Ann Arbor city council meeting (July 2, 2012): The council’s agenda was relatively light, consisting of several apparently unrelated items. But for some agenda items, “sustainability” was a common theme.
Most obviously fitting that theme was a resolution passed by the council directing the city’s planning commission to incorporate 16 sustainability goals into the city’s master plan. The 16 goals, which were compiled from existing planning documents, had worked their way through a community engagement process and were adopted by several city commissions before arriving before the city council. The goals fall into four categories: climate and energy; community; land use and access; and resource management.
Clearly related to land use and access (the goal of “preserve our natural systems”), as well as resource management (“eliminate pollutants in our air and water systems”) was a resolution directing city staff to develop a “green streets” policy. The policy would formalize an approach to stormwater management that would allow city street projects to incorporate various technologies to mimic natural processes, to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that goes directly into the city’s stormwater pipes and on into the Huron River. Features like bioswales, for example, would filter stormwater through natural systems so that pollutants from street surfaces would not flow directly to the river.
The river itself was part of the meeting’s sustainability theme as it was highlighted with a mayoral proclamation in honor of Huron River Day, which falls on July 15 this year.
Among the specific sustainability goals in the category of “community” is one that addresses economic sustainability: “Develop a prosperous, resilient local economy that provides opportunity by … rewarding investment in our community …” In that spirit, the council took the first step toward awarding a tax abatement to Barracuda Networks, a company that recently announced it’s moving from its Depot Street location into downtown Ann Arbor as part of a planned expansion of its workforce.
Another agenda item could be analyzed as part of the “integrated land use” and “economic vitality” sustainability goals: final approval of a rezoning request for the Shell station on the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline and West Eisenhower Parkway.
Fitting into the “community” sustainability category was a resolution that made Ann Arbor a member of the Washtenaw Health Initiative (WHI) by authorizing a $10,000 annual membership fee. The goal of the WHI is to help local health care providers handle an influx of an estimated 50,000 newly insured patients when federal health care reforms take effect in 2014. The specific sustainability goal is to “provide services that meet basic human needs of impoverished and disenfranchised residents to maximize the health and well-being of the community.”
The council also approved appointments to three city commissions that are connected thematically to the sustainability goals – environmental, greenbelt advisory, and planning.
Making the city of Ann Arbor more financially sustainable is not an explicit part of the sustainability goals adopted by the city council. Yet financial sustainability could be seen as an outcome of the council’s ratification of three different union contracts. All three contracts increase the retirement benefit vesting period for new hires from five to 10 years, and increase the period for the final average compensation calculation to five years from three. The three labor groups that had their contracts ratified were the police professional assistants, civilian supervisors, and the deputy police chiefs.
Some of the public commentary also featured a sustainability theme – as former Allied Bendix engineer Kermit Schlansker outlined the energy efficiency benefits of cisterns. Also weighing in during public commentary were opponents of the new “smart meters” that are being installed by DTE Energy in Ann Arbor and other Michigan communities.
In other business, the council approved a weapons screening contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office – for the 15th District Court, located inside the new justice center along with the Ann Arbor police department.
During communications time, city attorney Stephen Postema updated the council on legal action related to the Dream Nite Club, which had its liquor license revoked earlier this year. He said four significant court rulings on lawsuits filed by the club’s owners against the city had gone the city’s way.
The council’s communications also included mention of two ballot questions that voters might have to decide in November. One is a renewal of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage. The council is almost certain to place that millage renewal on the Nov. 6 ballot. Another question is less certain – one that would change the city charter to require a voter referendum, if the city were to lease parkland. The charter already prohibits the sale of parkland without a referendum.
Sustainability Goals: Master Plan
The council considered a resolution directing the city planning commission to start a process of incorporating 16 sustainability goals into the city’s master plan. While that master plan review process is underway, the council’s resolution directs the city administrator to apply the 16 goals in staff work. [.pdf of 16 sustainability goals]
The sustainability goals are divided into four categories: resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. By way of illustration, from the land use and access category, one of the goals is: “Establish a physical and cultural environment that supports and encourages safe, comfortable and efficient ways for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users to travel throughout the city and region.”
The goals were culled from more than 200 goals that are already found in existing city planning documents, as part of a project that began in early 2011. The work has been funded by a Home Depot Foundation grant.
Development of the work by city staff was initially guided by volunteers who serve on four city advisory commissions: park, planning, energy and environmental. Members from those groups met at a joint working session in late September of 2011. Since then, the city’s housing commission and housing & human services commission have been added to the conversation. A series of panel discussions on each category was held earlier this year, as was a public forum to solicit input.
The city planning commission voted on June 5, 2012 to recommend to the city council that it pass the resolution considered by the council on July 2.
Additional background on the Ann Arbor sustainability initiative is on the city’s website. See also Chronicle coverage: “Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor,” “Sustaining Ann Arbor’s Environmental Quality,” “Land Use, Transit Factor Into Sustainability,” and “Final Forum: What Sustains Community?”
