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

Sabra Briere

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

Coffee wakes some of us up

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

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,

50 years ago next Friday, I was in Junior High (no Middle School in my home town).  From that day, violence marked my path into adulthood. Many times over the next decade, people like me, on newly meeting someone, would ask ‘where were you?’ – and we always knew, to the minute, where we were when we heard about Dallas.

I know I felt changed – by this event, by Martin Luther King’s assassination in April, 1968, and especially by Bobby Kennedy’s on June 5, 1968.

If you are old enough to remember – where were you?

Last year, our neighbors on the East Coast experienced Super Storm Sandy.  This year, our neighbors in the Philippines (and yes, we are all neighbors, at least, to me) have experiences Super Storm Haiyan.  I’ve talked with people who grew up the in Philippines about this devastating storm.  There’s little enough we can do, but here are some ways to help:

Getting the food and medical supplies from donors to those who need them is a major challenge.  The UN's World Food Programme  has been providing services in the Philippines for some time, and is a knowledgeable and trusted resource.  You can find other organizations doing vital work at this list compiled by NBC, and this one put together by CNN.

Think of it as a mitzvah.

This weekend my neighbors – and a couple of volunteers from Chelsea! – dug holes and planted about 15 Black Oak, Chinkapin Oak and – I think – Bur Oak trees along the Broadway Bridge and into Broadway park.  We did this as part of our Adopt-a-Park volunteer activity.  Most of the time, we just pull weeds; getting to plant something is hard work but rewarding.  (Some months ago I pointed out that trees planted in 2003 were not thriving; those trees have been removed and these oak trees and some Kentucky Coffee Trees are now set to beautify the park.)

Because the holidays are – amazingly – already upon us, I want to encourage you to give gifts to our community.  We’re fortunate that there is no major disaster to recover from, but many of our neighbors experience personal disasters that keep them from thriving.  The following local organizations accept financial contributions.  Here are some ideas:

Shelter from the cold

The Shelter AssociationAvalon HousingSOSInterfaith Hospitality Network (Alpha House), and Staples Family Housing.  Of course, this list doesn’t include every option, but does cover a broad spectrum.

Food on the table

Food Gatherers and any of a number of local churches provide food assistance – from Vinyard’s Pizza Friday events to St. Andrews’ breakfasts accept financial donations.  The Ann Arbor Community Center and other community organizations distribute food, too.

The clothes on their backs

There aren’t many opportunities to contribute directly if you want to provide clothing for families.  One way is through Warm the Children.  Cash donations for clothing may also be made to The Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti, SAFE HouseAlpha House and Community Action Network.  (CAN also offers you an opportunity to adopt a family for holiday gifts.)

Learning for life

Washtenaw Literacy helps older students learn English as a Second Language.  It also helps many who never managed to learn to read before.  The Children’s Literacy Network provides a variety of services to children and their families to help them learn how to learn.


I attended a public hearing at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in Lansing on November 13th.  This meeting allowed the public to address the issue of whether to amend cleanup standards for a variety of chemicals – including 1,4 Dioxane.  There to speak on behalf of the City was Matt Naud; speaking for the County was Jennifer Conn.  All members of our elected delegation – Gretchen Driskell, Adam Zemke, Jeff Irwin and Rebekah Warren – submitted a letter urging the DEQ to revise its standards for cleanup; State Representative Jeff Irwin was able to attend in person and speak to the issue.

The election

I’m honored that many of you voted to return me to the Council for 2013 – 2015.  Please continue to help me do this job by letting me know your local – and not so local – concerns.


On the Agenda

For a different view of the Council’s agenda, you can read the article in The Chronicle.  The preview below is, of course, my evaluation of the items.

Public Hearings

The Council holds public hearings for several different types of actions.  New and amended ordinances addressing any issue require a public hearing; site plan resolutions also require a public hearing.

The Council will hold a public hearing on an ordinance that would allow charitable organizations, including religious organizations, to distribute food and supplies to the homeless in public parks without paying a fee to the City.  Currently, the only park for which the City doesn’t charge a fee for this use is Liberty Plaza.  Some folks call this the ‘good neighbor’ ordinance.

Another public hearing of interest addresses the ordinance governing the DDA.  The proposed changes would set a cap on the growth of the DDA’s budget (Tax Increment Financing).  It would also require the DDA to set aside $300,000 of TIF for affordable housing and place term limits (3 terms) on DDA Board membership.


