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Earth Day notes

Today Food and Water Watch is celebrating the fact that bottled water sales declined for the first time ever last year– and Color Lines features reports from the World People’s Conference on Climate Change, with 20,000 people gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Cochabamba is the site of the water wars of 2000, after the World Bank demanded that Bolivia privatize its water systems, and massive protests led to a state of emergency — and the repeal of the privatization law.

Forum on water privatization

Leasing the city’s water system to a private company would provide a quick infusion of cash, but Chicagoans would pay for it for decades – not only with higher rates but with reduced service, as the company cuts staffing levels in order to bolster its bottom line, according to a new analysis from Food and Water Watch.

Over a 20-year period, consumers would pay two to three dollars for every dollar the city receives in an up-front payment, FWW estimates.  The city could save 20 to 50 percent of capital costs by using municipal bond financing instead of private financing with a lease deal, according to the analysis.

It was released in conjunction with a public forum Monday night which attracted a standing-room-only crowd at the Chopin Theater (see previous post re. nonprofits’ views — and suburban experiences — on the issue).

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) warned that although the city isn’t talking publicly about a water deal, “these things happen fast” so “we’ve got to be on our game.”

He recalled asking if he could see the city’s economic analysis before the December 2008 parking meter lease vote in the City Council.  “They said no, you can’t.  That made it an easy ‘no’ vote.”

He urged audience members to contact their aldermen about an ordinance he’s proposed to add transparency and taxpayer protections to asset leases by the city.

Waguespack said he first became aware of water issues while serving with the Peace Corps in Kenya.  “I saw what happened when private interests control water,” he said.  “Here in the U.S., rates go up, but in African they can just shut the water off.”

Rachel Weber, an urban planning professor at UIC, said private infrastructure investment funds grew dramatically with the end of the last decade’s economic boom, as investors became skittish about other markets and long-term, stable revenue-producing assets became more attractive.  At the same time, fiscally strained cities and states grew desperate for cash infusions.

“The process for privatizing assets is often not transparent,” she said, and “investment firms often serve as both advisers and financiers.”  The potential for undervaluing assets is great, she said.

Often investment banks advising cities on such deals are paid success fees, giving them an incentive to push a deal, so they “aren’t always a fair arbiter,” said Jon Keesecker of Food and Water Watch.

In many cases revenue streams from asset leases are securitized and sold off in bond markets, said Phineas Baxandall of U.S. PIRG.

Asset lease deals often involve “clear conflicts of interest,” while the efficiencies that privatization is supposed to bring “often turn out to be illusory,” he said.

Keesecker said a lease of the water system would involve a loss of local control, including the ability to decide where to build water lines and whether to sell water to other communities – or to water bottlers.  Such activities could be restricted, but that would make the asset less valuable and reduce the city’s concession fee, he said.

The panel was moderated by Abigail Singer, a new organizer focused on water privatization with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.  It was co-sponsored by Illinois PIRG.

Speaking from the audience, Kathy Cummings urged concerned residents to get in touch with a new group, Citizens Act to Protect Our Water.

 

Related:

Chicago water for sale?

Water and privatization

While Chicago suburbs served by a private water company face steep rate hikes – and several communities band together to buy out the company’s pipeline – organizing around water privatization steps up in Chicago, and legislation promotion transparency in privatization deals is proposed in the City Council and state legislature.

A community forum on water privatization (Monday, April 19, 7 p.m., at Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division) features Ald. Scott Waguespack along with two national experts on the subject, Jon Keesecker of Food and Water Watch and Phineas Baxandall of U.S. PIRG, who co-authored a report on privatization in Chicago issued last October by Illinois PIRG.  The event is free.

Food and Water Watch will be releasing an economic analysis of water privatization in Chicago.  The group, which assists local groups battling for public control of water around the world, recently opened a Chicago office.

FWW maintains water privatization leads to constant rate hikes and declining water quality.  It’s also a bad economic deal for cities, said Emily Carroll, FWW’s new Chicago organizer.

“Governments get a big lump sump up front – that’s the appeal of these deals,” she said.  “But in the long term, private companies do not give taxpayers what the asset is worth – that’s how they make money.  And these are really long-term leases.”

Groups weigh in

Since the parking meter controversy last year – and a Newstips report in October, which revealed the city’s consideration of water privatization – other local groups have weighed in on the general issue of privatization.

In February, Dennis Gannon of the Chicago Federation of Labor and Jerry Roper of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce wrote an op-ed calling parking meter privatization “a great success for Chicago’s businesses and the public” and urging renewed efforts to privatize Midway Airport.

