Evanston is failing to make its lakefront accessible for all, Alderman Coleen Burrus told a panel on lakefront protection Wednesday night.

The city charges people to go on the beach, she said, so many people don’t go.

It offers some free beach tokens, “but that puts people at a disadvantage and embarrasses kids who have to ask their parents to fill out a form to get free tokens.”

It doesn’t allow rentals of umbrellas or chairs, forcing people who might travel to the beach on public transportation to carry those unwieldy items with them.

And she suggested that “protecting” the lakefront, as is commonly defined, has the effect of excluding people from poorer neighborhoods further away from the lake.

Gazing out at a crowd drawn by the protection theme, she noted that all of the 60 or so people in the audience were white, although more than a third of Evanstonians are not.

“It’s drive-by diversity,” Burrus said, “We really aren’t an integrated community.”

“If we’re going to talk about access, we should open it up to everyone.”

Top: Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward. Above: First Ward activist Jeanne Lindwall and Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, were among those in the audience for the panel discussion.

She suggested that the city could provide free beach access cards to all residents, while still charging out-of-towners a fee.

She also suggested that the city’s decision to have a single food vendor on the lakefront stifles opportunities to provide healthy food choices.

“We have one vendor that serves junk food and has no competition,” Burrus said. “Why don’t we have someplace where people could pick up apples, vegetables or good sandwiches?”

Panelist Martin Jaffe.

Another panelist, University of Illinois at Chicago professor Martin Jaffe, said the city’s 2008 lakefront plan discourages any expansion of parking along the lakefront — so the city’s official policy now is to restrict access to the lakefront by automobile.

Since the lakefront is only heavily used in the warmer months, he suggested the city could consider temporary solutions, like a trolley system to remote parking areas to encourage more lakefront use.

And Jaffe noted that the City of Chicago — though it has a lower average household income than Evanston — provides free access to its beaches.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. NU beach for free?

    How about Alderperson Burrus ask her employer NU to open its beach and recreation center up to the citizens of Evanston for free?

    The city gives out 1,000 free beach tokens. 

    Last time I looked Its over $300,000 to operate the beaches, I am OK with letting everyone in town with free access, so is Alderperson Burrus who keeps claiming she is fiscally responsible. Does she want about 3/4% to 1% property tax increase to pay for the beach operation?

    Also, it's time public officials stop using race (diversity) to try to get their way. 

    1. NU Bailout of the city

      It seems anytime the city isn't fiscally responsible, they go to NU to bail them out.It is not NU's fault the city is irresponsible. Blaming NU is always the easy way out.NU is the economic generator for the city Evanston!

  2. Thank you Ald. Burrus

    I’m happy that charging for beach access has been brought up as an issue. The price is way too high for such a small amount of time to actually go and enjoy the lakefront. Not to mention that half the time one or more of the beaches are closed due to e-coli. Also, charging the same amount per person and not discounting prices for children is unfair. Chicago and Michigan beaches are free and so are the actual beaches of Florida and California.

  3. Apparently Ms Burrus doesn’t go to the beach


    Ms. Burrus says…..

    Gazing out at a crowd drawn by the protection theme, she noted that all of the 60 or so people in the audience were white, although more than a third of Evanstonians are not.

    "It's drive-by diversity," Burrus said, "We really aren't an integrated community."

    "If we're going to talk about access, we should open it up to everyone."

    I can assure Ms. Burrus that if you go to Dawes Park on any given weekend there are many people of different, races, religions and nationalities there. I would even take a bet that less than 70% of the people are white. Everyone uses the lakefront!

    I believe we should keep the focus on keeping our lakefront  parks beautiful and funded by the very people that use them.  This city can't afford anymore handouts.

    Drive-by diversity….?   Typical Evanston rhetoric…..

    1. Difference Between Park & Beach

      For the record, the park is free. The beach is not. There are many people of different races and ethnic groups at Dawes Park, but those on the beach are primarily white.

      You say "I believe we should keep the focus on keeping our lakefront parks beautiful and funded by the very people who use them…"

      1. The people who use the beach are the people who can and are willing to pay the per-person fee. You're saying that Evanston should limit the beach (which is public space) to those who can afford it, creating a class divide. This class divide is, for the most part, also along racial and ethnic lines.

