everyone to read the executive summary if not the full report.

★2019 will be eventful – with your help, we will carry on!

You may want to remember JPW in your-end-of-year giving. Contributions to JPW are tax deductible.

Long-time JPW participants will remember that JPW started back in early 2016 with questions about the Project 120 proposals to build a pavilion and outdoor music venue in Jackson Park near the “music court.” Now – amazingly – we are entering into our fourth year.

Your tax-deductible financial support helps us obtain the professional expertise we need to continue to raise essential questions and help ensure that the public’s interest in historic Jackson Park is protected.   Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

Jackson Park Watch Update – November 20, 2018

Greetings, all.

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving. We give thanks for family, friends, and neighbors and the many things that enrich our lives and bring us pleasure. On this Thanksgiving day we can also give special thanks for all of the natural beauty we enjoy in and around Jackson Park – the Park itself, the Wooded Island, Bobolink Meadow, Jackson Bark, the Nature Sanctuary at the South Shore Cultural Center, the mature trees on the designated Obama Presidential Center site, the Perennial Garden, the playing fields, and all the open natural spaces that we cherish. Please join in.

Jackson Park Watch website expanded and improved

We have just finished a major update of the Jackson Park Watch website. You can find it at (www.jacksonparkwatch.org). Among other things, it now includes:

  • the latest information on the federal reviews and what comes next;
  • details on the Mayor’s Obama Presidential Center Ordinance passed 10/31 and what it does and doesn’t accomplish;
  • answers to the question of what has to happen before construction of the OPC can begin including the latest on the Protect Our Park lawsuit;
  • information about the taxpayer-funded subsidies for OPC.

We want to flag this improved website in the event that you want to review the latest information or want to share it with friends, neighbors, organizations you belong to, or anyone who has been following the OPC saga.  As we all know, this saga is NOT over!

Emanuel’s Legacy: Disregard of public parks

Although now officially a lame duck, Mayor Emanuel is continuing to prioritize private interests over public parks. The City’s actions vis-à-vis the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park continue as current Exhibit Number One. A new example is his administration’s refusal to support community demands for significant new public parkland as a part of the massive Lincoln Yards development proposed for the North Branch of the Chicago River. The Mayor’s disregard for parks has even drawn an editorial rebuke in the Tribune. One hopes the candidates seeking to succeed him will take note.

Also in the news

The Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition continues its spirited and determined push for an agreement that will address concerns about residential displacement and jobs. Its recent protests drew wide coverage including by the Sun-Times and Hyde Park Herald.

At a recent meeting of the 1Woodlawn community organization, reported in the Herald, Dr. Byron T. Brazier, its convener and pastor of the Apostolic Church of God, discussed plans for development in Woodlawn, stating that 1Woodlawn’s efforts will continue whether or not the OPC comes to Jackson Park. Beyond assertions of massive OPC-related economic benefits, neither the Obama Foundation nor its spin-off Emerald South have publicized specific development plans for the area to date.

A recent Letter to the Editor in the Tribune raised the possibility of a compromise to move the Obama Presidential Center forward. As many have observed, if the Obama Foundation had picked a different site (or just limited its design to its original site), construction could be well underway. Is anyone listening?

Another letter to the Tribune noted the irony of public funds being used to support roadwork for the OPC while the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield goes wanting.

Afterthoughts

We previously reported on the October 31 City Council meeting where the Mayor’s ordinances authorizing land and road changes in Jackson Park for the OPC were adopted. We think you might enjoy the Reader’s coverage of that session, which captures the full flavor of the Council’s Halloween charade: “[T]he mayor announced that it was time to turn the council’s attention to the Obama Center, ‘the only presidential library with a public library inside of it’. Whereupon—like a bolt of lightning on a dark and stormy night—rules were suspended, a roll-call vote was taken, and both OPC ordinances were resoundingly passed, 48 to zero.” Read on.

This saga is not over!

As noted above, although the City Ordinance has now passed, the federal reviews of the proposed OPC and related road changes are far from over. Your tax-deductible financial support helps us obtain the professional expertise we need to continue to raise essential questions and ensure that the public interest is served.   Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – November 1, 2018

Greetings, all.

