Area voters are being asked on their midterm ballot if they want to pass a non-binding referendum telling the city and Chicago Park District to stop cutting down trees in Jackson Park and to preserve trees at the South Shore Cultural Center. This comes after three local precincts passed the same referendum overwhelmingly in the June primary election.
Organizer Marc Lipinski, an attorney and vice president of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, said the "Save Jackson Park" referendum parallels another referendum asking if voters want to slightly raise property taxes to provide millions of dollars in additional funding for the Cook County Forest Preserves.
"Environmental issues are coming to the fore locally," he said. "People are looking to save trees in additional territory in the suburbs, and we're looking to save trees here in the city of Chicago. And the beautiful part of our referendum is that we can save all these trees in the city of Chicago, and we don't have to spend a dime of taxpayer money on it."
The referendum is on the ballot in seven precincts, in Hyde Park and South Shore. Around 20 volunteers got petitions from residents. (The referendum advocates are largely decentralized but have a Facebook page, facebook.com/SaveJacksonPark.)
"We got strong support," Lipinski said. "People are very, very much interested in saving the trees. They're very much interested in the health benefits related to keeping the trees. When we pointed out that one in eight children in Chicago has problems with asthma … they were amazed. And lots of people have family and friends with kids with childhood asthma. Trees are important for health. They look good, too."
The referendum is non-binding and advisory. Construction on the Obama Presidential Center is ongoing, and plans exist to unite the Jackson and South Shore Park golf courses, which will result in more felled trees. Some new trees are also planned in the developers' landscaping designs.
Though the referendum is non-binding and advisory, Lipinski said it’s getting a point across.
"Essentially, the park district made an absolute point that they did not want to hear anything from anybody about the environmental damage that is contemplated by the plans for Jackson Park," he said. Lipinski added that many, many more trees are due to come down as part of the plans for the golf course and the park's roadway changes.
He is also interested in pressing the next 5th Ward alderperson (Ald. Leslie Hairston is retiring) about the park's trees and making the trees an issue in next year's municipal elections.
"I am looking forward to framing this issue," said Lipinski. "I think every one of the 5th Ward candidates should be taking a stance. Are they for the protection of the trees, or do they support clear-cutting?"
"The Obama Center is where it is, it’s not going to be moved," he continued “But the thing here is that it appears that the plans for Jackson Park have been drawn in a way to maximize tree destruction. It's contrary to any message by any of the people supporting that project to say that we should be concerned about climate change while going about clear-cutting thousands of trees. It makes no sense, and I'd like to see them get on message."