Jackson Park Watch Update – June 13, 2019

Greetings, all!

Once again, a lot is happening.

POP: JPW’s review

JPW Update readers have certainly all seen the widely disseminated news that Federal District Judge John R. Blakey ruled in the City’s favor and dismissed the Protect Our Parks lawsuit contesting the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  If you missed it, there was coverage in a wide variety of Chicago media outlets including the Sun-Times, Tribune, and Hyde Park Herald

Some key points:

  • Given the importance of the public trust stewardship issues that the POP lawsuit raised, JPW was disappointed that Judge Blakey issued a narrow ruling based on a narrow reading of the 1970 Paepcke decision by the Illinois Supreme Court.  That decision concerned the permissible scope of judicial review in public trust cases. 
  • Protect Our Parks is almost certainly going to appeal.  JPW will once again provide technical assistance if asked.
  • Despite Judge Blakey’s confusing comment that OPC construction can now begin, don’t expect to see groundbreaking anytime soon.  Putting aside the Protect Our Parks litigation, nothing can happen until the federal reviews are complete.
  • Of note is Mayor Lightfoot’s 6/11 statement addressing the District Court’s ruling.  We welcome her emphasis on working with community stakeholders and the Obama Foundation to resolve remaining issues, of which there are many. 

6/11/19 STATEMENT FROM MAYOR LORI E. LIGHTFOOT ON OBAMA PRESIDENT CENTER COURT RULING

“Chicago is where President Obama discovered his love for community service, and the Obama Presidential Center will honor his presidency and inspire the next generation of leaders. The court today made unequivocally clear that this project may be located in Jackson Park, marking a significant step forward in this historic project and for our entire city. I am committed to ensuring that this community hub creates unprecedented cultural opportunities and economic growth on the South Side. I look forward to working with community stakeholders and the Obama Foundation to ensure that neighboring communities share in this growth. Toward that important end, I look forward to meeting with community stakeholders and the Obama Foundation to resolve remaining issues so that the benefits of this important project can be shared by all.”

  • JPW and others are asking the Lightfoot administration to “push the pause button” and conduct a legitimate community review of the OPC and related proposals before moving ahead.  JPW made that case in its contribution to Crain’s topical coverage of the issues facing  the new administration, #Lightfoot100 Hopes for Chicago (scroll down to find discussion of the OPC).

CBA Ordinance to move forward

A Community Benefits Agreement to protect South Side residents from displacement resulting from the development of the OPC has moved a step closer to realization with a joint commitment by Aldermen Leslie Hairston and Jeanette Taylor to introduce a CBA ordinance at the June meeting of the City Council. Mayor Lightfoot’s stated support for such an agreement is key. To celebrate this important step the Obama CBA Coalition sponsored an energetic and joyful forum on June 6, featuring the two aldermen and speakers from the communities that will be most affected by the OPC.

Piecemeal approach to the golf project not in the works

The Daily Herald recently reported on a new approach to the controversial proposal to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses promoted by golf entrepreneur Mike Keiser, who asserted: “We’re about to decide that we’ll do it in phases.  We’ll go ahead with [the] design on South Shore until the other course is ready.  The holes on South Shore will be stunning.” Staff of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (CPGA) subsequently confirmed the intent to begin construction at South Shore in the fall. 

JPW and others suspect that this is first and foremost a marketing plan, intended to jumpstart the anemic fundraising efforts of the CPGA by showcasing the two new “money” holes along the lakefront that would destroy the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and infringe on the beach.

In follow-up JPW contacted senior Park District staff and was once again told that construction on the golf project could not possibly begin in 2019 for multiple reasons. Schematic plans are far from complete, necessary reviews have not been completed nor permits secured, necessary infrastructure to stabilize the shoreline at South Shore and to connect the two courses is not complete (or even started), and, key to all elements of the proposal, the necessary private funding has not yet been secured.  JPW was also assured that the idea of dividing the project into two phases for purposes of fundraising and construction, though once considered two years ago, was no longer an option as that would greatly increase the total construction cost.

Additionally, on June 12 JPW spoke to thePark District’s Board of Commissioners, asking that Superintendent Mike Kelly make a public statement affirming that work on the reconfigured South Shore golf course will not start in 2019 and that nothing will occur unless the community has indicated clear support.  Stay tuned.