Along with all of the frenetic news about the midterm elections and the tragic violence around the country there has been a confusing blizzard of reports related to the Obama Presidential Center. In this Update, we hope to sort it out for you.

THE MAYOR’S OPC ORDINANCE

No one was surprised when the compliant City Council passed the Mayor’s proposed OPC Ordinance on October 31 without questioning or dissent. Passage of the City’s enabling Ordinance was reported in the Tribune, Sun-Times and Herald (with additional commentary in the Herald). JPW recently wrote to City Council members to raise questions about outstanding problems – costs to taxpayers, displacement of local residents, loss of public parkland, traffic problems likely to result from road closures and realignments – and to observe that the City Council will be held accountable for whatever problems these unresolved issues create. (JPW’s letter to the City Council is attached.)

What was actually passed? Will construction start anytime soon?

The actual Ordinance passed by the City Council included a long list of more or less factual “WHEREAS” recitals, along with nine substantive sections. The text that was adopted authorizes the City to take the following key steps BUT only after the federal reviews are completed:

  • revise the 2015 site footprint to accommodate the different plan that was unveiled by the Obama Foundation on May 3, 2017;
  • acquire the land from the Park District;
  • approve the closure of streets within the newly reconfigured site (Cornell Drive, the eastbound end of Midway Plaisance);
  • grant the “right of use” to the Obama Foundation so the Foundation can construct the OPC, in other words, turn the land over to the Obama Foundation;
  • accept ownership back from the Foundation of “improvements” to the site once the OPC has been constructed;
  • execute, after the federal reviews are completed, agreements with the Obama Foundation that will give it effective control over the site once again. Drafts of these Transaction Documents (Use Agreement, Master Agreement, Environmental Remediation Agreement, UPARR Grant Agreement Amendments, and Mitigation Agreements) were circulated with the text of the Ordinance, but were not part of the actual Ordinance adopted on Halloween;
  • appropriate “amounts sufficient to pay the obligation of the City pursuant to the Environmental Agreement,” an open-ended, uncapped commitment.

BOTTOM LINE: Construction is NOT about to begin, so what happens now?

As claimed by proponents, passage of the City’s enabling Ordinance does indeed constitute a step forward. But as was also noted, work on the project cannot begin until at least these steps are completed:

  1. Settlement or dismissal of the Protect Our Parks lawsuit. If POP prevails, the OPC would not be able to be built in Jackson Park, but the OPC could be constructed elsewhere on the South Side (or anywhere).

U.S. Federal District Court Judge John Robert Blakey has scheduled a POP lawsuit case-management conference for December 5 and indicated he would then set a date for a trial. While Mayor Emanuel publicly dismissed the POP suit as “frivolous,” the City and Obama Foundation have been taking the suit very seriously. In response to the suit, the City has restructured the land swap transactions between the Park District, City, and Obama Foundation to ensure that the City will be the technical owner of the OPC site after the OPC is constructed even though the Obama Foundation will maintain and secure the site, manage programming, rentals, and permitting, and otherwise control what occurs in the area. The Foundation has firmed up its relationship with the National Archives and Research Administration (the custodian of the Obama presidential records). The Park District ceased work on the new track/field facility pending conclusion of the federal review. In response to a POP subpoena, the Obama Foundation released the University of Chicago bid package. Because of these actions and with the passage of the new Ordinance, some expect the City to ask Judge Blakey to dismiss the POP suit prior to the next court date. That is a distinct possibility, but it is unclear what the City’s motion will look like and, in any case, POP will have the opportunity to address and respond to such a motion.

