• Alex Nitkin
    JUN 23, 2022

    Sawyer pushes public safety ordinances amid summer violence: ‘We want long-term solutions’

    Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) spoke during a pair of back-to-back news conferences introducing new public safety proposals Wednesday morning. [Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago]

    Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) and a handful of his City Council allies are pushing to reshuffle tens of millions of dollars into a new regime of public safety programs that emphasize non-police community outreach, saying existing structures have failed to tamp down violence.

    The proposals were among more than a dozen new citywide ordinances and resolutions introduced to the City Council on Wednesday, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s long-awaited “Connecting Communities Ordinance” to boost development near transit. They come as the city braces for a surge of summer violence, and less than a month after Sawyer announced a run for mayor.

    Sawyer rolled out an ordinance (O2022-1890) Wednesday that would create the Office of Neighborhood Safety, a new office charged with drafting a “comprehensive, long-term plan to address violence.” It would replace the mayor’s existing Community Safety Coordination Center system, which Sawyer dismissed as a “flash in the pan” without permanent funding or resources. 

    The proposal is co-sponsored by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5), Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20) and Ald. Harry Osterman (48). Additionally, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33), Ald. Matt Martin (47) and Ald. Andre Vasquez (40) stood behind Sawyer as he touted the proposal in a news conference before Wednesday’s City Council meeting. 

    “We want to get to a point now where we can have these issues codified and really work on long-term solutions to address gun violence, and we feel this is the appropriate way to do this,” Sawyer said. “I hear a lot lately about having tools in toolboxes. But previously, tools were like forks — they weren’t the real tools to combat what we need to combat in our communities right now. This is that real tool.”

    Promoted Event: The Press Box

    The ordinance would set a baseline of 1.5 percent of the city’s Corporate Fund budget — about $100 million — to fund the Office of Neighborhood Safety and staff it with at least 19 employees. The commissioner of the office would be empowered to “Coordinate the City’s efforts to address gun violence using a public health approach that prioritizes human dignity and community empowerment” and “[c]ollect, monitor, and report data on the illegal gun market, gun violence, causes, and interventions,” among other responsibilities. 

    Sawyer’s measure, which is backed by the group Live Free Illinois, would also convene a 16-member advisory commission to “provide guidance and oversight to the Office of Neighborhood Safety.” 

    Lightfoot came into office in 2019 with a similar push to strengthen and consolidate the city’s anti-violence efforts by launching the city’s Office of Public Safety Administration to coordinate the efforts of the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department and Office of Emergency Management and Communications. And in 2021, her administration launched the Community Safety Coordination Center, which she promoted as a “whole of government” coalition to coordinate anti-violence interventions across multiple city departments. 

    But Sawyer emphasized the coordination center is a function of the mayor’s office that is not written into the city’s budget with standalone funding. 

    “We want long-term solutions — we don’t want a flash-in-the-pan-style solution that works this week and is going to go away next week,” Sawyer said. “We want to make sure that whatever investments we make, they’re secure…long-term investments with engagement from the community with an official title. 

    ‘Peace Book’ ordinance 

    Organizers with the group Good Kids Mad City also joined Sawyer and other aldermen on Wednesday to formally introduce the Peace Book Ordinance (O2022-1891), a proposal that has been circulating for years but had not been formally introduced as an ordinance until this month.  

    Ald. Derrick Curtis (18) diverted the Peace Book ordinance to the Rules Committee, delaying discussion on the proposal. Curtis told The Daily Line he believes the proposal belongs in the rules committee. 

    “I have some things that I’m against in [the proposal], but overall I like it,” Curtis said. “But there’s still some things that need to be talked about.” 

    Although aldermen often send proposals to the rules committee when they want to scuttle them, Curtis said “there’s no reason [committee chair Ald. Michelle Harris (8)] would just hold it in rules.” 

    Hairston, who is the lead sponsor of the ordinance, told The Daily Line after the meeting that she was “very upset with Alderman Curtis doing the bidding of the administration.” 

    “The mayor has personally made commitments to these kids — these kids have done everything that we have asked them to do,” Hairston said. “They at least deserve to have it go to the committee and be heard.” 

    Youth organizers with Good Kids Mad City called on aldermen to support the ordinance during a news conference Wednesday morning. 

