Activists to present OPC CBA to city council

Staff Writer

On Wednesday, Oct. 11, members of the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition will present their request for an ordinance to the full body of the Chicago City Council that will, by ordinance compel the Obama Foundation and related entities to enter in a CBA for the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park.

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

The ordinance is the latest push by the coalition, following former President Barack Obama’s remarks last month in which he indicated that the foundation would not sign a CBA.

Obama said a CBA could be a useful tool, but stated that the foundation is “a nonprofit. We aren’t making money we are just bringing money to the community.”

Obama also stated that a CBA is not inclusive enough.

“In this situation, it’s not inclusive enough because I would then be signing with who?” Obama asked. “What particular organizations would be speaking for everybody in that community?”

He also mentioned that it would signal to other groups who could use it as an opportunity to be “the gatekeeper on this process.”

It is not yet known what member of the council is sponsoring the motion. Jawanza Malone executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) would not say what council members are backing the ordinance.

The ordinance needs the full support of the Chicago City Council members to be enacted as law.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), whose ward includes Jackson Park where the OPC site will be situated, said that she would not support the measure if it is introduced to the council.

Hairston said that Obama made his position clear on his decision to not sign a CBA.

“They have not met with me or the foundation,” Hairston said speaking of the coalition. “They are more interested in grabbing headlines than doing the work and trying to do [what’s] best for the community. The coalition itself hasn’t presented me with anything, they like to appear at meetings and protest.”

According to Hairston, other locally based organizations such as South Shore Works, others in Woodlawn and South Shore outside of the coalition are working with foundation officials to ensure that needs are met in the community.

“Members of the coalition asked Ald. Hairston in her January meeting if she would support a CBA,” Malone said in a written statement. “She said no, and we asked for a meeting to discuss it further. We never got a meeting. There was no protest. We asked for her support again at her last meeting. She again said no, and we again asked for a meeting, which has yet to happen. Again, there was no protest.”

Malone said, “Moreover, meetings have been held with the foundation, the university, and the Mayor’s office. Additionally, we have held no less than 10 public meetings on this topic, bringing together 1000 people to share their perspectives. Ald. Hairston would do well to work with the community on this.”

Other city council members with wards in the surrounding area near the OPC include Pat Dowell (3rd), Sophia King (4th), Greg Mitchell (7th) and Willie Cochran (20th).

The CBA would also 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.

“The ordinance is simply the vehicle to make it happen,” Malone said.

The Coalition is calling for jobs to be set-aside for people in the community, protection for affordable housing and homeowners, support for and help with the creation of black-owned businesses, and help with strengthening neighborhood schools.

During the summer months, the coalition held meetings in neighborhoods surrounding the OPC based on principles outlined in the CBA, which includes economic development, jobs, education, housing, sustainability, and transportation.

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

“I don’t see this not moving through the city council,” Malone said. “I think it’s safe to say that we expect it to be a fight that we ultimately will win.”

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