<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Second September newsletter 2013 sec
http://www.sabrabriere.org

Sabra Briere

First Ward, City Council
sbriere@A2gov.org
sabra.briere@gmail.com
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. 


Caucus

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.

10/19/13

Dear Neighbors,

I’m hoping for a few golden afternoons in November, when I expect to focus a bit more on my garden.  The leaves are just beginning to pile up, and I know that it’s nearly time to bring in the tender plants.  I’ve perennials to cut down, annuals to remove, and a few bulbs to plant.  And before November I’ll take time purchase that pumpkin to carve – since Halloween is just around the corner.

My last comment about deer generated quite a bit of feedback.  The North Campus herd has grown, deer treat our yards as their salad bowls, and many gardeners I know have moved from being charmed by seeing deer so close to dreaming up magic to eliminate a few.  When my spouse and I drove home the other night, there was a deer and her fawn, munching down.

Many of us are trying to find a solution that will work.

Updates

Parks and public land

For all the talk about parks and what we want from them, we should celebrate the regular addition of new park land to the City.  We also need to be aware that the Parks Advisory Commission plays an important role in planning for and funding our parks.

On the agenda for Monday, October 21 are two actions that will add parks to our city – one on East Huron River Drive and the other on West Huron River Drive.  Together, these two parcels add 26.45 acres of new parks to our system.  And the Parks Advisory Commission recently approved reports on downtown parks and dog parks.  Media coverage of the downtown park community process may be found here and here.

Residents living near Longshore Park voiced significant concern about the Parks decision to allow parking for the Argo canoe livery at that location.  That parking lasted for only one weekend (Labor Day) but had significant reverberations.  The Parks staff will meet with residents of the area in November to discuss better options for parking.

1,4 dioxane

Last Tuesday I attended a meeting in Lansing with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) staff.  In addition to City staff, the Ann Arbor Township supervisor, County Water Resources Commissioner and County staff also attended.

The State MDEQ does not intend to recommend new thresholds for the allowable amounts of various chemicals in ground water – including 1,4 dioxane – by the end of this year. 

One of the major concerns from folks I’ve heard from is that the data collected is inconsistent and generally not available.  The director of MDEQ, Dan Wyant, agreed that MDEQ should be responsible for disseminating the data, but needs to improve its computer system in order to provide the level of data transparency that many of us expect.  He was also polite but firm that MDEQ would need the City’s assistance in changing the rule, because there is not enough support currently on the Joint Committee for Legislative Rules (JCAR) for lowering the threshold limits for 1,4 dioxane or other toxins.  MDEQ staff indicated that they want to recommend thresholds that are consistent with good science and practices across the country, and that they would begin a serious effort to do so after January 1. 

We suggested action by March, at the latest.  There’s been a string of good will/no action commitments.  I wrote up my notes from this meeting; if you are interested, I’ll be happy to share.

Streets, lights, sidewalks

Although the street maintenance season is winding down, planning for the next few years is getting under way. 

Residents living near Barton and Pontiac Trail may have noticed that DTE arrived after the work was done – because there’d been a gas main leak.  It took two tries, but DTE fixed it and replaced the temporary patch with one that looks pretty good to my untrained eye.  Please let me know whether you see any issues with this work.

Next year Pontiac Trail between Skydale and M-14 will be reconstructed.  Proposed improvements include water main sanitary sewer main installations, bike lanes, sidewalks, and storm water systems.  The proposed detour can be seen here.

The City held a public meeting to hear from residents about their concerns regarding the DhuVarren/Green/Nixon intersection on October 9th.  This well-attended meeting solicited input from residents about their perceptions of the issues.  The staff listened and responded to questions and concerns, recording the information so that it can be used as the project moves toward recommended solutions.  The updates will be placed here, at least for now.  Check back frequently.

DhuVarren is scheduled to be resurfaced in FY2015 (either next summer or the following spring) from Nixon to the railroad.

