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City Council Rapid Recap talks ARPA funding and cashless business ban

This week, Everything Evanston’s Rapid Recap of City Council includes discussions of ARPA funding and a new ordinance banning cashless businesses. We also dive into a story on the new environmental justice investigation initiative at Evanston.

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MIKA ELLISON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Mika Ellison. This is Everything Evanston, a podcast about the people, business and goings-on in Evanston, Illinois. Today, we’re doing a recap of the Jan 23 City Council meeting. Then we’ll take a look at one of this week’s leading stories in Evanston.

MIKA ELLISON: This week, the council had everything from Billy Joel references to lengthy discussion on local alcohol ordinances. We’ll start off with the council’s discussion on the allocation of remaining ARPA funds. The American Rescue Plan Act gave Evanston’s City Council 43 million in funding to address economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Interim Community Development Director Sarah Flax said the committee had originally over-allocated its funds.

SARAH FLAX: Since that time, one of the largest of the requests, which was from the reparations committee, was withdrawn. So that actually has given the council some flexibility on what to do with the remaining funding. We have an unallocated balance of $5,751,423.

MIKA ELLISON: During public comment, several residents of Evanston offered suggestions for the allocation of the remaining funds, such as using them to help small Evanston landlords.

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MIKA ELLISON: The council was also set to vote on an ordinance banning cashless businesses that was introduced at the previous City Council meeting. We covered it in our first episode, but to summarize, bans on cashless businesses are widespread across other municipalities such as New York, San Francisco and, as Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) put it:

ALD. WYNE: the entire state of New Jersey.

MIKA ELLISON: That’s right. Not part of it, not most of it, but the entire state has banned cashless businesses.

MIKA ELLISON: One of the goals of the ordinance was to protect unbanked residents of Evanston, as well as other disenfranchised populations, who might not have the resources to pay without cash. Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) spoke in favor of the ordinance.

ALD. HARRIS: It’s a lot of disenfranchised people out there that aren’t homeless — they just can’t have banks, can’t have mortgages, can’t have checking accounts and credit cards, because the rates are too high. So I want us to be conscious of that.

MIKA ELLISON: However, many of the council members who agreed with the goal of the proposed ordinance voiced concerns that there was not enough information on the impact the decision would have on Evanston. Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) expressed the need for more insight into how the decision would affect cashless businesses and Evanston’s economy.

ALD. SUFFREDIN: I’m just trying to get as many eyes on this as possible so that we can create the best legislative product for the residents of the city of Evanston.

MIKA ELLISON: After a discussion among all nine council members, a motion was passed to move the ordinance to the Equity and Empowerment Commission, as well as the Economic Development Committee.

MIKA ELLISON: Other highlights included public comments on the proposed rebuilding of Ryan Field, as well as Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmazek’s presentation on Evanston’s economic recovery, entitled “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

PAUL ZALMAZEK: And forgive me because you’ll have this earworm in your head for the next five minutes.

MIKA ELLISON: A discussion took place on the city ordinance prohibiting public possession of an open container of alcohol. Ald. Devon Reid (8th) argued that the current ordinance could be amended.

ALD. REID: If you are taking a bottle of wine or you’re leaving Wine Goddess, and maybe there’s a tasting event and you opened your bottle, you’d be allowed to walk down the street.

MIKA ELLISON: Sergeant Scott Sophier, a member of the Evanston Police Department, answered questions from council members and explained that the police department uses the ordinance to enforce laws against public intoxication.

MIKA ELLISON: The council voted to pass an amended version of the alcohol ordinance for introduction to the council, meaning it will be on the agenda at the next meeting. Make sure to tune in for the next City Council meeting, the week of February 13, 2023. Up next, Selena Kuznikov brings us a story from this week.

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SELENA KUZNIKOV: Janet Alexander Davis, an Evanston resident of eighty years, said she never quite understood why her neighborhood seemed to smell. That is, until she realized the smell came from the Church Street waste transfer station, a garbage dump in the 5th Ward. I’m Selena Kuznikov, and we’re going to learn more about In Focus Editor Lily Carey’s story on Evanston’s initiative to conduct an environmental justice investigation within the city, after a delay of almost two and a half years from its initial proposal.

JANET ALEXANDER DAVIS: When I finally realized that there was no reason for this garbage dump to be in a neighborhood, in walking distance of businesses, of homes, of the high school, I started with a lot of other people to start picketing and trying to get rid of it. And that’s before we didn’t understand we couldn’t get rid of it.

SELENA KUZNIKOV: The waste transfer station is still up and running in the 5th Ward despite the proven negative impact on air quality levels in the surrounding neighborhoods, which are predominately Black. Evanston residents, specifically those living in historically redlined 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 we have a way that we can solve things within our own community, if we just understood what was going on.

SELENA KUZNIKOV: The city seeks to amend these inequities by launching an environmental justice investigation. Mayor Daniel Biss said the purpose of the investigation is to provide the city with a roadmap and benchmarks to achieve environmental justice and map data on environmental inequities by using a Geographic Information System mapping tool.

DANIEL BISS: I don’t have clarity on how long it will take. And so I think what’s important is for us to get moving as quickly as possible to make sure we have a solid, thorough, professional plan in place and that we actually start to execute.

SELENA KUZNIKOV: The city worked with Environmental Justice Evanston, or EJE, a branch of local environmental advocacy group Citizens’ Greener Evanston while planning its investigation. EJE co-chair Jerri Garl said many of the inequities she discussed with other chair members are based on a lack of public engagement in the Black community about decisions that are being made by the city and developers.

JERRI GARL: That affects their neighborhood, and affects the quality of life in that neighborhood. The whole goal here was to uncover some of those decision-making processes and attitudes, programs, policies, procedures that lead to these kinds of environmental injustices, whether they’re intentional or not.

SELENA KUZNIKOV: The 2022 Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs report said 5th Ward residents face more adverse health effects than residents in most other parts of the city. Garl said EJE hopes to incorporate resident experiences to accurately assess environmental injustices in the city.

SELENA KUZNIKOV: EJE member Robyn Hurtig said EJE has been conducting listening sessions with residents from the 2nd and 5th wards to increase public engagement.

ROBYN HURTIG: We want to hear from those residents of Evanston who aren’t typically heard from, and that’s, you know, our Black and brown, our underserved communities. So that’s who we seek out for these to make sure that they have a voice and that we’re documenting that voice.

SELENA KUZNIKOV: The city’s government pledged to make sustainability a high priority going forward after resident criticism for inactivity on its Climate Action and Resilience Plan early last year. The city allocated $100,000 for investigation in this year’s budget. The city will use that money to hire facilitators for more listening sessions.

JERRI GARL: As the mayor said in his press release, we will continue with the listening sessions, we’re going to continue to work together on the mapping tool, and we’ll continue to work together to help shape this investigation. But the burden is on the city to take action.

SELENA KUZNIKOV: That’s all for this week’s city story. We’ll be back in three weeks for another look at Evanston city politics.

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MIKA ELLISON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Mika Ellison.

SELENA KUZNIKOV: And I’m Selena Kuznikov. Thanks for listening to another episode of Everything Evanston’s Rapid Recap. This episode was reported and produced by me and Mika Ellison. Lily Carey contributed to her reporting. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Erica Schmitt, the digital managing editors are Joanne Haner and Olatunji Osho-Williams, and the editor in chief is Alex Perry.

MIKA ELLISON: Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.

E-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikaEllison23

E-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @selenakuznikov

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