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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 the basement at City Hall through December, 2014.

The Caucus starts at 7 pm.

Ice along the river

January 17, 2015

Dear neighbors

The New York Times carried an analysis of the world’s weather in 2014 (Saturday, January 17, 2015).  People living in the Midwest could question the results – that it was the warmest year on record.  Of the large, populated areas in the world, only the eastern portion of the US recorded below-average temperatures.  And of course, that’s where we live.

Those record-cold temperatures and record-deep snows have not been repeated this year – at least, so far.  But it doesn’t take much snow and ice to make us miserable, or to make the streets and sidewalks dangerous.  As the City addresses problems here and there, those problems that remain (and there will always be problems) stand out more.  So, here’s my ask:

If you see that the ice or snow has not been cleared from a sidewalk, including walks over bridges and in parks, please use A2FixIt to report the problem.  And feel free to contact me at the same time – sometimes an isolated incident is part of an overall problem, and one that needs a policy change to resolve. 

For instance, I’ve learned that no one clears the ice and snow off the sidewalk over M-14 at Newport.  The neighborhoods off Newport worked together to get a sidewalk along Newport so their children could walk safely to school, and one of the neighborhoods has committed to clearing the snow along Newport.  But the bridge is owned by MDOT – and the funding from MDOT for winter maintenance of streets and bridges is already stretched too far. 

I managed to get stuck at the bottom of a hill on another street in Ann Arbor – a street with only one exit.  Thanks to the neighbors, we were able to chip a path in the ice and spread salt – all before the City’s truck arrived to spread grit.  Because I heard from the neighbors, I was there.  Because I got stuck, I carried that experience with me as I talked about which areas of the City should receive snow and ice treatment, even if the City hasn’t seen 4 inches of snow fall.

I routinely read the A2FixIt reports – which is a bit safer than going about at night in the winter, looking for street lights that aren’t functioning.  I hope you will help by reporting traffic issues, street condition issues, sidewalk issues, trash issues – well, any issues you have with the condition of our community.  It really helps.

Agenda highlights

City Council meets Tuesday, January 20th – delayed to honor the Martin Luther King holiday.  Planning Commission meets Wednesday, January 21.  These meetings return to Council Chambers, where all the asbestos has been removed.  Don’t expect to see a dramatically different room, though.  The biggest visible change may just be the new microphones.


At the last Council meeting, The City Council considered a substitute amendment to the ordinance governing the keeping of chickens, and approved it.  That meant the clock started over, and that there will be a new public hearing to discuss the possible changes.  This version includes these possible amendments:  keeping 1 or 2 chickens would not require approval from adjacent neighbors; keeping 3 or more chickens would retain that neighbor approval; the maximum number of chickens would increase to 6. 

This change allows some people to keep a very small number of chickens (1 or 2) without neighbors approving.  It doesn’t change the requirements for a chicken-keeper to provide appropriate shelter and protection, properly placed so as not to intrude unreasonably on the neighbors.  But it does not clarify the process for renewing a license if one keeps just 1 or 2 chickens. 

These are things I looked for.  I heard from several people about why they supported or opposed the neighbor notification requirements.  What do you think of these possible changes?


Building and housing inspections, especially rental housing inspections, can become very significant issues for a City like Ann Arbor.  Recently, personnel changes in the Building Inspection department have left the City short of both management and staff to do the inspections.  The City Council will consider whether to increase the contract with Carlisle-Wortman, an Ann Arbor-based company, to conduct more inspections while the City hires and trains new staff.

Even in the coldest winter, some people camp out – under bridges, in the woods, in parks, along the railroad tracks, and near the freeways.  There is no place in our community where such camping is legal.  While some people would like to find a way to make camping legal, no one has yet been successful.  Our legislators in Lansing would need to bring the issue to the House and Senate, and get sufficient support to change the laws.  That’s because Michigan law expects each permitted residence to have working plumbing, heat and cooking facilities.  Even campgrounds in state parks are provided – to the extent possible – with working toilets and showers, while these campgrounds also limit the length of any individual’s stay.  On the agenda is a resolution that, if approved, asserts that the City Council supports establishing one or more permanent camps for homeless individuals.  MLive covered the press release announcing this resolution – and other things – here.

There are always other items on the agenda that I haven’t highlighted.  To learn more about what the Council will discuss on Tuesday, January 20, please look at the general agenda information.