    “The Peace Book ordinance was created with the knowledge and understanding that what the city of Chicago has been doing to protect, empower and support the people in the city, particularly our young people, [has] not been working,” said Assata Lewis, a restorative justice practitioner with Good Kids Mad City. “Every day someone dies, and unfortunately we have become desensitized to the gravity of what it means when someone died.” 

    A draft of the ordinance says it would create a “youth-led violence reduction organization” that focuses on “reducing intercommunal violence and overpolicing.” 

    Additionally under the draft ordinance, a Peace Book published in multiple formats would serve as a “public safety resource” with contact information and a directory of youth services for those living in “communities targeted by over-policing and mass incarceration.” 

    The Peace Book Ordinance would create “Neighborhood Peace Commissions” that would be tasked with establishing neighborhood initiatives that promote peace and safety. A citywide “Peace Commission” would include representatives from each of the neighborhood commissions and would distribute funding and resources to and supporting the neighborhood commissions.  

    Peace Book supporters on Wednesday said they intend for the ordinance to be implemented as a pilot program at first, with an eye toward the 5th, 3rd, 4th and 20th Wards.  

    According to the draft ordinance, 2 percent of the Chicago Police Department budget would be allocated to a fund supporting the Peace Book and its commissions. 

    Lewis said the proposal is “more than a piece of legislation, it's more than a document. It's living, breathing and created by the community.” 

    “The power lies in our community, and it's time to invest in those communities and divest in perpetuating harm caused by those who are supposed to protect us and those who have no relationships with our communities,” Lewis said. 

    Rodriguez-Sanchez said she has been working with Good Kids Mad City for years in trying to figure out how best to introduce the Peace Book into the City Council.  

    “I am committed to fighting like hell to see this through because this is a moment and an opportunity that we have to change direction, to change the course of strategies that we have been using in order to address the crisis of violence that we have in this city,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. 

    “I'm confident that the youth problems could all be solved by youth solutions,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6). “We're going to support the Peace Book ordinance. We're going to see it work and we have every confidence that it will be successful.” 

    “The administration needs to listen to the kids,” Hairston said. “Everyone says they want a solution — well they have a solution.” 

    Hairston said she is asking Lightfoot’s administration to “be responsible and listen to the kids that have solutions.” 

    Transit-oriented development ordinance 

    Lightfoot’s Department of Housing went public on Wednesday with its long-awaited 29-page “Connected Communities Ordinance,” a sweeping package designed to break down local barriers to new affordable housing and supercharge home construction near transit stations. 


    The ordinance cobbles together nearly a dozen new rules and policies aimed at boosting home construction near transit stations and building safer environments for pedestrians in busy corridors. It would also forbid neighborhoods from banning new two-flats or three-flats in wealthy, transit-rich parts of the city, and it would prevent aldermen from stifling affordable housing proposals via pocket veto.   

    Lightfoot originally teased the ordinance for introduction last month, but her administration balked and held it for a month to make a handful of additional tweaks. The ordinance as introduced Wednesday is nearly identical to the version that circulated last month, except that it would allow developers to exceed a ratio of one new parking spot for every two new units in transit-oriented development zones if they get an “administrative adjustment” from the Department of Planning and Development’s zoning administrator. 

    City housing officials also dropped a previous subsection that would have banned new gas stations or drive-thrus within a half-mile of transit, and another that would lower the threshold for Chicago Plan Commission approvals of affordable housing proposals. 

    Still, the ordinance likely faces stiff headwinds in the City Council, whose members would lose a their ward-level power to block new three-flats in many residential areas. 

    Ald. Harry Osterman (48), who chairs the City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate, told The Daily Line that he looks forward to “a lot of robust conversation” on the ordinance, but he added that “there’s things that need to be worked out” in it. He cited the de-facto ban on single-family-only zoning within a half-mile of transit stations as a “major concern.” 

    “I’ve got concerns about how it’s going to impact single-family home areas in my community,” Osterman said. “We went through a recent down-zone in Andersonville where we had two-flats that were being bought up [and] torn down, and very expensive three-flats were being put there. That doesn’t add affordability, and it creates density…my community is one of the most dense in the city.” 

    City housing officials have argued that newly built condos, while out of reach to most Chicagoans, are still far more affordable than the kinds of newly built single-family homes that are legal almost everywhere. 