      2. Keeping parks beautiful is entirely separate from limiting beach access. Requiring people to pay to use the beach would be akin to requiring users to pay to use other public spaces, like parks and libraries. Right now, parks are free for anyone to use despite significant costs associated with upkeep; should Evanston require all users to pay to access parks as well? If not, what is the difference between the beach and the parks?


      1. Parks

        Some area's in the parks are free and some are not. User of the baseball and soccor fields is rented by the people that use the fields. The ice rink is not free for the common person. There is a fee for many activities in Evanston and ,sadly to say, it should be that way. Chicago beaches are free but you better watch where you step when you go there. If you want the parks and beaches to be clean, you are better off charging a fee.

      2. @ MorganYou say the beaches

        @ Morgan

        You say the beaches aren't free?  Did you actually read the article?

        "It offers some free beach tokens, "but that puts people at a disadvantage and embarrasses kids who have to ask their parents to fill out a form to get free tokens."  

        Sorry…  It is free for people that want to take advantage of Evanston's generosity.  I guess it would actaully require going to a Park District office like the rest of us to get beach passes


      3. Difference between Park & Beach

        Beaches require lifeguards during open hours.  Parks do not.  This seems to me to be the biggest source of the cost difference between the two public spaces and the main reason the beaches charge for access.  I would be interested in seeing if the fees raised through sales of season and daily passes cover the cost of the lifeguard staffing.  

  4. In favor of user fees for beaches and libraries

    I'm in favor of having user fees. Annual fee of $34 (less then 50 cents per day)  seems quite reasonable to me. Why should the many residents that don't go to the beaches and lakefront pay for it. Taxpayers already pay property taxes for parks that in some parts of Evanston are poorly maintained.  User fees should be considered for the library also. Are the THREE libraries REALLY being used as the Board that is not accountable to the taxpayers claim?

    1. Cost of Admission

      By this logic, I shouldn't have to pay for any public service that I don't use. I don't use schools or parks here in Evanston. Should education and parks and recreation costs be paid exclusively by those who choose to procreate and/or utilize Evanston's green spaces?

      Of course, I receive a benefit from there being schools – an educated populace is one that doesn't self-destruct, and good schools increas property values and attracts more residents with disposable income, which attracts businesses that I want to shop at, or that will hire me…. all a good cycle.

      Of course, I can say the exact same thing about beaches and libraries. These features add value to the community that residents benefit from directly and indirectly. That's the buy-in – the cost of admission – for living in spaces like this. Our taxes cover these services because it makes our little community a better place for everyone. Yay society!

  5. She’ll never learn

    So Coleen helped defeat what would have been a stunning renovation of the Haley mansion – what would have turned a liability into a great asset for our city thanks to her vital concern that it remain open to the public instead of to private enterprise and, yes, a potential tax-paying asset for our city.  Shame, shame.

    Now we find out it will cost our city hundreds of thousands of dollars simply to make the Haley mansion meet minimum safety requriements.  Bravo, Ms. Burrus, on a job well done.  You should be proud of yourself for representing the city so darn well.  But this hasn't slowed her down one bit.  Self-relfection is evidently not part of the equation.

    And this week we find out our public facilities are in need of huge sums of money but Ms. Burrus is busy worrying about umbrellas for those who cannot afford them on their own.  Or something like this.  While Rome burns…

    The great socialist city of Evanston should redistribute everything.  Turn the Haley mansion into subsistence housing, tax the rich into oblivion and make the lakefront only for those who cannot afford it.  Welcome to the upside-down world of Ms. Burrus.

    1. Burrus voted FOR Harley/Clarke

      To Anonymous (one of many), It's HARLEY not Haley, that was a comet.  Alderman Burrus was one of 3 (Holmes and Rainey) that voted FOR the Harley/Clarke project .You should really be chastizing the weak minded, backward thinking,"we don't want any progression or change in Evanston"  6 other Council members who voted against the proposal. They are the ones who need self reflection as you call it.The city had an individual who was ready to completely fund the entire proposal and relocate the Arts Center, at no cost to the city, but, NO…. Direct your comments to where it really belongs, the 6 Council members who voted it down!

