Scooter program approved; budget watchdog peppers critiques amid ‘overall support’ for Lightfoot’s 2022 plan
Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a news conference Thursday. [Erin Hegarty/The Daily Line]
E-scooter companies officially got the greenlight on Thursday to come back to Chicago with the City Council’s approval of a citywide program for the controversial two-wheeled modes of transportation.
Also on Thursday, Civic Federation president Laurence Msall and other members of the public weighed in on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed 2022 budget plan, and parliamentary tactics surfaced again on the council floor as aldermen attempted to delay action on proposals from their colleagues.
The City Council voted to launch the permanent citywide e-scooter sharing network despite opposition from nearly a dozen aldermen.
The ordinance (SO2021-2861), sponsored by City Council Committee on Transportation and Public Way chair Ald. Howard Brookins (21), paves the way for three companies to scatter up to 6,000 electric scooters across the city starting early next year, potentially more than doubling the number as demand picks up. It passed out of the transportation committee in a near-unanimous vote on Wednesday.
Three companies will be awarded two-year licenses to deploy scooters across the city, with an additional opening for Lyft, which operates the city’s Divvy bicycle-sharing system. Each will be required to submit hiring plans that prioritize “historically disadvantaged” groups and affix their scooters with technology that renders them unusable on sidewalks. Lime, Bird and Spin deployed scooters to Chicago during a pilot run last year and have signaled they hope to return.
Brookins and leaders of the Chicago Department of Transportation have promoted the scooter-sharing system as a tool to widen Chicagoans’ transportation options while pulling cars off the road, all while culling new revenue for the city. Officials have projected the licensee fees alone will immediately rake in more than $4 million for the city, supplemented by a 9 percent tax on the cost of each scooter ride.
“Our environment is slowly dying, and we really need to do anything we can do to go to electrification,” Brookins told his colleagues Thursday. “These micro-mobility vehicles will allow people to go on short jaunts from point A to point B without congesting the streets.”
He was echoed by Ald. Daniel La Spata (1), who said scooters will help Chicago “be the kind of city that presents every sustainable and equitable form of mobility for our constituents that we can.”
However, Ald. David Moore (17), who cast the sole vote opposing the ordinance in committee on Thursday, said scooter companies during separate pilots in 2019 and 2020 have “not proven to me that this system works.” Calling the scooters an “eyesore,” Moore said he wants the companies to commit to paying for docking stations before the city moves forward.
And Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) said transportation officials “never reached out to hear my concerns” after he sent the ordinance to the council’s Committees on Committees and Rules in June.
“Everyone who should have cared about the concerns we had was uninterested in talking, so I'm uninterested in moving forward,” Lopez said, adding that mounting 311 requests had forced his staff to “focus on being the scooter police” during the two pilots.
The following aldermen joined Moore and Lopez in voting against the e-scooter ordinance on Thursday: Ald. Brian Hopkins (2), Ald. Pat Dowell (3), Ald. Anthony Beale (9), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26), Ald. Brendan Reilly (42), Ald. Michele Smith (43) and Ald. Harry Osterman (48).
Caroline Samponaro, vice president of transit, bike and scooter policy at Lyft, wrote in a statement Thursday that the company “looks forward” to working with the transportation department to “build upon the successful Divvy program and leverage the Divvy dock network to provide docking scooters uniquely capable of eliminating sidewalk clutter.”
“Under the City’s leadership, an integrated Divvy scooter and bike system would immediately become the largest combined bike and scooter program in the country and it would also become the largest equity membership program through Divvy for Everyone,” Samponaro continued. “Divvy members want and deserve a membership that provides access to both bikes and scooters. Today's ordinance by the City Council puts us one step closer to that reality."
And LeAaron Foley, Midwest director of government relations for Lime, wrote in a statement that the company is “thrilled Chicago is bringing scooter sharing back to give residents affordable, safe and sustainable mobility options.”
Lime is “especially proud of the impact our focus on equitable service had in connecting communities, with automatic discounts across the South and West sides and deliberate fleet deployment in neighborhoods underserved by transit,” Foley’s statement continued, adding that the company is looking forward to applying for next year’s program.
Budget public hearing
Thursday’s City Council meeting also included a public hearing on Lightfoot’s proposed 2022 budget.
- Lightfoot reveals 'Chicago Recovery Plan' with guaranteed income plank as progressive groups take credit
- Lightfoot pitches $272M TIF surplus, $77M tax levy hike, $385M from ARP to plug budget hole
Nonprofit financial watchdog group The Civic Federation provided “overall support” for the proposed budget.
“The city is in much better financial position now than it was one year ago,” Msall said. “Much of this is the result of the federal COVID-19 relief funding, which has allowed the city to continue to operate at full service levels and invest in new programs and infrastructure.”
But the federation remains "concerned" about the “unsustainability” of the city's financial position in future years, particularly as it relates to its debt and pension obligations, Msall said on Thursday.
“Pension funding in future years...is predicated on the notoriously unreliable gambling revenues,” Msall said, adding that while the federation shares the city’s and mayor’s “optimism on reopening, including a return to a robust economic recovery, none of us can accurately predict the future of the pandemic and the potential economic disruption.”
Msall recommended the city “develop a long-term plan” detailing how the city’s budget will be balanced “if the recovery falls short of expectations.”
“Rather than turning only to revenues, this plan must also include structural changes to move the city forward,” Msall said, adding that the city’s four pension funds should have “solid funding” going forward.
The federation issued a 74-page report on next year’s proposed budget, which includes additional recommendations and notes other aspects of the proposal the federation supports.