  1. Completion of the federal reviews. We are currently experiencing a lengthy pause in the federal review process. The next “Section 106” meeting, already pushed back numerous times, will focus on potential adverse effects of the OPC design on the historic site in Jackson Park. No date has yet been set although the meeting may occur in November or December. The National Park Service (NPS) has taken over as the lead agency for the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review; while we believe discussions between the City, Obama Foundation, Park District, and federal agencies are occurring, there is no definite information on the NEPA process and no information on the scheduling of the required public meeting. We do know that, contrary to some City representations, the NPS has not signed off on the City’s desire to use the east end of the Midway between the Metra tracks and Stony Island Avenue as the UPARR replacement land. We also know that NPS considers new parkland to be a suitable UPARR replacement option provided that it is in reasonable proximity to Jackson Park.
  2. Settlement of other potential lawsuits. We are aware that complex, contentious federal reviews with the kind of great public significance that attaches to this project can sometime lead to lawsuits alleging that the reviews themselves were incomplete or improperly conducted. Since these reviews are not complete, it is unclear whether any such suits might be in the works.

SPECIAL FOCUS: costs to taxpayers

One of the issues JPW has focused on is the costs of the OPC project to Chicago taxpayers. News about the major new costs coming down the pike for Chicago taxpayers underscores the recklessness of the Mayor and City Council committing to millions of dollars for OPC-related spending at this point. Consider these two big ticket items:

Spending for discretionary road changes. The $172 (plus) million in spending for the road changes the Obama Foundation has demanded in Jackson Park is unnecessary: Obama Foundation officials told us in an April 5. While the City succeeded in getting a state appropriation of $172 million for the Jackson Park work, and while this is at least in part federal funding funneled through the state, Chicago taxpayers have contributed to all of this. This potential federal funding is not tied explicitly to the OPC and could be used more productively for much-needed road work elsewhere in the City and state.

Blank check for uncapped obligations for unknown environmental remediation at the OPC site. The Ordinance passed yesterday included this in Section 6: “….with respect to the Environmental Agreement, the City shall appropriate amounts sufficient to pay the obligations of the City pursuant to the Environmental Agreement, and the City hereby covenants to take timely action as required by law to carry out the appropriation provisions of this sentence.” In making this commitment, the City Council has signed a blank check. The draft Environmental Remediation and Indemnity Agreement [Sections 4 and 8], ready to be finalized after the federal reviews are complete, provides that the City will cover a wide range of “incremental costs” due to the pre-existing environmental condition of OPC site in Jackson Park, known to have a high water table and potentially contaminated soil.

RELATED NEWS:

Great expectations

Amidst all of this uproar, we want to share a cautionary letter that appeared in the Tribune.

“Empty Promises” comments astutely on the deceptive promises of economic benefits for the community near the planned OPC. Those who have read the University of Chicago bid package will have noted that the University itself believed that the Washington Park site would have superior economic development benefits for the community.

CBA Coalition launched referendum campaign

From a recent Hyde Park Herald, we share this:

“….On Oct. 23, the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition officially launched its referendum campaign on its proposed ordinance covering the relationship between Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and other University of Chicago-related development south of the Midway Plaisance.

The alliance of community organizations is gathering signatures from voters in four precincts near the OPC: one in the Fifth Ward and three in the 20th Ward….

The coalition set a Nov. 10 deadline to file petitions, and it must collect signatures from eight percent of the total ballots cast in the November midterm election for the proposed ordinance to be included on the February municipal ballot. The last day to file petitions in Chicago is Nov. 26.”

OUR WORK CONTINUES:

Although the City Ordinance has now passed, this process is far from over. Your financial support helps us obtain the professional expertise we need.   Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – October 23, 2018

Greetings, all.  

Once again, there is news, this time the release of the previously secret University of Chicago’s bid for the Obama Presidential Library (sic). As reported first in the Sun-Times, the Obama Foundation’s release of this document was prompted by the Protect Our Parks lawsuit, which had subpoenaed the bid package. The bid document can be found as an attachment to the Obama Foundation press release (scroll to the bottom).

The release prompts us to say once again that JPW welcomes the OPC to Chicago’s South Side as a vital historic tribute to the nation’s first African-American President.   We do wish, however, that the University had recommended and the former President chosen a less controversial plan; in that event, construction of the OPC would already be well under way.

What do we know now that we didn’t know prior to the release of the bid?

