Former President Barack Obama dialed back his planned 700-person birthday bash, set to take place this weekend, after sustained criticism for the large-scale gathering at a time when Democrats are telling ordinary Americans to hunker down or wear masks. But that’s just the tip of the hypocrisy iceberg.
Obama is using his birthday to raise funds for his planned “presidential center,” a monument to the man and his legacy that is scheduled to break ground as soon as this month on prime parkland in Chicago. Critics say that the project has brazenly violated the policies and philosophies that Obama spent his presidency pushing on others, in ways that will permanently harm the environment and the city of Chicago.
Obama wants to cut down nearly 800 trees and erect four buildings on nearly 20 acres inside Chicago’s Jackson Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and includes waterways connecting to Lake Michigan. The proposed buildings include a 235-foot museum tower, a conference center, an athletic center, a library, and a 400-car garage.
Though former presidents often create presidential “libraries,” this is not a library because it is far more elaborate than what is permitted under regulations governing presidential libraries.
A group of Chicago residents concerned about the natural environment called Protect Our Parks has taken to the courts to attempt to stop the planned groundbreaking on August 16, represented by lawyer and professor Richard Epstein. Judges have so far ruled against them.
Still, the project runs afoul of liberal policies and principles.
It robs the poor to pay the rich
Of course, Obama and the Obama Foundation do not own the public park. Yet Chicago, which has massive pension debt and an impoverished tax base, agreed to essentially give the land to the private group in the form of a 99-year “land use agreement” for a sum of $10. Epstein estimates the value of the land at $200 million. Until 2019, Chicago’s mayor was Rahm Emanuel, who served as Obama’s chief of staff.
Regular people in Chicago will face significant hardship as a result. Major thoroughfares will have to be closed during construction. Other roads will have to be reconfigured at a cost of $175 million, Epstein wrote, and commuter traffic redirected near residential neighborhoods.
The Obama Foundation had assets of nearly half a billion dollars in 2019, according to tax filings.
It bolsters inequality
Chicago has no shortage of overwhelmingly black, economically depressed areas that the first black president could invigorate by buying affordable land there and building his elaborate property.
Epstein said his group has identified a 10-acre site nearby that would be “superior in every relevant respect” in a poor neighborhood well-served by mass transit.
“They could purchase that land from the city for a market rate without having any of these environmental reviews and so forth, but they steadforthly refuse to do this” because they “want the Park Avenue address” because of “vanity… They would like this thing to be seen from the lakefront,” Epstein told Glenn Loury.
Instead, Obama has been dead-set on building in the prestigious, tony lakeside area — the Chicago equivalent of Martha’s Vineyard, where he also has property.
It harms the environment
The building site is so close to marshes that engineers may need specialized pylons driven deep into the ground to build on the site at all, Epstein said.
That’s even as his administration enacted a stringent rule called Waters of the United States that made it difficult to build anywhere near water, citing the environmental impact. The rule was repealed by the Trump administration, but is scheduled to be brought back by Biden.
The skyscraper will sit in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway, a major north-south bird migration route, which could cause migratory birds to smash into the tower and die. To address this, project planners simply said they would wait until after this year’s migration season.
Democrats have instituted complex environmental reviews which are often used to stymie development such as oil and gas pipelines. But it did not slow down the Obama center.
“These guys essentially play fast and loose with every environmental statute, and then they do things that completely contradict what is happening with the Biden administration elsewhere,” Epstein said.
It requires cars
The Obama administration prioritized dense, urban development, ushering in plans that critics say would “abolish the suburbs.” The purpose was to mix low-income and high-income residents and to push people to use mass transit, which could help the environment by breaking Americans of their love for cars. Biden’s infrastructure package similarly heavily emphasizes mass transit while proposing a pilot program that could lead to a per-mile federal fee for driving cars.
There’s no way to take a train to the middle of a forested park. The Obama Foundation says thousands of people will visit the center each year, bringing economic benefits. But every one of them will be in cars.