The Administration and Public Works Committee refused to advance a proposal to build a $25,000 6-foot-high security fence around the top of the Sherman Plaza parking deck. Brought to Council at the recommendation of City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, the fence concept was designed to prevent or at least discourage people from leaping off the deck and to provide a level of safety for skateboarders and other children sometimes seen playing near the structure’s walls.
Alderman Colleen Burrus, 9th Ward, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, attacked the proposal immediately. "I am not in support of this fence... It's not going to stop anybody who wants to be up there," said Ald. Burrus. The fence would not be high enough to prevent someone’s climbing over, she added. "I just think we're going to such a degree of being overly afraid and risk-intolerant," she said.
"I think we're smarter than this," said Ald. Rainey. "What are we going to do about this lake? People drown in it," she added with apparent sarcasm.
"Nobody has accidentally fallen off" the deck, she said, an assertion confirmed by Mr. Bobkiewicz. Once one fence is built, every other tall structure would necessarily require similar protections. Council would have to pass an ordinance requiring all private structures to add 6-foot fences, she said. "It is such a huge waste of money [and] there's no end in sight," she said.
Mr. Bobkiewicz defended the proposal. "I put my name on this," he said, because after personally viewing the current wall on top of the deck "I felt we just needed to do this." Continuing with the current 4-foot wall is "not in the best interest of the City. … I felt this was important."
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, was the only committee member to speak in favor of the proposal, and ultimately the only one who voted in favor of it. "The pictures help," she said after the City's presentation. She suggested warning signs as well. "The issue of the signs is really just about risk management – exposure" of the City to lawsuits, she said.
Alderman Judy Fiske, whose First Ward contains the deck but who is not on the A&PW Committee, said, "This isn't an issue so much about attempted suicide. ... Kids are sitting up there throwing things off" the deck onto the street below. The proposal came as a result of a "concern that was raised by resident of Sherman Plaza who saw this." Kids are "skateboarding" and "sitting up there dangling their feet off the ledge. I can see where something could happen," she said.
Shifting the issue away from suicide prevention did not change the Committee's mind. "I don't think this is a risk issue, but a neighbor issue," said Ald. Burrus.
"A 6-foot fence isn't going to prevent anybody from throwing things onto Davis or Sherman," said Ald. Rainey. "This is an issue for neighbors." Unruly skateboarders are issues everywhere, in all wards, she said. "They need to call the police if that's bothering them," she added. "The money would be better spend building the best skate park money can buy.
The City's Revenue and Parking Manager, Ricky Voss, said that there are cameras on the deck-top, and that Standard Parking, the company managing Evanston's parking facilities, "actively attempt[s] to keep people off" the top level.
Mr. Bobkiewicz tried "one last time" to convince the Committee to fund the fence. "I am making this recommendation as your City Manager. I went up there, I felt it was unsafe. This is me. Your Chief Executive."
The City cannot prevent or address every risk that might befall residents or visitors, nor should it try to do so, said Ald. Burrus. "Where does it stop?" she asked.
"The answer is that it doesn't end," replied Bobkiewicz. "This was something I felt was important to be addressed."
"Stupid people cost the City a lot of money," said Ald. Rainey.
"Every day," said City Manager Bobkiewicz.
"If people want to sit on a ledge, they'll find one," said Ald. Rainey.
In the end, the vote to recommend the proposal to the full Council failed 4-1. As a result, the full Council did not take up the matter.