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City Council gulps hard, approves parking-meter deal 39-11

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Updated: July 7, 2013 12:29PM

Chicago aldermen vilified for leasing the city’s 36,000 parking meters and spending nearly all the proceeds relived their political nightmare Wednesday — and it wasn’t much better the second time around.

By a vote of 39-11, the City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to settle outstanding claims by Chicago Parking Meters LLC in a way that could relieve taxpayers of a $1 billion burden over the next 71 years for spaces taken out of service and parking provided to motorists with disabilities.

They also sweetened the deal by trading a longer parking meter day for free neighborhood parking on Sundays and allowing motorists to pay their rising parking meter fees by cell phone for a fee of 35 cents.

“No” votes were cast by Aldermen: Bob Fioretti (2nd); Leslie Hairston (5th); Scott Waguespack (32nd); Rey Colon (35th); Brendan Reilly (42nd); Michele Smith (43rd); Tom Tunney (44th); John Arena (45th); Ameya Pawar (47th); Harry Osterman (48th) and Debra Silverstein (50th).

That’s two fewer than opposed the mayor’s plan to install speed cameras near schools and parks.

Fioretti kicked off the dreaded debate by talking about the elephant in the room: the 40-5 vote that turned into a political albatross.

“Do any of us remember 2008? Did we learn anything?” he said.

Fioretti warned that signing off on Emanuel’s take-it-or-leave-it offer could be the “last nail in the coffin for any flexibility we might have to get out of” the deal.

As for Emanuel’s claim that he was trying to “make lemonade out of a lemon” of a deal, Fioretti said, “Some lemons should be turned into lemonade. Some lemons should be returned to the store for a refund.”

Reilly warned of yet another “windfall” for Chicago Parking Meters. He doesn’t buy a consultant’s claim that taxpayers would come out $1.3 million-a-year ahead by extending the parking day by one hour for 25,818 meters and by three hours for 3,217 other meters downtown and in River North.

Colon also wanted to drop the swap, adding, “I don’t think this deal should be bundled together like a U-Verse package.”

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) countered that Emanuel showed “chutzpah” for challenging millions in claims from Chicago Parking Meters.

“A lot of people said, `Nothing’s gonna happen. This is just a show.’ But, you made them change the deal — a deal that was already set in stone. You made them give us back some money,” Burnett said.

Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) applauded Emanuel for “opening up the wound and cauterizing it” by lifting the $1 billion burden.

Emanuel thanked aldermen from the rostrum for taking another vote on the hot-button issue.

“I know this tested everybody’s patience. This deal tests the patience of our residents every day,” the mayor said.

During a news conference later, he said, “It’s a bad deal. It’ll stay a bad deal. But, given that we were stuck with it for 71 years, how did you, on the margins, slightly make it palpable? I hope we made that improvement,” he said.

Now that aldermen have accepted the take-it-or-leave-it plan, individual aldermen can opt out of free Sunday parking if they’re concerned the freebie would adversely impact neighborhood commercial strips by encouraging motorists to tie up spaces all day.

There are certain to be at least a dozen takers in congested neighborhoods where local businesses rely on parking turnover.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said he wants an “independent analysis” of the impact on Uptown businesses before determining whether to opt out of the Sunday freebie.

“It’s not about what’s popular,” he said.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said he plans to wait and see “what contiguous wards” do before making a decision that, some aldermen fear, could subject them to even more political backlash.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) has his mind made up.

“I’m gonna take whatever free I can get,” he said.

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