The CFL’s major concern in protections for incumbent workers, said spokesperson Nick Kaleba.

Though it has criticized the excessive use of proceeds to cover operating budget deficits, the Civic Federation continues to advocate consideration of privatization as a means of reducing the city’s operating expenses and increasing efficiency, said Lawrence Msall.  He reiterated the guidelines proposed in a 2006 issue brief – deals should require competitive bidding and involve non-core services, and proceeds should be used to reduce long-term obligations, not operating costs.

Is water a core service for the city?  Msall thinks not, pointing out that many municipalities are served by private utilities.  “I don’t know that the citizens of Chicago care very much who is providing their water as long as it’s of high quality and safe,” he said.

The Better Government Association has urged greater transparency in privatization deals.  The problem with parking meter privatization was not the concept but the process, said Andy Shaw.  “The problem is when things are done in the dark of night,” he said.  “Give us transparency and information — and time for public input.”

Legislative protections

Two groups are backing legislative efforts to increase transparency in privatization deals —  though one hopes to restrain the process and the other to spur it.

Illinois PIRG is organizing support for an ordinance introduced last fall by Waguespack which would require the city to inform aldermen when a consultant is hired to consider a privatization deal; mandate a public hearing 30 days before a City Council vote on a deal; and limit leases of assets over $1 million to 30 years.

While some privatization deals may be appropriate, much more transparency and taxpayer protection is needed – and the city’s water system should be kept public, said Brian Imus of Illinois PIRG.

The Metropolitan Planning Council is backing SB 3482, sponsored by State Senator Heather Steans (D-7th), which would provide authority to the state’s transportation department, tollway authority, and municipal airports to enter public-private agreements to finance new transportation projects and lease existing infrastructure.

The bill would require prior authorization of deals by the General Assembly and independent review by the state’s government accountability commission, and it would require that proceeds go to a transportation fund.

“As a tool privatization can be good, though our experience in this region raises a lot of concerns,” said MPC vice president Peter Skosey.  With the state hard-pressed for cash, public-private partnerships could raise funds for high-speed rail, bus rapid transit in Chicago, or a new road providing western access to O’Hare, he said.

Privatization of water systems should be considered, he said, though any money generated should be reinvested in the water system.  Long-term sustainability of the region’s water supply is a major concern for MPC (the group issued a report on the subject last year, and is sponsoring a forum next month), and Chicago’s aging water infrastructure – over 4,000 miles of pipes, much of it dating to 1890 – is a significant source of water loss.

In addition, private utilities are required to include the full cost of providing water in their rates, while public utilities can tap other public funds.  Higher rates reflecting the true cost of water would discourage waste by consumers, Skosey said.

“There are towns in the region that lack the resources to upgrade and repair their water infrastructure,” he said.  And “some towns are very happy” with private water service, he said.

Another rate hike

That wouldn’t seem to include towns served by Illinois American Water Company, the largest private water utility in the state and a subsidiary of American Water Company, the largest private water utility in the nation.

On April 13, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved a $40 million rate hike for IAW’s 317,000 customers; about 37,000 customers in Chicago’s suburbs will see rates go up by 26.4 percent.  IAW had requested $61 million.

An IAW request for a 5 percent statewide increase to fund infrastructure improvements is still pending.  IAW’s last rate hike was August 2008.

The ICC expressed “serious disappointment” with IAW’s refusal to comply with the commission’s request for more support documentation.  “IAW can’t view Illinois ratepayers as an open checkbook,” warned ICC chair Manuel Flores.

Opponents of the rate hike included State Representative Renee Kosel (R-81st), the assistant minority leader.  She’s teamed up with Attorney General Lisa Madigan to sponsor an expert review of IAW’s operations which found the company was overcharging for management fees (paid to another American Water subsidiary) and cited problems with billing, metering, customer service, and fire protection. Kosel and Madigan argued IAW should decrease, not increase, their rates.

Citing “serious and pervasive” errors in the company’s record keeping, making it impossible to track water purchases and sales, in 2006 Madigan called for a comprehensive audit of the company.  “If the company can’t keep accurate records, we need to question everything about the fairness of their rates,” Madigan said.

Municipalities have also opposed IAW’s rate hikes over the years – one official said the relationship with the utility has been “adversarial most of the time” —  and the village of Homer Glen filed several complaints with the ICC.  In 2007 the ICC upheld complaints regarding inadequate inspections – including no records concerning fire hydrants – and billing irregularities.

