Ann Arbor City Council meeting (March 2, 2009): Whatever chance for controversy that might have been present in the Ann Arbor’s City Council meeting agenda on Monday evening was eschewed in favor of values statements. These expressions of values were reflected in many of the agenda items themselves. We’ve organized our account of the meeting in terms of values related to the following topics: water, the arts, land, energy, history, and democracy.
Ann Arbor Value: Water
Iraq Water Project (Clean Water): As a part of the section of the agenda called “Introductions” that starts every council meeting, Laura Russello, executive director at Michigan Peaceworks, presented background on the collaboration between the nonprofit she leads and Veterans for Peace, who joined together to work on the Iraq Water Project. As a result of the destruction of much of Iraq’s infrastructure during the Iraq war, Russello said that only 1 in 3 Iraqis have access to clean water. The goal of the project is to restore access to clean water. So far the national organization has raised $200,000 to repair six water treatment facilities in Iraq, Russello said.
She explained that the goal of Michigan Peaceworks is to help involve the entire community in the project led by Veterans for Peace so that it becomes a “human-to-human” issue. To that end, a variety of events had been organized, continued Russello, including a showing of the movie “Flow” at Michigan Theater, a rally on the University of Michigan campus, op-ed pieces written for the Ann Arbor News, with door-to-door canvassing planned.
Members had a poster depicting a water filter of the sort that the Iraq Water Project is raising money to send to Iraq. It consists of a sediment filter, followed by a carbon filter, with sterilization achieved through an ultraviolet bulb. About 30 of the units have been sent so far.
After presentations made during the “Introductions,” councilmembers sometimes ask questions to elicit more detail from the presenters. Mayor John Hiefte stated that he knew something about water filters and queried Russello about the filter’s processing rate. Eight gallons a minute, she said.
Russello asked for council’s support of the resolution on their agenda, saying that an endorsement from city council would help lend the local effort credibility.
Later, during council deliberations on the resolution, Tony Derezinski thanked Michigan Peaceworks and Veterans for Peace from his perspective as “a veteran of an earlier unpopular war” and said that he was pleased to support it. Hieftje said he really appreciated the fact that they came and talked to him about the project, saying that it can have an immediate impact on people’s lives.
Outcome: The resolution, which featured a “resolved” clause commending Michigan Peaceworks and Veterans for Peace for their work on the Iraq Water Project, was passed unanimously.
Dreiseitl Project for Municipal Center (Storm Water): During public commentary reserved time at the beginning of the meeting, Margaret Parker, chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, spoke to the agenda item on the professional services agreement with Herbert Dreiseitl to create a piece of public art for the new municipal building, which will integrate with the building’s storm water control system. The cost of the preliminary design is $77,000, which was on the agenda for authorization, with the project itself expected to cost around $700,000.
At a recent art commission meeting, some commissioners had expressed concern about some lack of support for the Dreiseitl project among the public. At its October 2008 meeting, there was some surprise expressed by commissioners about the large amount of money available to fund the project, as well as the rapid time line for the project’s selection. At a Sunday night council caucus in early February, Marcia Higgins had also expressed surprise at how much money had accumulated through the one-percent for art program, prompting her to wonder if a half-percent of all capital projects would be sufficient to meet the program’s goals.
Margaret Parker: Parker thanked the city council for its planning by putting the percent for art program in place and said that the Dreiseitl proposal was the first project to be funded through the program. She then gave some brief background on the mechanics of the funding, including the fact that funds from all capital projects that feed into the program can be pooled as long as they’re related to the same funding source. The funds need not be spent in the same year that they accumulate, she said, but they can’t be spend on anything other than public art.
She then began to walk council through the steps that led to the decision to commission Dreiseitl to create a storm water-based project for the new municipal center [which breaks ground in a few weeks, with preparations already underway around the Larcom Building.] First, she said, it was unanimously decided that the new municipal center was the place to focus time and funding. Second, the task force, consisting of many members of the community not on the art commission, had dtermined where in the municipal center the project would be sited. The site selected was the rain garden. With that, Parker’s time was up (three minutes is the time limit for public commentary), and she left the podium saying that she hoped council had read their “little packets and make the right decision.”
Councilmember Margie Teall said she was excited by the fact that Dreiseitl had agreed to do the project. Councilmember Carsten Hohnke said he’d seen a presentation when Dreiseitl was in Ann Arbor last year for the Huron River Watershed Council’s State of the Huron conference. He said it would bring storm water control out into the open and would thus be both educational as well as aesthetically pleasing art.
Outcome: Passed unanimously.
