Meter protestors highlight contract caveat

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • August 07, 2009 @ 9:20 AM

One of the protestors arrested after attempting to stop the installation of parking pay boxes on the South Side says she’s disappointed she was punished for her civil disobedience.

Rosa Perea says she thought about her classes on the Constitution while sitting in a Far South Side jail Wednesday night, and wondered if protesting against the meters was worth getting arrested.

“When I was sitting in jail, I was really doubting it,” says Perea, who was charged with disorderly conduct after obstructing LAZ Parking employees from installing a box. “They make you take the Constitution in eighth grade … You really believe you have the right, and you organize and say this is not what we want, (and) people will listen to you.

“It was so disappointing.”

Perea and others have held a 24-hour watch on the 8800 block of South Commercial near the Centro Communitario Juan Diego for about a week, hoping to stop the installation of parking pay boxes there. The group has petitioned Ald. John Pope (D-10) not to install the meters, because it would be a burden to the community’s poor.

She says no meters have existed in the area for at least 15 years.

The attempt by LAZ Parking to install meters is happening because of a caveat in the city’s contract with the group that allows LAZ to install meters where none existed before, if the city so requests. Aldermen sign off on plans to add meters, even though the city forfeited its parking meter revenue for the next 75 years.

The South Chicago Chamber of Commerce requested the meter boxes be installed, saying it would benefit local businesses.

Neil Bosanko, executive director of the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce, says merchants have complained that area employees take up valuable parking spots that customers should use.

“It was not intended to be a parking lot for anyone, whether it be a store owner or anyone,” he says.

The chamber has tried to get meters installed since 1987, when meters were removed for sidewalk repair, he says. Bosanko says there is parking available in the surrounding blocks, and the chamber is exploring more options to expand parking.

But the protests, he says, have put a “stranglehold” on local businesses. Bosanko says merchants have complained of intimidation by protestors, and have seen an uptick in vandalism against businesses that support the pay boxes.

Bosanko says the installation of some boxes is a relief to merchants.

“People say, ‘Thanks a million. I’ve got (customers) coming in,’” he says.

Alderman Scott Waguespack (D-43) says he and other aldermen are keeping tabs on the expansion of pay-for-parking zones in their wards.

“If there are meters on, say, one block of Milwaukee Avenue, or North or Damen, and there weren’t some around the corner, (LAZ) might have expanded them, or they might have extended (the zone),” he says.

Pope did not return a phone call asking if and why he approved the addition of parking boxes on South Commercial. LAZ did not return a call for comment.

Waguespack, one of four aldermen who voted against the parking meter deal, says it has taken control out of the hands of aldermen. Pitfalls of the deal have been well documented, including a city inspector general report that concluded the city could have made more than $1 billion more off the sale of the meters.

Waguespack says it has resulted in more pay-for-parking in residential areas, angering residents who previously did not have to pay to park, or if they did, paid a minimal fee before meters expired at 6 p.m.

He worries what might happen if Chicago wins its bid to host the 2016 Olympics, speculating it could result in the addition of more permanent parking boxes where none existed.

“They’re going to have to figure out a way to clear out parking in a lot of areas,” he says.

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.