    Ald. Tom Tunney (44), who chairs the City Council zoning committee where the ordinance was referred, also said he was leery of the three-flat provision. He told The Daily Line Wednesday that the provision “refutes the predictability of the zoning code” by treating RS-3 residential zones effectively as multi-family zones. 

    Ald. Walter Burnett (27), who along with Ald. Maria Hadden (49) was listed as a co-sponsor of the Connected Communities Ordinance, praised the measure as socially and environmentally responsible but acknowledged it as a starting point for further negotiations among aldermen. 

    “So it may not go all the way like it is, but hopefully we can come to some kind of compromise and make something happen,” Burnett said. 

    Safe streets proposals 

    Amid a swarm of outrage and activism following the killings of four people — including three children — during the past month, aldermen surfaced multiple proposals on Wednesday designed to make streets safer for cyclists. 

    Ald. Andre Vasquez (40) boasted more than 40 co-sponsor signatures Wednesday on his proposal (O2022-1897) that would allow the city to tow any car blocking “the free-flow of traffic on a street path or lane designated for the use of bicycles,” similar to how the city already tows cars that are blocking fire hydrants.  

    The ordinance also would require anyone conducting city-approved work in a bike lane to post signs warning bicyclists that a bike lane is closed, and alerting drivers to yield to bicyclists, Block Club Chicago reported. 

    Related: Vasquez proposes crackdown on blocked bike lanes after Uptown 3-year-old's killing 

    Vasquez also signed on as co-sponsor to a proposal (O2022-1987) from Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) that would empower officials from the Department of Finance, Department of Streets and Sanitation and Department of Transportation to ticket drivers who block bicycle lanes. Reilly acknowledged that his proposal resembles Vasquez’s ordinance but described the two plans as “two torpedoes in the water — and one will hit.” 

    Responding to a question on whether she supports the proposals from Vasquez and Reilly, Lightfoot on Wednesday said she is “aware of measures that have been taken in other cities to empower ordinary residents on traffic safety issues.” 

    “We’re looking at what are the tools we can use to make our roads and streets safer,” Lightfoot said. “We know we’ve got to do a lot more." 

    Additionally, Martin introduced an ordinance (O2022-1980) that would require the transportation department to consider adding new pedestrian and cycling infrastructure to arterial streets every time they are resurfaced. 

    “We want to make sure that when you’re going to grind something down [and] put on some new asphalt, that at the same time you’re looking intersection by intersection to say, ‘where does it make sense to do curb extensions? Where does it make sense to do pedestrian refuge islands?’” Martin told The Daily Line on Wednesday. “We need to be as efficient as possible with city resources while also making sure that we’re continuing to be very mindful and responsive to public safety.” 

    The following other measures were introduced to the City Council on Wednesday: 

    O2022-1802 — A proposal by Ald. Jason Ervin (28) to create a “Community Oriented Media Program.” Text of the ordinance was not publicly posted as of Wednesday. 

    R2022-600 — A resolution from Ald. Brian Hopkins (2) calling for hearings on the Chicago Police Department's “policies and practices regarding leaves of absence.” 

    O2022-1794 — A “citizen’s introduction” by former Gov. Pat Quinn pushing for a ballot referendum to limit Chicago mayors at two terms. 

    O2022-1979 — A proposal by Ald. Anthony Beale (9) to legalize car booting in his ward, which would make the practice legal in 35 wards. A proposal by Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) to legalize the practice across the city remains stuck in the finance committee. 

    Related: Alderman’s push to expand private lot booting gets the boot 

    Or2022-173 — An order from Hadden calling on the transportation department to submit a report to the council’s finance committee “identifying racial and geographic disparities in camera ticketing.” 

    R2022-687   — A proposal by Reilly to modify City Council Rule 41 to add transparency requirements for ordinances that are dropped into committees via direct introduction. 

    R2022-685 — A resolution by Ervin calling for hearings on the “data necessary to develop measures to ensure minority and women-owned business enterprises are included in private projects.” 

    R2022-686 — A resolution by Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) calling for hearings on the “decline of City of Chicago food access policies for underserved residents.” 

    R2022-688 — A resolution by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) and more than 20 others calling for hearings on the “Chicago Transit Authority's minimized train and bus services, inconsistent train schedules, and train and bus delays.” 

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