And speaking of DhuVarren, for years the residents living in Foxfire have been requesting a street light at the corner of DhuVarren and Birchwood.  Traffic continues to increase along this route, and until recently students waiting for the bus waited here in the dark.  The school system agreed to move the bus stop – which is a good thing – but the intersection remains dark.  The Ride stops here, as well, picking up and dropping off passengers.  Council member Kailasapathy and I met with City staff to discuss the problem – on site.  Although there are always economic constraints to new lighting, I hope the staff will think creatively and solve this problem.

There are other areas of our community that need better intersection lighting, better sidewalks, better street maintenance and better corner maintenance, especially in dealing with vegetation.  If you have a concern, please call or email me.

Safety

Finding a way to improve safety at crosswalks hasn’t gotten easier.  City staff continue to discuss engineering, education and enforcement.  (The five E’s – Evaluation, Engineering, Education, Encouragement and Enforcement – of traffic management appear on the Safe Walks to School website.)  Over the past two weeks I’ve met with City traffic engineers and project management staff to hear their thoughts about options; I’ve also met with the City Administrator and the Chief of Police to discuss education and enforcement ideas.  I’ve recently attended workshops and lectures on complete streets and what makes a community ‘walkable’. 

Since the State of Michigan adopted complete streets as a policy in 2010, the City has been working to implement that policy locally.  State legislation defines Complete Streets as ‘roadways planned, designed and constructed to provide appropriate access to all legal users . . . whether by car, truck, transit, assistive device, foot or bicycle.”  The law also requires that complete streets policies be sensitive to the local context and consider the mobility needs of all legal users in a manner that is economically feasible for each community. 

I’ve discussed the issues of safe pedestrian access with a number of Council members.  I’ve also asked that at least one of the Sustainability Forums next year focus on this issue, and that the City work to host one or more workshops on pedestrian safety and access, as well.

If you find the crosswalks confusing and the behavior of pedestrians or drivers intimidating, please let me know whether this advice works for you.

Art

I go to the artists’ presentations for public art.  The last project funded through the Percent for Art program is the art installation for Argo Pond.  I attended the presentation on Thursday; at this time, those presentations are not on the City’s website.

One of the artists would plant trees and install water fountains; the other would install an interactive water pump – using a treadle and using a bike mechanism.  Neither would create a ‘thing’ that significantly interrupts the use or experience of the cascades.

On the Agenda


Public hearings

There are public hearings on several ordinances and one site plan.

The Council will hold a public hearing on whether to change the definition of sidewalks to include ‘cross-lot’ walks.  In several locations in our community, developers included walks to parks, schools, or adjacent streets that did not follow the City’s right of way along streets.  These cross-lot walks are on land that does not belong to adjacent property owners, but has not been considered either right of way or public land.  The change in the ordinance would include acknowledging that adjacent property owners are not responsible for winter or summer maintenance of these cross-lot walkways.

I first heard about this issue in 2010, when residents of Cloverdale and Manor contacted me because they had been told by the City that they were responsible for repairing the walk that ran between their houses.  It has taken three years, but the City has agreed that these property owners are not responsible for walkways that are not on their property.  Once this ordinance passes, the City will clearly be the responsible party.  Also on the agenda is a resolution to accept 34 sidewalks for public use; this list includes the sidewalk between Cloverdale and Manor.

The list of park land may grow on Monday.  On the agenda is an ordinance to change the zoning of a parcel on East Huron River Drive from residential to public land.  This parcel reflects a decision by the property owners to work with the City (forming a life estate) so they could continue their use of the property during the years they chose to stay there while ensuring that it would become part of the City’s public land on South Pond.  I’m grateful to both property owners for their commitment to Ann Arbor.

The Council will also hold public hearings on a rezoning from TWP (township) to R1A (single family residential) for a parcel on Devonshire and for a site-plan approval for a small addition and reconfiguration of the U-Haul site on South State Street.

Consent Agenda

Some of us continue to have difficulties finding all the information that is on the City’s website.  The consent agenda includes a contract for a new website design.  Improvements to the design and navigability would be a significant value to our community, in my view.  I have not seen what the proposed redesign would accomplish.

