Workers grumble over pay-to-park plan at 26th and Cal courthouse
BY RUMMANA HUSSAIN Criminal Courts Reporter September 15, 2013 5:02PM
The parking garage at the city's criminal courthouse. | Rummana Hussain/Sun-Times
Updated: October 17, 2013 6:15AM
For the last few days, construction crews at the mouth of the parking garage across the street from the 26th and California courthouse have been inducing groans and whispers of the long-awaited implementation of a universally dreaded proposal.
“Really?” a woman angrily muttered to herself recently while walking by the rising dust and blue hard hats. “Do they have to do this right now?”
A spokeswoman for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said plans to charge motorists a daily fee at the city’s criminal courthouse garage and suburban facilities are “on hold” at the moment, but she also said there’s a possibility that personnel and other visitors may have to shell out the bucks for parking later this year.
“The RFP selection process has not been completed for the paid for parking program,” Kristen Mack said last week, explaining that “new gates” are being fitted at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse garage.
A member of the construction team had more to say.
“We’re putting in a machine to charge people for parking,” construction worker Augustino Villareal said Friday, pointing to the entrance and exit at the front side of what many describe as an unkempt garage.
Villareal said after he’s done at the Southwest Side courthouse, he and fellow crew members will be headed to a Maywood and then another suburb to do similar work at those locations.
More than a year ago, the county said it would start charging $4.75 daily for parking at city and suburban criminal courthouse lots.
But the summer of 2012 came and went and the plan was never put in place.
At the time, Preckwinkle’s office estimated the county would raise $2.7 million over the last six months of 2012 by charging for parking at the county’s city and suburban courthouses. An updated revenue figure wasn’t available.
The parking garage and nine surface lots around the city’s criminal courthouse and next-door jail — largely reserved for attorneys, judges and other courthouse staff, jurors and law enforcement — have been free for years.
Many court workers thought it would stay that way when the county remained mum.
Now with construction in full swing, the grumbling has resumed.
“We’re not getting raises and our cost of living is rising. It’s like we’re going backwards,” a Cook County sheriff’s deputy said about eventually having to pay for parking. “I wouldn’t mind paying for parking as long as you give me the money to pay for it.”
A court reporter who lives in the far western suburbs predicts mutiny.
She said she plans to ask for a transfer. “It’ll be cheaper,” she said. “I think a lot of people will be asking for transfers. This is crazy.”
A defense attorney, who has been coming to the 26th and California courthouse for nearly a decade, said it was absurd for the county to make money off a “filthy” parking garage that is full of “bird s - - -, human excrement, pigeons and garbage that’s never picked up.”
“The county needs to find more creative ways to make money,” he complained.
Whenever paid parking is enforced at the city and suburban courthouses, jurors, witnesses, police officers there for official business and voters using the facilities for early voting would be exempt, according to the proposed plan.
Meanwhile, Mack said, the 26th and California campus and seven other county buildings will be undergoing “upgrades” under the county’s larger $16 million “Perimeter Security Work” project, which is designed to “deter dangerous unauthorized activities.”
At the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, bollards will be installed at the main entrance and ornamental fencing will be placed in front of buildings along California Avenue.
Pedestrian crossing improvements, a new guardhouse at the jail and additional parking for judges also are planned.