<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> First December newsletter 2012

Sabra Briere

First Ward, City Council
995-3518 (home)
277-6578 (cell)

Coffee wakes some of us up

I hold office hours 7:30 to 9 am on Mondays at the Northside Grill. 

While I'm there, I meet with neighbors from all over our community to discuss the issues that concern them.  Lately I've met with neighborhood groups to talk about utility issues. 

The folks at the Northside put up with political talk early in the morning.  If you see me there, please wave, and if you have time, please, join me for coffee and a chat.  


The City Council holds a caucus meeting each Sunday prior to a Council meeting.  This meeting is an opportunity for members of Council to discuss agenda items -- and pending issues -- with each other in public view.  Members of the public are welcome to attend to bring issues to the attention of Council members.  Caucus is held in Council Chambers and starts at 7 pm.
I go to almost all Caucus meetings.


Dear Neighbors,

Now that the holiday season is in full swing, I’m going to try to catch up.
I’m sorry that I didn’t send an update before the Council meeting on November 19th.  As some of you know, my mother died a few weeks ago, and I’ve been distracted by dealing with details and travel.

Items in this newsletter:

 on the budget and community satisfaction
on Public Art funding
Connecting William Street
721 North Main / Huron River Corridor
Newport Road
The City Administrator
On the Agenda
On the Budget
On the Horizon
What am I reading?


I know the surveys I send to you are not ‘random sample’ surveys.  But they do allow me to get your insight about the issues facing the City Council.  Are you willing to take another?

On the budget

Nearly every year the Council holds a retreat to talk about the budget and the ways the budget impacts the work done at the City.  This year that retreat takes place on December 10th.   And each year I begin the process by asking you questions about the budget, so I can take those responses to the retreat and to all the discussions about dollars and sense.

This survey assesses the issues you believe the City Council should address in the next year.  The survey closes December 9th.

On public funding for art

Back in September I sent you a survey on public art – specifically asking you what you thought about the public art program, without regard to whether you would vote for the millage or against it.  At the last Council meeting the Council agreed to really look at the percent for art program and determine whether it would continue or change.  (There were two potential ordinance changes on the agenda – one to severely restrict the funding (leaving about 10% of the current funding in place) and another to eliminate the program altogether.)
The Council tabled both possible ordinance changes and discussed establishing a committee of Council members, who would report back in two months or so.  The agenda for December 3 includes a resolution to suspend all new revenues and expenditures for public art until April 1, 2013.  This deadline is based on the budget cycle (the final budget for 2013/14 must be approved by May 31) and on an expectation of how quickly the proposed committee can work.  This committee hasn’t been appointed, but I expect the resolution to appoint it will be on the agenda on December 3.
Before that committee meets, though, I’d like to revisit the issue of public art. 

This survey addresses public funding for art.  The survey closes December 9th.