Ordinances

The ordinance to revise the funding mechanism for the DDA returns to the agenda.  However, at the most recent meeting of the joint DDA/City Council committee, the discussion of possible revisions was not concluded.  Proposed changes include setting a ‘hard cap’ which would be a specific dollar amount of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) that the DDA could use.  This ‘hard cap’ would be based on the taxable amount for the downtown established by the State in early 2014.  Tax year 2015 (which uses these figures) would therefore be the base year.  Each year thereafter, the hard cap would increase by no more than a set percentage – and that percentage would be a negotiated amount set jointly by the City and the DDA, and codified in the ordinance.  The cap on TIF would be set; if taxable values increased beyond the set amount, the DDA’s revenue would be limited to the negotiated amount.  If taxable values did not increase predictably, the DDA’s revenues would reflect actual taxable value, not the amount approved as the maximum each year.

These ideas have not been discussed by the Council or the DDA board; the dollar amounts and increment amounts haven’t been presented in a table.  Questions remain about the effect of making these changes, including what the immediate affect might be on the City’s General Fund.

I anticipate that the Council representatives on the joint DDA/Council committee will seek a further postponement.

Resolutions

Resolutions can be introduced by Council members without prior publication, although such introduction is discouraged.  Resolutions from Boards and Commissions and from Staff must be presented in advance.

Resolutions from Council

Last autumn the Council voted to opt out of a County-wide bus transit authority and to urge AATA to focus on providing services to the urban core.  Since that time, the City of Ypsilanti has voted to join AATA; the name has changed to the Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority, and the City of Ypsilanti has appointed a member to sit on the board.  Now, Ypsilanti Township is seeking approval to join.  The Council will consider the application, which includes amending the Articles of Incorporation, adding a 10th seat to the AAATA governing board, and ensuring that the current funding for transit from Ypsilanti Township will continue until such time as the voters decide to change funding mechanisms across the transit authority area: “ . . .the Charter Township of Ypsilanti wishes to join AAATA in return for continuing to contribute general fund dollars equal to the cost of providing services represented by Purchase-of-Service Agreement costs to AAATA.”

Defeated at the September 3rdmeeting and reconsidered and then postponed at September 16th Council meeting is a resolution to urge the City’s employee retirement board to divest from fossil fuels.  Council members heard from a number of individuals concerned about whether such a resolution would result in economic difficulties for the retirement board – if they tried to act upon the resolution.  Others in the community felt this resolution was meaningless, as no responsible investment group would consider total divestment.  These residents urged the Council to vote ‘no’.  At the same time, other residents felt that, as a mechanism to encourage diversification and discourage unreasonable profits from fossil fuels, the resolution was a valuable policy statement which could result in an increase of opportunities.  Council members reflected all of these views in the last discussion of the topic.  Please read the Chronicle’s coverage of this discussion.  Were the Council to approve this resolution, the retirement board is not required to follow the recommendation.

Up for reconsideration is the appointment of Al McWilliams to the DDA board.  I supported the reconsideration.  Coverage of this controversial appointment may be found here (the Chronicle) and here (MLive).  In researching Mr. McWilliams, I read this intro to his business from 2008, this article about his business from 2009, and his business website.

One of the most significant aspects of the discussion around this appointment is that, for the first time, the Council agreed to require the City Attorney to issue an opinion and file it with the City Clerk.  This act is required in the City Charter, but the City Attorney has interpreted it to mean that he will provide such an opinion – written for the public to read – only if Council approves by majority vote a resolution requiring him to do so.  Such a resolution was passed unanimously at the most recent Council meeting (it was sponsored by Council member Warpehoski and me).

Further expanding the park system, the Council has the opportunity to accept a donation – and maintenance funding – for a new park at the corner of Huron River Drive and Wagner Road.  While just outside the City limits, this new park would add to the string of parks that follow the Huron River.  The land represents a settlement of an estate.  The owners had established a non-profit foundation to create and maintain the land as a public park; after their deaths, and the death of the foundation’s administrator, the land reverted to the control of the State Attorney General.  And that office has arranged the land transfer and foundation assets to maintain the park.  Because this item relates to land acquisition, it needs 8 votes for approval.

Resolutions from Staff

For a couple of years the merchants on Main Street, and the Main Street Area Association, have been concerned about the condition of the light poles.  An article in MLive (then AnnArbor.com) covered this issue thoroughly this past summer.  The DDA and the City would split the cost of the new street lights, with the DDA paying the larger share, if this resolution were approved.  Because it is a resolution using General Fund reserves, it needs 8 votes for approval.