In recent weeks village boards in Homer Glen, Bolingbrook, Woodridge, Romeoville, and Lemont have approved a Northern Will County Intergovermental Agreement to pursue acquisition of the 18-mile pipeline owned by another American Water subsidiary that brings water from Lake Michigan to the communities.  Individual communities are studying acquisition of distribution systems.

“The only solution to these outrageous rate increases is to buy the system,” Homer Glen Mayor Jim Daley told the Homer Horizon.

Broken hydrants

In addition to high rates there are issues of service and water quality, said Bolingbrook village attorney James Boan.  “The biggest thing is that a private company’s drive is for one thing – profit for its shareholders,” he said.  “A municipality’s drive is to provide a public service.”

He said a feasibility study recently completed by the communities found they could take over and operate the water at current rates – “and that was before this rate hike.”

A bill by Kosel to make municipal takeovers easier has attracted bipartisan support (and backing by the Illinois Municipal League).  HB 5485 would remove water infrastructure built by developers (and paid for by homebuyers) from the value of a water system in eminent domain appraisals.

IAW called the bill “an alarming attack on the value of private property,” the Horizon reported.

The notion that conservation is promoted by laws that let private utilities charge for all water costs – including water lost in leaks and unmetered construction sites – doesn’t make sense to IAW customers.  The company “has no incentive to conserve water because whatever it loses due to leaks in its pipelines, it makes up for in its charges to customers,” Kosel told Phil Kadner of the Southtown Star.

Boan recalls a water main which burst on a Saturday in Bolingbrook.  “They let it go all weekend, because we paid for the lost water and it was cheaper to bring in a crew on a Monday and avoid paying overtime,” he said.

In another example of the profit motive undermining the public interest, he cites a 2007 investigation by CBS2 which found that numerous fire hydrants operated by IAW were out of order, including hydrants outside schools in Lisle and Mount Prospect and a nursing home in Bolingbrook.  A subsequent inspection in Mount Prospect found that 50 percent of hydrants had problems.

Fire departments reported finding inadequate and conflicting records regarding hydrant repairs.  Lisle Fire Chief Tom Freeman said that because a private company owns the hydrants, the fire department has no authority to order them fixed.

American Water Company was bought by RWE, a huge European utility corporation, in 2001.  Four years later RWE announced it was selling off the company; by late last year RWE had reduced its holdings in AWC to 2 percent.

Minutes of an RWE board meeting leaked to US News and World Report by FWW showed the Europeans’ hopes of high growth were dashed “due to political resistance to water privatization in the U.S.,” in the words of CEO Harry Roels.  In addition, regulators were creating problems by demanding reductions in contamination by arsenic and lead in AWC pipes.

Roels estimated the company was losing 19 percent of its water value through leaking pipes – and that at the current rates of investment, it would take 200 years to replace all the distribution lines that need it.

In California, the Public Utility Commission’s ratepayers advocate opposed RWE’s sale of American Water, fearing the financial burden would be shifted to customers (pdf).

Senator Meeks attacks LSCs

LSC members, community organizations and clergy will speak against a bill proposed by State Senator James Meeks to weaken local school councils at a press conference Friday morning at 10 a.m. on the second floor of City Hall.

Meeks’ bill would turn the elected bodies into advisory committees, eliminating their power to select principals and approve budgets.   Meeks is also proposing legislation giving vouchers for private or parochial school to students in low-scoring schools.

The Sun Times calls it a “power grab” and cites Jitu Brown of KOCO describing it as an issue of democracy, and Don Moore of Designs For Change pointing out that CPS already has power to take over principal selection, and it hasn’t done so well at it.

Several attempts to neuter LSCs have been beaten back since they were  established by the Illinois School Reform Act of 1988.  But Meeks has power and some credibility as chair of the State Senate’s education committeee and a longtime champion of school funding reform.

In the past year, however, he’s taken to bashing teachers and undercutting public education.

Last October he attacked the teachers union in a speech at Operation PUSH (where he’s a vice president).  According to Substance, Meeks said, “The biggest gang problem in Chicago is the Chicago Teachers Union.”

CTU President Marilyn Stewart called Meeks’ remarks “irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric” and said they were “inexcusable.”

Meanwhile, Operation PUSH leader Jonathan Jackson has spoken in support of CTU’s call for a moratorium on school closings and “turnarounds,” and Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th Ward) has come out against the proposal to replace teachers and staff in a  “turnaround” at Bradwell Elementary.

