CITY HALL — The prospect of City Council "chaos" and "Parking Meter Wars" arose Friday as aldermen again probed the mayor's proposed new deal on meters.
Some aldermen welcomed free Sunday parking in their wards, while others insisted parking-space "turnover" is necessary in business districts — a conflict that weighed the interests of residents against commerce.
"We're not gonna have Council Wars, we're gonna have Parking Meter Wars," said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) as the Finance Committee debated Mayor Rahm Emanuel's deal proposal for a third time.
"You could have total chaos throughout the city," added Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), citing how many major business corridors divide wards, with aldermen potentially deciding differently on opposite sides of the same street.
"If one side decides to do free parking, and the other side doesn't, you have total chaos in the business district," Waguespack said.
Although Emanuel trumpeted free Sunday parking in the neighborhoods — specifically as a benefit to churchgoers — when he announced the deal a month ago, Waguespack called that "a gimmick" aimed at gaining a "political windfall" and questioned the administration's actual commitment to free Sunday parking.
"How many meters are in front of these churches?" Waguespack said.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) agreed: "This free Sunday parking to accommodate people going to church is bogus."
Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton has said the administration would welcome working with aldermen to maintain metered parking where desired on Sundays and that the additional revenue would go to address so-called "true-ups" — paying Chicago Parking Meters for revenue lost when meters are shut down for street closures and other projects.
He said the administration would also offer political cover to aldermen by submitting the ordinance amendments itself.
"This is a vote that, in my opinion, is absolutely 100 percent right for the city and for your constituents," Patton said, adding that "warts ... are in the eye of the beholder."
Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) cheered the deal and wondered why it was taking so long for others to get behind it.
Yet Waguespack and the Progressive Reform Coalition have put out a report saying the city has badly underestimated the additional revenue from extending meter hours from 9 to 10 p.m. on meters citywide and to midnight in River North and Streeterville.
Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott has called the swap of extended evenings for free Sundays a "wash," with a potential gain to the city of a mere $110,000 a year, but that's before any additional cutbacks in free Sunday parking.
The PRC report, however, says the city also comes out on the short end in a trade involving so-called reserve meters — meters added after the original 2008 parking-meter deal that gives the city 85 percent of the fee. Those meters would be swapped for city lots Chicago Parking Meters has trouble maintaining. Combined with the swap of extended evening hours for free Sundays, that would result in an estimated $5 million a year benefit to CPM, the report says. The report also provides other scenarios suggesting extending parking meter collection hours could result in as much as an estimated $9 million annual benefit to CPM.
"We want to know how much more money this company is gonna make," said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), a member of the PRC. Unsatisfied with answers she was getting from Patton and Scott, who maintained the city's data is sound, she briefly stormed out of the committee hearing.
"I think it all falls on the mayor," Waguespack said. "Because it's obvious they're lacking in the capability to look at this comprehensively."
"The city feels confident in its estimates, having analyzed data from over 40 million parking transactions," replied mayoral spokeswoman Kathleen Strand. "In an abundance of caution the city’s analysts were very conservative with their estimates. We didn’t make this deal, and the mayor has put the city back in the driver’s seat and in control of the data and management of the contract for the first time."
The Finance Committee will again consider the issue Monday, when Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he wants to revisit the idea of ending the parking meter deal with a "buyback" of the contract from Chicago Parking Meters.
Patton has said the 75-year deal is ironclad and that it makes no economic sense to explore buying it back, at least until this new deal is completed, as it includes a compromise on contested "true-up" charges worth an estimated $20 million a year.
The package is still set for council consideration Wednesday, if it clears the Finance Committee. But individual issues on Sunday parking charges would have to be settled separately afterward, and with a July 1 implementation date for the deal, still more chaos could erupt.