New and amended ordinances require two readings.  A public hearing is held at the time of the second reading.  Public hearings may be held over if the ordinance is postponed at second reading.

Ordinances, second reading

None other than the two mentioned above.

Ordinances, first reading

Several members of Council are seeking to repeal an ordinance that establishes conduct at crosswalks (links to existing ordinance). 

Several people I’ve heard from believed that this ordinance was the determining factor in whether there were mid-block crosswalks on Stadium, Green and Plymouth, among other streets.  Others thought that this ordinance encouraged pedestrians to step out in front of cars, or would allow cars to go through a crosswalk that a pedestrian was actively using.  I’ve also heard that this ordinance should not have been approved by Council before a traffic engineer determined whether it was properly written.  Each of these thoughts is mistaken.

If the ordinance is repealed, the crosswalks that are already established will remain.  Others will be marked with paint and signs in the future.  The City (following the State of Michigan) has a policy on Complete Streets that requires each street be designed for all transportation users, including pedestrians.

Traffic engineers do not determine whether an ordinance is legal.  They do use ordinances to guide street design; they also use best practices and refer to State and National Street Design standards. 

If the ordinance is repealed, signage at crosswalks will remain – and these signs will continue to say ‘local law – stop for pedestrians in crosswalks’.  It will still be illegal to hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk – or to pass another car that has stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the street. 

I’m told that the rationale behind this repeal is economic – the City doesn’t have the ability to enforce the ordinance, therefore it should be repealed. 

See below for information on the proposed Pedestrian Safety and Access task force.

Several zoning amendments are on the agenda, moving properties from township to city. 

One property owner seeks to rezone a lot on Packard from single family (R1) to duplex (R2).  This request was recommended for refusal at the Planning Commission.


Resolutions establish policies and expectations.  Resolutions can be added to the Agenda by Council members at any time, but are supposed to be added by 5 pm on the Friday before a Council meeting, if at all possible.  City staff offer resolutions for budget items, grant applications and such things as utility easements.  Resolutions also derive from Board and Commission actions.

Resolutions from Council

Council members are offering several resolutions.

Expanding The Ride

At the last Council meeting in October, Council members determined that they should postpone an amendment to the Articles of Incorporation for AAATA (the public bus system).  This item returns to the agenda on Monday, November 17.  By amending the articles, Ypsilanti Township would be added as a member of AAATA; the township would continue to pay for service from their General Fund; in the event that a millage was approved system-wide, the funding for AAATA would come from that millage from all members.  Ypsilanti Township would have a seat on the board, as well.

Professional Standards of Conduct

Every few years, a member of Council proposes a stronger policy on ethics for City Council.  Such a resolution is on the Agenda for Thursday.  Council member Kunselman proposed an ethics policy several years ago; Council member Taylor attempted to draft such a policy for the Council Rules Committee in 2009.  Council member Petersen is trying again.

This resolution recommends that the Council Rules Committee refer to two sections (Section 2 and Section 2a) of Act 196 of 1973 – the Standards of Conduct for Public Officers and Employees.  This act does not govern local elected officials or state elected officials.  (In the act, ‘Public officer’ means a person appointed by the governor or other executive department official.)  If this resolution passes, the Rules Committee will try to use these sections to fit a different set of circumstances.

Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force

The current focus on whether crosswalks are well designed and visible is an aspect of pedestrian safety, but it’s not all there is to talk about.  Council member Warpehoski and I are sponsoring a resolution that would establish a task force to consider a variety of aspects of pedestrian safety and access.  Some of the materials we read before suggesting this task force include the Federal Highway Administration’s Pedestrian Study Guidebook and a variety of documents about the State of Michigan’s Complete Streets program.

Several members of the public have already sought appointment to this task force.  Council member Warpehoski and I discussed ways to ensure that all voices and concerns are heard – but also to move toward finding solutions to problems once they are identified. 

If the Council establishes this task force, the budget for any necessary expenditure will be determined later.

Sale of the Y lot

The most interesting item, however, is not yet on the agenda: whether to sell the Y lot, and to whom.  At the last meeting the Council approved a resolution that authorized the City Administrator to negotiate the sale of the Old Y lot (350 S. Fifth).  The resolution recommends that the opportunity to purchase this property be offered first to Dennis Dahlmann’s Dahlmann Properties.  If that negotiation doesn’t prove fruitful, the resolution authorizes the City Administrator to offer the opportunity to CA Ventures, from Chicago.  The City Council already asserted that any funds that remain from the sale of this property – after the debts on it are paid – will go toward affordable housing.