  • From the beginning the University bid included a new master plan for all of Jackson Park, reaching much beyond what would have been needed for the Obama Presidential Library itself.
  • The University was a key driver of the initial proposals. However, its plans were developed in close collaboration with the City and the Chicago Park District, both of which agreed to the transfer of public parkland for this project well before there was any public discussion or authorization by either the City Council or the Park District board.
  • The plan was to include an actual Presidential Library, now replaced by a Chicago Public Library branch, and an academic component, since removed.
  • The University was also behind the proposal to expand and merge the existing Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses, which was included as part of the plan from the start, denials by the Mayor, the Park District and the Obama Foundation notwithstanding.
  • The University proposal asserted that the new master plan would help “spur the development of the 63rd Street corridor.” With the proposed location of the OPC at 60th and Stony Island, any emphasis on developing 63rd Street has disappeared.
  • The Sam Schwartz traffic study commissioned by the University for its bid plan proposed to block off Cornell Drive at 60th Street in order to dedicate a narrowed version of the roadway for vehicular access to the Obama Library. But the study did not propose the closure of eastbound Midway Plaisance, nor require the sacrifice of parkland to widen Stony Island Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, nor propose to turn Hayes Drive into a new east-west highway.
  • Apparently unaware of the requirements for federal reviews of the proposed changes to Jackson Park or of the level of community concern that would greet the plans, the University envisioned securing all necessary approvals of the project within 60 days.

What big questions remain unanswered?

#1 COSTS:

While the original University proposal was publicly touted as totally privately funded, the proposal hinted at multiple lines of taxpayer support via the City, County and State. At present, the ultimate costs to the taxpayers, while unclear, are increasing. For example:

  • The road changes the Obama Foundation is demanding would cost at least $175 million, funds that could be used more productively for road work throughout Chicago.
  • The proposed User Agreement between the City and the Obama Foundation includes an uncapped provision that the City would pay for undefined “environmental remediation” work.       Since the site has a very high water table and since the OPC plans include both an underground parking garage and a 235’ tall building (think 23 stories), this could be considerable.
  • The City (again, think taxpayers) would pay all of the utility connections required for the OPC.
  • A 2016 amendment to state legislation passed to accommodate the Obama Presidential Library project provides that the Chicago Park District could levy a new 0.15% tax equal to the “full fair cash value” of taxable property in the City. This tax remains on the books.

This increasing cost shift to taxpayers is occurring at the same time that Chicago taxpayers, already burdened by recent fee increases and property tax hikes, face pressure to come up with more money for public pensions and pay hikes for police and firemen, as well as other things needed to maintain life in the city.

#2 LOSS OF PARKLAND:

The University proposal asserted that “The University is in active discussions with the City and Chicago Park District to establish a park-positive plan for each site that would generate new parkland to more than compensate for park space occupied by the Presidential Center.” The reality today is quite the opposite. At present the City, Park District, and Obama Foundation continue to insist:

  • that the 19.3-acre OPC “campus” would be the same as parkland;
  • that closing Cornell Drive and Midway Plaisance would yield an increase in parkland even though the roadways are already included in the park’s acreage;
  • that only one acre of replacement land will be needed to fulfill the mandate of the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act (UPARR), and that the one acre should be located on the Midway, itself already parkland, making short shrift of the idea that this would be “replacement.”

All of these assertions are dubious. What is clear, however, is that the OPC site would be operated, maintained, secured and directed by the Obama Foundation, not by the Chicago Park District, and that public accountability would be lacking.

#3 DISPLACEMENT OF LOCAL RESIDENTS

The University proposal included various assurances of significant economic benefits to the Woodlawn area including the statement that “An aggressive residential infill program led by the City can expand housing in the area and bring new residents to the neighborhood. Given the abundant vacant land, economic development in Woodlawn will be unlikely to displace current residents.”

The current reality, however, is that residential displacement is rapidly occurring and that the City’s response, via the Mayor’s proposed amended OPC ordinance, is to “recognize the potential for demographic change and displacement” and to commit to “closely monitoring property values and other indicators of neighborhood change and implementing measures to preserve economic diversity, home ownership and affordability for long-term residents in the communities surrounding the OPC.”

Clearly this falls far short of meaningful action to address these critical issues, while completely ignoring the alternatives put forth by the Obama Community Benefits Coalition to address exactly these same issues.

