A warm and sunny January morning
First Ward, City Council
Coffee wakes some of us up
I hold office hours 7:30 to 9 am on most 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 is held at 3:30 pm on the Sunday prior to each Council meeting.
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.
It was almost 50 degrees on January 30th. That’s quite a January thaw. Part of me keeps waiting for the next snowfall – with the beauty and misery it may bring – and part of me is simply enjoying the year so far. I’m not certain where that balance point is – it depends on whether the sun is shining, I expect.
It’s nearly Candlemas. Or, if you are older school, Imbolc. (If you don’t recognize these references, it’s nearly Groundhog Day.) This day/night is midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox – and is for some of us when the Christmas season ends and spring really begins. I know I start looking for signs of hope in early February. Next week we will take our annual walk around the property. (We do this on Feb. 7th, for a variety of family reasons). Since the crocus are already up, I wonder whether the witch hazel will be blooming. Given the weather and the projected weather, I’ll bet we see growth.
As a child, I was often confused by folk sayings. When my mother would say “that’s six of one and half a dozen of another” I couldn’t figure out why she was saying ‘these are the same thing.’ That’s rather the way I felt about Groundhog Day. If the groundhog saw her shadow, there would be six more weeks of winter. And there’s six weeks between Groundhog Day and the Spring Equinox. . . so of course, whether or not the groundhog saw her shadow, spring would occur at the same schedule. I’m still hoping for a cloudy Tuesday, though.
Earlier this week I spent several hours refreshing my skills on evaluating applications for human service funding. You may know that the City, the County, the United Way, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, and several other organizations and foundations have pooled resources and shared goals for funding a variety of human service agencies (for more background, read the recent Coordinated Funding article in The Ann). The goal for doing this has been to ensure that a broad variety of organizations receive funding, and that the grant application process is simple and direct – with no duplicate and confusing forms to fill out. As a member of the Housing and Human Services Advisory Board, I agreed to serve as one of the grant application reviewers. Some of the funding goes directly toward building capacity in the organizations – so their ability to serve the community is increased. Some goes toward specific projects (this is the part I deal with) to help reach goals. Organizations are encouraged to work with each other to create comprehensive projects that build on separate expertise. This process lasts a couple of months and involves significant time commitments – several half-day meetings and a lot of time spent reading and evaluating the proposals. It’s all in a good cause.
The shared goals of the coordinated funders are:
The Coordinated Funders allocated $4.32 million for 2016 — the same as for 2015 — to 57 programs. The City’s dollars are spent in Ann Arbor. In addition to the City’s $1.25 million, that included $1.76 million from the United Way, $1 million from the county, $274,907 from Washtenaw Urban County grant funds, and $26,250 from the Community Foundation.
That doesn’t mean every project receives funds or is funded; most recipients receive only partial funding for their projects.
Two separate lawsuits have been filed against the City about the deer cull. At this time, neither lawsuit has resulted in a change in the planned activities of the deer cull.
One thing that has changed is the information we know – as a result of the lawsuits. During the first two weeks of the cull, no deer were killed. I imagine that this is because the contractors from USDA-APHIS were setting up areas for the cull. Last week (between 4 pm on Jan. 18 and 7 am on Jan. 23), 16 deer were killed. The Council has been told that we will get a further update on Monday, February 1 at the Council meeting. This update will be live, and recorded.
Before the vote on a deer management plan, I wrote up everything I’d learned to that point (April, 2015) about deer management. You may read that here.
I hear a lot of rumors about the cull, and try to track down the truth. Of course, that means I rely on what I’m told. If you cannot trust your sources, you never find the truth. My sources tend to be official – the police chief, the city administrator, the MDNR, etc. I’ve addressed the rumors I hear, and identified my sources, in this increasingly-long update on deer management. This version moves all the new information to the front, but retains the background information for those who are new to the issue, or who want to remind themselves of what’s gone on.