Sustainability Goals: Public Commentary
Alan Haber told the council that in some circles he’s considered a pest. But he perseveres, he said. He supports the sustainability goals and he thinks they’re an important step. He related the notion of sustainability to the efforts of homeless people to organize their own community along the lines of Camp Take Notice. He then pointed to the city-owned building at 721 N. Main and contended that if the city made it available, that would help a community form, and that would be a part of the realization of sustainability goals.
Haber also contended that sustainability requires space for a community on top of the new underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue. That space can change and create its own story, he said. When he attended a recent meeting of the Connecting William Street committee, which is working to develop possible scenarios for alternate uses of city-owned surface lots, all of the scenarios involved developing the top of the parking structure in some way. None of the scenarios allowed for open space there. The committee had not heard a word of the input that had been provided, he contended – because people all over town said they wanted an open space. That’s what the community wants, he said.
Kermit Schlansker, a former engineer with Allied Bendix, told the council that the problem with wind and solar power is that it’s intermittent. A way to store the energy is needed, he said. He suggested that cisterns could be part of the solution. In the summer, he said, cistern water can cool buildings. In the winter, the use of a heat pump on cistern water – at 55 F degrees – would be relatively efficient, he said. Forget about rain gardens and rain barrels, he said, because they don’t store energy.
The big problem with cisterns, Schlansker said, is how to build them. The work of digging them has to be done by hand, but that would make jobs for poor people. He compared cistern digging to coal mining. The best way to store carbon is to leave it in the ground, he said. Like apartment houses, cisterns are one of the few energy devices that can last 1,000 years.
Sustainability Goals: Council Deliberations
At the July 2 meeting, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked city planning manager Wendy Rampson to come to the podium. Rampson introduced Jamie Kidwell, sustainability associate with the city. Kidwell had done most of the work, along with some interns, Rampson said. City environmental coordinator Matt Naud and Rampson had assisted Kidwell, Rampson said. Kidwell ventured that many councilmembers had seen the sustainability goals through commissions and boards they sit on.
Derezinski asked Kidwell to give a succinct definition of sustainability. By way of responding to Derezinski, Kidwell noted that an effort had been made to build the vision of sustainability from existing planning documents. It’s from those documents that the four “chapters” were distilled: resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. They build on the city of Ann Arbor’s 10 environmental goals that were adopted in 2007, she said.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked Kidwell to talk about how we’ll know if the city is making progress. In responding, Kidwell alluded to the city’s State of Our Environment Report. She indicated that for sustainability, more detailed indicators would be developed along the lines of the environmental indicators. Those indicators will be tied to targets, she said, and she ventured that those indicators would be reviewed on a biennial basis.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the resolution directing the planning commission to integrate the 16 sustainability goals into the city’s master plan.
Green Streets Policy
The council considered a resolution that directs city staff from a range of different departments to work with the environmental commission to develop a “green streets” policy.
The policy would formalize an approach to stormwater management that would allow street projects to incorporate an “array of products, technologies, and practices that use natural systems – or engineered systems that mimic natural processes – to enhance overall environmental quality and provide utility services …” The goals of developing and implementing the policy include a reduction in the amount of untreated stormwater flowing from streets directly to the city’s stormwater system and into the Huron River. By implementing systems like bioswales, for example, a portion of the stormwater runoff from streets, which includes contaminants from the road surface, would be filtered naturally before entering the river.
To emphasize the impact that the city’s streets have on stormwater runoff, a staff memo accompanying the resolution indicates that Ann Arbor’s 27 square miles includes 11.2 square miles of impervious surface, of which about one quarter (2.9 square miles) is the city right-of-way. City staff estimate that half of the runoff in the city’s stormwater system comes directly from the city right-of-way.
At the council’s meeting on June 18, 2012, city environmental commissioner Valerie Strassberg had addressed councilmembers, asking for their support in bringing the resolution forward. At that meeting, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated she’d be bringing the resolution forward at the July 2 meeting. It was co-sponsored by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). Hohnke and Briere are the two city council appointees to the environmental commission.
The city staff who are directed to take part in the development of the green streets policy are in the systems planning, project management, field operations, parks and recreation, and planning departments.
The resolution was introduced by Briere. She noted that the city staff have already worked hard to implement various green streets approaches. However, the city has no policy about how to implement those approaches or what level of priority to assign them. She stressed that the green streets policy that will be developed by the environmental commission under the direction of the council’s resolution would come back to the council for its review. The council would then decide if the policy has been properly developed.
Hohnke characterized it as a move to provide formal guidance. City staff have been involved in the green streets techniques. And this approach has always been a growing part of how the city has thought about managing its streets, he said. Stormwater has an impact on infrastructure and the quality of our water, he continued. The city should bring new technologies to bear on this problem. Those technologies include pervious pavement and a “whole suite of actions that improve stormwater runoff.”
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) stated that she does support the resolution. She offered her thanks in advance to the staff and the environmental commission for the work they’d be doing. However, she wanted to add that when the green streets policy comes back to the council for review, she hopes to see supporting data that clearly articulates costs and benefits, including benchmark data with other cities. She noted that the council had recent approved a pervious pavement project, and it wasn’t clear what the capital and operational differentials were. She understood that a policy doesn’t mean something is set in stone. But she wanted a solid sense of the costs that are contemplated by the green streets policy.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to direct the development of a green streets policy.
