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Finance Committee Backs Changes To Parking Meter Deal

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Chicago Parking Meter (CBS)

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Updated 06/03/13 – 2:34 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – An attempt to derail Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed changes to the parking meter deal was defeated in a City Council committee on Wednesday.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) joined Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) in attempting to keep only the $1 billion in savings the city negotiated in a dispute over revenue the parking meter firm would lose due to street closures and disabled parking during the life of the 75-year deal.

They wanted to dump the plan for free Sunday parking in the neighborhoods in exchange for longer hours at most parking meters the rest of the week.

“This allows our colleagues the opportunity to support the core of the deal – which many people agree is a great victory for the Emanuel administration – but sets aside the more controversial proposal that would extend meter hours in exchange for, quote, ‘free Sunday parking’ in some areas of the city,” Reilly said.

Some aldermen have expressed concerns that the extended parking hours would be another financial windfall for the parking meter firm that would outweigh any savings motorists would see from free Sunday parking in the neighborhoods.

After aldermen raised questions about the savings motorists would get from that swap, the Emanuel administration spent $250,000 on a study by Navigant consulting to confirm its financial estimates.

At Monday’s hearing, the consultants told alderman they found no discrepancies in the Emanuel administration’s estimates, saying motorists could come out $1.3 million ahead per year thanks to the swap.

Some business owners have expressed concern that they would be hurt by people tying up nearby parking spaces all day on Sunday to take advantage of free parking, rather thank keeping spaces open for customers.

“I know the mayor is trying to make lemonade out of lemons, but this is really sour for business,” said Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce executive director Maureen Martino.

But City Corporation Counsel Steve Patton quickly issued a warning about trying to accept only some of the changes negotiated between the Emanuel administration and Chicago Parking Meters, LLC.

“Sending the negotiators back to try to redicker this deal at this point would be tremendously risky for the city,” he said.

That’s because the parking meter firm might simply walk away from any changes to the deal, which has 71 years remaining.

However, the Emanuel administration has said aldermen could opt out of free Sunday parking in their wards if they believe it would harm businesses.

The Finance Committee voted 14-6 to back the full package of changes to the deal.

The consultants hired by the city also backed up the mayor’s claim taxpayers would save $1 billion over the remainder of the parking meter lease after settling the dispute over lost parking revenue due to street closures and disabled parking.

Patton also revealed the city was paying the Jones Day law firm more than $800,000 in legal fees to help negotiate the changes to the parking meter deal.

The changes would include free Sunday parking in the neighborhoods, in exchange for longer hours at most meters on Mondays through Saturdays. Meters that now must be fed until 9 p.m. would have to be fed until 10 p.m., except in Streeterville and River North, where they would have to be fed until midnight. Meters that must be fed until 6 p.m. would not be affected.

The deal would also settle a dispute between the city and the parking meter firm over lost parking revenue from street closures and free parking by motorists with disabled parking placards. The firm has agreed to allow the city to calculate how much it owes for lost revenue from street closures and disabled parking, rather than relying on the company’s estimates.

Emanuel has said settling the dispute over disabled parking and street closures would save city taxpayers $1 billion over the remaining 71 years of the parking meter deal.

The plan would also allow motorists to pay for parking by cell phone, rather than having to walk to a parking meter and print out a receipt, then return to their car to place the receipt on their dashboard. The pay-by-cell option would carry a 35 cent fee for each transaction.

The measure now goes to the full City Council for a vote at its meeting on Wednesday.

The parking meter deal has been a sore spot for aldermen since former Mayor Richard M. Daley rushed the deal through the City Council in December 2008. The handover of the parking meters to the private company was plagued by meter malfunctions, and motorists have been hit with annual parking rate hikes ever since. Meantime, the city has spent nearly all of the $1.15 billion it got for the deal.

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