THE LIBRARY LOT (AND OTHER DEVELOPMENT)
At the Council meeting on January 18, the Council passed the resolution directing the City Administrator to negotiate with CORE Spaces in order to bring to Council a final offer to purchase the development rights to the Library Lot surface area. This was a close vote (7-3, with one member absent) and indicates that it may be difficult for the proposal to be successful. Council members voting in favor of the final resolution were: Mayor Taylor, Council members Ackerman, Grand, Smith, Warpehoski, Westphal. Council members in opposition? Briere, Eaton, Lumm. Council member Kailasapathy was absent.
It takes 8 affirmative votes to sell the construction rights.
Prior to the final vote, I offered an amendment to the resolution that requires to City to include in its negotiations these recommended outcomes: a greener, more sustainable building (currently, the proposal is for a Silver LEED-quality development; I asked for Platinum-LEED); 10% of all housing units to be affordable at the 60% - 80% Adjusted Median Income (AMI) level (for individuals currently earning between $35K and $47K annually); a redesign that results in a clear connection between the Library Lot and Liberty Plaza and between the Library Lot and Blake Transit Center. The Council agreed to these terms unanimously.
The city administrator and the city attorney’s office will now negotiate with CORE Spaces and bring to the Council their final offer. If the Council approves this final offer, the developer will move through the standard process of 1) Citizen Participation meeting; 2) Design Review Board; 3) Staff evaluation for code compliance; 4) Public hearing and recommendation from the Planning Commission; 5) Public hearing and final decision at City Council.
Some people have questioned why the City allows as much development as has recently been occurring. There are legal limits to how much discretion the Council as a whole has. The City has ordinances to guide development; these ordinances are local law. If someone offers a development that meets the requirements of the law, Council members are constrained in the ways they can affect the development or reject it. I’ve written the process up (as I understand it) here.
These considerations apply particularly to proposed developments on privately owned property. They don’t apply to proposed developments on land that the City owns. The City may set different standards for its own land, and require different outcomes – because it’s the property owner.
By this I mean – the City can state that it wants affordable housing, or an office building, or a civic building on any land that it owns. If a developer chooses to purchase that land (or the development rights to that land), the City can require that the developer produce what the City has identified as its goal. Private property rights, particularly in the State of Michigan, may preclude the City making similar restrictions or requirements for other properties.
Setting high goals for the Library Lot is possible. Setting those same goals (for lower-impact development, for affordable housing, for open space) is generally not an option.
65 UNTESTED RAPE KITS
I first learned that the City had untested rape kits when I read an email from the mayor to Chief Baird asking about them. Then I read the coverage in MLive.
On Saturday, the police phief informed Council that the story was true, and that at least some of the untested rape kits date to 2005. In addition to committing to have all the kits tested, he stated that “a kit may not have been submitted for analysis [reasons] listed below:
Chief Baird’s memo to Council continued:
A preliminary look at the cases associated with the 65 kits occurred following the initial count. In most of the AAPD cases the victim had reported the assault to a medical facility but declined to participate in a criminal prosecution afterwards. In others, the case was successfully adjudicated without the analysis being needed, the suspect’s identity was not in question or the case had been submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office and a warrant was denied.
These kits were not part of long-forgotten incidents that had never been investigated, but were kits that had been retained for a variety of reasons out of an abundance of caution in spite of the fact that analysis wasn’t necessary for the AAPD case. Because we retained these kits and didn’t discard or destroy them, they will now be analyzed and may assist another jurisdiction in solving one of their outstanding sexual assault cases.
Example: we have a kit with a known suspect where analysis was unnecessary for our case but another jurisdiction has the same DNA on one of their cases and the suspect is unknown and not already in the CODIS database. The AG’s initiative may also have the additional benefit of helping us to solve some of our previously unsolved sexual assaults if the opposite were true.
I have asked for more information.
