Here’s a recap of our live coverage of Monday night’s Evanston City Council meeting.

The meeting is now scheduled to begin at 7:25 p.m. — roughly an hour later than was listed on the agenda — because the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting ran long.

A packet with information on tonight’s agenda items is available online.

Meeting called to order at 7:25 p.m.

City Manager’s announcements

Manager Luke Stowe introduces Paul Zalmezak, economic development manager, who reports on business closings and community concerns.

Zalmezak says office market vacancy rate is now 11% and vacancies are declining.

Downtown Evanston retail vacancies are only 10% — some empty spaces are actually leased (like the Panera Bread property).

Says problem is national — says, like Mark Twain, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

Says the city is spending $250K on a retail business study for each of the city’s business districts.

Says $10s of millions of dollars of residential and office projects are happening in Evanston.

Notes six new businesses coming in Church Street Plaza.

Says Economic Development Committee is working aggressively to respond to the issues.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) says need to highlight that the city is doing well. When get out of Evanston bubble and look around — we’re actually in many cases doing better than other places, he says.

Mayor Daniel Biss says there’s a lot of great stuff happening in Evanston — the national challenges that everybody is experiencing are serious. It’s a national issue that will require smart local solutions.

City Manager Luke Stowe offers update on black employee issues. Plans to seek additional funds for the initiative from the City Council later this month. Also will hold listening sessions for employees with Gilo Quesi Logan starting later this month. (Various additional bullet points.) And plans public dashboard to show the progress on the various issues.

Public Comment

10 speakers, 3 minutes each.

Public comment ends at 8:08 pm.

Special orders of business

SP1 – Amendments to “general offenses” in city code

Ald. Reid says makes a lot of improvements over the previous version of the proposals.

Says ordinance would keep cannabis and alcohol consumption in public would remain legal. Possession would be legal in certain locations but not at parks or other public places.

Sgt. Scott Sophier says open container possession is a precursor to other problems of disorderly conduct.

He says the police departments response is that would like the opportunity before disorderly acts occur — don’t want to get to that point. Leaving the ordinance as it currently stands — if can’t gain cooperative engagement with the individual to cite for the open container.

Reid says should only be addressing the actual offense to public order.

Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) calls the question. Reid seconds.

Motion fails 4-5.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) thanks other alders and police for the work –but he’s concerned about the public possession section of the ordinance — especially in business districts — regarding quality of life.

Says issue is folks walking down the street that are drinking. If put the bottle down, they’re in compliance with the proposed law.

Wants business districts to be safe and warm and welcoming to residents and visitors.

Nieuwsma moves to keep ban on open containers on sidewalks, streets, alleys and public parking lots. Revelle seconds.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) asks how its used.

Sophier says get call of public drinking, people put beverages down, by way of not seeing them consume it, police cannot taking any enforcement action.

Mayor Biss notes that several council meetings ago there was a move for some negotiation, says it appears Ald. Reid and the police department don’t have complete agreement. Now Nieuwsma has proposed an amendment. Asks if that would solve the police department’s concern.

Sophier says that proposal (from Nieuwsma) would resolve the department’s concern.

Wynne calls the question on Nieuwsma’s amendment. Suffredin seconds.

Motion approved 9-0

Nieuwsma’s proposal carries 7-2.

Ordinance as amended is approved for introduction 8-1. Suffredin votes no. Final adoption vote scheduled for Feb. 13 meeting.

SP2 – ARPA Update

Sarah Flax, interim community development director, says with withdrawal of the $5M request for ARPA funds from the reparations committee, the city now has an unallocated ARPA balance of $5.7M.

The remaining proposals in the pipeline include

Negative economic impact response proposals:

  • 550K for Whole and Free Foods
  • $500K small landlordp rogram
  • $58K for Mather workforce development

And under revenue replacement:

  • $612K Meridian barriers for outdoor events

Says staff would like council to consider investing in affordable housing, including the 44-unit development at 1815 Church St.

Also business district improvements — especially smaller districts in lower-income neighborhoods.

Suffredin asks about city-wide crosswalk improvements. Flax says are a couple ways — could put some under addressing the needs of underinvested neighborhoods and the rest under replacement revenue.

Nieuwsma says should emphasize business district improvements downtown and in the Main-Dempster Mile. Says affordable housing is another goal, but there is other money available for that. Also pushes for CARP impact.

Flax says doesn’t know what’s coming out of participatory budgeting — but is a lot of action there.