  6. Lakefront not diverse?

    Maybe she should go to the lakefront once in a while … There are a lot of racially diverse families enjoying the lakefront every weekend, and I would venture to guess that most of them are not Evanston residents. I am not opposed to a user fee for the lakefront. Why should residents have to pay for a place for residents of other towns to enjoy? 

  7. Let’s talk about ‘beach politics’

    I think Alderwoman Burrus might make a good mayor of Evanston!

    1. Spot On

      Alderman Burrus is spot on with her assessment  of our lake front accessibility.  I go to the beach every weekend all summer long for at least 1 hour and as many as 4 each Saturday and Sunday.  I like to beach skip so I don't patron any one beach over and over.  In all of my years living in Evanston I have rarely seen much mixed-culture at our beaches… and believe me, white people in the northern hemisphere are bright, retina-burning white!  I include myself in that group.  We could use some color there.  During the week (M-F), the Y has a program that brings kids to the beach and that is a nicely culturally diverse sight to see! 

      Our beaches should be funded exactly as our parks are funded – through tax dollars.  They are of benefit to all simply because they exist and increase property value for being there.  The notion of charging out-of-towners is definitely worth some thought.

      I a person, as regards your comment, Alderman Burrus would be a great Mayor.  Unfortunately, the qualities that make her great (socially liberal and fiscally conservative) are the very qualities that would keep her from being elected.  There are parts of Evanston that would go into a tailspin at the even a rumor of her possible candidacy.  But she would be great…. [sigh]

      1. Opinion

        I usually agree with Alderperson Burrus because she tends to be more practicle and less politicle than other city council members. Sorry, I don't agree with her on this issue. There are many other fee based events thatare in our parks. As far as being mayor, I believe that I can support her. She would certainly be better than the camera hungry clown that currently occupies the job.

  8. Burrus

    Burrus & Rainey wanted to let Pritzker have Harley Clarke. I certainly hope their constitutents remember that when election time comes. I don't think we look to NU for a bail-out but it certainly would be nice if we received compensation in kind every time they remove property from the tax rolls, e.g. the new NU police station & 1800 Sherman. Maybe they could open access to the NU beach for those who feel entitled but do not have time to fill out forms. Take a hard look at Shridan Road from Hollywood to Devon and see it that's what you want Evanston to look like! If the likes of Pritzker, Burrus and Rainey have their way, that could be our future!

    1. Let Pritzker have Harley Clarke

      "Burrus & Rainey wanted to let Pritzker have Harley Clarke. I certainly hope their constitutents remember that when election time comes."

      The vast majority of the residents of Wards 8 and 9 do not care about the selfish NIMBY concerns of the lakefront voters who support Fiske and Wynne.  Most residents of south and west Evanston care more about crime, taxes, and economic development , and not preserving NIMBY "charm".  

      Also, residents of Wards 8 and 9 are not interested in perpetually fighting Northwestern.  I think that the typical resident of Ward 8 or 9 would say, "If you don't like college students Judy, why did you buy a house across the street from the NU campus and near the Kendall campus?"

      Remember, Rainey and Burrus were just re-elected…..with NO opposition.  The only candidate who faced serious opposition was UberNIMBY Judy Fiske.

      "I don't think we look to NU for a bail-out but it certainly would be nice if we received compensation in kind every time they remove property from the tax rolls, e.g. the new NU police station & 1800 Sherman"

      Most residents would welcome another police station in their neighborhood….whether it is NU or the City.

      As for 1800 Sherman, the fact is that taxes are so high in Evanston that renting office space is prohibitively expensive for most businesses…..if NU moved out of 1800 Sherman, it would probably just be an empty building.  I would prefer to see NU build a few more offices downtown – not on campus – so that we have more office workers downtown in the day.

    2. Incorrect

      The new police station was already off the tax roles so your accusation that NU removed something from the tax roles is completely and totally incorrect, simple fact. 

      As is the idea that NU is constantly taking property off the tax roles.  Over many decades NU has done nothing but put property back onto the tax roles, simple fact.