Osaka Garden work raises questions

Work has begun on what may become a major rebuilding of the waterfall in the Osaka Garden on the Wooded Island in Jackson Park.  The pathway leading to the entrance to the Garden may undergo substantial changes in the near future.  Further, Japanese garden experts are mapping out major changes in the layout of the entire garden, including a new fence, expansion of the enclosed area, changes to plantings and the shoreline, and more.

What questions does this raise?  The results may be beautiful.  But we focus once again on transparency and accountability and on the need for community review and opportunities for input. Additionally, as was the case with the Yoko Ono sculpture (likely to be enclosed by the new fence), this appears to be a situation in which third party funders are not only paying for but  also planning and directing what work will be done.  For a public park, public input on major changes is essential, and the Park District Board itself should have sign-off on third party projects.

JPW has raised these concerns with the Park District and will be monitoring the situation. 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

As always, we welcome your contributions.  You can donate in three ways:

  • You can contribute via PayPal here.
  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602, ATTN Nicole Machuca.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, 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- May 26, 2019

Greetings, all!

Happy holiday weekend!  We hope everyone is enjoying the spring weather that has finally come our way (or at least from time to time).  

Although there is nothing concrete to report, much is underway.  Here is a very brief rundown.  We will keep you posted.

Input to the Lightfoot administration

We thank everyone for all of the many communications that have been sent to the Lightfoot administration raising concerns about a host of issues related to the Obama Presidential Center.  Many are calling for the Lightfoot administration to take a new look at all of the plans related to the OPC  — its buildings and grounds, the roads, the golf course, and more. 

JPW has also been in touch with the new administration along with others who have been involved in the federal review process to raise concerns on a variety of related issues. 

Changes in top administrative positions send a mixed message.  Designation of Eleanor Gorski as acting commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development is a favorable sign, as she is knowledgeable about preservation issues and has a history of positive dealing with key preservation organizations.  Retaining Mike Kelly at the Park District gives less grounds for hope that the new administration may revisit problematic decisions made under the prior mayor. 

As noted, we will keep you posted.

Protect Our Parks lawsuit enters final round

Final briefs were filed by both Protect Our Parks and the City on Friday, May 24, on their respective motions for summary judgment filed May 3.  Once again, JPW provided technical support to POP as it prepared its final brief.  Federal Judge John R. Blakey has changed the date for the final hearing from May 30 to Tuesday, June 11, at 11 a.m.  He will likely issue his ruling on those motions for summary judgment at that time.  It is also likely that the losing side will file an appeal.

Donate

We continue to welcome your financial support.  You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via PayPal here; you can choose to make your donation a monthly one.
  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602, ATTN Nicole Machuca. Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update- May 8, 2019

Greetings, all!

Mayor-elect Lightfoot wants your ideas

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot and her transition team are soliciting citizen ideas for a better Chicago.  JPW has learned that this input is taken seriously, responses are reviewed, and numbers tallied.  If you have not already submitted your views about critical issues facing us –the current proposal for the Obama Presidential Center, the costly and problematic road changes, the proposal for an expanded, PGA-level golf course in Jackson  and South Shore Parks –  please be sure to do so as soon as possible.

Some possibilities:

· In the Good Governance section, ask Mayor-elect Lightfoot to institute a legitimate community review of the proposals for the OPC, road changes, and golf course expansion and merger; note that to date “community input” has been limited and manipulated; ask her to ensure that the federal review process is careful and complete, without cutting corners or by-passing key steps.

· In the Environment section, question what the impact of the proposed OPC and its campus would be on the existing character of Jackson Park, its natural features, and its renowned birds; ask whether it makes sense to cut down hundreds of existing mature trees for the OPC campus, and thousands more for the proposed “professional level” golf course; ask for a careful analysis of the impact of the OPC on the surrounding neighborhoods as well as on Jackson Park.

·In the Transportation section, note your concerns about the likely adverse impacts of the proposed road changes throughout the South Side; ask for a complete review of the unanswered questions about the feasibility of the CDOT traffic plan; point out that the taxpayer funds that would be used for this discretionary set of road changes could be better used for many other projects in the Chicago area.