Ann Arbor Value: Art
State Funding: In voting to fund the design of Dreiseitl’s storm water-based art installation, council gave a thumbs up to both water and art. But it spent a fair chunk of time on the subject of just plain art. The topic was first mooted by Shary Brown during public commentary reserved time, who encouraged city council to pass the resolution on its agenda calling on Gov. Jennifer Granholm to maintain Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs funding at a level of $6.1 million in fiscal year 2010. The funding is in jeopardy as the state looks for ways to cover budget shortfalls.
Shary Brown: Brown introduced herself as director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, which will be 50 years old this summer. The organization also sponsors the Townie Party preceding the fairs. She pointed out that the art fairs draw .5 million visitors to Ann Arbor each year, who spend $5 million on hotels, $25.3 million on dining and $48.7 million on shopping. It would be short-sighted, she said, for the state to cut funding to the arts.
Kenneth Fischer: Fischer introduced himself as president of the University Musical Society and a proud member of Tony Derezinski’s ward (Ward 2). He said he was there to support the resolution supporting arts funding. He drew a connection between state funding and federal funding, saying that when the federal government looks at state funding levels and and sees no money, it has a negative impact on the likelihood of federal funding. [The idea is that the feds prefer to allocate monies where there is matching local support.]
Fischer recounted how the Michigan Economic Development Corp. had used the 2006 visit from the Royal Skakespeare Co. to leverage the arts to entertain out-of-state CEOs. He cited an assessment by Mary Kramer of Crain’s Detroit Business, who had written that the MEDC had “hit a homerun” with its investment.
Councilmember Teall said she was happy to see the resolution come before council and that she hoped it helped change some minds in Lansing. Councilmember Hohnke encouraged the public to visit www.a2artsalliance.org and to look at the economic impact study to familiarize themselves with the impact of arts on the economy. It’s not direct, he allowed, but it’s significant.
Mayor Hieftje highlighted the language in the resolution, ticking through points like 2,600 jobs that are tied to the nonprofit arts sector and the $57 million in household income that the arts generate.
Councilmember Sandi Smith said that she did not envy Gov. Granholm’s position. She said that Ann Arbor was having difficulty, and in Lansing there would be a similar diffiulty. They’re going to have to go line by line, she said, and the arts seems easy to cut. She said it was ironic, because the state was giving money specifically for the arts through the Cool Cities program a few years ago. Continuing to fund the arts, she said, was going to help Michigan go forward.
Councilmember Stephen Rapundalo urged everyone who cares to put in a call, letter or email. [The website mentioned by Hohnke above provides a form for contacting Governor Granholm.] Rapundalo suggested contacting state Senate majority leader Tom George, saying that there are those who see the benefit from continuing to fund the arts. He said we need to get behind those folks.
Councilmember Mike Anglin stated his support of the resolution. He mentioned that the University of Michigan was going to be re-opening its art museum and urged citizens to contact their legislators.
Councilmember Derezinski said he saw some wonderful people at Monday’s meeting in support of the arts, like Margaret Parker and Ken Fischer, a “resident of my ward” – an allusion to Fischer’s earlier statment that he was a proud member of Derezinski’s ward, which drew a few chuckles. Derezinski stated that the arts were a wonderful component of Ann Arbor that makes it unique.
Councilmember Sabra Briere was fairly brief. When they send this resolution off to Lansing, she said, they should remember that bread feeds our body, and roses feed our soul. Art, she said, is the roses. Briere was kind enough to send along to the The Chronicle the full text of the poem to which her remark alluded, “Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim, published December, 1911 in American Magazine:
As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for – but we fight for roses, too!
As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler – ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
Outcome: Passed unanimously.
Ann Arbor Value: Energy
Burning Coal: Council had on its agenda a resolution stating the city of Ann Arbor’s opposition to the continued burning of coal to generate electricity. The resolution was recommended by the city’s energy commission, and public commentary included remarks from the chair of that committee, Robert Black, who asked for council’s support of it.
Robert Black: Black introduced himself as the chair of Ann Arbor’s energy commission and advocated for the elimination of the burning of coal to generate electricity. He stressed that there was a certain urgency to the issue, and said that the council’s stand was needed because of Ann Arbor’s role as leader. Ann Arbor is being watched, said Black. He pointed out that Dave Konkle, until recently the energy coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor, was in Washington D.C. working with international organizations on the issue. Black said that $20 billion goes out of the state to pay for energy.
Mayor Hieftje led off council deliberations by saying he believes that no more coal-fired plants should be built, and that there was no such thing as “clean coal.” The increased levels of mercury in Great Lakes fish, Hieftje said, were in large part due to the burning of coal. Given that Michigan has the 14th best wind resource in the country, Hieftje concluded that there was no need for the seven new coal-fired plants that were currently proposed.
