Evanston alderman vote against redistricting wards

Susan Du

After spirited discussion Monday evening, Evanston aldermen considered but ultimately decided against redistricting the city’s nine wards based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Steve Griffin, the city’s director of community and economic development, reported Evanston increased in population by 247 people since 2000, experiencing 0.33 percent growth – a low figure that doesn’t legally require redistricting.

The 3rd Ward saw the greatest influx of new residents, gaining 545 new residents, while the 9th Ward experienced the greatest decrease in population, losing 435 residents.

The majority of aldermen agreed redistricting would be a painful, expensive and unnecessary process, considering the relatively minimal population change. However, Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) argued that if redistricting could help improve the lives of residents in any way, then city officials should make districts as evenly representative as possible.

“If we know making some changes are better for the residents, that’s what we’re supposed to do,” Burrus said. “We’re here representing the best interests of the residents, not what is in our best interest, not what is easy for us.”

Other city officials such as Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who both oversaw the last round of redistricting in 2003, maintained the entire process would squander valuable time that could otherwise be spent on more important issues.

“Having done this 10 years ago, I do not believe this is a process that is designed to figure out what’s best for the residents,” Tisdahl said. “This is a political process, and it is inevitably painful. I think what’s best for the residents is if we spend our time on more substantive issues than which block will be in or out of our ward.”

Following the redistricting discussion, Burrus again pushed for greater safety measures on Oakton Street between Ridge and Dodge Avenues. At the Jan. 9 city council meeting, she proposed introducing a 20 mph speed limit in the area, which she said would ease the discomfort of 9th Ward residents whose children attend nearby schools and play at nearby parks.

Opponents of the measure such as Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) argued that enforcing that speed limit would only push undesirable traffic conditions to other parts of the city.

Wilson added that only improving street infrastructure through the city’s upcoming capital improvement plan would truly solve Oakton Street’s problems.

“Fixing one stretch at the expense of a large number of other people is not appropriate,” he said.

Ultimately, council members voted 5-4 against the proposed speed limit.

In other business, representatives of City Lit, an theater company in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, expressed their desire to rent a property on Howard Street.

Artistic director Terry McCabe described City Lit as a theater committed to performing works adapted from literary works. The company plans to produce 36 weeks a year and sublet its space to other companies in the remaining time, he said. He estimated City Lit brings about $6,000 in revenue each year to its current neighbors on Bryn Mawr Avenue in Chicago.

The debate over City Lit largely hinged on the money it would require to raise the roof on its desired location of 727-729 Howard St., a cost estimated at $600,000 of tax-increment financing money. Tax increment financing is the practice of funding public projects by borrowing against the increased property tax revenues they are expected to generate.

However, some officials were convinced the costs would be worth supporting a theater on Howard Street, which would in turn contribute to business development in the area.

“To me I think this is a classic case of economic development gone right using tax increment financing dollars, and this is what it’s all about,” Rainey said.

Aldermen will revisit the City Lit issue at a future city council meeting.

[email protected]

Editor’s note: This article incorrectly stated when the last redistricting occurred. The article has been changed to reflect the correction. The Daily regrets the error.