      NU is also creating much easier access to the lakefront along their campus with the current construction project taking place there, simple fact.

      And your comparison of Sheridan from Hollywood to Devon as even remotely resembling a proposal for a small boutique hotel with parking built underground so the grade level land can remain green and open to the public, as a potential future for  Sheridan in Evanston is so outrageous that it at first made me laugh.

      Then I sighed. 

  9. I disagree with Colleen


    I disagree with your contention (as I read it) that people of colors other than white simply can't afford the $35 access fee.  I'm a person "of color" living waaaay west of where Colleen does and here are a few facts:

    $35 is not a prohibitive fee, most of my neighbor, friends, etc. have cell phone packages that cost $100 a month, too many of fthem smoke a pack of day ($8 per pack), eat too much fast food and have priorities other than hanging out at the lakefront beaches.  

    Are there exceptions, sure, but generally everyone I know can afford the nominal fee to go to the beach and I personally resent the suggestion that (we) can't. Please go back to work with your City Council associates to help keep our beloved Evanston from going the way of Detroit – bankrupt! 

  10. It’s out of keeping with civilized society

    I recently moved to Evanston from a beach community in Florida. I've lived on coastlines all my life and honestly I'd never heard of a fee for beach access until I came here. To me, this is entirely backwards! In communities up and down the east coast, rich and poor alike play at the beach, learn to swim, surf, boat, paddleboard, you name it. Here in Evanston without a job yet, I feel I can't afford to boat, even though we own a small craft. I did go to the beach this summer, but the price is steep and the swimming area so small that it didn't seem worth it. You may say, "only rich people have boats to launch," or "but we don't want people from SKOKIE coming in for free," but the first is false if you make it possible for a person of modest means to be able to afford a boat, and the second is just mean. Sure, we pay for the lifeguards. Skokie pays disproportionately for the PACE bus service that many Evanstonians use to get to the airport, and Skokie pays to maintain biking trails we use, and so on. It all comes out in the wash.

    And anyway a free beach is good for us. In almost all civilized communities, environmental benefits are public goods. We all share the trees, the grass, the good weather, and so on. If you live in a community lucky enough to feature a mountain, a river, or a beach, it's simply terrible policy to reserve those for the rich and privileged. These are things that make a community unique and wonderful. They only do so if ALL members of the community can identify with those features, though.

  11. Burrus for Mayor? Are you serious?

    Are you serious?  Collen has a very major problem she works for NU. While she may tell you she is not influenced by her employer. I do not believe that for one minute.  The other night at the capital meeting she exposed her real interest .  When staff stated they were not going to move the water tank off NU property.  She was quick to ask why!

    Anyone who does not understand what I am saying go take a look at the were the tank is located.  NU is building to the south of the tank and to the northwest.  They clearly would like the city to move the tank, ofcourse at our expense.   Burrus showed who she really represents.  Why wouldn't she ask her employers to pay for the relocation cost?  Maybe NU should come up with the 26 million staff is asking for a new tank.  Then they can have their property back.  Given the tank can be fixed for 4 million, as stated in the report, we do not need to move it.

    Burrus does not represent the tax payers interest, she has fooled some, but other know the truth.

    I agree the current Mayor does not represent us, nor would Collen.

    1. “When staff stated they were

      "When staff stated they were not going to move the water tank off NU property.  She was quick to ask why!"

      I am shocked that an alderman would ask such a question!  

      "Maybe NU should come up with the 26 million staff is asking for a new tank.  Then they can have their property back."

      Please explain..I am not familiar with all the details here…a tank is on NU property, and NU wants it moved.  What is so unreasonable about that?  Does the City have a lease on the property?   Why do you say that NU "can have their property back" only if they pay for a new tank?

      1. Water Tank,NU and Burrus

        I have not seen the lease, but it is in the public domain, it has been explain to me the city has the lease on the property as long as the water plant exist.  yes it is NU proporty, but the City has no reason to move the tank.

        If NU could have had their property back, I would suspect by now they would be in court, trying to evict the city!