The Huron River was featured twice during the meeting – in connection with a proclamation about Huron River Day, and during public commentary about park rules against swimming in the river.
Huron River: Huron River Day
The proclamation in honor of Huron River Day is an annual one. This year the celebration falls on July 15. Co-founders of the event – Eunice Burns and Shirley Axon – were on hand to receive the proclamation.
Burns put in a plug for one of the bands that’s playing this year: Misty Lyn and the Big Beautiful. She noted that her granddaughter, Carol Gray, plays in the band.
In her brief remarks to councilmembers, Burns told them that some new events are included this year, among them a triathlon. The three legs of the event require bicycling from Argo to Gallup, running a circuit on land around Argo Pond and then kayaking back down to Gallup. [Swimming is not a part of the triathlon.]
Huron River: Swimming
David Collins introduced himself as an avid canoeist and occasional swimmer. He told the council he wanted to address some signs he’d seen posted at the Argo Cascades [a new bypass around Argo Dam that includes a series of drop pools]. The posted signs indicate that no swimming is allowed pursuant to Chapter 39 of the city code, which Collins described as apparently prohibiting swimming from city-owned land adjacent to waterways, except for those areas that are designated for it.
By way of background, Chapter 39 reads in relevant part:
3:2. – Restrictions.
While in a park, no person shall:
(16) swim, dive or play golf or hockey except in areas specifically designated for such purpose.
The idea of swimming in the Argo Cascades had been discussed at the park advisory commission meeting on May 15, 2012, when commissioners ventured that it might be a way to deal with the heat. From The Chronicle’s coverage:
David Barrett ask about the possibility of people swimming in the pools of the cascades – especially as the weather gets warmer. Colin Smith [the city's parks and recreation manager] noted that there’s a park rule against swimming in the river using parkland as a bank. And given the level of boating activity in the cascades, he said, if the intent was to go for a relaxing dip, it wouldn’t be all that relaxing.
During his remarks to the council on July 2, however, Collins contended that the park rule was unenforceable. He appreciated the city’s interest in promoting safety and in protecting itself from liability. But the city, he contended, does not have the authority to enact an ordinance like Chapter 39 that restricts use of the river. He cited the public trust doctrine that governs riparian rights and referred to a state of Michigan publication – ”Public Rights on Michigan Waters“:
It is quite clear that although a riparian owns the fee to the bed of a navigable (public) stream, his ownership is subordinate to the right of the public to the free and unobstructed use of the stream for navigation, fishing, swimming and other uses inherently belonging to the public.
Collins noted that if the city “invites guests,” it might have additional responsibility. For open and obvious dangers, he said, the city did not have liability. Only when the risks are hidden dangers are there real issues, he said.
Rather than post warnings about violations of an abstract, unenforceable piece of the city’s code, Collins suggested that the signs should provide warnings about real danger – like sharp, hidden rocks. That kind of sign could be more effective to prevent people from trying to use the Argo Cascades chutes as a water slide.
Barracuda Tax Abatement
The council considered setting a public hearing under Michigan’s Act 198 of 1974 on establishing an industrial development district for 317 Maynard St. in downtown Ann Arbor. Setting the hearing – for Aug. 9, 2012 – is the first of several actions that will be necessary to grant a tax abatement to Barracuda Networks, which is relocating from Depot Street to the downtown property owned by First Martin Corp. A letter dated June 1, 2012 from First Martin to the Ann Arbor city clerk requested the establishment of the district.
After the public hearing on the district, the council will need to vote on establishing the district. Then Barracuda Networks will need to apply for the abatement. The city council will need to vote to set another public hearing – this time on the abatement. And then the council will need to vote on the abatement itself. According to reports from Barracuda, the value of the abatement to be requested is estimated at around $85,000.
The city is prohibited by state statute from abating taxes on any more than 5% of the total state equalized value (SEV) of property in the city. Responding to an emailed query in May 2012 (in connection with a tax abatement for Sakti3), Tom Crawford, the city of Ann Arbor’s chief financial officer, wrote to The Chronicle that total SEV for the city for 2012 stands at $5,294,974,640, and the total SEV of abated property in 2012 is $8,935,974. That works out to 0.169% – well under 5%.
Outcome: Without discussion, the council voted to set a public hearing for Aug. 9, 2012 on establishing an industrial development district for 317 Maynard St.
Shell Station Rezoning, Site Plan
The council considered final approval of a request to revise the zoning regulations associated with the parcel on the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline and West Eisenhower Parkway, where a Shell service station is located.
The city planning commission had previously voted unanimously to recommend approval of the zoning changes at its April 17, 2012 meeting.
The council was also asked to consider the site plan for the project.
Owners of the station are asking for revisions to the site’s planned unit development (PUD), which would allow them to build additions onto the existing 1,000-square-foot convenience store. The new additions would total 4,089 square feet, including 2,189 square feet to the north and east of the store. Their plan also calls for converting the 900-square-foot carwash area into new retail space. The existing access drive to the carwash would be landscaped, and the parking lot would be reconfigured for a new total of 16 spaces.
