<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Second February newsletter 2014 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. 

Well, you can trust that the City will celebrate Monday holidays in January, February, May and September.  And having that three-day weekend is fine for some of us.  But City staff often work through the holiday - for which, I thank them.

On Monday, City offices will be closed.  The City Council will meet on Tuesday, February 18.  The Planning Commission, which usually meets on Tuesdays, will meet on Thursday, February 20.  Both meetings are at 7 pm in City Council chambers.

The City will collect trash and recycling on Monday; there is no change in this service.  If necessary (and we all hope it isn't) the City will plow streets.  

Although this has nothing to do with City government, banks will close, some other governmental offices will close, and there will be no mail delivery.

Enjoy remembering Abraham Lincoln (February 12th birthday) and George Washington (February 22nd birthday).


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.

The Caucus starts at 7 pm.


Dear Neighbors,

I keep hearing about flocks of robins, eating the frozen berries and brightening our days.  I’ve seen several gatherings of robins, myself – and wondered how they are living in this weather.  My herd of deer continues to be a part of winter mornings – and some evenings I see them crossing the street, bounding over the snow piles.  It still amazes me that we live among wildlife.
Maybe we will get some relief from the consistent cold and snow this week.  But if not, at least we can learn about how much the snow affects us. 
In the Water Hill neighborhood, Paul Tinkerhess thinks that it should be possible for a non-profit, neighborhood-based group to acquire the use of a SnowBuddy sidewalk plow (not brush) and clear all the sidewalks in the neighborhood.  I met with him to learn more about the idea, and discuss ways to help move this effort forward. 
He envisions a contribution-based budget – not subscriptions, as not everyone will want to pay in – that will clear all sidewalks, without regard to whether the adjacent property owner contributes or not.
He would also like to engage the adjacent residents in cleaning those ‘windrows’ of snow caused by the snow plows coming through.  It is frustrating to have cleared the walk only to have the crosswalks blocked by large piles of icy snow left by the plows.
I’m told there are some blocks in Burns Park that are already pooling resources to have all the sidewalks cleared – and also that the result has been a sheet of thick ice rather than the safe walk everyone envisioned.  Some of our neighbors pay over $1,000 per winter for a company to clear their driveway and keep the sidewalks clean. 
Residents in every part of our community share this frustration and are trying to find ways to deal with the snow.
Last week, several neighborhoods received notices that the City wanted to plow their street – and that such plowing requires that they move their parked cars.  And while this helped the streets a bit, the icy snow in windrows became solid ice very quickly, especially since the plowing was scheduled for the early morning hours.
If you think that keeping the sidewalks clear isn’t a major issue – it all depends on where you stand or walk or sit.  I see a consistent number of people using wheelchairs in the street, not because they want to speed, but because they cannot navigate the sidewalks – some not shoveled, some not cleared the entire width.  Although in the first few snows I saw many of the intersections and crosswalks had been cleared, lately I see people – like my local deer – having to bound over high mountains of snow in order to get through.  I’m certain there must be a better way.
So what should the City do?  This year, of course, no one anticipated so much snow.  But heavy and deep snows occur nearly every year.  What is reasonable on this issue?  Hand digging the curb cuts (driveways and crosswalks) is very expensive, and no one thinks that should be done before the streets are made passable.  Should the City provide assistance to every property owner, only those who sign up in advance (over 65, physically limited), or should we – as neighbors in neighborhoods – find a group solution?
After this winter, the City Administrator will evaluate what has occurred and work with staff to review the snow plowing policies.  (I’m pushing for snow routes, which require residents to remove parked cars when the snow is deeper than a couple of inches.  I don’t want to tow those cars, but hope we can let the plows really clear snow to the curbs.)   I’ve been collecting reports from residents about the impact of our snow plowing policies, especially on how much snow is left behind.  If you have a story to share, please send it to me.

Pot holes

We all know pot hole season is coming – and truly, it is already here.

How do we fix a street?

This time of year, none of the companies that make asphalt are working.  It’s too cold, and the asphalt won’t stick in the cold weather, anyway.  So, as a temporary fix, everyone uses coldpatch.  I don’t want to call a temporary fix a bandaid – because, after all, we expect the skin to heal under a bandaid, and a pot hole won’t heal.

