<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Second July newsletter 2013

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.  

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,

I don’t know about your summer, but my summertime projects seem to have exceeded the available time.  I need to harvest some wild carrot (which can be used to make a rich cream dye); the spiderwort is again out of control, and the lavender and lilies are ‘leaning out for love’ because the canopy of the redbud has extended so far.  Summer in the garden also means frogs in the pond (rebuilt this spring) and berries on the bushes.

And not enough time to ever just relax and enjoy it.

This past couple of weeks I’ve attended some Citizen Participation meetings as prospective developers described their plans.  Two of the proposed projects met with cautious support – the one at the corner of Liberty and Fourth Avenue, and the one next to it on Fourth.  These two projects are in the Main Street Historic District, and include restoring the buildings to their previous size (the Running Fit building used to be three stories) or former façade (the ‘Town Center Plaza’ building used to be a Montgomery Ward store, with cream porcelain tiles).  Other projects, proposed for ‘green fields’ (previously undeveloped land) have not met with the same level of community support – they have, instead, brought forward local issues of traffic congestion, storm water runoff with local flooding, and the impact of parking on local streets.

Your neighborhood might have some real infrastructure concerns – and you and your neighbors may complain but be patient until someone proposes adding dozens or hundreds of neighbors to your neighborhood.  It’s hard for me to justify waiting until problems become worse in order to fix them, but I know that’s a human attitude.  So, if your neighborhood has local flooding or major traffic issues already, let’s talk about it and work toward some solutions.  I know those solutions can take two or three years from discussion to construction, so the sooner we start planning ahead, the better.

Neighborhood News

My neighborhood adopted a couple of parks about a decade ago.  Some intrepid folks weed the raised beds by the Broadway bridges a couple of times a year, fighting a battle with tall plants like milkweed and thistles that we never seem to win.  Working with City staff, we’ve augmented the beds, removing some of the daylilies that obscured views, and planting catmint and dark blue sage.  When I’m weeding, I always leave a few butter-and-eggs plants, because (although it is trite in this town) I like the contrast of the yellow daylilies, blue catmint and sage, and yellow butter and eggs.

This week I’ve asked some City staff from the Parks and Natural Area Preservation departments to come to a neighborhood meeting and talk about how we – the neighborhood – want our parks to work.  I’ve also invited someone over who will talk with us about building rain gardens.  I’m not at the point of suggesting a rain garden for the park – although some might think that would be a good idea, given the way the park routinely floods. 

The City gives homeowners credit on their quarterly water bills (the storm water section) if they declare their home to be Riversafe, they install a rainbarrel, or they create a rain garden, dry well or cistern.  Slowing runoff anywhere will decrease some of the flooding and improve water quality.  Because my neighborhood drains to Traver Creek, I want to encourage ways to slow down the flow.  My hope is that some of my neighbors will join me in this – and some have already gone before, so I hope they will share their experiences with installing and maintaining rain gardens.  (The County will help with rain garden design, too.)

If you would like a meeting in your local park to talk about how your neighborhood would like to use it and how its design can be improved, let me know.  And if you want more information on rain gardens or any other do-it-yourself project that will save the planet and save you a little money, let me know that, too.  I’ll be happy to get that organized.

Inside the City survey

The City is planning to install art work at Argo Park next year.  (Note: this is one of the last projects funded through the Percent for Art program, and will be ‘stuck on’ rather than ‘built in’ to the cascades.)  The input they receive from the public will help shape expectations for that art work.  Please take this survey and let the City hear from you.  This survey closes on July 19th.

Outside the City survey

The national Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) case study investigation program chose the Ann Arbor Municipal Center as a model of sustainable landscape design. This selection reflects the innovative features exhibited at Ann Arbor’s location including the rain gardens, permeable pavement, green roof, and overall public space design. Additional information on the LAF research project is posted online.
Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are conducting a brief, voluntary survey of adult visitors, employees, and developers/builders in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, Michigan about the landscaping at the Ann Arbor Municipal Center.  The online questions are posted here and will be active for three weeks, from July 1-19, 2013.

On the Agenda

Public Hearings – None

It doesn’t happen often, but the agenda for July 15 doesn’t include any public hearings.

