“Water for All” Proposal Rejected by Chicago City Council Committee
Days after Chicago announced a campaign to can and sell its tap water, a proposed ordinance to end Chicago’s water cuts and expand assistance for utilities was not passed. adopted by a committee of the city council.
Dubbed by main sponsor Ald. Daniel La Spata, 1st, as a “Water for All” bill, the plan was defeated by an 8-5 margin in the environment committee after the body’s chairman, Ald. George Cardenas, 12th, described the legislation as “so onerous it makes it almost impossible” to implement.
“Respect is given here to your passionate defender of water rights; there’s no doubt about it,” Cardenas said. “However, there are legitimate issues, legitimate questions, as to how we would get there.”
La Spata’s proposal included a ban on the privatization of water infrastructure and its operations, an end to water cuts, an expansion of the utility billing relief program, and a transfer of greater part of the cost burden towards commercial and industrial water users.
After the failed vote, he tweeted, “I don’t regret a thing.”
“This is one of the most urgent and fundamental issues facing the city,” La Spata said at the start of the meeting, which he forced for the purpose of getting the bill to council. “Equitable and affordable access to drinking water is not a question of brand image or slogans. It’s about what we’re doing to ensure that right for all Chicagoans.
At last month’s city council meeting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced a similar water affordability ordinance that would ban privatization of the city’s water system, establish a voluntary metering program of water and prohibit closures. That bill was relegated to the rules committee, where legislation often stalls.
A point of contention at Tuesday’s meeting was La Spata’s idea of a water credit of up to $3,000, or a fixed annual payment to eligible households for plumbing repairs or audits.
Lightfoot officials estimated it would cost up to $1 billion for the credit as well as a risk that the city would suffer a credit downgrade if it breached the terms of its water bonds.
At Tuesday’s committee meeting, La Spata tried to remove the appropriation provision from the version of the ordinance members were voting on, in a bid to garner more support. But this was blocked when Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, moved to table the measure and the committee voted in favor. Cardenas then berated La Spata for what he called “parliamentary manoeuvres”.
Sign up for The Spin to get the best political stories delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons.
Chicago water is a source of controversy. Lightfoot said the city needs to replace lead service lines and set aside more than $17 million to replace 650 of the 400,000 that ultimately need to be removed. But even the modest city plan was not very successful, since only a few dozen lines were replaced.
While Lightfoot and his administration have spoken about the need to replace lead service lines, they have also repeatedly emphasized that Chicago’s water is safe.
Recently, Lightfoot officials spent $125,000 to market the city’s tap water under the “Chicagwa” brand. The city paid Quality Meats $100,000 to preserve and distribute Chicagwa. World Business Chicago, meanwhile, was paid $25,000 for marketing.
Supporters of La Spata’s proposal on Tuesday included a woman from the South Side Park Manor neighborhood who said she is currently unemployed and owes the city nearly $10,000 in water bill payments.
“I strongly believe that the City of Chicago was trying to move me and others with the tough enforcement and collection tactics they use to collect overdue water bills, while making water so unaffordable for Chicagoans,” said Carla Padgett.