In June of last year, the City accepted a Federal Grant for an environmental assessment to determine whether – and where – a new train station could be built.  In October, 2012, the City agreed to provide additional funding to cover the local match, as the Federal government had decided that none of the work already completed counted toward the needed matching dollars.  (it’s this resolution that also requires voter approval of any proposed train station.)  Coverage of that action is here.  One aspect of this grant was that the community would not focus on the Fuller Road site for a train station.  On the agenda is a resolution to expend the already allocated funds and conduct the environmental assessment.  The contract is long and written in legalese, but the public engagement part was important to me (starts on page 9).

For some years, the City’s Fire Department has been entering into mutual aid agreements with adjacent communities.  This year, the City has the opportunity to work with Fire Departments from the region to establish a Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS).  Coverage of the discussion of such systems appears here, and the State of Michigan produced this article on the program.  (A box alarm has nothing to do with boxes anymore.  It means an agreed-upon protocol for the amount of staffing needed for specific types of incidents – chemical spills, rescues, vehicle fires and structure fires.  Typically, a box alarm requires that multiple fire companies respond; a Mutual Aid Box Alarm means that fire companies from various jurisdictions respond automatically – without having to wait for a specific request.)

Other

There are always other items on the agenda that might interest you.  Although I don’t know whether you want to think about the City purchasing salt for winter snow removal, that item is on the agenda.

I’m continue to track the City Council’s priorities on each agenda.  By my count, this agenda includes 17 action items – 11 administrative acts, 5 infrastructure changes, 1 that address public safety needs, 0 investments in economic development and 0 that relate to affordable housing. 

On the Calendar

October 22
Public Meeting-Five Year Transit Improvement Program10/22/2013 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Traverwood Library, 3333 Traverwood Dr., Ann Arbor (map)
Join THE RIDE to learn about the service improvements proposed as a result of your input.   Service improvements proposed for the following routes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22 and 33  If you cannot make one of 13 public meetings, you will find information at MovingYouForward.org. Send comments regarding the proposed improvements to TellUs@TheRide.org

October23
Public Meeting-Five Year Transit Improvement Program10/23/2013 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Peace Neighborhood Center 1111 N. Maple Rd., Ann Arbor (map)
Join THE RIDE to learn about the service improvements proposed as a result of your input.   Service improvements proposed for the following routes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22 and 33  If you cannot make one of 13 public meetings, you will find information at MovingYouForward.org. Send comments regarding the proposed improvements to TellUs@TheRide.org

Trick or Treat down the river on Sunday, October 20th.  Come to Gallup Park in costume, and canoe or kayak; bring a bag to collect candy treats ($18 per boat).  Want to carve a pumpkin?  Go to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, October 26th (noon to 2 pm) and join like-minded children of all ages.  Follow that with a trek through Black Pond Woods starting from Leslie Science Center ($10 per participant/$38 for a family); early birds show up at 5 pm; night owls at 7 pm on the 26th.

Trick or Treat on its proper day?  Meet your neighbors on the street between 5 pm and 8 pm on Thursday, October 31st.  Please dress up!

On the Horizon

Wednesday, November 6th, Planning Commission will continue its discussion of possible zoning changes for downtown.
The City Council will meet on Thursday, November 7th – Council doesn’t meet the night before an election.

What am I reading?

Electronic books on my shelf – read and retained – include: Life Between Buildings by Jan Gehl; Biophilic Cities by Timothy Beatley; City Rules by Emily Talen; Slow Democracy (bringing decision making back home) by Susan Clark; Empowered Participation by Archon Fung; Thinking Statistically by Uri Bram; Walkable City by Jeff Speck; City Comforts by David Sucher; and Start with Why by Simon Sinek.

Paper books on my shelf include: Visualizing Density and Made for Walking: Density and Neighborhood Form by Julie Campoli; The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup; Rethinking a Lot by Eran Joseph; and Traffic: why we drive the way we do by Tom Vanderbilt.

I’m currently reading the Federal Highway Administration’s Pedestrian Study Guidebook.