        The repair cost in the report by the consultant to replace the tank top is $4 million dollars plus engineering. not $26 million, so it is by no means cost effective for us taxpayers to foot this bill.   I am at a lost why staff is recommending $26 million, it could be they are trying to tell NU to pay for a new tank, or they could be setting the stage that we taxpayers are going to be on the hook to pay.

        If NU it wants its property back  they can pay the $26 million dollars.or more to move, I have heard they were discussing moving this tank to Long Field. west of the water plant.

    2. Water tank – pay attention


      Pay attention and get the facts correct before making comments.  The City staff proposed moving the water tank to a different location but still on NU's campus because the roof of the tank has substantially deteriorated and the City wanted to build a larger tank.  NU provides the land for free and does not receive any benefit for providing the land to the City.  NU did NOT ask to move the water tank. Moreover, you are incorrect about Burrus' question. I was at the capital expenditures meeting at the Civic Center.  Burrus asked about the cost to repair the current tank versus the cost of building an entire new structure.  As usual she is focusing on financial issues not personal agendas.   You may disagree with her but she is consistent about her focus on the City's finances.

      1. How are you so well informed?

        Burrus did not ask about the cost to move the tank, she clearly stated why it was not being moved.

        The city did not mention at the meeting it wants a large tank, It was clearly stated at the meeting they did not want to move the tank, therefore that means a tank of the same size.

        I do not disagree with her, I do not believe her complete focus is the residents of Evanston, since you know her so well ask her to ask her employers at NU for a yearly payment like other University give their communities!

        Please tell me the source of your information since you are such a well informed citizen?

        1. She just asked a question

          Ald. Burrus' job at Northwestern has nothing to do with facilities management.  She isn't part of the senior leadership.  I'm sure her day job is important and she is good at what she does, but she isn't concerned with where Northwestern builds.  She asked a question.  As an alderman, that's her job.  Would you rather someone who just blindly accepts staff recomendations without asking why?

  12. Thank you for covering this

    Thank you for covering this. As someone who lives in Evanston and is really only just getting by financially, I've had to travel to Chicago since I've lived here to get a handful of beach days in every summer. I live less than a mile from the beach, but can't afford to go there!

    It's certainly a cause for envy and feeling like I'm not really a part of the Evanston community, because for most people here, $35 per family member is pocket change, but we can't really justify that cost if there are free beaches a few miles Rogers Park (with the other brown people).

      1. .50 or $35?

        .50 cents, more or less by a nickle or dime, but unless I don't understand that new fangled math, the cost of a whole summers worth of gas is way less than the $35 fee. 

      2. Assumptions / Free Beach Access

        While a trip to Chicago may cost more than 50 cents in gas, the idea that this person is only purchasing one pass is an assumption.  S/He may have children and a spouse/partner. 

        I am grateful that my family is aptly able to afford the fee for access to Evanston's beaches, but not all families are so fortunate.  I shudder to remember when $35 was A LOT in my life.  I was raised in a very poor family, where we did absolutely NOTHING ever that would be considered "entertainment" by today's standards if it had a cash cost.  My sibs and I drank water, not sugary drinks, when thirsty and we had 3 plain meals every day… there were no salty or sugary snacks ever because they were not affordable.  Both of my parents worked full-time, but after paying the bills, Mom fed 6 people in our family with $14 dollars every week – in the 1980's!  We all wore hand-me-downs from neighbors and church friends.  I did not grow up in Illinois, but how I would have loved to have free access to a Lake Michigan beach!  The region where I grew up was mountainous so there were no TV channels that could be pulled in with antenna – we had no TV.  Fortunately, we had acces to a very good library in a nearby town.

        I remember all too well what it was like to feel want on a regular basis.  There are many people for whom even one pass is out of reach.  Granting free access to ALL Evanston residents is so easy!  We should offer up the beaches as part of the park(s) systems.  At the very least, let us have one free beach for Evanston residents on a trial for one summer just to find out how popular a free beach program actually is.  


  13. Nothing is really free

    If the beach is "free" to all, who will pay the lifeguards and maintanence to keep the beaches safe and clean?     If we raise property taxes to pay for these things, then everyone who owns or rents in this town will pay. The difference will be that those who are struggling to pay bills will have to pay too, while now they can get beach tokens for free.

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