When I see the maintenance crews trying to patch our streets, I see that they are moving quickly.  I’ve seen them sweep the loose debris from the pothole, attempt to dry the area, and then use cold patch to fill the hole.  As soon as they move on, cars may drive over the patch.  In some cases, this helps compact the cold patch, but in most cases I think it only makes for a lumpy area.

Cold patch lasts just a month or so, depending on the weather and situation.

The City focuses first on those potholes that car drivers would have a hard time avoiding.  Later, the City comes back if circumstances allow and fixes the holes at the edges of lanes, including bike lanes.

I’ve called in a variety of streets over the past week.  And to understand how streets can be maintained, I’ve studied a manual from Minnesota’s department of transportation.  I’ve also talked with City staff to learn whether the policies the City follows are similar to those recommended by the manual.  So this is the rest of the story:

The City fills the cracks on pavement every year – hopefully, not the same cracks.  By doing this, it seals out water that freezes, expands and contracts, and breaks down the pavement.

The City fills pot holes every year, too - cutting out the damaged pavement, filling with asphalt, and running a compactor over it.  But that takes place in warm weather; those patches last about a year.  Twice each year, the City inspects every street in the City, updating the plan for which streets get resurfaced and which get reconstructed.  After last fall, the City anticipated spending $1,500,000 on the annual street resurfacing program; the list of streets won’t be final until all the damage from this winter can be assessed.

These problems aren’t just Ann Arbor’s or Washtenaw County’s problems.  The State has indicated that millions of dollars in winter damage have already occurred; they are struggling to find additional funds to help local governments cover the cost of repairing the damage.  But we should all be prepared to drive slowly and carefully.


A permanent emergency shelter?

Some of our neighbors live outside much of the year.  And some of us would like to establish a permanent, tax-supported shelter to provide respite from winter cold – both day and night.

Delonis is not an emergency shelter.  It’s a non-profit that expects to help those who want to re-engage with the community to be sober, establish a residence, and get the necessary governmental documents – drivers’ license, birth certificate, social security card, etc. – that help create an identity in our society.  In many cases, identity is lost when housing is lost.  Delonis does open its doors to those who need emergency shelter, but at the expense of the other activities.  To run a winter-long, day and night shelter at Delonis would cost more than $180,000, according to the latest information.  And that would be a shelter with no assistance to offer except a warm place and access to showers and laundry.

Unfortunately, Delonis was not built to serve as an emergency shelter.  Even if our community provided the resources for Delonis, it would continue to lack space.

Others of our neighbors would like to establish a tent city that could grow into a community of very small houses (maybe 150 – 200 square feet) that would provide temporary housing for the very indigent.  But to do this, they would need some form of permission from the City.

And of course, some in our community question whether either vision is worth pursuing.  What policy about emergency shelter do you think the City should embrace and work to see happen?

1,4 Dioxane

The state continues to work toward establishing new guidelines for cleanup of ground water pollution; these guidelines could require much more cleanup of the 1,4 dioxane plume than is currently the case.  Recently, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality decided to approve a new set of guidelines unchanged from the previous set, but committed to establishing new guidelines this year.  Right now, MDEQ estimates that they will have drafted new 1,4 dioxane standards by April; other guidelines will follow.

While there is currently no evidence that our water supply is affected by the 1,4 dioxane in the ground water, many people believe that there isn’t a sufficiently effective mechanism in place to monitor the current levels of dioxane or identify how it is spreading. 


On the Agenda

For well over two years, I’ve tried to highlight every item on the agenda that I thought might be significant to you – even if it wasn’t universally controversial.  The Ann Arbor Chronicle has begun previewing the agenda in greater detail than I can invest.  I appreciate their work very much.  So, this week I’m going to take advantage of their coverage and only highlight those items that I think are complex or potentially controversial.  The link to the entire agenda (on the title of this section) will let you dig into all items for yourself.  And this link to  what the Chronicle finds significant can fill in some background information.

Please let me know whether you miss my detailed coverage.  If it served your purposes, I’ll continue it in the future.

Public Hearings

The Council will hold a public hearing for a zoning change proposed for two parcels on S. State (where Biercamp is located). 

