Last week Danny Solis proposed and passed an ordinance to change the zoning of a block in the West Loop “from a downtown mixed use to a downtown service zoning”. This will prevent Carmichael’s Restaurant and the adjacent courtyard from being turned into “a luxary apartment complex.” This is a win for the residents of the neighborhood!
Note: Election season is here! If you want something done, you should be demanding it now! It’s no coincidence that we’re paving roads in this November election season.
There’s just one problem with Danny’s heroics: Aldermen are the executives of their ward. If an alderman wants to change the zoning in their ward, other alderman do not to challenge it. To be precise, “aldermanic prerogative” was overruled 15 times out of 5700 (a rate of 0.2% or 1/5 of 1%) on zoning issues. This was the subject of an investigative series by the Tribune in 2008 titled Neighborhoods for Sale:
The real zoning code in Chicago is unwritten, but developers know it well: Changes in zoning go hand in hand with contributions to aldermanic campaigns.
The investigation found that Chicago is a city where a building boom greased by millions of dollars in political donations to aldermen has remade the face of neighborhoods, changing the feel of the streets where people live and work.
It’s a city where aldermen have become dependent on the political contributions they rake in from developers, while routinely ignoring city planners who oppose out-of-scale development.
It’s a city where the council rubber stamps aldermen’s wishes – rejecting just 15 requested zoning changes in a decade – and where almost half the zoning changes were concentrated in 10 of the city’s 50 wards that are exploding with growth.
And it’s a city where advisory groups that review zoning proposals are sometimes stacked with developers and real estate agents who will profit from the projects.
That’s part 1. Part 2 is depressingly and aptly titled Community input an illusion. Solis is the chairman of the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards. If there’s anyone who has benefited from the largess of property developers, it’s him. Danny didn’t steal your green space or southern light this time, but give him a year or two. That’s how long it took Solis to go from ignoring the Pilsen community, to listening to the Pilsen community, to ignoring it again. He was a champion of urban coal plants and then a champion of clean air and then a champion of urban metal shredding.
Back in 2001 Harvard did a study showing that the last two urban coal plants in the US, located in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods of Chicago, were killing 42 people a year. Solis was the alderman of Pilsen at this time (and continues to be). Did he use his “aldermanic prerogative” to step up and save the lives of 42 Chicagoans every year? No, those poor souls didn’t pay up. Instead, he took $50,000 dollars in campaign contributions from the owner of the power plants over the next decade. When Temoc Morfin took him into a runoff in 2011, Solis quickly turned green promising to close the plants. What did his decade of inaction cost? 42 deaths per year for 10 years is 420 dead Chicagoans. 420 dead people in exchange for $50k comes out to $119 per life. Danny Solis might be a smart politician, but he makes poor decisions.
I wish the story ended here, but Danny took another $50k from Pure Metals one year after the closure of the coal plants to build a metal shredder across the street from Juarez High School. You can find all the details here. In short, breathing in metal dust gives you (or in this case, the students and faculty of Juarez) lung cancer. But money talks when you’re running for public office.
Last week the residents of the 2nd precinct of the 25th ward voted for a moratorium on the proposed new metal shredder. Additionally, there’s an existing metal shredder kiddie-corner from the high school that no one wants to talk about. No one expects a zoning change at the site of the proposed metal shredder anytime soon.
I hope that I can defeat Solis in February. I also hope that the residents of the West Loop precincts of the 25th ward recognize what’s happened here: Danny ripped apart a paper tiger in an effort to convince you that he’s a great guy. But take it from me and the 70% of Pilsen residents who voted against him last time and will vote against him again, the honeymoon is short-lived.