Councilmember Briere noted briefly that the other side of burning coal is mining coal, which is itself a problem.
Outcome: Passed unanimously.
Earth Day, Earth Hour: Council considered a resolution endorsing Earth Hour, an initiative from the World Wildlife Fund that asks all citizens, businesses, government agencies, and commercial and non-commercial establishments to turn off all non-essential lighting for one hour beginning at 8:30 p.m. on Sat., March 28, 2009.
Councilmember Smith noted that the time specified was local time, and that Earth Hour would move progressively around the world. She said that it would include streetlights on Main Street plus the lights in city hall.
Councilmember Briere noted that the more lights that go off, the better the chance to see the sky.
Councilmember Marcia Higgins was concerned about the practical side of turning street lights off. “Are we turning them all off? Have merchants been made aware?” The answers seemed to be “No” and “Yes,” respectively.
Councilmember Hohnke talked about the Earth Hour effort reflecting a “global vote” for global climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009. [The Chronicle learned later that Hohnke is pursuing the possibility, via city staff, of getting data from DTE to measure the impact of Earth Hour locally.]
Mayor Hieftje said that when the lights did get turned off on Main Street for Earth Hour, it would represent an even further reduction from the already small amounts of energy used by the LED lighting system.
Outcome: Passed unanimously.
Ann Arbor Value: Land
Greenbelt: The city’s Greenbelt program stems from a millage passed by voters in 2003, which raised funds to purchase additional parkland and to preserve land within the greenbelt district. A central strategy in land preservation is through the purchase of development rights on working family farms. Before Monday’s council meeting, around 750 acres had been protected through the Greenbelt program. Tom Partridge is one of the program’s critics. During his turns at public commentary, he often calls for the money that is spent on greenbelt acquisitions to be spent on other areas instead. With a purchase of development rights for 146 acres through the Greenbelt program on council’s agenda, Partridge rose to comment, and revealed that he has not changed his mind on the question.
Tom Partridge: Partridge reaffirmed the need to stimulate the economy in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and southeast Michigan by taking steps to access federal stimulus money and other public funds. He called for directing public money away from buying up farmland, instead putting it towards a transportation system. He also called for reform of the general practice that puts conditions on certain pools of funding, restricting their use on capital projects as opposed to operational expenses.
Councilmember Hohnke said that the acquisition on the agenda meant that more than 400 acres of operating farmland between Ann Arbor and Dexter had been preserved. He described the acquisition as “going to the sweetspot for the vision of the greenbelt, and emphasized that Ann Arbor taxpayers contribute less than 50% of the cost, with the remaining percentage coming from federal taxes and Webster Township.
Mayor Hieftje put the land acquisition in the context of local agriculture becoming increasingly important.
Outcome: Passed unanimously.
Plastic Bags: Council had on its agenda for the third time a proposed ordinance that would ban the use of plastic bags by retail establishments – the bags with handles used to bag groceries, for example. One of the reasons for such a ban that has been cited by the proposed ordinance’s sole sponsor, Councilmember Stephen Rapundalo, is the litter stemming from such bags. As partly a litter issue, we group it in the “Land” section of the meeting report.
Rapundalo moved for a postponement to June 1 to allow city staff to have a little more time to take in information and to have a discussion with retailers. Rapundalo asked Bryan Weinert, the solid-waste coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor, to give an update on staff efforts. Weinert said that on March 22-23 staff would be meeting with retailers to get feedback on the already-drafted ordinance. He said there would be information on city’s website and a public information survey, acknowledging that there was some controversy surrounding the issue. Weinert said that based on feedback from the public and merchants, staff would bring forward a recommendation. Weinert did not state what the range of possibilities for such a recommendation would be.
Outcome: Postponed for a third time by unanimous vote.
Solid Waste: As it relates to space in landfills, we include two resolutions regarding the new commercial recycling program in the section on “Land” values. The first of these resolutions was for a waste collection contract with Waste Management of Michigan not to exceed $900,000 per year, and the publication of the ordinance laying out the new franchise system for commercial recycling.
Councilmember Teall, who had worked on the development of the new commercial recycling program, called Bryan Weinert, the city’s solid-waste coordinator, to the podium. Weinert explained that the Waste Management contract addressed the refuse collection side of recycling.
Queried by Councilmember Higgins, Weinert said that to combine the recycling into a single stream where paper and other material was mixed together (for commercial or residential) would require upgrades to the materials recovery center, but that such an approach could eventually be rolled out and was a part of the solid waste plan.