DDA / Connecting William Street / DDA Partnerships

I attended the November 7th DDA meeting, followed by the November 12th Connecting William Street and then by the November 14th DDA Partnerships meeting.  I don’t serve on any of these groups.
The Council passed a resolution – last year – requiring that the DDA draft a plan for developing five (5) city-owned parcels in the downtown.  Each of these parcels is currently used for parking.  Included in the resolution establishing this project was the requirement for a ‘robust public process’ – although, everyone at the time admitted, that they couldn’t define it but they’d know it when they saw it.  Last year I asked you to complete a survey about a vision for our community.  Because the survey results helped me understand how a public process could work, I shared the report with members of Council and the DDA.  You can review those results here (I sent them to you in July, 2011 but don’t expect you to remember them!).
The Connecting William Street group is nearly ready to report out – to the DDA, which will then report to Council.  Some of us have been attending these meetings regularly; others, like me, have been less constant in our attendance.  (Here’s a link to all of the coverage of this project in the Ann Arbor Chronicle.) 
But here’s what I want you to know.
The committee watched a presentation during their Monday, November 12th meeting – and at this presentation, the consultant broke the recommendations into several categories, looking at recommended density and building use in the first few sections while giving a much smaller portion of the presentation to whether and where public open space should be recommended.  One of the recurring themes has been the possible use of one of these parcels for a hotel (also mentioned: mixed use retail/office and retail/residential).
When I spoke with Susan Pollay after the presentation, I pointed out that the presentation gave the impression that public open space – however that was defined – was not presented as part of a desired inclusion for any of the sites. I also pointed out that the continued emphasis on a hotel as a specific use raised red flags with me.
At the DDA Partnerships meeting – where I was invited to sit at the table, although usually I just sit in the back and knit – I spoke up after the presentation from the committee.  And part of my message was that the committee continues to mention a hotel as a desired use.  Every time I hear ‘hotel’ I’m hearing ‘hotel/conference center’ and I believe that the committee is making a mistake to offer this use routinely.  I also wanted to hear that public open space (not public sidewalks; not streets, but plazas and green space open to public use) needed to be incorporated in the required uses of several of the parcels.  If the committee wishes to recommend that some of the buildings be constructed with a 700 Floor-Area- Ratio (parcel square footage times 7) – that was fine.  But the public needs to see that open space is a part of the plan, not an afterthought.
Council member Lumm – who is a member of the Partnerships committee – had her own strong statements about the presentation.

North Main Huron River Vision Task Force / 721 N. Main Street / MDOT

There’s a lot of talk at the City right now about North Main Street.  I attended a meeting with Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) staff regarding the condition of the road, the increased demand for bike and pedestrian routes in this area, and the need to create effective crosswalks.  Although these folks were there about the road, issues about safe passage from one side of the rail road tracks to the other were discussed, if not addressed.
All of this leads to the North Main Huron River Vision Task Force’s work, and the 721 N. Main Technical Advisory Committee.  The City Council established the N. Main Task Force to address recommended uses for 721 N. Main and the MichCon lot.  Also, they were asked to make recommendations for a safe route from the east side of the tracks to the Border-to-Border Trail and for practical solutions to get from one park along the river to another in this Main Street corridor.
At the most recent 721 N. Main meeting (November 8th) the group was provided with the resulting ideas from the first public meeting.  These ideas included retaining the major building on the site (the other two are in the flood way, and will be removed); creating a circular pathway around the site, and placing amenities (dog park or produce garden or environmental experience park) outside that circular path.  The connections to Main, Summit and on to the Border-to-Border Trail were also discussed, but are not part of the technical group’s task.
At the North Main Huron River Vision task force meeting on November 14, the results of that earlier discussion were presented, and more ideas about the proposed project were discussed.
There was also a well-attended public meeting on November 28th at the Ann Arbor Community Center.  At this meeting, the possible ideas for 721 N. Main were presented and public comments, questions and ideas were offered.  The results of the meeting will then be reported to the North Main task force at their December 5th meeting.  Finally, the task force will present their recommendation about 721 N. Main to the Council before the end of this year.
If you did not make it to the meeting on November 28th, here is the draft report.

MDOT/Newport Road

Another aspect of the meeting with MDOT was to discuss the bridge over M14 at Newport Road.  Neighbors who live behind Newport on either side and some who live on Newport have petitioned the City for a sidewalk.  Although the actual details of this requested sidewalk have not been made final, one of the hurdles has been the existing bridge over M14.  This bridge has narrow sidewalks (5 feet wide; suitable for limited use).  The number of people walking has increased – and the number of families and individuals biking from one side to the other has also grown.  There are some massive storm water drains at either end of the bridge – and on both sides.  The location of the drains prevents an effective sidewalk connection.
But MDOT has agreed that the City can reconfigure those drains in some fashion so sidewalks can connect to the bridge.  How that will occur, what those new drains will look like, and which entities pay for this work remain under discussion.  Being able to present options in the design is a good first step.