Ordinance – First Reading

Every time the City and one of the municipal unions amend an existing contract or negotiate a new contract, this contract becomes part of the City ordinances.  On the agenda for July 15 is an amendment to the contracts with the Police Service Specialists and the Command Officer Association; this amendment covers retirement benefits for new hires, returning hires, and transfers from other bargaining units.  The changes affect the way the City calculates the final compensation before retirement.


On the Consent Agenda

The City is required by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to provide education about reducing source-water pollution.  One of the ways the City provides such education is through tours of the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for about 4000 people per year.  On the agenda is a proposed contract with The Ecology Center to provide these tours.  The RFP was promoted directly to 22 different educational / environmental organizations and through a variety of different media.  The Ecology Center offered the lowest bid.

From Council

The Council decided to postpone to this meeting the consideration of a resolution to amend its rules to address several problems.  These problems were discussed at a work session in April (April 29), during which representatives from the Michigan Municipal League presented information and asked questions about the Open Meetings Act, attorney-client privilege, agenda setting and public (and Council) speaking times.

First, Council members have requested a more open process for work session – they want to be able to discuss the ideas brought by staff, and they want to discuss those ideas freely.  To do this, Council must treat work sessions as opportunities for the public to address Council.  For some of us, this is a great idea – all work sessions should be compliant with the Open Meetings Act.  Another issue raised in the Council rules committee is the agenda.  Council members would like all agenda items to be complete and on the agenda by Friday at 5 pm – both for public review and to allow Council members an opportunity to review prior to the Monday meeting. 

A third significant issue is the length and frequency of speaking times – both for Council members and for the public.  Council members have been provided three different opportunities to address the Council as general comments; the rules would reduce that to two opportunities.  Council members may ask as many questions of staff as they need to clarify an issue, but the Council has been limited to speaking on an issue to two times – the first for 5 minutes, the second for 3 minutes.  The amendments in the rules would reduce those speaking times to 3 the first time and 2 minutes the second time.  Public speaking time is divided into two categories – public commentary general and public commentary reserved.  Public commentary general would be scheduled at the end of each work session and at the end of each Council action meeting.  Public commentary reserved time would be limited – 10 speakers, 2 spaces reserved for non-agenda items and 8 spaces reserved for agenda action items that don’t have public hearings.  Speakers who had reserved time at the previous Council action meeting will not be able to reserve time for the current Council action meeting.  Of course, speakers could address Council at any public hearing – as long as their comments relate to the item of the public hearing.  And just as these revised rules limit the speaking time for Council members, they would limit the speaking time for each member of the public to 2 minutes.

These changes were recommended by the Michigan Municipal League presenters.  This resolution is sponsored by the members of the Council Rules Committee (Higgins, Hieftje, Kunselman, Taylor and me).

From Boards and Commissions

At the July 1 Council meeting, the Council agreed to postpone a decision on whether to adopt the State Street Corridor Plan.  Council member Higgins requested the postponement, as she had some concerns that she would like to have addressed.  This resolution returns to the agenda; an affirmative vote would add the State Street Corridor Plan to the Master Plan documents.

Waiving permit fees for Liberty Plaza: During the past three Council meetings, Council members have heard from advocates for the homeless and members of the Vineyard Church about their Pizza Friday events.  For some time, Vineyard Church members have brought pizza to Liberty Plaza (Division and Liberty) each Friday night and given it free of charge to anyone who wanted a slice.  The members had been parking – without permission – in private parking; when their cars were towed, they moved their operation to Veterans Park – and they asked for a permit to use the park, because they expected more than 40 people each Friday.  Permits generally have fees attached to them.  (The permit process guarantees a user that two or more organizations won’t be trying to use the same space at the same time; permit fees generally help cover maintenance costs.)  Council members were surprised by the assertion that the church would have to pay a fee to use Liberty Plaza; the Parks Commission has recommended waiving all fees for the use of Liberty Plaza.  This resolution is sponsored by the two Council representatives to the Parks Advisory Commission (Anglin and Taylor), by Mayor Hieftje and me.

From Staff

The Council will consider allocating $1,244,629 to human services organizations; this is the third year in a three-year funding cycle where allocations from the City are combined with those from the County, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, and the United Way to create a coordinated funding system.  This allocation is in the budget for FY2014.