FLINT AND ANN ARBOR AND LEAD PIPES
Many of us have been aware of the Flint water crisis and the effects of the decision to use corrosive water in lead pipes. I won’t add to that discussion here, because there’s so much other coverage.
But I was asked by a constituent whether Ann Arbor has lead pipes, and if so, what we are doing to replace them. Here’s the response I received from the City:
"We have no records of lead pipes for water or sanitary sewer mains within our system.
"The portion of service pipe from roughly the water main to the sidewalk is owned by the City. The remaining pipe running to the home is owned by the property owner. The City does not have information on the material used for the property owner portion. Prior to 1950, it was common to use galvanized iron as a material for service pipes from the street to the home. The short connection between the iron service and the water main is made with a piece of lead pipe about 1/2" in diameter and about 2' long. These connections are commonly referred to as "goose necks" because of the shape.
"At one time there were thousands of "goose necks" within our system, however today only 118 of these connections remain. As streets are resurfaced/repaved, the city’s portion of the galvanized water services are replaced with copper. Copper is flexible and does not require lead goose necks, which are removed when replaced.
"As a utility, the City is required to sample for lead in the water at residential customers' taps. Fifty one residential locations are sampled. The sampling results within Ann Arbor, which are shared with the homeowner, have been very low. The City publishes information about its lead sampling and the risks of lead in the annual water quality report (2014 report here; 2015 report due in March, 2016). The health effects language included in the report is required by every municipal water system, not because lead has been detected at high levels.
"The City will continue to replace any lead in the system and is in the process of developing a plan for sampling and replacement of the remaining goosenecks."
In 2013, the City heard that MDEQ was considering ending the cleanup on 1,4 dioxane in our ground water. I met with county officials, township officials and both county and City staff to develop a strategy to keep this from occurring. I brought a resolution to the Council as a result of those meetings, and since then I have been part of a group of Washtenaw County officials who have met with, argued with, and encouraged the DEQ to take action.
It’s taken over two years, but the MDEQ may have finally drafted new standards for ground water / drinking water chemical exposure. Those proposed standards were supposed to be ready in December, and again in January. As of January 29, the new standards were still not publicly available. Once these proposed standards are available, the interim MDEQ director, Keith Creagh, will determine whether to begin the process of implementing the new standards.
Right now, the state requires 1,4 dioxane to be 85 parts per billion (or less) in ground water / drinking water. The Federal standards are 3.5 parts per billion. The state could decide to require cleanup to 7 or 8 parts per billion. And while that may not be quite to Federal standards, it does represent a significant change in the standards. If we were to redraw the map of the plume to show its size at 8 parts per billion (or more) in all test wells, we might see a very different picture.
Pall releases its cleaned water to Honey Creek. Honey Creek is just upstream of the City’s intake at Barton Pond for drinking water. And while the City – which constantly tests the drinking water for this and other possible contaminants – has never found levels of 1,4 dioxane that put residents at risk, the potential remains a concern.
Members of City Council, the County Commission, Township government, City and County staff, and our State legislative delegation* met on Friday, January 29th to determine next steps. As part of these next steps, the County Board of Commissioners will hold a briefing on 1,4 dioxane and the progress of the remediation efforts on Thursday, February 18th. City Council will follow that with a special working session on Monday, February 29th. Representatives from the County, the City, MDEQ, the Attorney General’s office and CARD will be invited to present to both bodies.
Rep. Jeff Irwin plans to host a series of Town Hall meetings around the state to address MDEQ and its efforts to protect drinking water – where they succeed, and where they fail. Information about time and location of these Town Halls is forthcoming.
Below is a link to the resolution that will be in front of City Council on Monday, February 1.
There is always rumor and gossip about nearly every issue. That’s certainly the situation with the Pall-Gelman 1,4 dioxane plume. Things to know:
For some history on this issue, please read this article in MLive. Of course, there’s lots more history – and if you want to read any of it, just let me know. I’ll send links.
