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Rahm's Parking-Meter Deal Probed by Council Committee

By Ted Cox | May 24, 2013 10:12am | Updated on May 24, 2013 2:46pm
 Aldermen Scott Waguespack, Brendan Reilly, Ameya Pawar and Bob Fioretti talk before Friday's Finance Committee meeting on parking meters.
Aldermen Scott Waguespack, Brendan Reilly, Ameya Pawar and Bob Fioretti talk before Friday's Finance Committee meeting on parking meters.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — The City Council Finance Committee probed the fine details of the Emanuel administration's proposal to refine the 75-year parking-meter deal Friday.

First floated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel a month ago, the new deal settles "true-up" claims by Chicago Parking Meters for $49 million over two years for a reduced $8.9 million, at an estimated savings of $20 million a year. That would save over $1 billion over the life of the contract, according to the Emanuel administration, a figure endorsed by Ald. Joe Moore (49th) of the Paul Douglas Alliance.

It would also swap free Sunday parking in the neighborhoods outside downtown in for extended meter hours in the evenings from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. across the city, and until midnight in River North and Streeterville, a proposal questioned by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

 Ald. Michele Smith questions the estimated value of extended metered parking hours.
Ald. Michele Smith questions the estimated value of extended metered parking hours.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Aldermen probed those estimated figures, along with other aspects of the compromise. Yet along the way the original deal passed in 2008 again came in for heavy criticism.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) attacked the Daley administration and its advisers who pushed for passage while underestimating the overall value of 75 years of city parking fees, saying, "It was deliberate, and they did mislead the council.

"We succumbed to the urging of the CFO," Paul Volpe, said Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the Committee on Finance. "So you can see the frustration a lot of these members feel now, because they were burned."

Although Mayor Richard M. Daley wasn't mentioned by name, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) hit the $4 million his administration paid William Blair & Co. to back the deal from a financial standpoint. Daley, meanwhile, left office and took a job with Katten Muchin Rosenman, one of the law firms that shepherded the deal through.

"There'd be no greater hero in the city," than the lawyer who found the escape clause in the deal, said Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton. He said it doesn't exist, adding, "We've looked at pretty much every option here."

"There's no silver bullet," added Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott.

They echoed Emanuel in saying the new deal was making "a little lemonade" from a lemon of a deal.

"However, as the body with the ultimate responsibility to approve this contract, we in the City Council have a solemn duty to thoroughly and carefully analyze this proposed settlement to make sure every aspect of this deal is truly beneficial to the taxpayers," Moore said. "In order to do that, we need to have the necessary time and information to fully vet the contract."

"We need more than just time," added Ald. Michele Smith (43rd). "We need information."

Smith, however, was not satisfied with the information she received on the value of extended parking hours. She said the $7.4 million the parking meter firm would gain, against the $8.4 million value of Sunday parking, was "underestimated to some extent, and we don't know what that is."

Smith and Reilly said the estimate was based on a small sample size of late-evening parking spots along Oak Street.

Patton said the estimates were based on "judgment calls" and the overall deal was "at worst revenue-neutral" and most likely would gain the city and drivers money.

Smith called on Scott to come back next week with "boringly detailed" accounts of how they reached those estimates.

"You and I will love that," Scott replied.

Smith added that Lincoln Park merchants in her ward actually like metered parking on Sunday because it keeps spaces in flux and doesn't allow DePaul students to fill them all day. That viewpoint, however, was not shared by other neighborhood aldermen.

Ald. Ameya Pawar also took issue with the revenue estimates, saying, "You're asking us to place a bet on a deal that benefits the mayor politically."

Pawar raised the issue of privacy protection and who owns the data collected during parking meter transactions, especially with pay-by-cellphone to be included in the future. He worried about CPM "monetizing" that data through distribution to private firms. Patton said he would examine that and report the details on Tuesday, but that he considered it "moot" because of other privacy protections called for by law.

Patton said CPM was "very skittish" about adding the cellphone option, thus negotiating a 35-cent surcharge on each such transaction, although total profit would be capped at $2 million, with any additional money going to the city, depending on how popular paying by cellphone turns out to be in the future.

"The recovery to the city could be huge," he added.

Yet some aldermen asked why the city didn't then cap the maximum revenue increase on extended evening hours to assure a fair trade for Sundays.

Patton said the negotiations were complex and warned against the "risk of blowing up the whole deal" in seeking additional gains.

"Don't ask me to do that," he said. "I can't guarantee the outcome."

Burke summoned CPM's top executives to Friday's hearing, but they replied through their attorneys that they would not attend, citing the pending arbitration and litigation on the contested "true-up" fees for revenue lost to street closings ahead of the anticipated settlement.

"Their absence speaks volumes," Reilly said, asking that they attend Tuesday's scheduled follow-up session on meters.

"No one trusts CPM," Burke added.

Burke went on to cite how Mayor William Hale Thompson once debated his political opponents in the form of a pair of white rats. Burke suggested they set rats up in the committee in place of CPM executives.

Additional hearings on the issue are set for Tuesday and, most likely, May 31, ahead of consideration at the June City Council meeting.

The administration also filed suit Friday to shave $30 million off a $58 million arbitration settlement with the Aqua parking garage.