The City Administrator

The City Administrator is a busy guy, so I don’t often ask to meet.  Recently, though, we met at my request to talk about some concerns I’ve heard from constituents.
One of our neighbors spoke with me about the increased use of the Border-to-Border trail for year-round recreation and commuting.  I knew the use was increasing, but what I hadn’t thought about was the need for rapid snow removal.  I learned that, after significant snows, the trail from Argo to Gallup is not routinely cleared; the snow melts and turns to ice; runners, walkers, and bike riders create ruts in the icy snow, and the entire trail becomes a hazard.  I requested that the Administrator consider how to set priorities for clearing snow from heavily-used paths and parks – including what it would cost and whether it prevented other snow from being cleared.  I also asked that he speak with staff about snow removal from bike lanes, as I’ve noticed more and more people riding bikes during the winter.
Another issue I brought to his attention is the need to reassess street lighting.  I’ve been told that, at some point in the past, the Council approved a resolution that prohibited placing additional street lights along City streets.  (This is, of course, not the same as the failed attempt to eliminate street lights, which was tested in 2010.)  Perhaps this resolution makes sense if one only considers the amount of light a car might need to travel safely, but in certain parts of our community it affects other types of travel.  Along DhuVarren Road, for instance, the intersections are not adequately lit; students crossing to walk to and from Clague and Logan schools in winter mornings and evenings are difficult for drivers to see.  Residents of this neighborhood have been asking for a street light for several years; those requests have become more frequent with more students walking across DhuVarren – and this neighborhood isn’t the only one I’ve heard from that wants better lighting for pedestrian safety.  I spoke with the Administrator about revisiting that resolution, and reconsidering the needs along some of our busy roads.


On the Agenda

Public Hearings (Ordinances)

There will be public hearings – leading to a vote – on the following ordinance amendments:
Noise control (as it relates to construction noise)
Traffic control (as it relates to towing cars that are inoperable)
New benefits plans, as part of negotiations with several unions, require amendments to the VEBA ordinance and the Pension Ordinance.

Ordinances, First Reading



From Council
Council member Higgins has proposed a resolution to suspend (between December 4 and April 1) funding for new art projects from the Percent for Art funds.
The practical effect of this resolution, were it to pass, would be to stop all spending from the Percent for Art budget, with just a few exceptions of work already under contract.
Also included in the resolution is the expectation that the Council will appoint a committee to provide recommendations to the Council as a whole about public funding for art. 
At this time (Friday afternoon) no resolution has been added to the agenda that would appoint a committee, but Council members may add a resolution through Monday afternoon.
(As a reminder, I hope you will give me your feedback on public funding for art and on the percent-for-art program through this survey.)

From staff
There are three resolutions seeking support from the Water Resources Commissioner’s office for stormwater management on South 4th Ave. ($320K from the Stormwater Fund), South Forest Ave. ($454.4K from the Stormwater Fund), and for tree planting citywide ($300K).  These projects are eligible for a low-interest loan from the State as well as (if that loan is approved) as much as 50% forgiveness of the loan.
An additional resolution would, if passed, clarify the deficit reduction program for the Airport and Golf Course enterprise funds.  The Airport deficit is the result of an internal loan that is considered ‘unrestricted’; it has positive net assets.  The Golf Course deficit is the result of an imbalance between revenues and expenditures. 
Significantly, the staff proposes resolving the deficit by eliminating the Golf Course Enterprise Fund and returning the revenues and expenditures to the General Fund.
Communications:  The agenda includes a memo from City staff, requesting an extended deadline for reporting on the R4C/R2A Zoning Study.  They want to extend the deadline for reporting to the Planning Commission from October, 2012 (already past) to March, 2013 and for reporting to Council from December, 2012 to May, 2013.

If you have questions or concerns about any item, please let me know.