Jack Lavin, president and chief executive officer of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, urged city leaders to "stand up for small business” and craft a budget that doesn't include an increase in the property tax levy.
Lavin called for "real direct relief" to the hospitality industry.
Pat Doerr on behalf of the Hospitality Business Association of Chicago, cited “grave concerns” with the proposed budget.
“This budget provides nothing in direct assistance to your favorite locally owned bars and restaurants in the city of Chicago,” Doerr said. “In fact, this budget seems poised to spend more on trees than it is going to spend helping locally owned small businesses.”
Doerr recommended the City Council redirect American Rescue Plan dollars dedicated to “commercial corridor improvement” and marketing for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to “locally owned small businesses, prioritizing the vital hospitality industry” and small businesses that have not received money from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
The City Council finished its marathon hearings on city departments’ budgets last week, and Lightfoot expects to have a budget approved by the end of the month following negotiations with aldermen on proposed changes to the spending plan.
“Now we begin sausage making for the next week-and-a-half” by talking to individual aldermen and the council’s various caucuses, Dowell said during a Thursday afternoon news conference.
Gang database appeal process delayed
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40) led the charge to defer and publish an ordinance (O2021-4131) proposed by Lightfoot that would direct the Chicago Police Board to develop a process for people to file appeals asking for their names to be removed from the Chicago Police Department’s forthcoming Criminal Enterprise Information System, the repository police are developing to replace their controversial Gang Database.
Vasquez told The Daily Line he also had support of Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25), Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33), Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Ald. Maria Hadden (49) and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) in delaying a vote on the proposal.
“It defies logic to understand why the administration would rush an appeals process without anyone in the council having seen the gang database,” Vasquez said. “This forgone conclusion we should have [a gang database] is a concern because we haven’t even debated it.”
Vasquez said setting an appeal process in motion would be “backwards,” as aldermen aren’t yet aware of how such a process would affect staffing or how people would be notified that they are on the gang database.
“There are a million questions that we have zero answers [to],” Vasquez said.
Rules Committee scuffle
Separately, Reilly and Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) deferred and published two proposals from Ald. Anthony Beale (9) that were set to be reassigned to their proper committees after being rescued this week from the City Council’s Committee on Committees and Rules.
One of Beale’s proposals (O2021-1227) would roll back speed camera rules enacted this year that ticket people for driving as little as 6 miles per hour over the speed limit. Lightfoot lowered the speeding threshold for tickets from 10 miles per hour over the speed limit to 6 miles per hour as part of her 2021 budget proposal.
Beale’s second proposal (O2021-2901) would establish the City Council’s own legal counsel and parliamentarian, a proposal the mayor has signaled she supports.
After Reilly delayed action on Beale’s proposals, Beale hit back and sent dozens of newly introduced measures to the rules committee, a tactic Moore used earlier this year when his proposal to rename Lake Shore Drive after Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable was delayed.
But this time Reilly whipped out a new strategy by moving to suspend council rules and re-refer to their originally assigned committees all of the proposals Beale sent to the rules committee. Lightfoot approved the maneuver after quickly checking for objections from the City Council.
"You cannot change the rules once again to suit yourself,” Beale argued back.
Lightfoot during a Thursday news conference said the City Council needs to “function in an orderly fashion, and what we see played out over and over again is when Alderman Beale doesn't get his way, he complains that there's a problem, that the rules are rigged.”
Lightfoot said she supports the City Council having its own legal counsel “because the Corporation Council is a corporation for the counsel for the city, not the City Council... whether they do that or not, that's up to them.”
Vaccine reporting deadline looms
Friday marks the day by which all city employees are required to submit proof of vaccination or commit to undergoing twice-weekly testing for COVID-19.
Lightfoot during a news conference Thursday reiterated “the need for city workers to get vaccinated” and said the information city workers must enter into the vaccine portal is “very basic,” not intrusive and is HIPAA- and ADA-complaint.
The deadline comes as John Catanzara, head of the Chicago Police union, has urged officers to not comply with the mandate and Ald. Marty Quinn (13) and Matt O’Shea (19) sent Lightfoot a letter earlier this week urging her to put a “pause” on the mandate.
“This is a matter of public safety,” O’Shea told The Daily Line on Thursday. “If the possibility that several hundred police officers, firefighters and paramedics possibly don't show up at work this weekend, based on the violence we've seen, are we prepared for that as a city?”
O’Shea said he and his family are all fully vaccinated, but the city must do better at “getting into police stations and fire stations and...targeting these officers and all first responders about the vaccine, because clearly the mandate as it pertains to first responders hasn't been as successful as the greater population.”
Lightfoot hit back during her news conference, saying “kicking the can down the road really isn’t [in] my vocabulary” and it “makes no sense” that people are not taking the life-saving vaccine.
Aldermen during the Thursday City Council meeting also approved the following measures:
O2021-4194 — An ordinance extending the city’s Redevelopment Plan for Near North TIF district to boost redevelopment of the Cabrini Green area through 2033. The proposal also widens the list of allowed uses in the district to include residential mixed uses, commercial mixed uses, “public/institutional mixed uses” and public parks.
O2021-3928 — A proposal to landmark Blues legend Muddy Waters’ former home at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. in the 4th Ward. The Chicago Landmark Commission approved the landmarking proposal in August. Waters’ great-granddaughter Chandra Cooper is leading an effort to turn the house into a museum honoring Waters, complete with a recording studio.
A2021-158 — Lightfoot’s appointment of Carlos Pineiro as a member of Chicago Plan Commission.
The council approved all other items included in The Daily Line’s preview of the meeting.
Meetings & Agendas