The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Obviously bad privatization in Chicago

I can't see any benefit to leasing out all the parking spaces in Chicago to a private company, even if my mayor and alderman can. In fact, it sounds quite appalling: street parking fees to double, profit motive over civic good in parking enforcement, no time for the Council to evaluate the proposal Mayor Daley handed them yesterday. Destroying Meigs was bad; this is much, much worse:

Parking meter rates will increase next month after the Chicago City Council today overwhelmingly approved Mayor Richard Daley's plan to lease the spots to a private firm for 75 years in return for a one-time payment of nearly $1.2 billion.

Some neighborhood parking meter rates will quadruple next month. Neighborhood spots that used to cost a quarter an hour will cost $1 an hour---and jump to $2 an hour in 2013. The top meter rates in the Loop will increase from $3 to $3.50 an hour, rising to $6.50 an hour in 2013. Chicago will have some of the highest parking meter rates in the nation.

Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), who backs the deal, said 72 hours was enough time to review it.

"How many of us read the stuff we do get, OK?," Mell said. "I try to. I try to. I try to. But being realistic, being realistic, it's like getting your insurance policy. It's small print, OK?"

Thanks, Dick, for another intellectually-stimulating rejoinder to an impertinent question.

Does anyone remember the awfulness that resulted in historical times to privatizing tax collection? Does anyone see the parallels?

Feels like winter

Ah, Chicago in December: gray, sleet, snow, wind, rain. Builds character:

The snow has begun falling in Chicago, and more is on the way.

There are flurries downtown, though nothing is sticking. Matt Smith of the city's Department of Streets & Sanitation said in an e-mail that no trucks have been sent out, noting that "We have good air and ground temps and that could continue to be the case for quite some time."

Snow has started to accumulate on the ground and roads in the south suburbs around the intersection of Interstate Highways 57 and 80, according to observers.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for Boone, DeKalb, Kane, Lake, Livingston, and McHenry counties and a winter weather advisory for Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee, Kendall and Will counties.

Yesterday Parker and I walked about 8 miles altogether. Today he'll be lucky to go twice around the block.

Night flight last Sunday

I had to scrutinize my logbook to figure out when I last flew at night: 26 April 2006, in Nashua, N.H. So I took a flight instructor with me this past Sunday to get "recurrent." (Regulations require that pilots make three full-stop landings at night—further defined as 1 hour after sunset until 1 hour before sunrise—within 90 days in order to carry passengers at night.)

I had a good flight, they can use the airplane again, the instructor enjoyed flying with someone who knew how to fly (as opposed to a pre-solo student), and Chicago Center almost flew a jet up my butt. You can see the last bit in the KML, where I do two 360° turns, one of them at a mile-and-a-half short final. The jet got within 4 nautical miles of me before calling Chicago Executive Tower, which isn't illegal, but did make me a bit uncomfortable watching the TCAS. (Yes, the flight school now has a training plane with a TCAS. They are that cool.)

The Grey Lady sings our praises

Despite my joking about the inconveniences an Obama Presidency will bring to us in Chicago, we really are ecstatic that our guy won. It's so good, even the New York Times has acknowledged it:

In 1952, when an article in The New Yorker derisively referred to Chicago as the Second City, little offense was taken. It became a marketing pitch, with the thinking that second fiddle was far better than no fiddle at all.

But that gawking, out-of-town amazement — gee, there really is a city here! — has long outlived its currency. Well before Mr. Obama was elected as the nation’s 44th president — a fact that was proudly amplified by Mayor Richard M. Daley, who ordered up banners with a sketch of the president-elect to hang throughout the city — Chicago was experiencing one of its most blossoming periods in food, fashion and the arts.

Now, people around the country and the world are simply noticing.

And we're glad the world did.

No next year for Zell

Sam Zell is fast-tracking the Cubs sale from Tribune:

Mr. Zell expects to select a finalist from the five remaining bidding groups and submit the deal for Major League Baseball's approval sometime in December, a person familiar with the sale says.

