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After aldermen push back, some residential street sweeping is back on again

A Streets and Sanitation spokesperson acknowledged the game plan has changed since last week, when Commissioner John Tully said sweeping residential streets was virtually impossible under current circumstances.

A Chicago street sweeper on Wacker Drive.
Chicago aldermen were not happy at the thought of street-sweeping being curtailed in their wards.
Sun-Times file

Chicago aldermen are pushing back against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to postpone some of the housekeeping services they hold dear — like residential street sweeping, tree trimming and tree removal — until after the city turns the corner against the coronavirus.

“You have all of those leaves that may not have been picked up in the fall. You have the debris of winter from not having street sweeping that has just accumulated. And these curbs are an absolute wreck in some communities,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

“It’s necessary that we sweep where we can [even though] we will not be able to do any enforcement as it relates to citations. But the community can band together and, for that hour or 15 minutes that the sweeper is on the block, give that sweeper an opportunity to get through. Our community cannot just go to pot because of this [stay-at-home] order.”

Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) understands suspending tree trimming services — but not street sweeping.

“Communities like mine need to be swept. If you don’t, the city is gonna become extremely dirty. We rely on street sweeping. We rely on spring cleaning to clean the city up and get ready for spring and summer. If we don’t sweep, we’ll be extremely far behind,” Beale said.

“You can still post [no parking signs] and try to do the best you can. Just don’t penalize people if they don’t move their cars.”

Even Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), the mayor’s handpicked Finance Committee chairman, said he, too, wants Streets and San to “improvise” and do the best they can to “clear out some of the really bad areas.”

“Definitely the arterials and commercial streets where you don’t have cars parked. But also improvising in between those, and hitting some of the residential streets where they can, just to keep the city clean and clear out some of the winter gunk,” Waguespack said.

“It becomes a public health issue here in the summer, too, if you don’t have clean streets and you’ve got stuff left over and you’ve got standing water.”

Streets and Sanitation spokesperson Christina Villarreal acknowledged the game plan has changed since last week, when commissioner John Tully said sweeping residential streets was virtually impossible because the city is ticketing and towing only for emergencies; at the time, Lightfoot backed him up.

“We will have sweepers out in all 50 wards, but it won’t be scheduled sweeping. We won’t be posting and asking people to move their cars. But they are going to still be sweeping, where they can, residential areas,” she said.

Mayor insists city can weather COVID-19 fiscal storm

Also Monday, Lightfoot argued again that Chicago is well-positioned to weather the storm of increased costs and declining revenues tied to the coronavirus pandemic without blowing a giant hole in her precariously-balanced, $11.6 billion budget.

The costs — segregated since January in a COVID-19 Fund — are likely to be absorbed by the federal stimulus package, the mayor said.

“We’ve been tracking those expenses pretty rigorously. … We are doing everything we can to use precious tax dollars as wisely as we can,” Lightfoot said.

“And the things that we’ve announced — whether it’s the small business resiliency fund [or] a fund to help people with their rent and mortgages — all of those dollars are accounted for in existing city revenues that were either available or we re-purposed so we can meet this need for our residents.”

Lightfoot also downplayed the precipitous drop in city revenues.

“While this is no doubt gonna have an impact, particularly in what I’ll call the service sector — restaurants, bars and other kind of service industries — for the city of Chicago’s budget, our revenue streams are fairly diverse,” the mayor said, sounding a familiar refrain.

“No one revenue stream is more than 13 percent of our budget. And the package of what we call economically sensitive revenue streams — whether it’s sales tax revenue, revenue from the state income tax and so forth — in the aggregate, they only make up 25 percent of our revenue.”

The mayor’s stance, however, does not take into account an important factor: When the stock market drops and city pension funds don’t meet expected investment returns, Chicago taxpayers have to make up the difference.

Online council meeting a virtual reality

Waguespack also disclosed plans are proceeding for a “virtual” City Council meeting April 15 to handle legal settlements and other spending-related issues tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Other cities are already doing it. We just have to set up the technology,” he said.