CHICAGO — Some aldermen trying to opt out of free parking at metered spaces on Sundays under the recently renegotiated meter lease deal say they are getting the runaround from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.
During hearings on the revised parking meter lease deal several weeks ago, Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton assured aldermen that if they wanted to keep paid parking on Sundays in their wards to control business traffic they would have the support of Emanuel.
But now, several aldermen are seeing resistance from a mayor's office which seems to want to control the process of which wards are allowed to keep paid parking on Sundays, they say.
Two recent developments: an ordinance that would have preserved metered parking on some streets in Lakeview and Lincoln Park was not on Wednesday's agenda for the full City Council, and a note aldermen received Tuesday night from Emanuel's office seeking more information.
On Monday, Ald. Tunney (44th) and Ald. Smith (43rd) introduced an ordinance at the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety committee meeting that would preserve paid Sunday parking at meters on streets in the retail shopping districts located in their wards, a move they say would help business owners who need a turnover in the spots so customers can park.
The two were racing to beat a July 1 deadline in which Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the company controlling the meters, must change all of the affected parking meter payboxes citywide to reflect free Sunday parking. The aldermen believed they'd get a vote on their ordinance at Wednesday's full Council meeting to preserve the status quo.
Since the measure wasn't on Wednesday's Council meeting agenda, it appears that both wards will at least temporarily have free metered parking on Sundays.
"Our local businesses and chamber of commerce have supported this," said Erin Duffy, a spokeswoman for Tunney's office. "Sundays are one of our busiest days. Free parking could cause parking issues on our commercial streets. I think a lot of people understand that."
In months of negotiations with CPM, Emanuel's team pushed the company to agree to free Sunday parking at meters in the neighborhoods outside the Central Business District in exchange for an additional hour of enforcement Monday through Saturday and extending meter hours until midnight in the River North entertainment district.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said he also was hoping to introduce an ordinance similar to the Tunney/Smith ordinance for the 32nd Ward at Wednesday's meeting. But, according to his staff, the mayor's office told them those ordinances would get tied up in committee and essentially killed.
"We're getting some conflicting signals," said Paul Sajovec, 32nd Ward chief of staff Paul Sajovec. "Normal protocol would be, anything an aldermen would like to submit in his or her ward would be passed with very little scrutiny."
While just weeks ago Patton had assured hesitant aldermen it would be easy to opt out of free Sunday parking, a memo sent late Tuesday night to aldermen from Patton and Chicago's Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott seems to upend the tradition of aldermanic prerogative.
According to the memo, aldermen must seek the administration's permission if they want to restore paid parking on Sundays to their ward.
The memo states, "During the recent public hearings on the proposed parking meters settlement and proposed amendments to the Chicago Metered Parking System Concession Agreement, the administration agreed to create a process whereby individual aldermen could request that paid parking on Sundays be restored for specific blocks in their wards. The purpose of this memorandum is to outline that process."
The email instructs aldermen that their requests must include a list of specific blocks to be exempted, the reason for the request, letters of support and names of groups or individuals supporting paid parking, and names of groups or people opposed to restoring paid parking.
The request will then go through a review process, evaluated and if approved, it will then be included in a comprehensive, single ordinance introduced by the Emanuel administration — a process that could take weeks or even months.
Emanuel spokeswoman Kathleen Strand would not speculate on a time frame for the process.
The memo said the application is needed so that an analysis can be done of "potential impact" on the vendor. Strand could not say how allowing CPM to collect revenue on Sundays in certain wards would have an adverse financial impact.
"The process is not unnecessary, and we have to be able to do this methodically and in collaboration with the City Council to avoid mistakes of the past and any potential indirect or unforeseen impact," said Strand via email. "We are being responsible and methodical."
All three North Side aldermen had hoped to move quickly, before CPM made the changeover, to spare drivers in their wards the confusion of having to go from free Sunday parking then back to paid parking within a few weeks time.
"I'm hoping we can avoid that situation because we don't want to cause confusion," Smith said last week.
"It makes zero business sense to change them all over and then change them back again," said Waguespack. "I think its going to be total confusion."
Waguespack, Tunney and Smith all voted no on the changes to the meter lease deal.