#4 IMPACT ON TRAFFIC AND PARKING:

As noted above, the original University of Chicago bid included a professional traffic study by the well-known firm Sam Schwartz that did not call for eliminating Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd streets or for eliminating the eastbound segment of the Midway Plaisance between Stony Island and Cornell Drive. Subsequently the decision was made to close Cornell completely between 59th and 63rd streets and to remove that segment of the Midway Plaisance. That decision has profound reverberations, requiring extensive, costly roadwork that would change the shape and character of Jackson Park, greatly diminishing the parking spaces available for park users, and, most importantly, establishing road patterns that offer new problems rather than solutions. JPW commissioned a professional review of that final recommendation that identified many unanswered questions as to how well traffic could flow under the conditions demanded by the Obama Foundation. Those questions need to be thoroughly investigated and the results made public before further action is taken.

The bottom line:

Given the new information from the University of Chicago bid, given the credibility and public trust issues that continue to be trouble many observers, and given the City’s pressing financial situation, Jackson Park Watch believes that the City Council should defer a vote on the Mayor’s proposed OPC ordinance until:

  • All of the costs to the public involved are clear and have been made public. If the City Council wishes to impose those costs on the taxpayers, that should be clear.
  • The National Park Service has made its final decisions on parkland conversion and parkland replacement and those decisions have been made public. If the amount of parkland in Jackson Park is going to be reduced without complementary new parkland nearby, the City Council should knowingly vote for that result.
  • “Monitoring” residential displacement as it occurs – while acknowledging that it has “the potential” to occur – is offensive tokenism. If the City Council proceeds to endorse this proposed ordinance, it should be clear that it is endorsing likely residential displacement as a part of the package.
  • A more complete analysis of the predictable results of the road closures and realignments that the Obama Foundation now requires should be conducted and the results should be made public. If the City Council wants to adopt a plan that is likely to cause increased traffic congestion in the Jackson Park neighborhood and beyond, that should too be made clear.

Out-going Mayor Rahm Emanuel is asking the City Council to embrace an important monument to former President Obama. The monument is vital and does indeed belong on Chicago’s South Side. Unfortunately, the project as now defined has some major flaws. If the City Council rubber-stamps the Mayor’s proposed OPC ordinance, the City Council will own those significant problems. JPW is writing the members of the City Council urging them to defer action until all of the these vital issues have been acknowledged and addressed and the answers are available not only to the City Council but to the public at large. We encourage others to do so as well.

Our work continues:

This process is far from over. Your financial support helps us obtain the professional expertise we need.   Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – October 13, 2018

Greetings, all.   

OPC ordinance encounters little examination

The substitute  ordinance to authorize the establishment of the OPC in Jackson Park – introduced to the City Council by Mayor Emanuel on September 20 – was reviewed by the Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate on October 11 and approved for consideration by the full Council on October 31.  JPW was unable to attend, but there is coverage in the Tribune, Sun-Times, and Herald.  Thanks to Aldermen Raymond Lopez and Deborah Mell for raising questions about displacement – aka gentrification – driving out long-time neighborhood residents and for questioning the fact that the OPC would not be a presidential library as initially advertised.  But many other important issues were not addressed at all.

In an earlier letter to the Herald, JPW highlighted three key issues that deserve careful scrutiny before there is a final vote on the ordinance:  the lack of community input into the redefinition of the OPC site; the lack of clarity about public control of and access to the OPC campus once it is built; and the lack of transparency about the full cost of the project for Chicago’s taxpayers.  Aldermen should be pushed to conduct a full review rather than provide the usual rubber stamp to the Mayor’s proposal.

City pushing its UPARR replacement land plan with SLFP-like process

Update readers will remember that the South Lakefront Framework Plan planning process did not allow discussion on the most important elements of the Plan: locating the OPC in Jackson Park, making all of the road changes the Obama Foundation plan demanded, and creating a merged/expanded professional-level golf course.  Public discussion and public input on those key elements were always off limits.