As a recent Sun-Times editorial noted:  “Lori Lightfoot campaigned on this. She argued as a candidate for mayor that ordinary Chicagoans — the people of the neighborhoods most likely to gain or be hurt — should have a greater say in the development of megaprojects like the Obama Presidential Center, “The 78” and Lincoln Yards.”   Have your say now.

New administration, new faces, new possibilities?

Each new Mayor brings in new faces in key positions.  Three top officials have been key to aggressively moving ahead Rahm Emanuel’s plans for the OPC, road changes, and golf course expansion:

· David Reifman, head of the Department of Planning and Development, ensured that the OPC and CDOT road proposals would experience smooth sailing at both the City Plan Commission and City Council, no questions asked, and also has contributed a key staffer to “manage” the federal review process that has proven opaque, rushed, and controversial;

· Rebekah Scheinfeld, CDOT Commissioner,  ensured that the CDOT would develop a roads plan narrowly focused to accommodate the Obama Foundation’s desire to close parts of Cornell Drive and the Midway Plaisance, and also contributed a key staffer to help “manage” the federal review process.

· Michael Kelly, Park District CEO, falls into a different category.  The Park District is nominally an independent agency, although all members of the Park District’s Board of Commissioners are nominated by the Mayor and its actual independence is questionable.  Kelly’s role in the flawed process of planning for Jackson Park has been outsized as well, and Emanuel thinks highly of him for it:  “There’s not a single thing I’ve asked him to do that doesn’t get done.”

JPW will be among those watching to see Mayor Lightfoot’s appointments after she is officially in office.  Perhaps along with some new faces there may be new openness and new views in some key positions.  That would be warmly welcomed.

Golf Course Project Gets Renewed Critical Attention

While formal plans for the golf course expansion have yet to be finalized for submission to the Plan Commission or other official review and while the cost problems mount, the project continues to prompt controversy.  As reported in the Herald, the debate at the First Unitarian Church of Hyde Park’s April 28 forum about the golf course proposal evidenced the strong feelings on each side.  A Tribune editorial, headlined “Give Chicagoans more details about the planned Tiger Woods golf course,” better captured the prevailing sense of frustration about the lack of straight answers and full information from the Park District and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance. 

For additional useful information and perspectives on the options for improving the golf courses, we recommend two recent on-line commentaries by Bill Daniels, Jackson Park golfer and golf industry expert:   an  entertaining  summary of 9 holes in Tiger’s plan, and a comparison of Tiger’s plan with one drawn up earlier by renowned course architect Tom Doak (commissioned by the University of Chicago for its bid to the Obama Foundation, but made public only recently by the POP lawsuit)

Update on  POP lawsuit.

On May 3 Protect Our Parks submitted its Motion for Summary Judgment to Federal Judge John R. Blakey.  It asks the court to rule in POP’s favor and require the Obama Center to be relocated to another South Side location. The City and Park District also submitted their joint Motion for Summary Judgment, asking the court to rule in their favor. 

There is tight schedule for the subsequent steps in the case:

·   May 17 for the responses to these motions;

·   May 24 for the replies to those responses; and

·   May 30 for a hearing on the motions.

We will continue to report on progress in this important case, raising as it does key questions concerning the responsible safeguarding of invaluable public assets such as Jackson Park.

Sad news on Darrow Bridge

According to an April 24 article in the Hyde Park Herald (not available on-line), renovation work on the much loved – and much needed – Darrow Bridge continues to lag. The Darrow Bridge is the sole link between the west and east sides of Jackson Park for the six-block-long stretch from 57th Street to Hayes Drive.  It has been closed to pedestrian traffic since 2015, leading to far less utilization of significant parts of the northeast segment of the Park. 

Jackson Park Watch Correction -April 18, 2019

Greetings, all:

IMPORTANT CORRECTION!

In the Jackson Park Watch Update sent out yesterday, we erroneously stated that 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, who has recently announced her support for a Community Benefits Agreement, had been re-elected.  However, as of this moment, the 5th Ward  race has not yet been resolved, and William Calloway (who is a long-time supporter of the CBA initiative) is challenging the vote count.

We apologize for the error.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
co-president, Jackson Park Watch
jw

Jackson Park Watch Update – April 17, 2019

Greetings, all!