Reid wants to use more of what’s left on affordable housing.

Flax says has provided $3M for SRO renovations at the McGaw YMCA.

Geracaris suggests spending more on mental health. Flax says haven’t had any specific requests coming forward yet, but the Social Services Committee might be able to provide some insight on that.

Geracaris asks if there’s anything that’s working particularly well that could devote more to. Flax suggest the guaranteed income program. Biss suggests the mental health living room program.

Revelle says she would support using ARPA funds for the HODC (44-unit affordable housing project).

Consent agenda

Off consent because they didn’t make it out of A&PW — A7, A8, A9.

Also off A1, A13, A14, H1

With those deletions, consent agenda is approved.

A1 – Payroll and bills

Approved 8-0-1. Nieuwsma abstains.

A13 & A14 – FOP contracts

Approved 9-0.

H1 – Cashless establishments ban

Suffredin asks how many businesses are cashless now and what the unbanked population of Evanston is.

Paul Zalmezak, economic development manager, says he knows of a few. Hasn’t done a survey.

Sue Loellbach, of connections for the homeless says most of the several hundred people the group serves who are not banked. Says in addition some of the rental tenants they deal with sure are not banked.

Suffredin says city doesn’t know what the machines that convert cash to a card cost. Perhaps city should put those in.

Says it’s irresponsible to pass this without knowing more about who we’re hurting and helping.

Reid says it’s a trend that’s growing more and more — like Amazon Go. Says not trying to stifle innovation. Says other municipalities — including New York City — have implemented the ban.

Harris attacks banks — says they’re disenfranchising people. Have to be open to taking cash.

Geracaris says city should provide mechanism to load pre-paid cards, but says should do some more background work to figure out how to implement that.

Nieuwsma says he agrees with the objectives of the ordinance but is not prepared to vote for it tonight. Says a number of small businesses in his ward have expressed concern with the ordinance. Often have one person — a woman — in the business — and for reasons of safety are reluctant to handle cash.

Says if could exempt small businesses — in a similar manner to what has done with the bag tax. But the larger businesses already accept cash — so don’t need to make up a solution for that.

Revelle agrees with Nieuwsma. Says regrets that wasn’t more conversation with business community before the issue came to the council.

Kelly also opposes the plan at least for now.

Wynne says number of businesses in her ward are either cashless now or would like to switch to cashless. Says she understands the equity issues — would like more information from NYC and New Jersey and San Francisco — about how they mitigate the issues.

Suffredin says voting yes without complete information in a city full of vacancies and businesses with GoFundMe campaigns is irresponsible. A yes vote later with more information might be responsible.

Reid says a no vote is irresponsible. Says will never know how many businesses are cashless, or how many folks are unbanked.

Nieuwsma says to get to yes perhaps should refer it to the Economic Development Committee.

Nieuwsma moves to refer to EDC. Suffredin seconds.

Harris says its a problem for people of color. Says she’s not personally disenfranchised at the moment. But says she has family and friends who are.

Suffredin says a vote for this is a pro-vacancy vote. “Measure twice and cut once,” he says. (Notes that earlier in the evening some of the alders supporting this were trying to get around the prevailing wage law.)

Reid says the proposal to refer it to the economic development committee just “keeps the boot on the necks of people who have been disenfranchised.”

Suffredin suggests referring to Equity and Empowerment Commission, Administration and Public Works and Economic Development. Wants to get as many eyes on it as possible.

Nieuwsma amends motion to refer to it EDC and EEC. Wynne seconds.

Approved 8-1. Reid votes no.

Call of the wards

Revelle — in person ward meeting Tuesday, Jan. 31, 7 p.m. Special event resident-only parking around stadium … and then open discussion of stadium. Fourth special topic meeting Wednesday, Feb. 8, zoom meeting regarding the stadium

Reid — 8th ward virtual Thursday 6 p.m.

Geracaris — 9th ward meeting 1st week of February

Harris — 2nd ward mtg Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Wynne — 3rd ward meeting Wed, Feb. 8 Lincoln School 7 p.m.

Nieuwsma 4th Ward, Tuesday, Feb 7, 7 p.m. in person at Robert Crown

Burns — 5th Ward, Thursday, Jan. 26, 7 p.m. — in person at Y.O.U. and virtually.

Council votes to go into executive session to discuss real estate purchase or sale and approval of minutes at 9:52 p.m.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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