The tragic murder of 18-year-old teen activist Jailyn Logan-Bledsoe, the granddaughter of longtime Westside Branch NAACP leader Phyllis Logan, last June put renewed focus on crime perpetrated at Oak Park’s 24-hour gas stations, which has been trending upward in the last few years.
The village board took substantial action Sept. 5 to combat future instances of lawbreaking by, most notably, directing staff to draft an ordinance that would effectively outlaw gas stations from operating around the clock.
“This is a first step we can take in trying to really bring peace to our village,” Trustee Chibuike Enyia said of the soon-to-be created ordinance.
The village has had a total of 18 violent offenses take place at gas stations in the last three and a half years; 13 of those offenses took place after midnight, including Logan-Bledsoe’s murder.
After a month-long hiatus, the village board returned to virtual chambers with a jam-packed meeting Sept. 5. A significant portion of that meeting was spent approving measures to reduce gas station crime overall, as well as at the BP where Logan-Bledsoe’s life was taken.
That particular 24-hour station, located at 100 Chicago Ave., has become the axis on which the gas station issue has revolved. The BP has been closing at 11 p.m. since the murder.
With one trustee seat vacant, the six remaining village board officials voted in favor of spending $6,000 to install a physical pinch point to curb the flow of traffic from that BP station into the abutting residential neighborhoods. The pinch point will sit in the 500 block of North Taylor Avenue; the BP stands at the corner of that street and Chicago Avenue.
The board also voted unanimously to grant village government broader authority to regulate businesses should illegal activity take place on business-owned property through an amendment to the nuisance ordinance. Gas stations and all other licensed businesses are now included in the nuisance ordinance.
Through the amendment, the village can now enter into voluntary abatement agreements with a business at the discretion of the village manager. Abatement agreements could involve “numerous measures that have to be taken by the businesses, short of closing” and emergency closure procedures are included if there is a risk to the community, according to Village Attorney Paul Stephanides.
These two actions preceded the biggest development concerning gas stations to come out of the board meeting: the direction to staff to draft an ordinance to establish a 12 p.m. closing time for gas stations on the outer perimeters of Oak Park and an 11 p.m. closing time for stations on interior village streets. Gas stations would have the ability to open at 5 a.m. each day.
“Several Oak Park gas station owners have retained counsel and intend to provide data in opposition to the proposed ordinance,” a representative from Hargobind Inc., the entity that owns the BP station on Chicago Avenue, wrote in an email to Wednesday Journal.
While each member of the board expressed solemn support at the meeting for ending 24-hour gas station operations, Trustee Jim Taglia was the first to broach the hours topic calling for a more preemptive village response.
“The only thing we can do that will clearly reduce violent crime and gun violence in Oak Park would be to reduce the opportunity for violent encounters,” Taglia said. “We need to be proactive, not reactive.”
The board’s efforts were ushered forward in large part by Oak Park residents in a successful campaign this summer to keep the village’s focus on gas station safety. A letter signed by 66 residents was sent to the village board back in August, beseeching the board to take greater action. The measures taken by the village board related to gas stations were among the recommendations specified in that letter which was also published in Wednesday Journal.
One of the letter’s signatories Diane Ratekin said those who added their name to the letter are pleased with the outcome of the Sept. 5 meeting, especially regarding the potential ordinance limiting hours.
Ratekin lives nearby the Chicago Avenue BP station. She and her neighbors have seen a positive change since the station ceased operating 24 hours each day.
“We don’t have confidence that the station owner will continue to do that once the attention is drawn elsewhere,” she said.
Should the ordinance pass, the BP gas station would be legally compelled to only operate within an established timeframe. The same goes for all of Oak Park’s other gas stations. Ratekin believes this blanket approach will serve to benefit public safety as a whole.
“We know that this is an issue not just with us, but with everybody,” Ratekin said. “That’s why we’re very happy that it’s village-wide.”