The skatepark at Veterans Park has been approved and designed.  On the agenda for July 15th is a resolution to award the construction contract for $1,031,529 to Krull  Construction.

Last year the Council approved a budget that included the renovation of bathroom facilities in City Hall.  That work was not begun before the end of June.  The Council is being asked to approve the renovation again, as the funds had reverted to the General Fund at the end of FY2013.

Our community has had a history of storm water issues.  On the agenda is petition to the Water Resources Commissioner to improve the storm water systems off Stone School Road and Malletts Creek.  The total cost of the project is $4,000,000, with $1,200,000 coming from the storm water fund.  Because the project focus includes water quality improvement, it is eligible for low-interest State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan funding, and this project has been included on the Project Priority List (PPL) for SRF loan funding. Portions of this project have been classified as a "green project," which may result in up to 50% loan forgiveness. If the state grants forgiveness, the City may need to repay only $600,000.00.

Barton Drive neighbors and residents recently met with City staff to request that new sidewalk be constructed between Chandler and the boardwalk entering Bandemer Park.  The Council will consider funding the next step – the engineering drawings and financing plan

Like many of our streets, Forest Avenue is ready for reconstruction.  The proposed reconstruction – which includes new water mains, new storm water retention systems, and new curbs and gutters – would begin in August and continue into October, with a break for student move-in.


Of course, to me each item on the agenda holds an interest, but some are more compelling than others.  I’ve tried to highlight those I think might interest you.  Of course, the agenda contains things I didn’t highlight.  For instance, there are four different easements being offered by 3100 Washtenaw (Arbor Hills Crossing) for pedestrian access and bus shelters and turnouts.  The Huron River Watershed Council might contract for storm water services with the City.  Margolis Nursery may provide tree planting and tree maintenance services.  And there are reports from AATA about community discussion of fares and services.

I’m also keeping track of the City Council’s priorities on each agenda.  By my count, this agenda includes 1 item that deals with Affordable Housing, 15 items that address infrastructure, 3 items that address safety services, and 8 items that are more general, from administrative decisions to accepting the minutes of the Insurance Board to closing streets for the Plumbers and Pipefitters block party.

On the Horizon

Huron River Day is today – July 14th (that’s Bastille Day to some of us!).  I hope you got to spend the day on the river. 

The Art Fair begins officially on Wednesday, but streets will be blocked off starting Monday night, with set up on Tuesday.  I always miss the Townie Party, because I go to the Council meeting instead.  But I hope you will go and enjoy yourself.

Tuesday, July 16th the artist selected to create art for the Kingsley Street Rain Garden project will be on site (the corner of Kingsley and First Street) at 10 am.  So will the landscape architect who is responsible for the Rain Garden.  I hope you can make your way there.

Also on Tuesday, the Planning Commission will hold public meetings on the following: additional parking for Glacier Hills; the Glendale Condominiums on Glendale near Abbott and Fair; and the Shell Gas Station / Tim Horton’s on Ann Arbor-Saline Road.

Barton Drive reconstruction begins in earnest on July 22nd.  Traffic will be re-routed and transit will be more . . . complicated.  Since this reconstruction is sorely needed, I hope you will be patient.  And if there are unexpected problems, I hope you will let me know.

Construction at the intersection of Miller Road and Newport Road started on July 9th and will continue through July 29th. 

What am I reading?

In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don’t Trust Our Leaders?” is a new TED essay by Ivan Krastev.  I should read this, so I’ve added it to the pile.

City Rules: How regulations affect urban form” by Emily Talen.  Published late in 2011, I’ve waited for the price to drop to a reasonable (for me) amount.  But now, after just a couple of chapters, I wish I’d gotten the book earlier.

The June 21, 2013 SCIENCE magazine has an article on the mathematics of cities by Luis Bettencourt.  Looks like a trip to the Downtown Library.

I took out “Rain Gardens: Sustainable Landscapes for a Beautiful Yard and a Healthy World” by Lynn Steiner and Robert Domm from the new books shelf in the library.  Robert Domm lives in Rives Junction, Michigan – a little north of Jackson.  Lynn Steiner lives in Minnesota.  The techniques and plants recommended work really well for our climate and soil conditions.