Please read the documents attached to the resolution to learn more about what might occur on this site.  As I mentioned in my November 3rd newsletter, I would be pleased to hear your insight on whether to sell the property, and to which company.  (995-3518 or sabra.briere@gmail.com / sbriere@a2gov.org)

Resolutions from Boards and Commissions

At the last Council meeting, Council members decided to postpone voting on whether the Non-Motorized Plan should be adopted.  A courtesy often requested by members of Council is that an issue be postponed because the Council member had not yet read the text.  This item returns to the agenda.

Resolutions from Staff

The University of Michigan and the City of Ann Arbor are – clearly – adjoining property owners.  On the agenda is a resolution to amend the boundary between UM and the City to reflect changing ownership.  A metes and bounds description is notoriously dry; here’s a map – which is almost helpful.  Read the fine print.


At the beginning of each ‘electoral year’ (my term for the start of Council members’ terms) the Council takes several actions.  It adopts the rules for Council – although those rules can be amended during the year.  It elects a Mayor Pro Tem.  The Mayor nominates, and Council approves, which Council members are assigned to serve on which committees.

Although these items are on the agenda for Monday, November 17, Council may choose to postpone any or all of these decisions.

One area of confusion I’ve observed is related to which boards and commissions have Council members appointed to them – and by whom.  In several circumstances, a sitting Council member has also been a member of a board or commission – as a private citizen.  These assignments may be made during the year, too.  Each Council assignment is to a board or commission that has a reserved position for a member of Council; the term is 12 months, and assignments may change.  Other board and commission assignments may be made – and these are not limited to 12 months.  A Council member could be appointed to serve for a 3-year term, for instance, and continue in that role after s/he left Council.  Most of the City’s boards and commissions do not have a Council member assigned to them.

Council appointments – like all appointments – continue until either the Council member is reappointed or a different appointment is made.

There are always other items on the Agenda that might interest you.  Although I don’t know whether accepting a utility easement across the Arboretum is significant, it is important to remember that a waste water pipe backed up in the Arboretum and needed to be replaced.

I’m also keeping track of the City Council’s priorities on each agenda.  By my count, this agenda includes 23 action items – 21 administrative acts, 1 action that is both administrative and relates to affordable housing and 1 infrastructure changes.   For the record, this is slightly more than twice the number of items on the last Council agenda.

On the Calendar

The Planning Commission will meet at 7 pm on Tuesday, November 19th in Council Chambers.  The last item on the agenda will be continued discussion of revisions to D1 / D2 zoning.  Also on the agenda is site plan approval for the Montgomery Building.  This building – in the Main Street Historic District – would see four residential floors (32 units) added to the existing two floors of the old Montgomery Ward building if the Council approves the site plan.

On Thursday, November 21 at 11 am, the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission will meet to discuss what art should be placed at Argo Cascades.  Many of the people I’ve talked with believe the Cascades would not benefit from public art.  Others, seeing the art options, have voiced approval of one of the designs.  And of course, it’s easy to forget that the Council approved a project – using Percent for Art funds – to be commissioned and built at Argo Cascades just a year ago.  Please come to the First Floor (North) conference room at City Hall to offer your views.

40 individuals have provided feedback on the proposed art through Open City Hall.  If you haven’t yet submitted a response, take advantage of this opportunity (please!).

Also on November 21, at 6:30 pm, please join me at the Traverwood Library to discuss parking options for Argo Cascades.

The City Council will hold its annual retreat to discuss the City’s 2014/15 budget on December 9th from 4 – 11 pm.  Details about this meeting will follow.

On the Horizon

Working with the VA Hospital and the Vets Park Neighborhood Association, the City will participate in a "Gifts in Gratitude" holiday gifts drive.  Collection bins will be located at Veterans Memorial Park Ice Arena through Jan. 3, 2013 to collect new clothing and other donations for local veterans.  For a list of donation needs, call 734.794.6230, extension 42510.


What am I reading?

Some of you, thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, are talking about cookbooks.  Thanks go out to the reader who recommended Joan Nathan's Jewish Holiday cookbook.  I have the Library's copy and plan to add something more challenging than latkes and flourless chocolate cake to my Thanksgiving table.

But now, I'm eyeing Jerusalem, a cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.  

Just published (less than a month ago) is a new book on Completing Our Streets: The Transition to Safe and Inclusive Transportation Networks by Barbara McCann.  I have this electronically.