It took more than a year of complaints from Chicago neighborhood groups representing thousands of taxpayers, a tough re-election campaign, a Springfield intervention, and even pleas from members of Congress, before the Emanuel administration agreed to hear grievances from homeowners concerned about excessive jet noise from O’Hare Airport.
And after all that, the mayor isn’t even sitting down with concerned citizens himself—he’s sending surrogates from the city’s Department of Aviation, according to a recent Better Government Association story.
Why in the world didn’t City Hall reach out to the impacted communities earlier? And why did it take Springfield to finally get City Hall to act?
The mayor admitted in a memorable campaign ad that, “I can rub people the wrong way or talk when I should listen.”
Well mayor, it’s time to listen.
Everyone appreciates the value of O’Hare as an economic engine for the Chicago area, but the noise issue is making a lot of North Side residents miserable, and they worry about the economic impact on them personally if their homes lose value because of jet noise.
How bad is it?
- One resident reports an 18 percent drop in the assessment of his North Side home, and now the Cook County Assessor is studying whether jet noise is adversely affecting home prices.
- A newly elected alderman worries about a mass exodus from his ward to escape the nuisance.
- North Siders report that hundreds of planes buzz over their homes every day, almost twice as many as two years ago.
- Much of this is attributable to the opening of a new east-west runway in 2013, and some residents fear additional noise when another east-west runway is completed in October.
It’s a serious issue, and Emanuel owes his constituents the courtesy of at least personally hearing them out on this very important matter.
Admittedly, it’s a complex issue involving many parties: City Hall, the Federal Aviation Administration, the airlines and, of course, the affected homeowners.
Plans for the O’Hare Modernization Project go back almost 15 years to the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley, so airport noise is another troubling issue passed down to Emanuel from his predecessor, along with the parking meter privatization fiasco, the pension crisis and the financial mess.
But it’s not good government to shut people out, especially those who choose to live in the city, pay their taxes and, in many cases, provide some of our most important public services.
The mayor’s office says Emanuel will talk to political leaders and federal aviation officials, and is “sensitive” to residents’ concerns, but no face-to-face meetings have been scheduled.
That, unfortunately, rekindles the perception that dogged Emanuel during the 2012 firestorm over school closings on the South and West Sides: That he’s insensitive to the people who live in the city’s outlying neighborhoods.
Ginger Evans, the city’s new Aviation commissioner, promises to study noise reduction proposals and listen carefully at several public hearings, and that’s good.
The mayor should attend at least one of those hearings if he wants his pledge to be a better listener to be taken seriously, and not dismissed as cynical campaign rhetoric.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @andyshawbga.