Saturday, May 23, 2020

Rule Of Law: Obama Landgrab In Chicago

chicagotribune |  “Throughout this entire process, the city’s primary, indeed sole, loyalty was to the former president personally and his foundation,” lawyers for Protect Our Parks wrote in its appellate brief, which noted that one of the center’s top cheerleaders, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, had served as Obama’s White House chief of staff.

During his 20-minute argument before the 7th Circuit, Richard Epstein, the lead attorney for Protect Our Parks, balked at the city’s insistence that only a small percentage of the roughly 500-acre park would be affected by the project.

Almost half of the park already is a lagoon or marshland, Epstein said. Factor in the destruction of trees and ripping up of roads that would come with the center’s construction, “and you’re essentially taking away 80 to 90%” of the park’s usable territory, Epstein said.

“What we have is land worth $200 million ... given away for $10,” Epstein said, citing the amount listed on the 99-year land-use deal inked by the City Council. “This is a massive transfer.”

The attorney representing the city, Benna Ruth Solomon, argued that the state legislature specifically addressed any legal concerns when it updated the Museum Act in 2016 to include presidential centers in the list of entities that could be built on park land.

Solomon also said the district court was correct in ruling that the deal entered into by the city with the Obama Foundation was not a lease, as characterized by the plaintiffs, but a “use agreement” that has a “very, very public purpose.”

“We’re not taking parkland and giving it a nonpark use,” Solomon said. “We’re taking parkland that used to be used simply as a park with grass and trees … and we will now have a park with other park purposes,” including the cultural benefits of a museum, she said.

Among the questions posed by the three-judge panel, made up of Judge Amy Barrett, Judge Daniel Manion and Judge Michael Brennan, was whether the litigation even belonged in federal court.
At one point, Barrett interrupted Epstein’s argument and asked him to address why the lawsuit wasn’t brought in state court, where land-use disputes typically are settled.

“It seems like we’re sitting as a zoning board,” Barrett said.

A written ruling will come at a later date.

Herb Caplan, president and co-founder of Protect Our Parks, told the Chicago Tribune in an interview this week that he’s optimistic about their chances on appeal.

“We’re obviously being outspent and outpowered by both the city of Chicago and the University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation,” Caplan said. “But we believe in the rule of law. … I’m confident that the court will do the right thing."