Mayor-elect Lightfoot seeks citizen input,  shows openness on key issues

In a welcome change of pace, Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot is asking Chicagoans for ideas!  We urge you all to share your suggestions, questions, and concerns, in particular in relationship to the proposed Obama Presidential Center, the costly related road changes, and the proposal to merge and expand the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses.   

Your ideas will matter as the Mayor-elect is already aware of the issues affecting Jackson Park. In another major change of mayoral tone, the day after her historic win, Lightfoot stated that she looked forward “to meeting with both sides, or multiple sides, to sit down and understand the nuances that have not been reported in the media” in relationship to the OPC.  

In a subsequent interview with the Sun-Times, Lightfoot reiterated her long-stated support for a Community Benefits Agreement that would provide for affordable housing, job training and local hiring in conjunction with the OPC development.  In an additional boost for the CBA, recently re-elected 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston now says she supports a CBA and newly elected 20th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor has long been a CBA supporter.

On yet another related issue, Lightfoot also noted in the same interview that she “not wild about” the proposed golf course merger, saying “It feels like it’s not a well-thought-out-plan.”  

Golf Course forum set for April 28

Community attention to the golf course merger/expansion proposal continues to be essential. The engineering firm hired by the Park District in January is proceeding with the development of design and bid documents for the golf course expansion/merger project, even though at the same time top Park District officials have stated that no construction work on the golf course project will occur this summer.  

On Sunday, April 28, between 11:45 am and 1 pm, the First Unitarian Church (5650 S. Woodlawn Ave.) will host a forum presenting the cases FOR and AGAINST creating a professional golf course in Jackson and South Shore Parks. The forum follows the regular morning church service and is open to the public.  We hope many of you will want to attend.

Al Debonnett, Chair of the Jackson Park Golf and Community Leadership Alliance, will present the case FOR the pro golf course.  Anne Holcomb, Chair of ETHOS (Environment, Transportation, Health and Open Space), a non-traditional block club with about 90 members from Southeast-side neighborhoods, will present the case AGAINST the pro golf course.  Following a 15-minute presentation by each side, each presenter will be able to ask three questions regarding the other’s presentation.  After that the forum will be opened to questions from the audience.  

Discovery, depositions taking place in POP lawsuit

Despite the obstacles created by the City’s stable of lawyers, documents have been released to the Protect Our Parks legal team through the discovery process and depositions have been occurring as the POP lawsuit progresses.  While POP supports having the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side, it is contesting the City’s decision to allow it to be sited in Jackson Park.

As we have previously reported, Federal Judge John R. Blakey set April 19 as the close of discovery, a very tight timeline.  He set an equally demanding schedule for the next steps in this case:

  • May 3 as the date for the parties to submit motions for summary judgment, each asking the Judge to rule in its favor
  • May 17 as the date for the responses to these motions;
  • May 24 for the replies to those responses; and
  • May 30 for a hearing on the motions.

We will continue to report on progress in this important case, raising as it does key questions concerning the responsible safeguarding of invaluable public assets such as Jackson Park.

PayPal new way to support JPW  

As always, we welcome your contributions.  You can now contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via PayPal here.  You will have the option of using a PayPal account or using your credit/debit card. 
  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch and sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute from donor-directed funds via checks sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

Regardless of the payment method, you will receive an acknowledgement and receipt from JPW.

We thank you!

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – March 30, 2019

Greetings, all!

There have been a variety of interesting developments.  We note them below.   

Major grant to Protect Our Parks

Of great interest is the $100,000 grant given to Protect Our Parks by the Reva and David Logan Foundation to help fund its lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District.  That lawsuit concerns the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  The fact that this was described as an “initial” grant makes it even more significant.

In the statement announcing the grant, Logan Foundation board chairman Richard Logan commented “We believe that this ‘land grab’ is both legally and morally wrong, and that the City of Chicago, the Obama Foundation and their partners need to reconsider their choice of location for this project.  There are so many sites in the city that could benefit from the kudos, the opportunities for employment and the neighborhood regeneration without taking public land and destroying historic city parklands.”

The Logan Foundation funded the construction of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago (915 E. 60th St.)  The architects who designed the Logan Center, Tod Williams and Billie Tsein, were chosen by the Obama Foundation to design the OPC.