When Meeks unveiled the first version of his voucher bill last year, PURE noted a possible conflict of interest:  a voucher program would directly benefit Salem Christian Academy.  Meeks is the school’s founder and CEO.

Meeks is also backing the first charter school proposal in the south suburbs, which is being opposed by school board members and the teachers union there.  The Rich Township High School District board is scheduled to vote on the proposal next week.

Chicago water – still for sale?

Michael Hawthorne does a great job getting perspectives from mayors and managers of other cities that have looked into — and experienced — leasing municipal water systems; for community and nonprofit sources in several of those cities (and for links to reports from several nonprofits), see Newstips’ October 20 piece, which first discussed the city’s interest in privatizing the water system.

It was on October 21 that the Trib’s editorial board asked Daley about water privatization and he revealed that consultants had recently completed a study of possible asset sales.  “Nothing is off the table,” he said at the time.

Now Jacquelyn Heard tells Hawthorne, “The mayor is not thinking at all now or even in the near future about leasing any more assets.”

That’s because the economic crisis means he’ll have to wait a year or two.

Industry observers we’ve talked to say there are two basic dynamics at work across the country:  cities are utterly desperate for new funding sources, but citizens get crazy when you start talking about selling off their water systems.   For now, however, there’s no way to finance a big deal like that.

For Daley it will depend on how much control over the City Council he has, when the time comes to consider a deal.  That and his own cost-benefit analysis — between a big chunk of money and a likely storm of popular outrage.

That’s why one element of the orginal Newstip deserves a little more attention:  the effort by Illinois PIRG and Ald. Scott Waguespack to pass an ordinance establishing greater transparency and accountability in asset sales and leases.

More on water

Yesterday Mayor Daley told the Chicago Tribune editorial board that he recently met with consultants who presented him with options for future privatization deals.  He wouldn’t give details but said, “Nothing is off the table.”

Daley said he would not answer a question about whether he’s considering privatizing the city’s water system — a prospect raised here on Tuesday — “because it would stir up too much controversy,” as the Trib puts it.

Coincidentally, La Voz de los Abajo, a local Honduran solidarity group whose efforts were covered here in July, is showing Until the Last Drop, a new documentary about water privatization in El Salvador, tonight at 7 p.m. at Carnes Asadas, 4014 W. 26th .

Director Jason Wallach will speak.  (See Kari Lydersen’s review at In These Times’ Working blog.)  The event will raise funds to help send a local delegation of human rights observers to Honduras.

Chicago water for sale?

With Chicago facing a half-billion-dollar shortfall – and Mayor Daley ruling out increases in taxes, fees, and fines – could the city which has pioneered the leasing of major public assets be looking into a long-term lease of its water system?

“The City of Chicago Department of Water Management is said to be considering a lease of its water and wastewater system,” reported the Public Works Financing newsletter in April.

A water department spokesman didn’t confirm or deny the report, but was dismissive. “I hear these rumors periodically, but so far there hasn’t been anything to it,” said Tom LaPorte.

Such a move wouldn’t come without opposition – first of all from the union representing rank-and-file workers in the water department.

“In general privatization is a bad idea,” said Anders Lindall of AFSCME Council 31. “It places a middleman between taxpayers and the government that serves them, a private-sector middleman whose concern isn’t good quality public services but profit.”

Using upfront payments from the sale or lease of assets to pay for operational costs “is the road to fiscal ruin,” he said. “It’s like burning your furniture to heat your house.”

Akron, Milwaukee say ‘no’

Other cities in the region, contending with their own fiscal crises, have recently struggled with the issue. In Akron last November, voters defeated a ballot initiative to approve the long-term lease of the city’s water system by a two-to-one margin. By a similar margin they passed another initiative requiring voter approval for any future sale, lease or transfer of a public asset.

In a city hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis, “people are already so stretched, and the prospect of having to pay higher rates for water and sewer services hit home pretty strongly,” said Greg Coleridge of Northeast Ohio AFSC. He worked with labor and community groups to organize the Citizens to Save Our Sewers and Water, which educated residents about the costs of water privatization and passed petitions to get the issue on the ballot.

Coleridge said early education was crucial — including community screenings of a number of documentaries on water privatization — “so when the big p.r. machine comes along, people already have a deeper understanding, and they won’t be so easily fooled.”

In Milwaukee, the Common Council voted in June to put on hold the hiring of consultants to solicit bids for a 99-year lease of the city’s water system, after a coalition of labor, community, and environmental groups came together to oppose the proposal.