He is fast-tracking the sale — despite a credit crunch that seemed to put his year-end deadline in doubt — as pressure mounts to raise as much as $1 billion to chip away at the mountain of debt from his 2007 buyout of Tribune. With cash flow plummeting from weak advertising sales at Tribune's newspapers, selling half the team probably wouldn't raise the cash he needs. He has other assets to unload, but it would be difficult to do so quickly in a tough credit market.


The five bidders believed to still be in the game include Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban; Chicago bond salesman Thomas Ricketts; Chicago real estate mogul Hersh Klaff; New York investor Marc Utay, and Houston businessman Jim Crane. ...

Difficulty unloading the Cubs for top dollar would spell trouble for Tribune. When Mr. Zell engineered his $8-billion buyout last December, he agreed to keep Tribune's debt to less than nine times cash flow. But as the economy slowed and ad sales dropped this year, cash flow sank, down 45% last quarter, Mr. Courtney estimates. That forced Mr. Zell to accelerate his debt repayments and to sell Newsday this year for $650 million to pay off loans.

The one good spot in all this: at least the Cubs never got spanked 37-3 by cheeseheads. Sheesh. Why can't we sell the Bears instead?

The downside of the upside

Chicago almost universally loves that one of our own will be president. It turns out, only some of us predicted certain inconveniences:

The dramatic increase in security around Barack Obama since the election has made a sizable impact in the Loop, where the president-elect is running his transition office at the Kluczynski Federal Building, straining an already-stretched Chicago police force and city budget.

The police coverage is around-the-clock, with about 25 officers, essentially one from each district, assigned on two watches, and 10 officers and a sergeant assigned to a third watch, said FOP President Mark Donahue. The union has been told the detail is temporary, only until the incoming administration heads to Washington on Jan. 20.

Some involved in the complex security efforts said they understand city leaders have grown concerned about the potential cost of the extra manpower. [Chicago Mayor Richard] Daley has proposed laying off almost 1,000 city workers and raising taxes and fees to close a $469 million budget shortfall, which he has described as the worse fiscal situation in his 19 years in office. Now the city will have to foot the security bill, at least upfront, and hope it will be reimbursed.

More good news in Chicago

I took a couple of days off to visit my dad for his birthday. Any chance I get, I go to San Francisco, even though Chicago has become the center of the Universe temporarily. The Chicago Tribune reported this morning another bit of happiness from home: the original Goose Island Brewpub will remain open, instead of closing at the end of the year as threatened:

John Hall, Goose Island's founder and chief executive, said he reached a last-minute deal with the pub's landlord to stay at 1800 N. Clybourn Ave. for three to five years, averting the closing of the home for Honker's Ale and other brews.

"I'm thrilled," said Hall, who bought everyone in the place a beer. "They called me last week and said we want to try to do a deal. We compromised in a week on something we couldn't do for a long time."

Hall said he couldn't talk for the other side, but he indicated the weak real estate market may have helped get the agreement done. In April, Hall had said that the landlord, CRM Properties Group, had asked for a significant rent increase, reflecting the popularity of the trendy neighborhood.

Possibly I'll go there tomorrow to celebrate.

My Congressman just resigned

I'm in the Illinois 5th, which has had quite some turnover in the past 15 years: Rostenkowski (1994), Flanagan (1996), Blagojevich (2002), and now Emanuel. Emanuel was by far the best of the bunch, and I'll be sorry to lose him in Congress—but he's the right guy to be Obama's Chief of Staff.

In other good news, Obama officially won North Carolina, bringing his total electoral votes to 364.

The next 75 days

The Chicago Tribune has a photo essay on what Obama's victory may mean to Chicago. Key points (to me, anyway): The unfair outflow of state resources to the Fed (we get about 70c of every Federal tax dollar we pay, compared with, say, Alaska that gets about $2 back), our Olympics prospects, and what happens when Air Force One lands at O'Hare.