POP lawsuit progresses

Despite prodding by federal Judge John R. Blakey, wrangling between the Protect Our Parks’ small legal team and the City’s stable of lawyers about the release of documents and the taking of depositions continues as the City has employed the classic technique of “running out the clock” on the period allowed for discovery.  In the last week, however, the City has produced several sets of documents, now under review. 

JPW is assisting with document review.  One fun find:  the City and Obama Foundation have repeatedly asserted that Cornell Drive was originally designed by Olmsted as a “bridle path,” with the implication that it was narrow and the pace slow. To the contrary, in the Sam Schwartz Engineering traffic studies conducted for the Obama Foundation in 2015, we found this: “The streets within the park were originally designed to allow horse and buggies to easily traverse through them. This design provided excess space for modern vehicles, which has led to vehicles using these streets to speed through the park.”

Obama Foundation documents reviewed

Because of the discovery requirements set forth by Judge Blakey, the Obama Foundation has also released a new set of documents relating to its selection of the Jackson Park site under the not-too-subtle banner of “Jackson Park: The Right Choice.”

We encourage you to take a look at the 2014 analysis of the proposals received by the Obama Foundation as it ramped up preparations for the Obama Presidential Center (then Library).  Even more interesting is the 2016 analysis by U3Advisors of the economic impact, risks, and opportunities of locating the OPC in either Washington Park or Jackson Park/Woodlawn. 

Both analyses demonstrated that the Washington Park location was at least as favorable as the Jackson Park/Woodlawn location.  They also make it clear that one decisive difference was the relative risk and difficulty of the task:  The Jackson Park location was the safe choice, with well-established partner organizations ready to help out (MSI, Apostolic Church of God, for example, in addition to the University).  On the other hand, while the Washington Park location was considerably more aligned with the Obama Foundation’s claim to be engaged in community development and transformation, no such partner organizations were already on hand and having to serve as the main engine of change single-handedly posed a far more difficult set of challenges. One might suggest that, rather than the “right” choice, Jackson Park was the “safe” choice.

Also of interest is the economic impact study  completed in 2016 but now released in full for the first time.  Relying on projections of visits to the OPC as well as potential developments and events that may or may not materialize, it can best be considered aspirational.

Interesting commentary

For those inclined to more reading and a more measured assessment, we recommend the fine Next City commentary on the likely impacts of the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side.  It takes a somewhat new and very useful look at the voices and issues involved.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  Checks from donor-directed funds should be sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, 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 – March 12, 2019

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – March 12, 2019

Greetings, all:   

City stonewalling in Protect Our Parks lawsuit?

The Protect Our Parks lawsuit hearing originally set for Thursday, March 7, was cancelled as POP’s attorney continued to exchange communications with the City and the Park District while pushing for discovery documents that Judge John R. Blakey has directed them to produce. Protect Our Parks has sued the City and Chicago Park District over the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  POP supports siting the OPC on Chicago’s south side, but not in a public park. 

At the February 27 hearing, Judge John R. Blakey had granted most of the POP’s requests related to discovery.  The City was directed to produce documents related to projected costs of the OPC, to traffic and environmental analyses, and to an analysis of the financial benefits to the Obama Foundation deriving from the OPC. Over objections from the City, Judge Blakey also told the defendants to identify a City official to be deposed by the plaintiffs with regard to the discovery documents.  He also left open the possibility of additional depositions in the future.  

To date the City has not produced any documents and continues to insist that all POP requests are unreasonable, beyond the scope of what the Judge directed, immaterial and irrelevant, and the like.  Likewise, the City is stonewalling POP’s request to name an official to be deposed. The Park District positions echo whatever the City says.

Stonewalling is a classic tactic, especially in a David v. Goliath situation such as this.  We might expect that the City will withhold documents until the last possible minute and will then deliver them all at once in a massive data dump, making it extremely difficult for the receiving legal team to review them in a timely manner.  Resistance to the court-approved deposition is also par for the course. 

We will continue to follow the situation and will keep you posted.  In the meantime, Judge Blakey has not changed the previously set date of April 19 for the close of discovery, a very tight timeline in any case.  Hearings in the lawsuit are now scheduled through May.

