We have been following the saga of the construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Center, which has been denounced by professors at the University of Chicago and faces an environmental impact lawsuit from local citizen groups.
Now, it appears construction has been halted (at least temporarily) over trees.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in August that the park district was cutting down trees in Jackson Park despite a federal lawsuit, city and federal approvals pending, and a pledge from the Obama Foundation CEO to keep trees intact until the permitting process is complete.

Given the controversy over the tree cutting and federal agencies becoming more active in reviews, the city at the beginning of September decided to slow down construction of a new track field – needed because the proposed Obama Center will be taking over land where an existing field is located.

The city decision to stop the work came after a Sept. 11 meeting with the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration.

Local Chicago affiliate CBS 2’s Political Reporter Derrick Blakley indicated that City Hall promised federal law was being followed as it chopped down about 40 Jackson Park trees to make room for the new athletic field; however, the federal officials who have oversight are not sure about that determination. Representatives of two local groups, Friends of the Park and Protect Our Parks, are pressing to make the halt permanent.

“I think the city often blows it by moving too quickly,” stated Juanita Irizarry from Friends of the Parks.

Critics compare it to Mayor Daley’s bulldozing of Meigs Field, another city action hastily performed without federal approval.

“I believe the city has misrepresented the facts on every issue that’s come to public attention,” said Herbert Caplan from Protect Our Parks.

Caplan and Protect Our Parks is suing to stop the project.

I suspect the citizen activists are going to be angry by two of Rahm Emanuel’s final moves as Chicago’s mayor, either, as it relates to the presidential center: Paying $10 for a 99-year pact and closing a key street in the area.

City Hall officials involved in the negotiations with the Obama Presidential Foundation briefed reporters on Tuesday with the actual written legislation not available because it was still being finalized.

One of the ordinances includes the agreements between the foundation and the city, which includes the foundation paying the city $10 for the 99-year pact; the other ordinance clears the legal way to plow under Cornell Drive from 59th Street to Hayes Drive to be reconfigured as green space on the Obama campus. The closing of Cornell has been controversial.

The situation has gotten serious enough that for the first time, top officials of the Obama Foundation have responded to the lawsuit that is threatening to kill the Obama Presidential Center project.

David Simas, chief executive of the foundation, pointed to two ordinances introduced in the City Council on Tuesday stipulating, among other things, that ownership of the center will be transferred to the city once it is built.

“While this will be built with private funds, at the end of the construction, the building will be turned over to the city of Chicago and its people,” Simas said. “The city will own the building, the Obama Foundation will not. … These amenities will be amenities of the people and for the people of Chicago.”

Simas’ statement came just two days before the lawsuit is scheduled for another court hearing before federal Judge Robert Blakey.

In fact, Illinois tax-payers are going to be contributing to the center as well.

I will say this: While I have a lot to complain about in California, at least I can drive up easily to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and experience what real “presidentin'” looked like! Chicago residents have my deepest sympathy.