Keep Public Our Water “came together really fast,” said organizer Corinne Rosen. People were concerned about water rates going up and water quality going down, as well as fiscal responsibility and the secrecy of the decision-making process, she said. And while the idea is down it may not be out; KPOW is keeping an eye on things — and pushing for a council resolution against privatizing the city’s water works.

Private operation of municipal water systems often means frequent rate hikes, with private utilities charging as much as 80 more than municipalities for water, as well as lower quality service, with deferred maintenance and backlogged service requests, according to a recent report from Food and Water Watch. The group opposes corporate control of food and water resources, and assists local organizing efforts around the world (including those in Akron and Milwaukee) to keep water in public hands.

The report deals with two types of privatization, explains FWW organizer Jon Keesecker, management and operation contracts, where cities hire private companies, and leases or sales, where companies pay municipalities so they can collect user fees themselves.

People’s first concern about such deals is often rate hikes, he said, along with water and service quality. Beyond that, though, “with something as essential as water, people really want the accountability of public control,” he said.

Indianapolis considers sale, Fort Wayne buys back

In Indianapolis, a private company has operated the water system since 2002; the deal included a five-year rate freeze. Five years later, rates went up 29 percent, and this April they went up an additional 12 percent (after the water company requested a 17 percent hike). In September another rate hike request was submitted – this time for 35 percent. Also in September, Mayor Greg Ballard proposed selling off the water and sewer utilities to outside operators; part of his argument is that it could bring rates down.

Meanwhile, state and federal authorities are investigating environmental violations by the Indianapolis water company, and residents sued last year charging the company systematically overbilled 250,000 customers. (A judge ruled they lacked standing; the city is the company’s only customer.)

This month the Illinois Commerce Commission is holding hearings on a request for rate hikes ranging from 28 to 50 percent by Illinois American Water Company, which serves 317,000 customers from Chicago’s southwest and western suburbs to southern Illinois. It’s the latest of a steady string of rate hikes. (American Water bought up local private water utilities in the area starting in the 1980s.)

In Homer Glen and Orland Hills, where water rates are dramatically higher than in neighboring towns that draw the same Lake Michigan water through municipally-owned systems, officials are considering using eminent domain to take back their water systems, according to the Southtown Star. Other municipalities, including Peoria and Pekin, have mounted similar efforts over the years, but American Water has beaten them back.

Sometimes cities win. After a six-year legal battle, Fort Wayne, Indiana, last year won control of water services that had belonged to a Aqua America. According to FWW, a typical household’s bill dropped by over a third, while water quality and service improved significantly. “It’s been quite successful,” said Keesecker.

Paris says ‘non’

If Chicago were to consider water privatization, one prime prospective buyer would be Veolia Water, part of the North American subsidiary of the French multinational Veolia Environnement, the largest private water company in the world. Veolia Environnement NA moved its headquarters to the Aon building in August 2008. At the time, chief executive Michele Gourvennec noted that “the city of Chicago’s many environmental initiatives mirror…our interest in providing leading-edge environmental programs for our municipal, industrial, and commercial customers.”

Veolia operates the Indianapolis water system (now called Veolia Water Indianapolis) under a 20-year, $1.5 billion contract. In 2008 Veolia took over a $400 million contract to operate the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District, and it was listed as one of three multinationals that would have the capacity to bid on a water system takeover there.

Veolia’s “vision” is of “a future where the entire planet’s increasingly scarce supply of water fit for human consumption is controlled as a commodity to be bought, sold, traded, marketed, managed and priced for the highest possible corporate profit,” according to a 2005 corporate profile by Public Citizen. (The group argues that as a “natural monopoly,” water resources are best kept in public hands.)

Public Citizen charges that “corruption appears to be part of their corporate culture,” noting bribery convictions of company executives in New Orleans as well as France and Italy, and the jailing of mayors in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Angoulene, France, for taking bribes from company representatives. (In New Orleans in 2002, after faith, labor, community and environmental groups organized against privatization, bids were rejected by the water and sewer board — and a referendum was passed requiring voter approval of any privatization contract.)

Reviewing the corporation’s operations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, Public Citizen charges that Veolia has “a global track record of corruption, broken promises, environmental degradation, price-gouging, obfuscation, misdirection, and secrecy.” Nonetheless, “the world’s largest water company continues to enjoy substantial support within powerful pockets of financial and political circles.”

Founded in 1853 as Compagnie Generale des Eaux (by decree of Napolean III), Veolia took over the water system of Paris in 1861. Last year Paris decided it will not renew Veolia’s contract for water services in the city, which expires on December 31, Inter Press Service reports.