Push for OPC-linked Community Benefits Agreement advances

As reported in the Sun-Times, voters in parts of the 5th and 20th wards on Chicago’s South Side voted overwhelmingly on February 26 for a referendum to support a community benefits agreement in connection with the Obama Presidential Center.  The non-binding measure backed by close to 90% of the votes cast calls for a CBA along with a 30 percent set-aside for affordable housing, a property tax freeze, and funding for local jobs and affordable housing in the area surrounding the planned OPC.

While 5th ward incumbent alderman Leslie Hairston does not support a CBA, William Calloway, her opponent in the April 2 run-off, does.  Both of the two finalists in the aldermanic election runoff in the 20th ward, Jeanette Taylor and Nicole Johnson, support a CBA.

Additionally, both finalists in the hotly contested race for Chicago’s next mayor, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, support a CBA.  Further, the Chicago Tribune editorialized in support of a CBA on March 1.

We’ll see whether other hard and fast positions start to change in the coming weeks and months.  As usual, stay tuned.

Obama’s self-curated story

Following up on the recent article in the New York Times examining the implications of the fact that the OPC would not be a presidential library, NPR’s On the Media series last week devoted an 18-minute segment to the further implications of this precedent-setting separation of the OPC from the National Archives Research Administration (NARA) – what it could mean for future museum-goers, future historians of the Obama presidency, access to unbiased accounts of presidential administrations, and future presidential museums (think Trump). We recommend it.

Interviews with Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, and Louise Bernard, director of the OPC museum, highlight the challenges of having the OPC single-handedly curate its own story.  Naftali points out that numerous existing presidential museums, operated in tandem with NARA-managed libraries, have moved beyond focusing only on positives to examine controversial issues such as the internment of Japanese-Americans under FDR, Harry Truman’s decision to drop the hydrogen bomb on Hiroshima, and the Vietnam War under LBJ, raising questions as to whether the self-curated Obama Museum would discuss such issues as drone strikes and the “red line in the sand” edict to Syria.  Given the Obama Foundation’s lack of transparency on so many issues, Louise Bernard’s polished assurances may not seem reassuring. 

Update readers will recall that the documentary archives of the Obama administration, rather than being housed at the Obama Presidential Center and overseen there by NARA, will be held by NARA elsewhere, most likely in Kansas.  In a move hailed by some as reflecting a general trend toward electronic communications of all sorts, the Obama documents will be digitized at the Obama Foundation’s expense and made available online free of charge. Not incidentally, the decision to abandon the original plan for a customary presidential library, one subject to NARA regulations, saved the Obama Foundation significant amounts of money.

Intriguing suggestion

At a time when plans for the OPC are stuck in gridlock due to community resistance, the POP lawsuit, and the required federal reviews, a creative suggestion for breaking the deadlock was put forth in a recent letter to the Chicago Tribune: rename the Park for former President Obama; put up an Obama statue in the Park; relocate the OPC to the near neighborhood but off of public parkland; and let construction begin.  Kudos for out-of-the-box thinking on this!  We need more.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  As always, we welcome your support.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  Checks from funds that need to be processed by our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks can be sent to FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602.  The checks should be made out to FOTP with a note indicating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – February 27, 2019

Greetings, all.   

Today’s Protect Our Parks federal court hearing – City drags feet again, Judge to “micro-manage” the discovery process as a result

Today was the latest federal court hearing in the David v. Goliath saga of the small non-profit Protect Our Parks’ lawsuit against the City and Park District.  The lawsuit challenges the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

Today’s hearing focused on issues related to discovery, that is, the kinds and amounts of information that the City and the Obama Foundation will have to turn over to POP as a part of the case.  This is a key issue: back-room decision making and the absence of meaningful community input have been hallmarks of the process of siting the OPC in Jackson Park from the beginning.  This includes the related plans to close and realign roads at taxpayer expense, construct a 235-foot  museum tower, clear-cut the site, and obliterate all traces of the current Olmsted design.  The discovery process in the POP lawsuit is an important chance for the public to get information on just what has occurred.

Judge John R. Blakey began by questioning both POP and the City attorneys about the status of discovery.  It was readily apparent that the City, which has not yet produced any documents beyond those that are already publicly available, was once again dragging its feet.  Saying “We will have discovery,” Judge Blakey ultimately directed the City to produce a variety of documents including those concerning projected costs to the city and state of the proposed OPC plans and road changes; traffic and environmental analyses; and an analysis of the financial benefits to the Obama Foundation of the proposed OPC plans. He directed the City to identify an official  to be deposed by POP concerning those documents, leaving open the possibility of additional depositions later on.

