City Council Meeting (Jan. 5, 2009, Part II) This article reports the portion of council’s Monday evening meeting that did not relate to the City Place PUD, which is covered in Part I.
This piece is organized thematically, not chronologically.
- Laptop computers – what do they cost the city?
- Liquor – why do they get a liquor license, when we’ve heard so much negative news about them?
- Easement for public utilities – what, if anything, do the public schools have against electricity?
- Public Art Commission – an unexpected wrinkle in a garden-variety appointment.
- City Income Tax – a previous study to be updated.
- Streets and Snow – includes a ride-along in a snow plow reported by councilmember Marcia Higgins; also Stadium & Pauline and Huron Parkway & Nixon have construction planned starting in the second half of April 2009, to be completed by end of August 2009.
- Waste – commercial recycling and wastewater treatment (can you say “bio-solids”?)
- Public Commentary – against a street, for social justice, and for unbiased reporting on the bombing of Gaza.
This resolution was originally on the consent agenda as CA-1, but councilmember Sabra Briere asked that it be separated out for discussion. It called for up to $95,500 to be authorized for personal computer replacements.
Briere called Dan Rainey, the city’s director of information technology, to the podium and asked him to convey orally the answers she’d already received from him by email in response to some questions she’d asked. Rainey gave a cost breakdown for the approximately 25 desktop and 36 Hewlett Packard laptop computers that the money was being used to purchase. The cost per laptop was $1,625, which included a 19-inch monitor, keyboard, mouse, docking station, and monitor stand. For desktops the cost was $931. There was, said Rainey, a $1,307 contingency for unplanned purchases because of breakages.
Councilmember Leigh Greden thanked Briere for eliciting the information and said that it opened a larger dialog that they need to have. To many people, said Greden, the IT departement and its budget and inner workings remains a mystery, because it’s its own internal service fund. As council enters the two-year budget cycle, said Greden, it’s important to take a very close look at IT. He characterized IT as a critical investment, but said that it was also critical to not feel like money is disappearing someplace. Briere followed up by saying that when they make technology buys, they need to buy the best that can last the longest time. She stressed that she was confident in the IT department, but the public needed explanation about where these big-ticket items go.
Agenda item D-2 dealt with the transfer of ownership of a 2007 class C liquor-licensed business with dance-entertainment permit, located at 314-316 S. Fourth doing business as Studio 4. Councilmember Stephen Rapundalo, who chairs the liquor license review committee, reported that the committee had voted 2-1 not to recommend the transfer.
Rapundalo wanted to make clear to his council colleagues what the vote reflected: a certain amount of frustration about the number of incidents reported through the media at Studio 4 that seems higher than similarly-sized establishments downtown.
Despite that frustration, said Rapundalo, the conditions for rejecting the transfer consist only of a failure to pay property taxes: the assessor’s office determines whether there’s something delinquent. In this case the establishment had a clean bill of health. The police department looks at Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) code violations, fire code violations are considered by the fire department, and the planning department looks a building code violations. With regard to MLCC violations there were a few cases of minors in possession of alcohol.
Regarding the number of incidents, Rapundalo said in some cases it was hard to discern whether it involved an action inside or outside. [Editor's note: Ann Arbor District Library's online archive of Ann Arbor News articles provides examples over the last year of incidents ranging from shots fired outside the bar to an underage girl found passed out in a booth inside the bar.]
Rapundalo said that the new owner is the manager of the establishment. With regard to the issue of property taxes he has a clean bill of health, reported Rapundalo. He had also provided a plan to address safety, which included hiring private security guards. Rapundalo said that the liquor license review committee had put Studio 4 on notice that they would be diligent in reviewing the establishment.
Part of that diligence, continued Rapundalo, was to develop specific criteria by which to deny these transfers (beyond delinquency on property taxes), which are currently not in place.
After the resolved clause was changed to reflect approval (as opposed to denial) of the transfer of ownership, the transfer was unanimously approved.
Public Utilities Easement
Agenda item DS-8 was a resolution accepting a public utilities easement from public schools for the Miller-Maple transmission water main project at Forsythe and Wines schools. Mayor John Hieftje recalled there being an objection on the part of the public schools to having an electrical conduit installed that was connected to a windmill that generated power – something that city staff confirmed had not been done. Because he was curious to know what the source of the objection was, Hieftje asked that the item be postponed, which it was.