Higgins said she’d received some calls from constituents concerned that moving to a national contract would push smaller operators out of business. Weinert said that an inventory of dumpsters was done and that there were only a very few dumpsters that were handled by anybody but the top three or four haulers. Higgins was given the assurance that businesses like 1-800-GOT-JUNK would continue to do what they do.
During deliberations on the ordinance, Councilmember Leigh Greden said that he thought it was amazing that in a fiscally challenging environment, the city was able to move forward with the commercial recycling initiative. He reiterated a sentiment he’d expressed at an earlier council meeting, when he said that the commercial recycling program was “one of the hallmark things we’ll do this year.” He concluded by saying, “This is an amazing feat.”
Mayor Hieftje said that the issue of low tipping fees in Michigan would need to be addressed, because that was what allowed Canada to dump garbage in Michigan cheaply.
Outcome: Unanimously passed.
R4C Zoning in the Central Area: The ordinance before council called for a direction to city planning staff to begin looking at zoning nonconformities in the central area of Ann Arbor and to work with the public to provide council with recommendations for potential ordinance changes to the residential districts within the the central area. It was brought for consideration by Councilmember Derezinski, who is council’s representative on the planning commission.
Councilmember Higgins expressed some concern that this new direction – together with the A2D2 initiative and the re-evaluation of area height and placement outside the central area – meant that every piece of zoning legislation in the city was now under review. She wondered about the impact on staff and how the timing of the various initiatives would come together.
Jayne Miller, community area services director, said that for A2D2, there would be a council working session on Monday, March 9, 2009. At council’s March 16 meeting there would be a resolution to begin public process on area, height and placement outside the downtown, Miller said. Based on staff committments, Miller said she thought a committee could be assembled in the summer with work to begin in the fall.
For the work on area, height and placement, Mayor Hieftje announced that each ward needed a resident as a representative on the committee, and that councilmembers needed to identify a representative from their wards to join a collection of representatives from planning comission, city council, and commercial property owners. Hieftje asked councilmembers to move with haste, because the committee would be established at the next council meeting.
Outcome: Unanimously passed.
Ann Arbor Value: History
Ann Arbor District Library: The evening began with a presentation from the AADL about a historical collection of minutes from city council meetings dating from the early part of the 20th century. The Chronicle has already published a more detailed account of the historical online minutes project.
Women: In her communications to her council colleagues, Sabra Briere noted that March is Women’s History Month and briefly called their attention to two women: (i) Virginia Watts, who in 1878 was the first African-American woman to enroll at the University of Michigan, graduating in 1885, and (ii) Ella Bareis Prochnow of Ann Arbor, who in 1930 was the first woman in Michigan to own and manage an automobile dealership.
Ann Arbor Value: Democracy
Citizen Participation: On council’s agenda was a revision to the recently passed citizen participation ordinance, which requires developers to meet with residents in the vicinity of a proposed project early in the planning phase. The ordinance as originally passed allowed for no exceptions, and the revision called for exceptions to be granted for single-family residential annexation and zoning petitions of less than two acres. During public commentary, Tom Partridge criticized what he saw as an attempt to curtail public participation.
Thomas Partridge: Partridge declared that he opposed the enactment of the ordinance and that he was opposed to all similar ordinances that curtailed public access. He said that it had been a theme of Hieftje’s administration to limit public commentary and to take up matters in closed-door sessions on subjects that should be laid out in detail. He called on council to enact an ethics policy for city government that addresses access by the public to public hearings. He said that public commentary should be possible without requesting the name, address, phone number and topic of speakers.
In the minimal deliberations on the revisions to the ordinance, Mayor Hieftje called the ordinance itself “revolutionary in Michigan,” saying that it goes a long way towards the goal of including the public. He stressed that the revision to the ordinance that night was just a tweak.
Stadium Bridges: The topic of the safety of the Stadium Boulevard bridge over State Street warrants separate coverage, as opposed to relegation to a “Miscellaneous” section. It’s worth noting, however, that at council’s meeting, Sue McCormick, the city’s public services director, gave council an update on the situation with the bridge, which she said was being monitored closely. We hope to be able to provide more details as the city reaches what McCormick described as a “decision point” in the next 30 days about proceeding with a repair or waiting for funding to materialize for a complete reconstruction. For some limited coverage of the topic, see this previous Chronicle article on the bridge.
Michigan Inn: City attorney Stephen Postema announced that the former Michigan Inn on Jackson Road could see demolition this month.
Present: Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin, John Hieftje
Next Council Meeting: Monday, March 16, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. Note: Council will be holding a working session on March 9, 2009 at its usual time and location, to discuss the downtown plan and the A2D2 zoning, recently passed by planning commission. [confirm date]