On the Budget

Every year the Council approves a budget – this work must be completed before the end of May.  That means that the discussions about budgets start soon after the last budget was approved.  In some years Council discusses a two-year budget (although it cannot approve a budget for longer than one year); the next year the budget work is much lighter unless there is a significant change in financial circumstances.  The budget discussions that will really get interesting after January, 2013 are for the first of two years.  This gives the Council an opportunity to address philosophical as well as financial issues – what our constituents want us to do, how we can set priorities, what directions we believe the City should follow.

Several communities in the US have a ‘participatory’ process which allows residents a significant say in some aspects of governmental expenditures.  Ann Arbor doesn’t have this type of process, although there is a history of ‘town hall’ meetings on the budget, and you have been invited to meet with me at a First Ward townhall each year.  I’ll be working with Council member Kailasapathy to schedule this event in February.

But to start the process, I hope you will respond to this survey on budget priorities and community satisfaction.

On the Horizon

721 N. Main Technical Committee will hold its final meeting before presenting its recommendation to the North Main Huron River Vision Task Force on Tuesday, December 4th. This recommendation should reflect the reactions and comments of the community (at two very well attended public meetings).  In turn, the NMHRV task force will present its findings and recommendation to the City Council at the December 17th meeting.
The Council’s annual retreat to discuss the budget and various planning issues is scheduled for Monday, December 10th from 4-11 pm.  This meeting is open to the public; it will be held in the jury room of the new police/courts facility (3rd floor).  Although the security checkpoint closes at 5 pm, I don’t know what accommodations are being made for this meeting about security.


Calendar and Events

December 3-7 is the last week for compostable and leaf collection. If you get a live holiday tree, please consider saving it until April, when collection resumes; cutting it up and using it in the garden - or mulching it; taking it to one of these locations for collection by the City:

• In the parking lot adjacent to the Drop-off Station at 2950 E. Ellsworth near Platt Road; available for 24/7
drop offs (www.a2gov.org/compost).
• Drop off at these park sites is permitted from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.: West Park parking lot off Chapin near West
Huron Street; Gallup boat launch parking lot, 3000 Fuller Road, near Huron River Drive; Olson Park parking lot,
1515 Dhu Varren Road, near Pontiac Trail.

The Ann Arbor Public Art Commission won't meet in December.

The Parks Advisory Commission will meet December 4th in the Council workroom, 2nd floor of Larcom, at 4:00 pm for a sequential PAC and PAC Land Acquisition meeting.

The Environmental Commission will meet December 6th at 7 pm (the usual meeting date is the third Thursday of each month).

City Council will meet in retreat on Monday, December 10th at 4 pm in the Jury Room at the Courts/Police facility (Huron & Fifth Ave.)  This meeting is open to the public.

City government offices will be closed December 24 at noon, all day December 25, December 31 at noon and all day January 1.

Other events

Enjoy some holiday music with University Musical Society and the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.  Don’t forget to venture out for a night of Christmas Caroling!


What am I reading?

I just finished reading “Rights at Risk, Limits of Liberty in Modern Americaby David Shipler.  It’s a refresher course in the abuses of power.

Interesting web sites
It’s true that nowhere is exactly like Ann Arbor – but I love good ideas when I see them.  I look at web sites for ideas about what happens when neighborhoods change, and what should be done by local government to manage that change.  Here are some websites I found useful over the past few weeks:
Empower SF (empowering neighborhoods in San Francisco).  I linked to the “about us” page, because I think it’s really interesting to see all that this website has to offer – and all that this organization has to offer – and recognize that the work being done is through a network of local residents, businesses, non-profit organizations and churches.  No one is appointed by local government!
The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, on the other hand, is part of Los Angeles City’s government.  LA has a Council of Neighborhoods (elected) and hosts a Neighborhood Congress to discuss issues as diverse as the budget, ethics and open government, and green technologies.
I also found this abstract about neighborhood empowerment – including Business Improvement Districts, special assessment districts, and zoning for neighborhoods.  Here's the complete paper.