Now it appears that the City has launched the same kind of faux planning process in order to advance its choice for the replacement parkland required under the terms of the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act (UPARR) .  Because the City received UPARR funding for improvements in Jackson Park, the National Park Service must review any proposal to convert parkland from recreational to non-recreational uses, as in the case of the OPC.  To replace the parkland lost to the OPC, the City proposes to use the plot at the east end of the Midway (where the Obama Foundation once planned to build an above-ground parking garage).

In a recent meeting with the Midway Park Advisory Council (MPAC), the City promoted the idea of locating the one acre of UPARR replacement land that the City argues is sufficient on the east end of the Midway and offered four design alternatives for the space.  The City argued that this was the sole appropriate place, strongly implying that the National Park Service (NPS) has all but agreed to the City’s plan.  It has been learned that the City has held at least two other such meetings – one with JPAC –  with the same scenario and that it plans more, all under the guise of gathering information.  Design options are offered for discussion but the City’s preferred location, the one on the east end of the Midway, is the only space ”offered.”

Based on direct conversation with National Park Service staff at the September 17 meeting as well as on other information, JPW strongly doubts that NPS has come to any such conclusions about the amount of UPARR replacement land that will be required or about where it should be located.   MPAC similarly has questions as to the nature of this planning process, and whether all relevant information is being fully shared.  MPAC is going to write to NPS to ask for clarification.  JPW is similarly investigating and will share what we find.

Obama Foundation financials draw attention

The Obama Foundation’s recently released IRS 990 filing for 2017 drew attention in several ways.  The Sun-Times reported that very significant amounts of money were raised; that the names of major donors will now kept secret; and that Foundation officials were making very hefty salaries.    These trends raised eyebrows in some quarters, including in a commentary by the Nonprofit Quarterly.

Concerns about the OPC’s impact show up in more places

Some Update readers may have seen the recent production of August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” at the Court Theatre.  A review of the play likened the proposed gentrification project that is a key part of the “Radio Golf” storyline to the plans for the Obama Presidential Center, saying “Is Wilks’ Grand Hill District development any different than the Obama Presidential Library (sic)?  I don’t think so….”

A long slog

We thank the many people who have contributed to JPW to date!   The federal reviews of the proposed siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park and the related road changes are on-going and the legal expertise your donations made possible have been essential to our effective participation.  This is – and will continue to be – a long slog.  Donation checks should be sent to Jackson Park Watch at P. O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

 

 

 

Jackson Park Watch Update – September 22, 2018

Greetings, all,

The flurry of Jackson Park activity has continued this week.  Here is the latest:

Protect Our Parks lawsuit discovery begins, City’s “no connection” claim dismissed

On Thursday, 9/20, as reported in the Sun-Times and the Herald, there was another hearing in the lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks to prevent the construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  The hearing addressed POP’s recent motion to halt work on the new track in Jackson Park on the grounds that it violated the judge’s stay on construction relating to the Obama Presidential Center until the lawsuit was settled.  (POP’s motion had been filed prior to Monday’s announcement by the Park District that work on the track would be stopped until the federal reviews of the proposed OPC and related changes to the park were complete.)

POP documented the intertwining of the OPC and the track project, citing the language of the “donation agreement” signed in February by which the Obama Foundation agreed to pay for the track relocation because “the site selected for the OPC would necessitate the relocation of an existing multi-use artificial turf field with a running track.”   POP also noted the text of the Chicago Plan Commission resolution of May 17 approving the application for the track project, which included the condition “THAT the final application is subject to continuing review under the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act….”

In response the City and Park District continued to assert that the OPC and the track construction were “separate” projects even as they acknowledged that the track project was now on hold.  They tried to focus only on the OPC, emphasized that a new ordinance authorizing the OPC was being introduced in the City Council even as the court hearing was in progress, and asked that further action on the POP lawsuit be delayed until that ordinance has been voted on by the City Council at its Oct. 31 meeting.  They emphasized that the new ordinance would create a “user agreement” rather than a “lease agreement.”