According to a planning staff memo, the PUD revisions were recommended because they are seen as providing an overall benefit to the city, by: (1) supporting the continued viability of retail options for the surrounding neighborhood; (2) creating job opportunities from this expansion; and (3) controlling the architectural design standards of this building as a gateway into the city.
The initial approval to the PUD rezoning was given at the council’s May 21, 2012 meeting.
Shell Station: Public Hearings
Separate public hearings were held on the PUD rezoning and the site plan.
Thomas Partridge was the only person who spoke at either hearing. He introduced himself as a resident and candidate to represent the 53rd District in the Michigan house of representatives. He called on the city council to come together behind a specific and firm commitment to affordability goals and environmental goals as part of the sustainability goals that were on that evening’s agenda. Those goals should include a commitment by service stations to support the public transportation system, he said. Service stations should be required to provide charging stations for electric vehicles, he contended. They should also be required to provide adaptable technology for hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Partridge called for the zoning change to be revised to require access to affordable housing.
Outcome: Without discussion, on separate votes, the council unanimously approved the site plan and rezoning request for the Shell station at the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline and West Eisenhower Parkway.
City Membership in Washtenaw Health Initiative
The council considered a resolution that allows the city of Ann Arbor to become a member of the Washtenaw Health Initiative (WHI). The resolution altered the budget for fiscal year 2013 (which began July 1, 2012) by adding $10,000 of general fund money to the budget for the office of community development – to cover the membership fee for this year. The resolution also recommends consideration of renewing the membership next year. [The city of Ann Arbor adopts budgets only one year at a time.]
A goal of WHI is to help local health care providers handle an influx of an estimated 50,000 newly insured patients when federal health care reforms take effect in 2014. The goal is to develop a plan to provide better health care for the county’s low-income residents, the uninsured and people on Medicaid – prior to changes that will be mandated by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Currently, 2,719 people in Washtenaw County are already eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled – and of those, 958 are city of Ann Arbor residents.
The WHI is a collaboration co-chaired by former county administrator Bob Guenzel and retired University of Michigan treasurer Norman Herbert
, along with Ellen Rabinowitz, executive director of the Washtenaw Health Plan. The effort is jointly sponsored by the UM Health System and Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, and facilitated by Marianne Udow-Phillips, director of the Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation – a joint venture of UM and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Other partners involved in the project include the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce, Arbor Hospice, Catholic Social Services, Dawn Farm, Hope Clinic, Huron Valley Ambulance, Integrated Health Associates, Packard Health, Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan, United Way of Washtenaw County, and the Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan.
The Washtenaw County board of commissioners voted on April 4, 2012 to make the county a member of WHI – and approved the $10,000 membership fee. The city and county are two of over 30 members of WHI, who have together contributed more than $100,000 to the effort.
Washtenaw Health Initiative: Council Deliberations
Appearing before the council were Bob Guenzel, community co-chair of WHI, and Marianne Udow-Phillips, director of the Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation. CHRT is facilitating the initiative, Udow-Phillips told the council.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that when the council had been briefed about the initiative at a previous working session, councilmembers had been told they’d eventually be asked for funding. Briere asked: What will the $10,000 help accomplish? Guenzel noted that WHI has been a voluntary effort led by the two major health systems in the area – the University of Michigan Health System and Saint Joseph Mercy Health System. Guenzel continued by saying that retired Saint Joseph Mercy Health System CEO Bob Laverty had started the effort and that Udow-Phillips had provided her organization’s support. The first year and a half, Guenzel said, the entire effort had been voluntary. They’d decided they didn’t want to incorporate as a 501(c)(3).
Instead, he said, they’re asking entities to become charter members of the organization. Many of the member agencies contribute in-kind support, he said – like the hospitals and safety-net clinics. For next year, Guenzel said, they’ve developed a budget of about $100,000. That will ensure the availability of a dedicated employee from Udow-Phillips’ CHRT.
Guenzel told the council that WHI had approached the two major health systems for support and they’d agreed to help with $30,000 each. But the two health systems also wanted the community to contribute a piece of the support. Guenzel said that WHI had asked the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, United Way and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners for $10,000 a year. So WHI was now asking the city to contribute the same amount that the county had contributed.
Guenzel felt that this approach is effective and efficient. CHRT has made a great commitment, he said, in terms of their expertise and their ability to draw other agencies together. Whether the Affordable Health Care Act was upheld or not, Guenzel said, WHI thinks the initiative is important. The Supreme Court ruling meant that it had gotten over one hurdle, but he expected there would be others.
Guenzel concluded by allowing he’d given a long answer to Briere’s question. Briere told him it had been a good answer.
Briere followed up by asking how WHI will dovetail with what the state of Michigan does. Udow-Phillips responded to Briere’s question by saying that assuming the state moves ahead with Medicaid expansion, the WHI efforts will help the community plan to provide access to health care for those who’ll be newly insured. Even if the state does not move ahead with an expansion of Medicaid, she said, then the state or the federal government will move ahead by establishing a health care exchange. That will result in 300,000-400,000 people in Michigan who will get subsidies to buy private health insurance. Many of those people will be in Washtenaw County, she said, so by planning, the county’s health care system will be able to serve these newly-insured people.