There will also be a public hearing on whether to amend the ordinance governing public art to allow some or all of the funding to be returned to the various restricted funds from which it came (streets, water, stormwater, wastewater, parks, airport, etc.)


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

The Council will determine whether to rezone two parcels on S. State (Biercamp). 

Public Art
Last April, the Council approved a significant change to the Public Art ordinance, altering the way the City would plan for and fund public art.  On February 3, the Council will consider a new amendment that could result in the return of those dollars collected during the Percent for Art program to their originating funds.  If this change in the ordinance is approved, the Council will then discuss whether to approve either of two resolutions that amend the current budget.

Ordinances, first reading                                                                                                    

There are no ordinances on the agenda for First Reading.


Resolutions from Council 

Two different resolutions on the agenda address the Percent for Art funds.  One of these resolutions is sponsored by Councilmembers Eaton, Kailasapathy and Lumm; I am sponsoring the other one.  Because each resolution would amend the budget, if approved, each one requires 8 votes to pass.

It’s fair to ask what the difference between these resolutions would be, and why I offered a different version that would accomplish many of the same goals.

First, the similarities.  Both of these resolutions would return funds pooled through the percent for art mechanism to be refunded to their originating funds.  They would also establish some restrictions for already approved uses of the percent for art funds, and would clearly stop any new projects, such as the utility box wraps proposed for the downtown, from using percent for art dollars. 

The differences, though, are important.  If the resolution I offer is approved, the City will allocate $5,000 (using Parks funds) toward the Coleman Jewett memorial (bronze Adirondack chairs planned for the Farmer’s Market).  The remaining funds for that project will come from individual donations through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.  And if my resolution is approved, all effort toward placing a piece at Argo Cascades using Percent for Art funds will cease, and those dollars will be returned to the Water fund.

The result of these different approaches to the funding is that Councilmembers Eaton, Kailasapathy and Lumm propose returning $819,005 – while the resolution I offer would return $957,140.

Another difference, though, is that the resolution I offer is based on the recommendations of the Council’s task force on public art (Council members Briere, Kunselman, Petersen, Taylor and Teall).  That task force recommendation included changing the way the City engages the public in the creation and display of art in public places.  It recommended crowd-sourcing (see the Jewett chair) and collaboration in temporary and event art, but also recommended that all City-funded art be part of a larger project, and be designed into the project rather than added on. 

The transition from one mechanism to another was expected to take 2-3 years; we are still in year 1.  And while returning percent for art dollars to their originating funds will stop any further use of these dollars for art, I heard from many in our community that they want to see more public art – displays of student work, installations of temporary art in public locations, rotating gallery space, donations and – yes – the acquisition of art that the public supports, because the public helps select and directly contribute to its acquisition.  And the City cannot do that if there is no plan for how to move forward.

Please let me know what vision you have for public art in Ann Arbor.

Resolutions from Boards and Commissions

At the February 13th Housing and Human Services Advisory Board meeting, the Advisory Board voted to recommend that the City use $600,000 of its Affordable Housing Fund to help defray future expenses of the Housing Commission for the public housing program.  On the agenda is a resolution to direct the City Administrator to prepare an amendment to the FY2014 budget that would allocate $600,000 from the Affordable Housing Fund to renovations necessary at Miller Manor and Baker Commons.  This budget amendment would not be presented to Council until the sale of the old-Y lot was final. 

The Housing Commission asked the DDA to make a similar allocation; members of the DDA stated that they anticipated matching funds from the City.  The combined $1,200,000 for renovations of these two properties would finish the renovations necessary for Baker Commons (the DDA has already provided the funds several completed projects, including a new roof and new, insulated windows).  At the same time, renovations at Miller Manor would result in three (3) new units plus a new management structure for this building, with front-door services and more human services provided on site.  Funding for Miller Manor renovations includes an allocation from the Federal government to provide housing for veterans who have limited means.

This is Phase I of a multi-phase project that should, if all goes according to plan, result in the construction of over 40 new affordable public housing units, mostly for families.