Judge Blakey concluded this section of the hearing by setting April 19 as the close of discovery, a very tight timeline.  He went on to set an equally demanding schedule for the next steps in this case:

  • May 3 as the date for the parties to submit motions for summary judgment, each asking the Judge to rule in its favor
  • May 17 as the date for the responses to these motions;
  • May 24 for the replies to those responses; and
  • May 30 for a hearing on the motions.

As the hearing seemed to be drawing to a close, the City’s outside attorney from the firm Mayer Brown raised a new round of questions as to what documents the City was to produce.  After a brief exchange with the attorney, Judge Blakey announced “I will have to micro-manage your discovery,” and set another hearing for next Thursday, March 7, at 11 a.m. to review progress on discovery.

Other top news:

Also today, Preservation Chicago released its 2019 Chicago 7 Most Endangered List, identifying the most threatened historic buildings and sites in the city.

For the third year in a row, Jackson Park, the South Shore Cultural Center, and the Midway Plaisance were ranked in first place, with plans for the Obama Presidential Center and a PGA-style golf course judged to be the current most significant threat to historic buildings and landscapes in Chicago.  Presentation Chicago specifically noted that parceling off these public lands for private use would have devastating impacts on these historic sites and landscapes and would establish extremely negative precedents.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  We continue to welcome your donations.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  Donations 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
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

Jackson Park Watch – February 25, 2019

Greetings, all.  

Another POP hearing this Wednesday- stay tuned!

This Wednesday, February 27, at 10:30 a.m., Federal Judge John R. Blakey will preside over another hearing in the Protect Our Parks lawsuit against the City and Park District. The suit challenges the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

Why is this Wednesday’s hearing important? Following Judge Blakey’s ruling last week that POP has standing and is entitled to bring its case to federal court, the next key issue is how much information the City will be forced to reveal to POP in order for POP to make its case. The City has consistently argued against being required to share such internal information, and in fact not long ago argued that the Judge should make his decision based solely on three public documents – the Planned Development Ordinance adopted in May 2018, the OPC Ordinance in October 2018, and the yet-to-signed Use Agreement appended to the OPC Ordinance. While Judge Blakey did not buy the City’s argument, his decision on the contested issue of “discovery” this Wednesday will determine how much information on a host of issues the City will be required to share.

The extremely contentious nature of the “discovery” issue, one that continues to be rooted in the City’s habits of secrecy and opaqueness, has been demonstrated once again. The parties were directed by Judge Blakey to confer and submit a single joint report on what information the City would provide to POP. POP had streamlined its requests for information, but the City remained adamant. As a result, separate reports were submitted to the Judge. The Judge has now rejected them both, directing the parties to submit a single joint report by 5 pm tomorrow.

Wednesday’s hearing will be a case management conference. Judge Blakey will rule on the disputes over discovery, will set a 45-day or longer period for finalizing discovery, and will also set a firm six-week schedule for the final briefings and ruling. A trial may follow.

On other matters

Judge Blakey’s ruling that the POP lawsuit could continue was followed by some incisive commentary on various aspects of the dispute:

City Lab, an on-line affilate of the Atlantic that covers urban issues worldwide, put the OPC project in the context of other land-use battles in New York, Toronto and Washington, all grounded in controversies and concern about public trust and the lack of governmental transparency in how economic development decisions are made.

The New York Times explored the background story and import of “The Obama Presidential Library That Isn’t.”

The Tribune’s architecture critic Blair Kamin noted that the issue of using lakefront parkland is always problematic and that “‘No Drama Obama’ is in a legal box of his own making.”

The Sun-Times, editorializing on “Rahm’s last big favor for the Obama Presidential Center,” noted that “we have never liked this feeling that the fix is in.”

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

We appreciate all those who have offered financial support in recent weeks. This kind of work is intensive and expensive since it requires frequent consults with our legal counsel, and thus we continue to welcome (and in fact need) additional financial support. 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 – 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.

WHAT WAS MISSING FROM OUR LAST UPDATE?

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
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch