Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (Aug. 16, 2009): Sunday evening’s lightly attended city council caucus reflected a light agenda for Monday. But light as that agenda is, it had not been published in the newspaper – as one caucus attendee pointed out to the three councilmembers present: Mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).
Even though the agenda itself is dominated with items like perfunctory rezoning – pedestrian in the sense of “ordinary” – there’s a presentation to be made at the start of the meeting by Sue McCormick, director of public services for the city, that should draw some community interest. She’ll be giving council an update on the East Stadium Bridge situation. The bridge needs to be repaired or replaced.
At caucus, then, residents and councilmembers were free to focus on some items not on Monday’s schedule. And one common theme cutting across two different resident concerns as well as council discussion were pedestrian issues – pedestrian in the sense of folks on foot.
In other brief discussion, councilmembers indicated, in response to a question, that they had not contemplated re-voting the issuance of bonds that would fund the underground parking garage. The legality of the council’s February vote authorizing the bonds has been challenged by a lawsuit filed last week, which contends that the council violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act on the evening it approved the bonds.
Also at caucus, councilmembers gave a public indication that they were contemplating possible council rules changes that would affect how email communications are handled during council meetings.
King Elementary School Crosswalk
One audience member asked for an update on the installation of a crosswalk at King Elementary School, which she’d inquired about at a previous caucus meeting. Hieftje indicated that he had no new information yet, but did not expect that anything would happen before school started in the fall.
The resident told the mayor that city staff, in conversation with her, had expressed an interest in seeing the Ann Arbor Public Schools take responsibility for shoveling snow off the sidewalk in the winter.
Pedestrian Right-of-Way Ordinance
Another audience member reported having attending a recent public meeting about installation of a pedestrian refuge island at 7th and Washington. He suggested that while refuge islands and roundabouts might help a particular intersection, it would be more effective to think about the broader educational goal of reminding motorists of the ordinance that gives pedestrians the right-of-way. Signs of the kind that Traverse City uses, he said, would be a step in the right direction.
By way of background, the pedestrian right-of-way ordinance in Ann Arbor reads as follows:
10:148. Pedestrians crossing streets.
(a) No pedestrian shall cross a street at a location other than at a crosswalk into which vehicle traffic is then restricted by a traffic control device unless such crossing may be done safely and without interfering with motor vehicle and bicycle traffic on that street.
(b) No operator of a motor vehicle or bicycle shall interfere with pedestrian or bicycle traffic in a crosswalk into which vehicle traffic is then restricted by a traffic control device.
(c) When traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger, but a pedestrian shall not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into a path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.
The ordinance itself has been criticized in recent months on the Washenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition Google Group for not providing right-of-way to pedestrians in the whole crosswalk. Wrote Matt G.:
Carsten Hohnke is working hard to have our pedestrian ordinance changed to provide right-of-way in the entire crosswalk (anything less is NOT actually a right-of-way). It’s a great place to start. We need to show him support by helping to educate other council members and city staff.
Hohnke is one of two representatives from Ward 5 to the city council.
At caucus, Hieftje said that the 7th and Washington intersection warranted specific attention, but that the broader educational angle was one that the city was also pursuing. He pointed out that the city had allocated $10,000 for non-motorized safety education. That funding was authorized at council’s June 15, 2009 meeting.
Hieftje reiterated what Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, had said at the June 1, 2009 council meeting about one fundamental challenge of motorist education in Ann Arbor: Half of the drivers on the roads of Ann Arbor don’t live here.
During caucus discussion among councilmembers, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported to her colleagues that she’d had a meeting with Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Ray Detter, who’s president of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, and Steve Kaplan about the alley to the west of the Liberty Square (Tally Hall).
Some background on the alley. At its Jan. 7, 2008 meeting, the city council approved a PUD rezoning for McKinley Towne Centre-Liberty at 515 E. Liberty St.
The planning commission deliberations on the issue included considerable discussion of closure of the alley on the west side of the parcel that was proposed for the PUD by the petitioner.
The planning staff report includes an analysis of the alley on the east side of the parcel as an alternative pedestrian path from Liberty to Washington:
Staff finds that this alley does offer pedestrians a mid-block passage between East Liberty and East Washington Streets, but only for those “in the know.” It does provide a useful function and makes closing the existing alley on the west side of the proposed PUD site less concerning. However, it is not an ideal space to safely convey pedestrians, mostly because of the portion that is the theater loading dock. Staff would be concerned about promoting its use for the general public.
Briere said there was concern that the bollards that had now been installed would cause people to perceive the alley as not public. She was also concerned that any delivery trucks entering the alley from Washington Street to service the new retail locations would have to back their way out onto Washington.
Briere also wondered if an alley that was lined its entire width with cafe tables – one possible use if the adjoining retail space just built by McKinley houses a restaurant – would be conducive to conveying pedestrians between Liberty and Washington.
The bollards that have been installed can be removed – there’s a bolt visible at the base – but are not the kind that can simply be run over by an emergency vehicle if that need should arise, Briere said.
Parking Garage Bonds
The recent lawsuit filed by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center against the city of Ann Arbor contends that the city council violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act when it authorized the issuance of general obligation bonds at its Feb. 17 meeting. The suit asks for declaratory relief that in part invalidates that council decision:
(c) Enter an order which invalidates City Council’s approval of the site plan for the Parking Garage and the bonding to fund the project which occurred at its meeting on February 17, 2009 ;
At its July 20, 2009 meeting, council authorized a change from tax-free municipal bonds to taxable bonds – the increased cost being more than offset by the Build America Bond Program. The Chronicle had inquired at the July 19 caucus whether that change would require an additional 45-day window, during which citizens would have the opportunity to circulate a petition that – if successful in achieving signatures from 10% of registered voters – would force a voter referendum on the bond issuance.
When the council considered the matter at its July 20 meeting, Briere explained that night that they’d learned no additional 45-day period would be required, because it had been satisfied with the Feb. 17 vote. But what if the council on July 20 had simply taken a new vote on the bond issuance? That vote would have taken out of play the contention in GLELC’s lawsuit that the Feb. 17 vote was not valid.
Council could conceivably re-vote the bond issue even now, as a strategy to take the financial piece of the equation out of jeopardy. So the question The Chronicle asked the three councilmembers present was: Has anyone given any consideration to undertaking such a re-vote?
They had not contemplated such a re-vote themselves, nor were they aware that anyone else had, either.
Possible Council Rule Changes
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said that Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who chairs the council’s rules committee, had asked Briere to request that a work session be held on the topic of council ethics and rules. Briere reported that she’d done that. However, the next available work session would be in October. September’s work session is already committed to a joint meeting with planning commission on A2D2 zoning. October was a long time to wait, said Briere.
Mayor John Hieftje indicated his preference for just putting the rules changes on the agenda for the council’s Sept. 8 meeting and discussing them at the table. Briere said she’d like to get a draft of the proposed rules changes out and available for people to look at as soon as possible. Hieftje said he thought that should be possible as early as next Tuesday.
The rule changes, Briere indicated, would address email, as well as an issue with newspaper publication of notices and agendas. Council will likely eliminate its own rule that requires it to publish its agenda in the local newspaper. The FY 2010 budget, which council adopted earlier this year, aimed to save $15,000 by no longer publishing the counci’s agenda in the newspaper.
Notices Published in Newspapers
One resident addressed councilmembers on the issue of publication of notices and agendas in the newspaper. She noted that public hearings for the planning commission and the historic district commission had been published in “the Sunday paper, such as we have now,” but that the city council agenda had not been published there.
She said the public hearings for planning were required by the city code. She’s right – from Chapter 57 of the code for the city of Ann Arbor:
A written notice shall be sent to the petitioner and to the property owners and residents within 300 feet of the boundary of the property not less than 10 days before the Planning Commission hearing indicating the time, date and location of the hearing. A notice of the hearing shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation at least 7 days before the hearing. [emphasis added]
And council has a rule that requires the publication of its agenda:
The approved agenda for all meetings of Council, including Work Sessions, shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the City no later than the Sunday prior to each meeting, except those meetings called less than six days prior to a meeting.
The caucus attendee suggested that the reason council did not publish its agenda was because it cost a lot of money to publish it. Based on the budget discussions earlier in the year, that’s in fact the case.
The caucus attendee also pointed out that the definition of what counted as a newspaper required that it have been published at least a year, in order to qualify as “legitimate.” Here’s the state statue statute to which she was alluding – MCLA 691.1051:
The term “newspaper” as used in any statute of this state, except the revised judicature act of 1961 relative to the publication of a notice of any kind, shall be construed to refer only to a newspaper published in the English language for the dissemination of local or transmitted news and intelligence of a general character or for the dissemination of legal news, which
(a) has a bona fide list of paying subscribers or has been published at not less than weekly intervals in the same community without interruption for at least 2 years, and
(b) has been published and of general circulation at not less than weekly intervals without interruption for at least 1 year in the county, township, city, village or district where the notice is required to be published. A newspaper shall not lose eligibility for interruption of continuous publication because of acts of God, labor disputes or because of military service of the publisher for a period of not to exceed 2 years and provided publication is resumed within 6 months following the termination of such military service,
(c) annually averages at least 25% news and editorial content per issue. The term “news and editorial content” for the purpose of this section means any printed matter other than advertising.