In Washtenaw County, Udow-Philips continued, there are about 28,000 people who are uninsured. About 13,000 of those would be eligible for Medicaid under a Medicaid expansion, and most of those would be eligible for a subsidy to purchase private insurance, if that’s the route that’s taken.
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said he’s happy to hear this news. Ann Arbor is a great place to retire, he said, because of the quality of the health care. He asked Udow-Philips if she’d looked at other community health plans before developing an approach. She indicated that the model was Massachusetts – and the planning that Massachusetts had failed to do. When more people became eligible, there were not enough providers to give them access, she said. Massachusetts had not done the kind of planning WHI is doing in this county, she said. Once the Affordable Health Care Act was passed, the WHI organizers decided they wanted to do the necessary planning. No other counties are doing the kind of planning WHI is doing, she said. She’d like Washtenaw to be a role model for other counties in Michigan.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) thanked Udow-Philips for her efforts. If it turns out that WHI determines there’s a lack of health care capacity compared to the needs of the newly-insured, Hohnke wanted to know what some of the options are for expanding that capacity. Udow-Philips told Hohnke that they’re in the final stages of that analysis right now. Both major health systems are bringing in more practitioners to Washtenaw County, she said. But it’s important to make sure those practitioners serve the Medicaid population. So WHI is working with major safety-net providers – like the Packard Clinic, Ypsilanti Family Practice and the Taubman Center – to make sure practitioners will be available. Udow-Philips stressed that not just doctors are considered practitioners – it could mean nurse practitioners, she said. The preliminary numbers would be looked at the following week, she said, to look at what the gap in capacity might be.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the $10,000 of support for the Washtenaw Health Initiative.
The council considered confirmation of four nominations to three different commissions; all nominations had been made at the council’s previous meeting, on June 18, 2012.
Toward the end of the July 2 meeting, Ken Clein and Kirk Westphal were considered as appointments to the city planning commission. The late agenda slot is reserved for confirmation of mayoral nominations. The vast majority of board and commission appointments are made by the mayor.
However, nominations to the environmental commission and the greenbelt advisory commission are made by the council as a body. So those confirmation votes came relatively early in the meeting as a part of “council business.” The council considered John German’s nomination to the city’s environmental commission and Archer Christian’s nomination to the greenbelt advisory commission.
Appointments: Christian to Greenbelt
On the greenbelt advisory commission, Christian is replacing Mike Garfield. Garfield is director of the Ecology Center, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, and Ms. Christian is the center’s development director. Garfield was term-limited as a GAC member, having served two consecutive three-year terms. The spot vacated by Garfield is not designated for a representative of the Ecology Center. However, the nine-member commission includes two slots for representatives of environmental and/or conservation groups. The greenbelt advisory commission oversees the proceeds generated by two-thirds of the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage, which is levied at a rate of 0.5 mills.
Council deliberations were brief. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), who serves as the city council’s representative to the greenbelt advisory commission, reminded his colleagues that Ms. Christian is filling a slot on the commission designated for someone who works with a conservation organization. Christian also has a long history of involvement in land conservancy, Hohnke said.
Outcome: The council unanimously confirmed Archer Christian’s appointment to the greenbelt advisory commission.
Appointments: German to Environmental
John German’s term on the environmental commission expired in August 2011, but he has continued to serve. His nomination and confirmation amounted to formalizing what was already the case. German’s background includes work with Chrysler, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Honda, and the International Council for Clean Transportation.
Ann Arbor’s environmental commission was established 12 years ago through a city ordinance, with the charge to “advise and make recommendations to the city council and city administrator on environmental policy, environmental issues and environmental implications of all city programs and proposals on the air, water, land and public health.”
The council’s deliberations consisted of a reminder from Sabra Briere (Ward 1), one of the council’s representatives to the environmental commission, that German is currently serving on the commission, that his re-appointment was missed at its time of renewal last year. So the appointment the council would be making, she said, would extend retroactively. The three-year term would thus end on Aug. 7, 2014.
During her communications time, Briere also announced that applications for a vacancy on the commission would be considered at the commission’s next meeting. She encouraged people to apply.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to confirm John German’s appointment to the environmental commission.
Appointments: Clein, Westphal to Planning
On the city planning commission, Ken Clein, a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, replaces Erica Briggs, who did not seek re-appointment. Among the architectural projects Clein has worked on locally are the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium renovation, the new Ann Arbor municipal center, and the Zingerman’s Deli expansion.
Kirk Westphal’s appointment was a re-appointment. Westphal is principal at Westphal Associates, a firm that produces video documentaries. He holds a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan. City planning commissioners serve three-year terms.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to confirm the appointments of Ken Clein and Kirk Westphal to the planning commission.
The council considered separately three collective bargaining agreements with members of the Teamsters Local 214: with the police professional assistants (4 employees), the deputy chiefs (2 employees) and the civilian supervisors (~30 employees). Robyn Wilkerson, human resources and labor relations director for the city of Ann Arbor, responded to questions from Jane Lumm (Ward 2).
Lumm had questions about the new-hire pension program, which the city began implementing for its employees last year. It involves increasing the vesting period for the pension program from five years to 10 years, and calculating the pension based on a final average compensation of five years instead of three years. All of the collective bargaining agreements include no wage increase, but instead a lump sum payment of $1,000. The contracts for all three units are for two years, through June 30, 2014.
Wilkerson clarified for Lumm that the same pension program language is in previous agreements – for police and fire department employees. It’s now officially city-wide. Lumm inquired if it had been discussed by the council’s labor committee. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) indicated that the policy had been considered and moved forward in June 2011.
Higgins, who serves as chair of the council’s labor committee, explained that the contracts came up quickly on the council’s agenda because the items move to the agenda when the bargaining units ratify the contracts. City administrator Steve Powers confirmed that the collective bargaining units had just ratified the agreements the previous Thursday. Lumm briefly mulled the possibility of asking for postponement, but decided simply to express her view that she feels strongly that the city needs to move to a defined contribution plan instead of the defined benefits plan it currently has. She reminded her colleagues that she had been prepared to bring forward a resolution on the night they’d deliberated on the FY 2013 budget – a resolution that would have directed the development of a defined contribution plan. That night she’d declined to put the resolution before the council, due to the meeting’s late hour, but she indicated at the July 2 meeting that she’d bring the proposal to the council’s budget committee.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) observed that with the move to shorter, two-year contracts, the city would basically be in a phase of continuing negotiations. Wilkerson pointed out that they are all two-year agreements with wage re-openers after one year. She observed that since the state legislature has passed a law regulating how much public employers could contribute to employee health care, it means that the focus of the bargaining is on wages. Kunselman ventured that there would be plenty of time to address the issues if concerns come up.
Lumm asked how many employees were in the group of civilian supervisors. Wilkerson told her it was about 30. Lumm wanted to know if Wilkerson had a sense of how many new hires would be made in that category. Wilkerson indicated that based on what she was seeing in other departments, she thinks there will be a significant increase in retirees.
Outcome: On three separate votes, the council unanimously approved the collective bargaining agreements.
Weapons Screening Contract
On the July 2 agenda was a resolution to approve a contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office. The city would pay $187,000 annually for the sheriff’s office to provide weapons screening services for the 15th District Court, located inside the city’s new justice center building at the corner of Fifth and Huron.
The contract pays $25.25 per hour per officer, with the number of officers estimated to be roughly three each day. Currently, the weapons screening takes place at metal detectors at the building’s entrance.
During the brief council deliberations, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) recalled the council’s previous discussion about the location of the security checkpoint within the building.
The city council engaged in lengthy deliberations at its April 2, 2012 meeting about the placement of the security check. The context of those deliberations was a vote on the acquisition of Ed Carpenter’s proposed “Radius” sculpture, at a cost of $150,000, to be installed in the lobby of the justice center building. As proposed, and eventually approved by the council, viewing the sculpture from inside the building during normal business hours would require going through a security check.
Lumm asked about a meeting of the city council’s building committee that had been mentioned at the time. City administrator Steve Powers told her that a meeting of that committee had been set for July 16. The meeting will include a discussion of the location of the security checkpoint.
The Ann Arbor city council has until its second meeting in August to put various questions before voters on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot.
Ballot Questions: Charter Amendment on Leasing Parks
During communications time at its July 2 meeting, the council heard from Jane Lumm (Ward 2) that she and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) are working to bring a ballot question to Ann Arbor voters that would further tweak a city charter provision related to the sale of parkland.
The charter provision had been approved in November 2008 by a 81%-19% margin (42,969 to 9,944). The tweak would involve adding actions like “lease,” “license,” or “re-designate” to the set of actions on city parkland that require a voter referendum.
The 2008 ballot question had asked voters if they wanted to add a clause to the city charter that would prevent the sale of city parkland without a voter referendum. Michigan’s Home Rule City Act already lists among a city’s prohibited powers: “… to sell a park, cemetery, or any part of a park or cemetery, except where the park is not required under an official master plan of the city …” But that year some residents were concerned that the city was looking to sell Huron Hills golf course – and they saw the exception in the state statute as a possible loophole. The council voted to place the question before voters that year over dissent from councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and former councilmember Leigh Greden.
That year, the council had consciously settled on wording that included just selling, as opposed to leasing. In an Oct. 31, 2008 Ann Arbor News article, mayor John Hieftje was quoted as follows: “From time to time, we’ve thought about how nice it might be to have a restaurant near the river. I think it’s something people would really enjoy … That would be impossible if the ballot measure was expanded to include leasing.”
What prompts the current desire to contemplate adding “leasing” and other arrangements to the mix is concern that a portion of Fuller Park could eventually be used for a new rail station. Amtrak currently operates a station on Depot Street near the Broadway bridges. [See coverage of the council's June 4, 2012 meeting, when it accepted a $2.8 million federal grant to complete a planning study to confirm the Fuller Road site as the locally preferred alternative location for a new rail station.]
One draft of the ballot question that Lumm and Anglin are crafting reads: “Shall the voters of the City of Ann Arbor amend the city charter to require that the city shall not sell, lease, license, re-categorize or repurpose, without the approval, by a majority vote of the electors of the city voting on the question at a regular or special election, any city park, or land in the city acquired for a park, cemetery, or any part thereof?” Lumm indicated that she’d bring the resolution to the council for a vote at its July 16 meeting.
Lumm recounted much of the history of the previous charter amendment and thanked assistant city attorney Mary Fales for her help in drafting the ballot question.
Later during a second round of council communications, Anglin followed up on Lumm’s remarks. He described the history of the 2008 resolution as not enjoying support from some environmental groups – saying that many people knew the language was imperfect when it was presented. Still, Anglin said, the charter amendment was a way of moving something forward that was needed at the time. There’s always been a group of people who are interested in how to further protect our parks, he said. When the PROS (parks and recreation open space) plan was adopted [at the city council's March 7, 2011 meeting], Anglin said he refused to voted for it because he felt that the plan was not as assiduous as it should be about protecting the city’s own land.
From The Chronicle’s coverage of Anglin’s opposition to the PROS plan in early 2011:
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) weighed in saying that he was 95% in favor of the plan but had some problems with it that would lead him to vote against it. He then read aloud a statement with objections, including issues with the proposed Fuller Road Station and public-private partnerships in the parks.
Speaking about the upcoming charter amendment resolution, Anglin allowed that there are a number of “tricky” items in it. But he felt it’s important to continue to work to fulfill the intent of the 2008 charter amendment. He said he’d be talking to individual councilmembers about it, and he hoped it could make it onto the ballot in November.
Ballot Questions: Park Maintenance & Capital Improvements Millage
While council support for placing a parkland lease question on the November 2012 ballot is uncertain, it’s likely that the council will follow the park advisory commission’s recommendation to place a renewal of the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage on the ballot. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who is one of two council ex officio members of PAC, indicated that consideration of that millage question would take place at the council’s July 16 meeting.
Taylor described PAC’s approach in evaluating the millage renewal as a long and diligent process to put the renewal of the existing parks millage before voters in November. PAC has also recommended that the council re-affirm the administrative policies that guide the use of the taxes generated by the millage.
Ballot Questions: Art, Non-Partisan Elections?
Other possible ballot questions that have received some consideration by councilmembers include a charter amendment that would make city elections non-partisan.
And during deliberations on May 7, 2012 about a piece of public art to be commissioned for the city’s new justice center, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) mentioned the possibility of establishing a millage just for public art. That would require placing a question on the ballot.
Locally, any city of Ann Arbor ballot questions might be joined by one that is likely to be put forward by the Ann Arbor District Library to support a downtown building project. A countywide transportation millage is less likely to be placed on the November ballot, given the delays in approval of all the necessary documents.
Communications and Comment
Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.
During his turn at public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Thomas Partridge called on all clerks in all jurisdictions in the next few days to promote voter registration before the deadline [July 9, 2012 for the Aug. 7, 2012 primary].
It’s important that citizens express themselves at the polls, Partridge said. Voting should be made more accessible and barriers to voting must be removed, he said. It should also be possible to vote without producing undue amounts of personal information and documentation. He also stated that serious consideration should be given to internet voting in the state of Michigan
And during his communications time at the start of the meeting, city administrator Steve Powers noted that residents have received in the mail an updated voter registration card. The reason for that is related to redistricting in connection with the 2010 census. The outcome of the changes in the city ward boundaries had not changed the voting location for the vast majority of residents, Powers noted, but the notification is required by law to be sent out.
Comm/Comm: Pool Closing
During his communications time, city administrator Steve Powers reported that the closure of Veterans Memorial Park pool had been caused by a pump failure – caused by a small towel getting into the mechanism. Staff are looking at ways to prevent that in the future, he said. [The pool is expected to be closed until July 11, 2012.]
Comm/Comm: 4-3 Jackson Lane Conversion
At its April 2, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to submit a request to the Michigan Dept. of Transportation to convert the segment of Jackson Road between Maple Road and South Revena from four traffic lanes to three. At the council’s July 2 meeting, during his communications time, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) called that action by the council premature. [He and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had voted against submitting the request.] Because of the public outcry, Anglin said, MDOT had scheduled another meeting: on Tuesday, July 10 from 5-8 p.m. at Abbott Elementary School, 2670 Sequoia Parkway.
Anglin said that commuters, who will be affected by the conversion, are also part of the community. He allowed that he’d also heard from members of the bicycling community on the issue [many of whom support the lane conversion].
Comm/Comm: Affordable Services
As he typically does, Thomas Partridge addressed the city council at the beginning of the meeting during public commentary reserved time and at the conclusion of the meeting as well. During his first turn at public commentary, he told councilmembers he’s running for state representative in the 53rd District of the Michigan house of representatives. He called for greater attention to affordable housing, transportation, health care and education. He also stated that it’s important to provide economic development and job growth for the city, the county and the region. As a representative, he said, he’d take on these goals and build from the ground up and fully fund these areas.
Comm/Comm: Smart Meters
Several people reprised public commentary from previous council meetings – on the topic of “smart meters,” which can record electricity consumption at relatively small intervals (less than an hour). The meters then communicate that usage information to the utility for monitoring and billing purposes. For the first time at an Ann Arbor city council meeting, a resident questioned the scientific and health claims made by those who oppose installation of the meters.