“We want to offer better service, at a better price,” said Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe.

A new model for Chicago

Chicago has led the nation in putting major public assets up for long-term lease. Its 2005 Skyway lease to a European consortium was the first such deal for an existing tollroad in the U.S.; its attempt to privatize Midway Airport (which could be revived if economic conditions improve) would have been the first of its kind too.

A recent Illinois PIRG report looks at all of Chicago’s privatization deals, including downtown parking garages and the city’s parking meters, and finds that all include contract terms limiting concessionaire’s risk. In the parking meter deal, the city is barred from issuing permits for parking facilities that charge less than three times nearby meter rates, which would seem to remove any competitive pressure to keep rates down.

In no case has there been any independent financial analysis of asset value or public interest impacts, Illinois PIRG found; the deals are developed and cut in secret, with no opportunity for public input; huge fees for lawyers and financial consultants cut into the value of deals, and sometimes raise conflict-of-interest concerns; and multigenerational leases limit options for cancelling deals and saddle future generations with rising costs and limited options.

The longer the timeframe, the harder it is to accurately gauge an asset’s value, said Brian Imus of Illinois PIRG, and it’s virtually impossible to predict changes in technology and demographics in the long run.

The report was issued in conjunction with an ordinance sponsored by Alderman Scott Waguespack, who called the parking meter debacle “a wake-up call for the City Council to strengthen the tools they have to make sound fiscal and policy decisions.”

The ordinance would require notification of aldermen whenever a public asset lease was under consideration; a public hearing at least a month before a council vote on putting out a bid; independent third-party review of asset values, public-interest concerns (which are particularly relevant in core operations like parking meters), consideration of other options; and a 30-year limit on leases of assets worth over $1 million.

“There need to be policies in place to protect the interests of the public and taxpayers,” said Imus. “We don’t have that in Chicago.”

He expects a push for hearings on the ordinance next month. A previous council effort to impose a 30-day “waiting period” was whittled down to 15 days under administration pressure. It’s not the time period itself but the independent review it provides for that’s important, says Paul Sajovek, Waguespack’s chief of staff. (In Akron voters won a 90-day review period — and the requirement that voters approve any lease of public assets.)

Imus believes it’s possible that some privatization deals could benefit the public. And while some would agree with Lindall that privatization is a bad idea generally, it’s likely many would agree with Keesecker that water services should be kept public.

24-hour vigil blocks new meters

A protest by South Chicago residents against installation of new parking meters enters its sixth week on Monday, with an around-the-clock vigil now under way.

Led by Centro Communitario Juan Diego, the vigil so far has succeeded in blocking new meters on the 8800 block of South Commercial. The new meters were announced earlier this year, in the wake of the deal privatizating the city’s parking meters.

The 24-hour vigil began after holes were drilled in the sidewalk outside the center on July 19, while supporters were attempting unsucessfully to meet with 10th Ward Ald. John Pope.

Once or twice a day a private contractor’s truck, accompanied by an IDOT vehicle, approaches the block, said Guadelupe Ramirez. Residents on lookout form picket lines around the holes, and the trucks move on, she said.

CCJD isn’t opposed to all parking meters, just new ones on the half-block outside the group’s office, Ramirez said. (Previous meters on the block were taken out two decades ago, she said.)

“Many of our clients are poor,” she said. “They come in for the food pantry, for light and gas assistance [the center also offers help with housing, health, and literacy], and in many cases it can take a long time, sometimes several hours. We have elderly people carrying large boxes of food.”

The center has afterschool and summer programs where parents are expected to volunteer. “They would have to pay the meter for several hours every time they volunteer,” Ramirez said. “It isn’t practical.”

CCJD wasn’t invited to an April meeting of the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce where the new meters were approved, Ramirez said. After the decision was announced, residents collected 1600 signatures against the new meters and staged protests at the offices of 11th Ward Ald. John Pope (on a meter-free street) and the SSCC.

When the chamber said businesses prefered meters in order to increase turnover of parking spots, CCJD surveyed area business owers and found that over 90 percent opposed new meters, voicing worries that shoppers would take their business elsehwere, Ramirez said. After rumors of new parking meters in the nearby East Side neighborhood, the chamber of commerce there passed a resolution opposing more meters, she said.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Parking Meter Campaign has called a protest against parking meter rate hikes at City Hall on Wednesday, July 29 at 11:30 a.m., during the City Council meeting.



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