Affordable Housing and Ann Arbor Re-Development

Last Monday the Council met with the Planning Commission in a joint working session to learn about two different studies that could affect our community's future planning. The first presentation was on re-development readiness and the second on the Housing Needs Assessment conducted with funding from HUD, the City, the DDA and the County.

The re-development readiness report provides a brief analysis of what the City has done well to make development easier and better for the community, and what it still ought to do – based on the State's vision of what Cities should be doing to encourage re-development. The recommendations include clarifying the development process and our zoning ordinances as well as establishing an economic development plan.

The discussion of the Housing Needs Assessment report was just another step in the direction of enhancing Ann Arbor's housing diversity goal. The report indicated that, for our community to continue to thrive, it needs to ensure some opportunity exists for all members of the community to live, work and invest in their neighborhoods. Particularly noteworthy for me was the emphasis on creating/retaining more housing for people earning less than $40,000 annually. (This group includes pre-school teachers, administrative assistants, recent college graduates, wait staff and kitchen staff at restaurants, and others who provide services to many of us.)

Although it wasn't mentioned in the report, another group of people who can struggle to make ends meet in our community are seniors on fixed incomes. Taxes, maintenance on their residence, car and appliance repair and replacement, the cost of food – all of these costs increase while their incomes remain static.

These two reports made me curious, so I looked at data from the last decade to see both the effect of global economic situations and the housing bubble on our community, and the number and types of housing that had been built in our community. I haven't created a narrative for the data, but you may see it here.

You might also be interested in some other data I was looking at – age demographics.

(links to larger image with data)

Many of us hear that we ought to be attracting younger residents, and finding ways for them to decide to stay in Ann Arbor for their entire working lives. Certainly, the University of Michigan has been doing its part to create jobs (over 4,000 in the last few years) but those jobs can be filled by people who commute to town rather than live here. Seeing this chart gave me another thing to think about.


Some of us have a composter at our homes. While I have a composter in a shady spot, it isn't very efficient. So I put most of my compost out for the City to collect and compost. The City doesn't pick up compost during the winter (and yes, I'd like to get this changed) but it does pick up compost between April and December, and it accepts food waste. My compost carts are filling – slowly – with plate scrapings and unusable food parts. And my Christmas tree awaits a thaw, so we can cut it up and place it in the bin. You may not want to wait for April to remove your tree from your property. You may drop your tree off (before January 31) at any of these drop-off locations:

I just heard from a neighbor, wondering whether the City would accept the bones from a rack of lamb.  Here’s what the City accepts:

Acceptable compostable materials

Unacceptable compostable materials

Do not place the following items in compost carts or paper yard waste bags: 

On the calendar

Monday, January 19th

Martin Luther King Day of Service
Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is an opportunity to make your day “off” a day “on” for community service. Help remove invasive shrubs from Black Pond Woods Nature Area. Meet by the Project Grow gardens. Details: www.a2gov.org/NAP. Please wear long pants and closed-toe shoes to workday events. Workday events are suitable for all ages but minors must be accompanied by a guardian or contact NAP in advance to obtain a release form. Tools, snacks, and know-how provided. Free. For more information about the MLK Day of Service movement, visit www.mlkday.gov.

Wednesday, January 21st

Planning Commission meets at 7 pm in Council Chambers at City Hall
The Planning Commission will consider whether to recommend approval of a new housing development, South Pond Village.  South Pond Village would be built behind Arborland, adjacent to both US 23 and Huron River Drive and accessible from Chalmers.  If this project is constructed, it would add 73 new, single family detached houses to Ann Arbor.  This article in MLive includes a history of proposed (but not built) projects and a map of the area.

Wednesday, January 28th

Council members have been invited to participate in the annual Point In Time (PIT) count, which takes place here in Washtenaw County on January 28th.  This might be an effective way for elected officials to learn more about the options available to homeless individuals. 

