This week, Everything Evanston’s quick recap of the City Council included discussions of ARPA funding and new ordinances banning cashless businesses. We also dig into the story of Evanston’s new Environmental Justice Investigative Initiative.
Mika Ellison: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Mika Ellison. This is Everything Evanston, a podcast about the people, businesses, and events of Evanston, Illinois. Today, we’re going to recap the January 23rd City Council meeting. Then we’ll take a look at one of Evanston’s headliners this week.
Mika Ellison: This week, council discussions range from Billy Joel references to a lengthy discussion of local alcohol ordinances. We’ll start with the committee’s discussion of the allocation of remaining ARPA funds. The American Rescue Plan Act provides $43 million in funding for the Evanston City Council to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interim community development director Sarah Flax said the council initially overallocated funds.
Sarah Flax: Since then, one of the largest requests from the Compensation Commission has been withdrawn. So that actually gives the council some flexibility in what to do with the remaining funds. We have an unallocated balance of $5,751,423.
Mika Ellison: During the public comment period, several Evanston residents made suggestions for distribution of the remaining funds, such as using them to help small Evanston landlords.
Mika Ellison: The committee is also preparing to vote on an ordinance banning cashless businesses introduced at the last city council meeting. We covered it in the first episode, but in conclusion, bans on cashless businesses are widespread in other cities like New York, San Francisco, and Alder. Melissa Wynne (No. 3) said:
ALD. Wynn: All of New Jersey.
Mika Ellison: that’s right. Not some of them, not most of them, but the entire state has banned cashless businesses.
Mika Ellison: One of the goals of the ordinance is to protect the unbanked residents of Evanston, as well as other disenfranchised populations who may not have the resources to pay without cash. Alder. Krissie Harris (#2) spoke in support of the ordinance.
ALD. Harris: There are a lot of disenfranchised people out there who aren’t homeless — they just don’t have banks, mortgages, checking accounts and credit cards because the interest rates are so high. So I hope we realize that.
Mika Ellison: However, many council members who agree with the goals of the proposed ordinance expressed concern that there is not enough information on how the decision will affect Evanston. Alder. Tom Suffredin (6th) said a deeper understanding was needed of how the decision would affect cashless businesses and Evanston’s economy.
ALD. pain: I just want to bring this matter to the attention of as many people as possible so we can create the best possible legislative product for the residents of Evanston.
Mika Ellison: After discussion by all nine MPs, a motion passed to transfer the ordinance to the Equity and Empowerment Committee and the Economic Development Committee.
Mika Ellison: Other highlights included public commentary on Ryanfield’s redevelopment plans, and a speech by economic development manager Paul Zalmazek on Evanston’s economic recovery, entitled “We Didn’t Set Fires.”
Paul Zalmazek: The last few years have really brought this 1989 song to mind. Forgive me because you’re going to have this earworm in your head for the next five minutes.
Mika Ellison: A city ordinance prohibiting public possession of open wine containers was discussed. Alder. Devon Reid (No. 8) thinks the existing regulations could be amended.
ALD. Rhett: If you brought a bottle of wine or you’re leaving Wine Goddess, maybe there’s a tasting, you open your bottle and you’ll be allowed to walk down the street.
Mika Ellison: Sgt. Scott Sofire, a member of the Evanston Police Department, answered questions from committee members and explained that the department uses the ordinance to enforce laws against intoxication in public places.
Mika Ellison: Council has voted a revised version of the Alcohol Regulations to be brought to council, meaning it will be on the agenda at its next meeting. Be sure to tune in for the next City Council meeting, the week of February 13, 2023. Next up, Selena Kuznikov brings us this week’s story.
Selena Kuznikov: Janet Alexander Davis, who has lived in Evanston for 80 years, said she never quite understood why her neighborhood seemed to smell. That is, until she realized the smell was coming from the Church Street Transfer Station, a dump in the Fifth Ward. I’m Selena Kuznikov, and we’ll hear more about In Focus editor Lily Carey’s story about Evanston’s initiative to conduct an environmental justice investigation in the city, delayed nearly two and a half years from its original proposal.
Janet Alexander Davis: When I finally realized there was no reason for this dump to be in the community, within walking distance of businesses, homes, high schools, I, along with many others, started picketing and trying to get rid of it. That’s before we don’t understand that we can’t get rid of it.
Selena Kuznikov: The waste transfer station is still operating in the Fifth Ward despite proven negative impacts on air quality levels in the surrounding neighborhoods, which are predominantly black. Residents of Evanston, especially those living in historically red-lined neighborhoods, have faced disproportionate health inequities for decades.
Janet Alexander Davis: A lot of times people don’t know that we have rights that we don’t really use, or that we have ways to solve problems within our own communities, as long as we understand what’s going on.
Selena Kuznikov: The city attempted to remedy these inequities by launching an environmental justice investigation. Mayor Daniel Biss said the purpose of the survey is to provide the city with a roadmap and baseline for achieving environmental justice and environmental injustice by using geographic information system mapping tools to map data.
Daniel Biss: I don’t know how long it takes. So I think it’s important for us to act as quickly as possible to make sure we have a solid, comprehensive, professional plan and we actually start executing.
Selena Kuznikov: In planning the survey, the city worked with Environmental Justice Evanston (EJE), an affiliate of local environmental advocacy group Citizens’ Greener Evanston. EJE co-chair Jerri Garl said many of the inequities she discussed with other chair members were based on a lack of public participation in the black community in the decisions cities and developers were making.
Jerry Girl: This affects their community and affects the quality of life in that community. The whole goal here is to uncover some of the decision-making processes and attitudes, programs, policies, and procedures that lead to these environmental injustices, whether they are intentional or not.
Selena Kuznikov: According to the 2022 Evanston Local Needs Assessment Project report, residents of the Fifth Ward face more severe health impacts than residents of much of the rest of the city. EJE hopes to incorporate residents’ experiences to accurately assess environmental injustice in cities, Garr said.
Selena Kuznikov: EJE member Robyn Hurtig said the EJE has been conducting hearings with residents in districts 2 and 5 to increase public engagement.
Robin Hertig: We want to hear from Evanston residents who often don’t hear from them, that’s our Black and brown people, our underserved communities. So that’s who we’re looking for for those people to make sure they have a voice and we’re documenting their voice.
Selena Kuznikov: Early last year, the city government pledged to make sustainability a top priority for the future after residents criticized its inaction on climate action and resilience plans. The city allocated $100,000 in this year’s budget for the investigation. The city will use the money to hire coordinators for more listening sessions.
Jerry Girl: As the mayor said in his press release, we will continue to listen, we will continue to work together on the mapping tool, we will continue to work together to help complete this survey. But cities have a responsibility to act.
Selena Kuznikov: That’s all for this week’s Urban Stories. We’ll be back in three weeks for another look at Evanston politics.
Mika Ellison: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Mika Ellison.
Selena Kuznikov: I’m Selina Kuznikov. Thanks for listening to another episode of Everything Evanston’s Quick Review. This episode was reported and produced by Mika Ellison and me. Lily Kelly contributed reporting. The Daily Northwestern’s audio editor is Erica Schmitt, digital executive editors are Joanne Haner and Olatunji Osho-Williams, and editor-in-chief is Alex Perry.
Mika Ellison: Be sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.
e-mail: [email protected]
e-mail: [email protected]
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