The judge expressed disappointment with the City’s arguments and declined to delay further consideration of the POP lawsuit beyond the October 24 hearing date already set.  He also gave POP full authority to commence the discovery process to secure documents relating to the development of plans for the OPC from the City and Park District

Read the fine print

As noted above, Mayor Emanuel introduced an ordinance to City Council on Thursday 9/20 to amend the 2015 Ordinance transferring land from the Park District to the City in order to offer the Obama Foundation space in Jackson Park for the Obama Center.  The new ordinance redefines the site to be used for the OPC – now annexing portions of Cornell Drive and of the Midway Plaisance eastbound drive (both roads to be closed) and enfolding the Perennial Garden into the OPC campus.

The 120-page document requires a lot of study.  We are investigating it with particular attention to the issues of public control of the site and costs to taxpayers when all is said and done.  Look for more information as our review progresses.

Attached to the ordinance are three agreements between the City and the Obama Foundation that are of particular interest.  They would be enacted after the ordinance is approved:

  • Exhibit D:  Use Agreement detailing the restrictions governing the Obama Foundation’s use of the space in Jackson Park.  Details are such as term limit and “consideration” (99 years for $10), admission fees, naming rights, maintenance, insurance, construction commitments, public access, etc.
  • Exhibit E:  Master Agreement detailing City ownership, land title, financing, Foundation endowment, etc.
  • Exhibit F:  Environmental Remediation and Indemnity Agreement detailing responsibility and liability for any environmental hazards on the site.  The City is to pay up to $75,000 for environmental testing.  The City would be liable for the costs of any remediation work.  Since the site has a very high water table, this could be substantial.
  • Also attached are Exhibits G, H-1and H-2, which describe the transportation improvements to be implemented by the Chicago Department of Transportation on behalf of the OPC.  It is notable that the Exhibits include no information about the cost or sources of funding for the road work (estimated to be some $175 million – or more – all to be paid by taxpayers).  Also notable is that the documents relate only to road work, with no reference to public transit improvements.

We encourage interested people to explore the materials first hand. You can find the proposed ordinance via the Legislation database of the Office of the City Clerk:   Open the attachment – O2018-7136.pdf – that is highlighted in blue at the bottom of the form.

The ordinance has been referred to the Committee on Housing and Real Estate, and is expected to be brought up for approval at the City Council meeting on October 31.

NPS solicits community views on recreation, parkland replacement

In the last Update, we encouraged people to write Morgan Elmer of the NPS, now leading the NEPA review of the proposed OPC and related road changes. At the September 17 public information meeting about the NEPA review, Elmer and other NPS staff who were present said that they are very interested in hearing from community members.  We know that she has acknowledged, with thanks, comments that some have already submitted.

We’ve since been asked for some ideas for such letters.  Based on our conversations with NPS staff on 9/17, here are some thoughts:

*  One topic of interest to NPS is how community members currently use Jackson Park, whether for active recreation (soccer, running, biking) or passive recreation (birding, walking, fishing) — and how they would like to use it in the future.

*  Another is community views on whether the east end of the Midway should be used as the replacement site for the baseball diamonds demolished when the Park District jump-started its new track/field project, now on hold  – or not.   (Note that the existing track field is still in good shape and is used daily).  Contrary to City reports, the NPS has not yet made any final determination.

* Another is the question of whether community members believe that the OPC site would be the equivalent of a public park as the City and Obama Foundation assert, and thus that virtually no parkland replacement should be required, or whether replacement parkland for some portion or most of that site should be required.

We repeat our suggestion that letters be sent to both Morgan Elmer (morgan_elmer@nps.gov  and Abby Monroe (abby.monroe@cityofchicago.org).  Sending them to both ensures that they will be entered into the public record.

Your support still needed!

As this information makes clear, consideration of the proposed changes to Jackson Park is entering a critical phase at both the city and federal levels.  Your financial support helps ensure we have the expertise we need.  Please send a donation via check to Jackson Park Watch at P. O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

Jackson Park Watch Update – September 19, 2018

Greetings, all,

There has been a tidal wave of Jackson Park activity this week. Here’s a summary starting with the most recent announcement.