“The Point-in-Time (PIT) count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. HUD requires that Continuums of Care conduct an annual count of homeless persons who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and Safe Havens on a single night. Continuums of Care also must conduct a count of unsheltered homeless persons every other year (odd numbered years). Each count is planned, coordinated, and carried out locally. The Housing Inventory Count (HIC) is a point-in-time inventory of provider programs within a Continuum of Care that provide beds and units dedicated to serve persons who are homeless, categorized by five Program Types: Emergency Shelter; Transitional Housing; Rapid Re-housing; Safe Haven; and Permanent Supportive Housing.”  https://www.hudexchange.info/hdx/guides/pit-hic/

On the Horizon

Stewardship Workday

Monday, Feb. 16, Presidents Day, 1–3 p.m.
Gallup Park
Gallup is one of Ann Arbor's most popular recreation areas, and the wet meadow deserves some of the most volunteer attention during the winter season. This high quality sedge meadow is composed of perennial forbs, grass, and sedge mixtures that grow in saturated soils. Assessable when the ground is frozen, volunteers will cut invasive woody shrubs that compete with native species for water, nutrients and sun. Enter Gallup from Fuller Road, and drive over the bridge and park in the first parking lot to meet NAP staff. Please wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. All minors must present a completed release form, and should be accompanied by a guardian. Tools, snacks, and know-how provided.

Ann Arbor Citizens' Police, Fire and Courts Academy Now Accepting Applications for Participation

From the City’s website:  Citizens often wish they had a better way to voice concerns and ask questions about the public safety system. In turn, Ann Arbor police and fire and the 15th District Court members wish the public had a better understanding of the challenges facing police officers, firefighters, prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys and judges. Now, all of these goals and more can be accomplished with the Ann Arbor Citizens' Police, Fire and Courts Academy, which aims to teach citizens about the public safety system.

First of its kind in the state of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Citizens' Police, Fire and Courts Academy provides a mechanism for educating the public about the public safety system and ways to avoid and prevent fire and crime.  The academy also provides a two-way communication between citizens, police officers, firefighters, attorneys and judges in the 15th District Court.

The Citizens' Police, Fire and Courts Academy is a 10-week program that will be held at the Ann Arbor police and fire departments, Washtenaw Community College and the 15th District Court. Classes take place weekly on Tuesdays beginning March 10 and ending May 12, 2015, from 6:30–9:30 p.m. Topics will include: police, fire and 15th District Court organizational structure, K-9 unit, detective investigations, firearms (F.A.T.S.), traffic stop scenarios, emergency management, National Incident Management Systems, first aid/CPR/AED, fire behavior, personal protection equipment, fire safety and prevention, hazardous materials, technical rescue, the criminal justice system, court processes and court programs.

For more information about this program or to download an application, visit the City of Ann Arbor website at www.a2gov.org/police or call Program Coordinator Adele El-Ayoubi with the Ann Arbor Police Department at 734.794.6933 x1. All applications are due by 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. A background review will be conducted on all applicants; applicants will be notified if accepted into the program.

Stewardship Workday

Saturday, Feb. 21, 1–3 p.m.
Furstenberg Nature Area
Build a "Fursty" the snowman after participating in cutting invasive shrubs like honeysuckle and buckthorn at Furstenberg Nature Area. Although the weather outside might be frightful, NAP is prepared to improve this 38-acre park containing wetland, woodlands, prairie, and a rare oak savannah. Meet in the parking lot off Fuller Road, across from Huron High School. Please wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. All minors must present a completed release form, and should be accompanied by a guardian. Tools, snacks, and know-how provided.

School/City Committee

Thursday, February 26, 5-7 pm
City Hall, Main Floor South conference room
This committee – consisting of School Board and City Council members, the School Superintendant and the City Administrator – was established in 1986 by join School Board and Council resolutions.  For the past few years, however, it has not met.  This year, Council member Grand and I were appointed to represent the City (the first year for each of us) and we were able to have the initial meeting in January.  A meeting schedule is not yet established, but the second meeting will occur on February 26th.  All City Council and committee meetings are open to the public.

Sometimes I need a break, and sometimes I dig into the odd item here or there.  Among the books I’m reading right now:

What If, by Randall Munroe (my spouse got this for Christmas, but you can find it at the Ann Arbor District Library).  This is a collection of truly odd scientific questions, and the surprising answers.

Urban Alchemy, by Mindy Thomson Fullilove (I didn’t make that up).  Approaching urban planning and design from a public health perspective, and considering individual and neighborhood well-being – now that’s novel.

Blood Royal, by Eric Jager.  This is a history of the notorious assassination of Duke Louis d’Orleans, brother of Charles the Mad of France.