Resolutions from Staff

Consent Agenda

Many of us hear about poverty, but don’t think much about it.  Federal law allows municipalities to exempt certain property owners from paying local taxes, however, and this exemption is based on a review of the property owners’ assets.  The Council will decide whether to accept the latest poverty-exemption guidelines, which includes both income and asset evaluation.  Those deemed exempt will not pay property taxes.

The City has negotiated with the Michigan Department of Transportation for cost-sharing on several Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) to be installed at specific crosswalks.  If approved, the funds would cover 80% of the costs of the acquisition and installation of these devices on Geddes Road at the entrance to Gallup Park, on Fuller Road near the VA hospital, and on South University at Tappan.  The locations were selected because, in the past, pedestrians have been injured in car accidents in these crosswalks.

Edwards Brothers

At this meeting, The Council has a final opportunity to consider whether to exercise its Right of First Refusal for the Edwards Brothers property on State Street.  At this moment, there are still no details about what funds would be appropriated or what the terms might be that the Council would ask the City Administrator to establish with Edwards Brothers.  There has been some speculation, though, and of course, there are three real options: let the University buy the property and remove it from the tax rolls, purchase it and immediately sell it to a developer, or purchase it and hold it for some future plan. 

I’d love to hear what you believe is the best decision.  (I don’t believe the Council would purchase the land to sell it immediately at a loss.  If that were an option, I doubt there would be 8 votes in favor of that decision.)

Green Streets

On the agenda is a resolution to adopt the Green Streets Policy, which establishes a set of criteria for the staff to use when constructing or reconstructing a street.  Maybe you don’t want to think of streets as rivers waiting to form.  But thawing snow – like pouring rain – can turn our streets into flooded barriers.  The challenge we face is to plan for wet weather and build the infrastructure to meet a variety of needs – including the reality that streets can be part of the problem, but they can also be part of the solution.  If the Council approves this resolution, it could have a long-term positive impact on our streets and on flooding in our community.


There are other items on the agenda that might interest you.  Street closings and street maintenance (more salt is needed!); new trucks and new equipment to repair water main breaks (entirely too many this winter due to the heaving of the ground); health insurance and grant applications.

As always, if any issue on the agenda is a specific concern, please let me hear from you – and, you have an extra day to do so, since Council doesn’t meet until Tuesday.

On the Calendar

It’s school break.  If you aren’t traveling, maybe you should find your inner Olympian and go ice skating at Vets or Buhr (Buhr is outside, so consider whether to bring hot chocolate!).  Skating starts at Buhr at noon every day this week; Vets arena opens at 11, but check here for the public skating times.

Leslie Science and Nature Center invites you to watch Raptor Feeding (3 pm every Saturday) and to come to tour the Critter House (12 noon every Sunday).

Planning Commission meets on Thursday, February 20th at 7 pm in the Council chambers.  The only action item on the agenda is a rezoning of the land recently donated to the City by First Martin.  This land will be added to the Stapp Nature Area, and will be rezoned from R4D to Public Land.

Sidewalk gaps (again)

The City staff will host a public meeting at Northside elementary school on February 25th at 6:30 to discuss both the Barton Drive sidewalk gap plans and the traffic calming schedule for Northside. 


On the Horizon

Pedestrian Safety and Access

Currently, no meeting date has been established for the Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force (first meeting).  The expectation is that this task force will begin meeting in March and meet frequently thereafter.  Task force members (appointed at the last Council meeting) are: Vivienne Armentrout, Scott Campbell, Ken Clark, Neal Elyakin, Linda Diane Feldt, Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Owen Jansson, Tony Pinnell and Jim Rees.  When a date for this task force’s first meeting is set, I’ll post it in this newsletter.


What am I reading?

I finished Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  I hate to say I learned, but the book did reinforce my understanding of which types of decisions benefit from data collection and research – and which don’t.  Examining issues of opinion (who to love, for instance, or whether one drink tastes better than another) can make a decision harder to reach and less reliable.  Deciding issues of fact (how much to buy, where to invest) absolutely benefits from deeper understanding.  And if you really know your field, little time may be necessary to make a decision – because you’ve already assembled enough information that you can incorporate into your decision-making process.
But in honor of romance everywhere, I’m reading How to Marry an English Lord.  And hoping Downton Abbey survives the depression.