*Present were Mayor Taylor; Council members Briere, Eaton, Lumm, and Smith; County Commissioners Brabec, Jamnick, and Rahbi, Ann Arbor Township Supervisor Moran, State Representative Irwin. Also present were Matt Naud (City Environmental Coordinator), Kristin Schweighoven (County Environmental Health Director), Kirk Profit and Gary Owen (Governmental Consulting Services, Inc.).
On the Agenda
CITY COUNCIL MEETS ON MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1ST AT 7 PM. The Council meeting will be held in the newly-renovated City Council Chambers – and as we are still learning how that space works for the public, if you come to the meeting, please let me know about your experience, good or bad. Planning Commission meets on Tuesday, February 2nd at 7 pm in the Council Chambers.
As part of its adopted rules (December, 2015) the Council waived the budgetary ceiling for which items could be placed in the consent agenda. The expected outcome was that the Staff would not be required to remain until the early morning hours only to have the Council approve without comment or question an infrastructure item, and that Council meetings would be easier to complete in a timely manner – with a focus of Council attention on those items that are particularly important or controversial. These staff-sponsored items don’t deal with development; Council members also continue to introduce their own items on the agenda.
COUNCIL SPONSORED ITEMS
The Council will consider a resolution to encourage MDEQ to promulgate new cleanup standards for 1,4 dioxane and other chemicals affecting ground water. The resolution urges MDEQ to set the cleanup standards for 1,4 dioxane at 3.5 parts per billion – meeting the Federal standards. This resolution is sponsored by Chip Smith and cosponsored by Mayor Taylor and Council members Briere, Eaton, and Warpehoski. Other Council members may add their names as sponsors during the Council meeting.
The Council will discuss a resolution to establish Ann Arbor as a ‘welcoming community.’ This resolution, if approved by Council, will establish Ann Arbor as a community that acts on a set of principles to build an inclusive, welcoming community that allows all residents to thrive and advances integration efforts in three core areas: civic, economic, and linguistic integration. The resolution also supports the application of Jewish Family Services for funds through the Gateways to Growth Challenge to support the coordination between nonprofit, government, business, and other sectors to build that welcoming community for all refugees and new citizens. This resolution is sponsored by Chuck Warpehoski and cosponsored by Mayor Taylor and Council members Briere and Grand.
The Council’s Liquor License Review Committee has recommended that several liquor licenses not be renewed, including those for the Arna, Burgerfi, Tony Sacco’s, What Crepe, and Zola, because each business has outstanding personal property taxes and other outstanding obligations to the City. The Liquor License Review Committee’s membership includes Council members Lumm, Kailasapathy, Smith, and Ackerman.
Millage revenue collected within the DDA is generally spent appropriately on the appropriate goals. Street repair millage dollars go toward street repair; AAATA millage dollars go toward transit. On the agenda is a resolution establishing a budget and reimbursement plan for sidewalk repair within the DDA district. Under this provision and as provided in the agreement, the City will treat sidewalks within the Downtown Development District like sidewalks outside the Downtown Development District for purposes of repair and the DDA will compensate the City for undertaking those repairs.
There are several street closure resolutions on the agenda for upcoming events (yes, it’s getting warm enough to consider outside activities): Fool Moon, TEDxUofM, FestiFools, and Take Back the Night.
There are always other items on the agenda, including reports and minutes from meetings. If anything raises your concern or invites questions, please contact me.
The Planning Commission continues to discuss changes to the Downtown (D1 and D2) premiums. These recommendations are not yet ready to go to the Planning Commission or to City Council.
There are no updates about the train station and whether a new location will be recommended.
Several developers have expressed interest in the Broadway Village at Lowertown site. Although I saw some trucks on the site last week, I have not heard that the State of Michigan Pension Fund is prepared to develop – or to sell for development.
