Obama Library CBA Coalition hosts forum in South Shore

“Is this just a done deal… and is the planning process just a charade?” asks Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, as Naomi Davis, founder of Blacks in Green, listens during an Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition (Obama CBA) Sustainability and Transportation forum at St. Philip Neri Catholic School, 2110 E. 72nd St., Wednesday, Aug. 16. – Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

Residents in surrounding communities near the future home of the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) gathered this week for the latest Obama Library Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition meeting.

The coalition’s forum on Wednesday, Aug. 16, focused on sustainability and transportation in the wake of development for the OPC that will be situated in Jackson Park as well as other park related improvements.

A CBA is a contract signed by community groups and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide specific amenities and improvement to the local community or neighborhood.

Allegra Cira Fischer, staff attorney for the Law Project of Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights law, discussed communities in the country that have had success with CBAs.

Fischer said, the CBA that was created in 2001 for the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif. is still in effect today and is monitored and enforced.

Other panelists from the forum included: Naomi Davis of the Bronzeville Regional Committee; Amalia Gomez, Alliance of the Southeast (ASE).

Juliana Pino, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization; Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks; Bill Eager, Preservation of Affordable Housing and Amara Enyia with Ace Municipal Partners.

Enyia served as moderator for the panel.

Gomez during her opening remarks at the meeting wanted residents to recognize their tax dollars factor into both public and private development.

“Just because it’s a private development does not mean that your tax money is not going into the development,” Gomez said. “For the South Works site, it means that city money, Illinois money, Department of Transportation money went into creating the Route 41 extension. That’s our tax [money] that paid for that.”

Gomez stated that the community has points of leverage regarding the OPC.

“You also have points of leverage with any zoning changes. It has to go through City Council it has to go through the alderman,” Gomez said.

She said that other points of control for residents include, “any permits that need to be done on the site or if they ask for TIF [tax increment finance] funds for the site.”

There has been apprehension about the plans from members of the community who fear the loss of parkland, Cornell Drive and an increase in traffic.

Irizarry spoke to those concerns.

Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp and Bill Eager, vice-president of Preservation of Affordable Housing Chicago Area, listen during a round table discussion focusing on green jobs and buildings during a break-out session of an Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition (Obama CBA) Sustainability and Transportation Forum at St. Philip Neri Catholic School, 2110 E. 72nd St., Wednesday, Aug. 16. – Marc Monaghan

“When it comes to Jackson Park we’re hearing that in a few short months that they are going to make all these future decisions about closing roads in Jackson Park,” Irizarry said. “If you’re going to close Cornell Drive what does that mean for where that traffic is going to go?’ We’ve heard over and over again that we’re still in the early stages of this process. The Obama Foundation plans to take their proposal to the Chicago Plan Commission by October, and it’s dependent upon closing Cornell Drive.”

Davis echoed Irizarry’s thoughts and added that the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) needs to slow the process down so that the community has a chance to give input on what the data shows and what the cost will be for the project.

Aaron Patterson a consultant who works CDOT said the community would have a chance to have input next week when CDOT hosts its two meetings at the South Shore Cultural Center. CDOT is expected to design concepts of proposed road closures.

Wednesday’s meeting held at St. Philip Neri Catholic School, 2110 E. 72nd St., was one of a series of sessions held over the last few months. The topics for each session align with principles for the CBA.

Principles outlined by the Obama Library CBA would require jobs to be set-aside for people in the community, protect affordable housing and homeowners, support and create black-owned businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools.

Organizers are pushing for a CBA to ensure that there is accountability from the developers of the OPC, the Obama Foundation, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District and the University of Chicago, who proposed the center’s location on the South Side.

Residents joined breakout sessions at the forum where they learned more about parks, green jobs and had the floor to voice their concerns about road construction and transportation and its impact on Jackson and South Shore parks.

Reuben Lillie, a Hyde Park resident, discussed transportation-related issues during the breakout session with fellow neighbors.

He suggested “the possibility of creating a tunnel instead of removing Cornell Drive entirely, or moving the green space up so that the roadway can still somehow exist.”

Lillie is one three organizers who designed a petition to restore service for the East 63rd Street Green Line “L” to Stony Island Avenue.

Organizers of the petition believe that there is “insufficient access” to Jackson Park and feel it is necessary to restore the line further east in the wake of new development that is on the way in the park, which includes the OPC and other park-related improvements.

Residents also walked away from the forum with next steps that include getting more people in the neighborhood involved and voting in the upcoming election. As well as, staying abreast of policy by attending city council meetings and reaching out to their council members.

Groundbreaking for the OPC is set to begin late next summer, and it is expected to open to the public in 2021.

The coalition is made up of members from the University of Chicago student-led Prayer and Action Collective, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Southside Together Organizing for Power, and the Bronzeville Regional Collective.

The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 30.