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Emanuel’s parking meter fixes get frosty reception from aldermen

Updated: June 10, 2013 2:18PM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday introduced his parking meter changes to a hostile reception from aldermen who would prefer to pay Chicago Parking Meters LLC $63.8 million in disputed claims, but drop the mayor’s plan to trade a longer paid parking day for free neighborhood parking on Sundays.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) is leading the charge to “drop the swap,” but he’s not the only alderman concerned that up to three extra hours of parking meter fees in Streeterville and River North could provide yet another potential windfall for the company.

Aldermen vilified for their quickie-approval of the 75-year, $1.15 billion parking meter deal are afraid to do anything that might make a bad situation worse.

On Wednesday, Emanuel formally introduced an ordinance as thick as a phone book that calls for the city to pay the company $63.8 million to settle years of disputed claims stemming from parking spaces taken out of service because of construction, special events and parking changes and an arbitrator’s ruling on compensation tied to free parking provided to motorists with disabled placards.

An attached fact sheet states that free neighborhood parking on Sundays would impact 29,117 parking spaces — 81 percent of the citywide total — and cost the company $8.4 million in annual revenue.

Acknowledging that “consumer behavior is uncertain,” the fact sheet estimates that Chicago Parking Meters LLC stands to gain $7.4 million from revenues generated by the extended hours. That includes 25,818 meters that would need to be fed for one extra hour, until 10 p.m., and 3,217 meters that would operate for three extra hours, until midnight.

In addition, 17 surface parking lots in neighborhoods currently managed by Chicago Parking Meters LLC would be returned to the city for use by farmer’s markets, street festivals and other local events.

Another 938 prime Loop parking spaces taken away from the company in December, 2012 as a show of force during negotiations on the disputed bills would be given back to Chicago Parking Meters LLC along with lost revenues.

Emanuel argued again Wednesday that there’s nothing he can do to make a “straight-jacket” of a parking meter deal that’s “far worse than we knew” into a good one. But, he argued that he gave motorists a little “wiggle room” by swapping a longer paid parking day for free neighborhood parking on Sundays and wiping $1 billion in future liabilities off the books.

“When we finally got them to agree to eliminate that $1 billion of exposure, I thought there were other things we had to do for the residents,” Emanuel said.

“I’ve been around the city a lot. And I’ve talked to a lot of aldermen and a lot of other people who wanted the convenience of going back to free Sundays like we used to have. Eighty-one percent of the meters will be out of commission on Sundays — gone. Now, the only way you can do [that] in a straight-jacket was to set up a trade-off. I’ve asked the City Council, unlike the past with three days, to evaluate this and take the time to ask questions.”

Emanuel said he’s well aware that aldermen “would like this nightmare to just go away” and never again hear the words, “parking meters,” let alone take another politically-volatile vote on the issue. But, like it or not, Chicago is “stuck with” the lease for 71 more years, he said.

“I understand we’re touching an emotion because everybody hates this deal — no more than me because I’ve been dealing with this company sitting across from them saying, `I’m not paying you these bills. You must think somebody else works here,’ “ the mayor said.

Reilly has said the clincher for him was when Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton told aldermen during closed-door briefings that the swap was “not important” to the company. It was an add-on demanded by the mayor. That tells Reilly that the City Council can drop the swap and stick with the settlement.



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