Several additional projects are being proposed for the downtown, including a new structure on Church Street. More interesting to me is that one developer has acquired property on S. Main (in the block between Liberty and William on the east side of the street) and wants to build 180 feet – his property is outside the historic district.
Tuesday, February 2
7 pm, Planning Commission
On the agenda is a petition to rezone two R2B (two-family and [student] group housing allowed) parcels to R4C (multi-family housing): 816 S. Forest and 815 Church.
Also on the agenda is a petition to combine 2321 Jackson with 108 and 112 Collingwood and add a 27 space parking lot. The existing 5,000 square foot building is intended to be used as a microbrewery and skate shop and the existing residential structure would remain.
Thursday, February 4
5:30 pm, 220 N. Main (Board of Commissioners Meeting room). Please come to meet and greet the two County Administrator candidate finalists. Feedback forms will be available, so don’t forget to offer your recommendation.
7 pm at the Ann Arbor District Library downtown, 343 S. Fifth Ave.:
The February forum includes local community members who will discuss Resource Management, including ways to improve Ann Arbor's waste diversion rate and communitywide efforts to reduce different waste streams.
Tuesday, February 9
Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday. You pick; all day.
Saturday, February 13
10 am to noon, the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) will hold a monthly open house where visitors can create their very own recycled paper valentine on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. Visitors will explore the remanufacturing part of the recycling process by making new paper valentines from old paper, using heart-shaped screens and cookie cutters. In addition to making valentines, visitors will have the opportunity to tour the MRF.
"One of the best ways to learn is to get your hands a little messy," said MacKenzie Maxwell, the environmental educator at the MRF. "Actually going through the recycled paper-making process, even if it is a bit simplified, allows folks to connect to the recycling process in a different, more memorable, way."
The open house is free and open to the public. Long pants and closed-toed shoes are required, and children under age 6 are not allowed on the floor tour, but other age-appropriate activities will be available for them. Groups of five or more should register in advance at email@example.com.
Friday, February 19
5 pm, deadline for submitting an application to the Citizens’ Police, Fire and Courts Academy.
Citizens often wish they had a better way to voice concerns and ask questions about the public safety system. In turn, the Ann Arbor police and fire department staff 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 provides an opportunity for citizens to learn about the public safety system.
First of its kind in the state of Michigan, the academy educates citizens about the public safety system and ways to avoid and prevent fire and crime. The academy also provides interpersonal 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 6:30–9:30 p.m. on Tuesdays beginning March 8 and ending May 10, 2016. Topics will include: police, fire and 15th District Court organizational structure; K-9 unit; F.A.T.S. (fire arms training system); traffic stop scenarios; emergency management; National Incident Management Systems; fire behavior; personal protection equipment; fire safety and prevention; hazardous materials; technical rescue; the criminal justice system; court processes and court programs; and more.
For additional information about this program or to download an application (PDF), visit the City of Ann Arbor website at www.a2gov.org/police or contact PSS Amy Jones with the Ann Arbor Police Department at 734.794.6900, ext. 49340 / firstname.lastname@example.org. All applications are due by 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. A background review will be conducted on all applicants; applicants will be notified if accepted into the program.
I don’t join book clubs or book reading groups. There are times when I wish I did. Right now, here’s what people in the Ann Arbor / Ypsi Reads group are devouring:
The Book of Unknown Americans, a novel by Cristina Henriquez (talk about it Monday, February 1 at 7 pm or Thursday, February 4 at 10:30 am at the Ypsilanti District Library).
The New Jim Crow, an evaluation of race and the legal system by Michelle Alexander. The Racial Justice Book Group of the Interfaith Council of Peace and Justice meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month. This book is invaluable for helping its readers to understand the role that the existing criminal justice system plays in maintaining and exacerbating America’s historical arrangement of racial hierarchy and mass racial control. Join the group in the basement lounge of Northside Presbyterian Church, 1679 Broadway, Ann Arbor, 48105.