Public Art Commission
At the Dec. 15 council meeting, the following nominations for the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission were placed before council for consideration:
- Marsha Chamberlain re-appointment (Jan. 5, 2009-Dec. 31, 2011)
- Cheryl Zuellig replacing Tim Rorvig (Jan. 5, 2009-Dec. 31, 2011)
- Connie Rizzolo Brown serving out Elaine Sims general public term (Jan. 5, 2009-Dec. 31, 2009)
- Elaine Sims replacing Larry Cressman – U/M Representative (Jan. 5, 2009-Dec. 31, 2011)
Confirmation of such nominations is usually perfunctory. In this case, councilmember Marcia Higgins, seeing that Zuellig’s address was listed as Ypsilanti, asked, “Why is someone from Ypsilanti sitting on our commission?”
The explanation that Hieftje offered was that there was a UM connection, which was important to maintain, because UM had not yet committed in the same way as the city of Ann Arbor had to allocating a percentage of its construction project budget for public art, notwithstanding the many large public art pieces UM had installed.
It was pointed out that a different person was spelled out in the nomination (Sims) as the UM-connected replacement. Councilmember Briere noted that Zuellig was an employee of JJR, as a reminder of who was who. [Editor's note: Zuellig was slated to replace Tim Rorvig, also of JJR. The art commission meets at the JJR second-floor conference room, at 110 Miller Ave.]
Hieftje then said he’d like to withdraw Zuellig’s name. The other three nominees were unanimously confirmed.
City Income Tax and Other Taxes
During communications from council, Stephen Rapundalo made a request of city administrator Roger Fraser that the 2004 city income tax study be “dusted off” and distributed. Rapundalo introduced the request in the context of UM’s purchase of the Pfizer site [which removes the property from the city's property tax rolls, because UM does not pay property taxes]. Rapundalo said he would like staff to see what needs to be updated and bring it back at an appropriate time and manner.
Greden echoed the need for the 2004 study to be looked at again and updated, noting that he’d received emails from constituents on the topic. [Editor's note: Ann Arbor does not currently collect a city income tax.]
Related to taxes – in the form of a kind of exemption – was a public hearing on the application of Edward Brothers Inc. for an Industrial Facilities Exemption Certificate. One member of the public spoke, John Floyd, who said that every time we give someone a tax exemption, everybody else has to pay: either services go down or taxes go up. Overall prosperity, Floyd said, depends on keeping tax rates low.
Streets and Snow
Based on the number of comments on a Dec. 29 Chronicle column about snow removal in Ann Arbor, it is a topic of keen interest to Chronicle readers. Count councilmember Marcia Higgins as someone who’s interested in snow removal as well. In her communications from council, Higgins reported on a Dec. 19 ride-along with a snow-removal crew. She spent 4.5 hours with a crew, and said that she was impressed by the finesse used – from moving tons at a time to just rolling the snow gently without flooding the sidewalks with snow.
Years ago, she said, the city did curb-to-curb plowing, which is no longer the practice. She said it became apparent during the subsequent warming trend that we have compacted snow against storm drains, which results in flooding.
Higgins reported seeing such flooding on Stadium Boulevard, where million of dollars had been spent on storm drain improvements. She wondered if, as we change snow-plowing practices, we are changing the way we build roads. She concluded by thanking the crew: “These guys do a fantastic job!” She said that it was an eye-opening experience to see them drive the truck, adjust the blade, spread the salt, and pay attention to traffic.
Besides possible flooding in connection with snow plowing, Stadium Boulevard came up in the context of improvements planned at the intersection of Pauline Boulevard. Agenda item DS-1 was a resolution to approve an agreement with the Michigan Department of Transportation and amend the project budget for the West Stadium Boulevard at Pauline Boulevard improvement for $1.51 million.
The breakdown provided by Homayoon Pirooz, head of the city’s project management unit, was $850,000 from a grant, $904,000 from the street millage, $250,000 from the water main fund, and $356,000 from the storm water fund. He explained that the curb-to-curb width would be virtually the same, widened only by a few inches.