For lease: 19.3 acres of prime parkland for 9.9 cents per year for 99 years

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the City has offered the Obama Foundation a very sweet deal in the lease agreement that has been a long time in coming. As discussed in the Sun-Times and Crain’s, the proposed lease agreement does require the Obama Foundation to live up to some very basic standards including delaying any development until the completion of the federal review process, but it also proposes to give the Foundation control over this invaluable piece of historic public park on terms that amount to a quasi-privatization. It also underscores prior City and Obama Foundation assertions that virtually no replacement parkland would be needed even though the OPC site would take over 19.3 acres of Jackson Park now used for a wide variety of recreational activities that might potentially require a UPARR conversion approval.

Also in the works at the same time is a proposed ordinance that would redefine the portion of Jackson Park to be given to the Obama Foundation. This altered site would conform to the Obama Foundation’s plans as revealed in 2017 to move the site north and east, taking over Cornell Drive and the Perennial Garden and eliminating the eastbound segment of the Midway Plaisance Drive between Stony Island and Cornell Drive.

The revised ordinance and proposed lease ordinance will apparently be introduced to the City Council this Thursday, though they do not yet appear on the agenda as of mid-day Wednesday.

Protect Our Parks lawsuit attracts Obama Foundation response

The sudden urgency to introduce new ordinances for City Council approval is perhaps related to the September 20 hearing on the Protect Our Parks (POP) recent motion to require the City to cease work in Jackson Park. (See here for details of the POP motion.) Also timely, representatives of the Obama Foundation just made their first public comments on the POP lawsuit in discussion with the Tribune editorial board on Tuesday.

City and Park District halt work on Jackson Park replacement track

A day earlier, on Monday, Sept. 17, the City released the news that it was ceasing work on the new track/field facility necessitated because the existing track/field would be replaced by the OPC. In the meantime, the existing track/field remains intact and is in daily use. The City has previously denied to the public and in court (in the POP hearing on 8/14) that there was any connection between the OPC project and the new track/field facility. Of particular note are the Sun-Times reports that “[t]he city decision to stop the work came after a Sept. 11 meeting with the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration,” and that, according to the City’s deputy communications direction Shannon Breymaier, construction will not resume until “the federal agencies confirm that resumption of work is appropriate.”

Initial thoughts about the September 17 NEPA review meeting

The public meeting about the NEPA review offered lots of information but no clarity. While we salute the NPS for having this meeting – and for having Morgan Elmer, the NPS lead person on the review, there in person and ready to talk to all who were interested (we saw people lining up to talk with her!) – we are still working to sort it all out.

Our initial thoughts:

* It is very significant that the NPS has determined that the “no-action” baseline for its review of the proposed projects (OPC, road changes) will be the park as it now is. JPW and many others have criticized the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) proposal to use the envisioned completion of all of OPC and road changes as its “baseline” for review.

* Of equal importance, we think, is NPS’s comment that it is very interested in community input on the issues it will be assessing in the NEPA review – recreation, current and future desired uses of the park, traffic, birds, and more. It also was made clear that, despite City representations to the contrary, no NPS decisions have been made about UPARR conversion and parkland replacement issues. Note that NPS’s specific concern with regard to UPARR is the “retention of recreational utility in the area,” with recreation being both active and passive pastimes.

Letter writing encouraged

Because of the NPS interest in community views and because of the new NPS role in the process, we encourage interested people to write Morgan Elmer, the NPS lead on the NEPA review, with questions and concerns about these and other related issues as noted above. In order to be certain that these comments become part of the public records, we recommend that the letters be jointly addressed to Ms. Elmer and Abby Monroe at the City’s Department of Planning and Development, and that the subject line be something like this: public comment re NPS NEPA review of proposed changes in Jackson Park.

Morgan Elmer: morgan_elmer@nps.gov

Abby Monroe: abby.monroe@cityofchicago.org

More information on the NEPA meeting

The City has posted links to the introductory video and the presentation boards from the 9/17 meeting on its federal reviews website (check the timetable box for Sept. 17). We are the first to admit the information is not fully self-evident. We will continue to try to sort it out and to provide more clarity.

Your support still needed!

As this summary again makes clear, the federal review of the proposed changes to Jackson Park is on-going and entering a critical phase.  We continue to be engaged in regulatory and legal consultations, and your financial support helps ensure we have the expertise we need.  Please send a donation check to Jackson Park Watch at P. O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch