Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma talks transition into City Council, environmental sustainability, public safety


Daily file photo by Nick Francis

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th). President of Citizens’ Greener Evanston from 2009 to 2020, Nieuwsma is one of four new City Council members.

Jorja Siemons, Assistant City Editor

This article is part of a four-part series featuring new City Councilmembers. The Daily is sitting down with councilmembers to find out how they’ve been adjusting to their new roles — and where they stand on their platforms now. 

For Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), the transition from environmental community advocacy to serving on City Council has been eye-opening. 

“It’s one thing to be focused on a single issue,” Nieuwsma said. “(Now) there’s not just one issue that I get to care about. I have to engage in every single thing that comes in front of the council.”

Now, when he works with issues that he finds less familiar, Nieuwsma said he has a deeper appreciation for city staff’s depth of knowledge. 

As president of Citizens’ Greener Evanston from 2009 to 2020, Nieuwsma’s own expertise is in environmental sustainability and renewable energy. His 2021 aldermanic campaign pushed for increasing open green space access and adopting an environmental justice ordinance.

Nieuwsma has pushed City Council for full implementation of Evanston’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan, which calls for zero city carbon emissions by 2050.

During recent discussion about American Rescue Plan Act allocations, he aligned with calls to use funds for sustainability. Citizens’ Greener Evanston representatives proposed a $5 million allocation specifically for CARP projects, including hiring a consultant to carry out the CARP Preliminary Step for Transportation and Mobility.

Moving forward, Nieuwsma said the city needs to work on a step-by-step CARP implementation plan and discuss building and energy codes. He said he also wants to make a concerted effort to install solar panels in city buildings. 

But Nieuwsma said environmental plans must also be financially viable and responsible. 

When he analyzed city staff’s recommended options for the Evanston Animal Shelter’s renovation — which included the possibility of making the building net zero in carbon emissions — Niewsuma said he had to be pragmatic. 

“If we spent an extra million dollars to go as green as possible, that’s a million dollars we’re not putting into the care itself or human care or economic development,” he said. “Striking a balance is something new that I as City Councilmember have to do.”

As City Council begins its annual budget process, Nieuwsma said he looks forward to hearing budget recommendations from the Reimagining Public Safety Committee. Established by Mayor Daniel Biss in May, the committee analyzes the city’s public safety efforts, including at the Evanston Police Department.

During his aldermanic campaign, Nieuwsma proposed redirecting funds away from EPD and into Parks, Recreation and Community Services and the Office of Sustainability. Nieuwsma said he still upholds his campaign stance that Evanston’s public safety budget should reflect community values, but he said his perspective about EPD has shifted since he joined council.

“Having worked with and having gotten to know some of the officers, and being closer to the action and seeing the work they do, I’ve been impressed,” he said. “I do have a lot of respect for the men and women of the Evanston Police Department (and) the Evanston Fire Department, for that matter.”

Nieuwsma said getting to know Officer Mike Jones, the 4th Ward problem-solving officer, and seeing his sensitivity to unhoused residents has informed his own opinions. 

Going into the 2022 city budget process, Nieuwsma said he is keeping in mind both the need for more social services and his observation that EPD is understaffed.

“In an ideal world, we’d have all the police we need and all the social workers we need,” he said. “I don’t have a foregone conclusion in my head. I want to see how the budget process plays out.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @JorjaSiemons 

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