Bike lanes would be achieved by decreasing existing lane widths from 12 feet to 11 feet, Pirooz said. Responding to the issue of the impact of snow plowing, he said there’s no good solution: “It’s been a challenge forever.” Councilmember Mike Anglin wanted to know if the possibility of locating underground storm water detention tanks had been explored with adjacent property owners. Pirooz replied that for residential properties it had not been explored, and that when the city had attempted to reach an understanding with the commercial owners of parking lots, ultimately there had been no understanding reached. Councilmember Higgins expressed concern about the replacement of three cobra-head street lights with 11 new lights as a part of the project: Would there be an impact on nearby residential areas?
The timeline for the project would have it beginning in the second half of April 2009 and to be completed by the end of August 2009.
The same timeline was indicated for improvements in the area of a second intersection: Nixon & Huron Parkway. Agenda items DS-2, DS-3, and DS-4 related to the Nixon & Huron Parkway project. The agreement with Michigan Department of Transportation and amendment of the project budget was made for $909,174. Council also approved $196,370 for construction engineering services from Orchard Hiltz & McClient Inc. and $39,680 for construction materials testing by CTI & Associates Inc.
Other road corridors discussed at council were not being improved through construction, but rather by adding them to the SCOOT (Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique) system, a traffic signal control system that is already deployed on (i) Plymouth Road from US-23 into the city, (ii) Washtenaw Avenue between US-23 and S. University, and (iii) Eisenhower between Main and US-23. SCOOT optimizes signals in real time based on information received upstream from induction loops under the pavement. Les Sipowski, traffic engineer for the city of Ann Arbor, was on hand to explain the system and to offer his observations about its performance: when there was an accident on US-23 causing traffic to divert to Plymouth Road (one of the locations where SCOOT is installed), he could see that from a driver perspective the length of delays was not increased, and that means it’s working.
In agenda items DS-5 and DS-6, council approved $479,339 for expansion of SCOOT to Ellsworth Road and S. State Street and $210,722 for SCOOT on Ashley and First streets.
Streets also came up in the context of re-development proposals for 415 W. Washington. The Chronicle has recently reported on the current status of that process: the review committee has recommended that the RFP be refined and re-issued to the proposers with the hope that they will discuss a joint proposal amongst themselves.
Sue McCormick, public services area administrator for the city of Ann Arbor, plus Scott Rosencrans, a member of the Park Advisory Commission, made themselves available at the beginning of the meeting to answer any questions. McCormick said that what staff was looking for from council is concurrence with the committee’s recommendations, under which staff would revise the RFP. The committee, she said, has expressed a willingness to continue its service.
Rosencrans said it’s not a very easy piece of property to develop. The committee, on which he served, wanted to give council the opportunity to revise the RFP so that applicants can come closer to meeting the recommendations in it. One of those recommendations was that the greenway area (which had been stipulated in the original RFP to include the entire floodway area of the parcel) remain under public ownership. Another recommendation was that there be a connection between Washington and Liberty streets. [In previous coverage, The Chronicle reported that the Old West Side Design Group had used a "social street" to make this connection.]
During the public commentary reserve time at the beginning of the council meeting, Margaret Wong spoke to the issue of a street connection. She appeared on behalf of Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy, and was responding to the 415 W. Washington’s RFP recommendations report.
Wong said the ACGC fully supported the finding statement: “Preservation of floodways as open space in public ownership or control is considered a best management practice for flood risk mitigation, and none of the proposals would be negatively impacted by retaining the floodway portion of the site in public ownership.” The conservancy supported the recommendation of public ownership, she said.
However, she said that it cannot support a vehicle connection between Liberty and Washington, saying that it would disrupt the free flow of non-motorized traffic envisioned for the greenway. The greenway was meant to promote a healthy community by creating non-motorized options for travel, as well as to reveal a neglected creek valley, she said. Part of the goal of the greenway was to remind us why Ann Arbor was sited where it was sited. We should set the bar high, Wong said, and “aim for the most we can achieve, not the least we can get away with.”
Waste: Water, Commercial Recycling
Agenda item DS-10 was a resolution to award a contract to SG Construction Services for $42,444,927 to construct a residuals handling improvements project at the wastewater treatment plant. Earl Kenzie, unit manager of the wastewater treatment plant, was on hand to explain what the project included.
Kenzie explained that it would replace 30-year old equipment that was at the end of its useful life. According to Kenzie, the project would take 2.5 years to complete. Mayor Hieftje elicited an explanation of why methane extraction from bio-solids was not currently feasible onsite at the wastewater treatment plant (although it had been explored and tested). Fleming Creek, Huron River, and the railroad tracks bound the treatment plant’s facility, Kenzie explained, so there simply is not enough space to undertake it. Hieftje expressed his hope that new technology might make it possible to implement using less space. The resolution passed.
Also related to waste was agenda item DC-1, which was a resolution to accept the report of commercial recycling implementation recommendations. This report came from the commercial recycling implementation committee, which was created by the city’s environmental commission to make those recommendations. The environmental commission had accepted the recommendations at its Dec. 4 meeting.
Councilmember Higgins led the discussion by clarifying a procedural matter regarding the “multi-stakeholder oversight committee” to be created “to assist the staff in the development of a solid waste collection rate schedule, which would be adopted prior to the July 1, 2009 start-up date for the solid waste franchise and the commercial recycling program, and that includes, at a minimum, a review of the frequency of pickup, the number of containers per pickup, and the weight of waste material per waste container.”
The original language of the resolution called for the environmental commission to create the oversight committee, but at Higgins’ suggestion it was revised to assign that role to city council. Higgins solicited agreement from council’s two representatives to the environmental commission, Carsten Hohnke and Margie Teall, to take responsibility for the oversight committee.
On the substantive matter of the recommendations, Higgins led the discussion with staff as well, bringing out the key feature of the recommended program (which is intended to increase commercial recycling by 50% and to save money for businesses): it will rely on a franchise system with a vendor selected by the city (Waste Management), which businesses would be required to use. Higgins said that she’d heard from a couple of businesses to the effect that they thought their existing arrangement was more economical than the rate schedules being proposed, and asked what options they might have. Staff indicated that they felt that the vast majority of businesses would have cost savings, but acknowledged that in a few instances it could go the other way. It was identified as a matter to bear in mind going forward.
Besides Margartet Wong, whose comments are reported above in connection with the general topic of streets, two other citizens appeared to speak during reserved time.
Tom Partridge: Partridge addressed his remarks to the mayor, city council, the public attending and watching. He identified himself as the author of four resolutions passed at last August’s Washtenaw Democratic convention calling for countywide public transportation, the ending of discrimination against seniors and handicapped people, the creation of a universal healthcare program, and for creation of housing commissions through all regions of the state. He asked council to pass a resolution calling for economic expansion in the city, county, state and nation.
Henry Herskovitz: Herskovitz said it’s hard to know where to begin in describing the all-out assault on the “world’s largest concentration camp – the Gaza strip.” Noting that the Israeli military had dubbed their operation “cast lead,” he said it should instead be called the “Hanukkah massacre,” because it happened during Hanukkah and was, in fact, a massacre.
He conveyed to councilmembers (via the city clerk) a quarter-page information sheet that included the ratio of killed Palestinians to killed Israelis, which was 100 to 1. He then addressed the coverage of the Israeli military assault in the media. In discussing one headline, “Israelis move into Gaza,” he noted that it was accurate, because they had in fact moved into Gaza, but said that an equally valid headline would have been “Poorly-Armed Hamas Girds for Invasion by Superpower.” Another headline that began “Israeli weighs goals in Gaza” focused attention on Israel, Herskovitz said, and leads readers to believe that Hamas is the problem. We are supposed to get the who, what, when, where, and why from the media, “But where’s the why?” he asked. Part of the why, he said, was included: “Eight days of punishing air strikes failed to halt rocket fire.” But the why of the rocket fire was not there, he said. He offered that the why of the rocket fire had to do with an illegal blockade that forces people in Gaza to eat grass and eat bread made from animal feed.
Present: Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin, John Hieftje
Absent: Sandi Smith
Next Council Meeting: Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]