Linda Kurtz expressed her objection to smart meters based on health effects. She described the biological mechanism by which smart meters affect the human body – by disrupting the regular voltage differences across cellular membranes. RF radiation dislodges calcium ions and causes membranes to leak, she contended, and it disrupts the blood-brain barrier.
Carol Neylon called it unconscionable that DTE has been allowed to install smart meters. She cited a multitude of independent issues, including personal privacy concerns and health issues. She contended that in Toronto, where such meters had been installed, the impact had been that customers received higher bills. She was concerned about the ability of DTE to shut off someone’s power remotely and to track energy usage 24/7. She characterized smart meter installation as being about a big company doing whatever it takes to make profits.
Bethanni Grecynski cited privacy concerns. She expressed concern about the ability to hack the system and obtain people’s energy consumption information. Although an option was being discussed to opt out of smart meter installation, she contended that it would cost $50/month. Many people can’t afford to pay that. She also contended that the smart meters can cause people’s bills to go up. She questioned whether it’s fair that only the rich can opt out – that didn’t seem like an American idea to her.
But her real interest, said Grecynski, is health. She allowed that statistics have shown the smart meters are safe – but she asked councilmembers to remember how cigarettes and processed food were once thought to be safe.
Nanci Gerler told councilmembers that she’d lived in Ann Arbor 44 years. She noted that she had appeared before the city council previously. She’s not happy about the continued installation of smart meters in the community. A recent meeting about smart meters held at Crazy Wisdom bookstore was standing-room only, she reported, so concern is growing. She noted that a Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) report recommends an opt-out provision. Now, she said, DTE has 90 days to respond. But in the meantime, the community will be saturated with smart meters, she said. She contended that the effect is already palpable for those who are hypersensitive to electromagnetic radiation.
Michael Benson introduced himself as a Ward 2 resident, but wanted to address the council as a graduate student in the University of Michigan radiation laboratory. He deals with electromagnetic radiation on a regular basis, he said. He’s not an expert, he allowed, but felt it was appropriate to provide a few facts. He noted that public commenters had said that smart meters provide additional RF radiation – sure, that’s true, he said. A cell phone, or a computer, or even the microphone he was speaking into are radiating a little bit. The FCC provides standards for levels of radiation that are acceptable, he continued, and testing is done by the NIH (National Institutes of Health). Cell phones operate at a maximum of 1W of transmitting power compared to smart meters at 250 mW – or about 1/4 the level of a cell phone, he said. Those figures are the maximum – and they’re often below that, he said.
Benson also observed that during public commentary, councilmembers had heard about electromagnetic hypersensitivity. He contended that WebMD is a pretty good reference source for medical conditions, and this condition is not listed on WebMD. Benson told the council he was not there to comment on the public policy issue of smart meters, but as far as the science goes, he suggested that councilmembers take everything they’d heard “with a grain of salt.”
By way of anecdotal illustration, no apparent impact can be seen on The Chronicle’s measured residential electricity use since installation of a smart meter in March 2012:
Comm/Comm: Dream Nite Club Lawsuit
During his communications time, city attorney Stephen Postema told the council that before that night’s meeting, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) had asked Postema to mention the Dream Nite Club cases. [The city had taken steps that led to the revocation of the club's liquor license. For some previous Chronicle coverage, see the March 19, 2012 city council meeting report.]
Four significant rulings – two in federal court and two in state court – had gone the city’s way, Postema reported. The ruling illustrated the importance of the process the city followed, he said. The courts had upheld every aspect of the city’s action. Postema stressed that a liquor license does not involve just rights, but also responsibilities.
Postema described Derezinski’s handling of the liquor license hearing, over which Derezinski had presided, as requiring “great patience.” Postema felt like the judges in the cases had read the entire transcript of the hearing. The conclusion had been that all the due process elements were met. Postema stated that the city was ready to be challenged, and it was gratifying to have the courts confirm the city’s position. He also emphasized that the entire process associated with revoking the Dream Nite Club liquor license had taken a lot of work – and people sometimes forget the amount of work that it takes to do the business of the city.
Not reported by Postema to the council at their meeting was the filing earlier that day, July 2, of a motion to set aside the judgment that had been made against the Dream Nite Club owners by judge Paul Borman. The motion seeks to set aside the judgment and to file an amended complaint. The amended complaint lists out a number of specific allegations, including the use of racial epithets by individual Ann Arbor police department officers in their interactions with Dream Nite Club management staff. The amended complaint alleges that AAPD officers had indicated a desire to shut down the club because of its black clientele, and had scrutinized black patrons in a manner that white patrons were not forced to undergo.
The original complaint did not include those specific allegations.
Borman’s opinion in dismissing the case had been based on the unamended complaint. Borman’s ruling relied in part on a U.S. Supreme Court case, Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009).
Defendant City of Ann Arbor’s increase in police activity outside of Plaintiffs’ nightclub after a violent incident may have incidentally impacted the racial minorities who happen to patronize Plaintiffs’ nightclub, but the purpose of increasing the police presence was not to target racial minorities. The facts alleged impel the conclusion that police activity increased as a result of crime at and in the vicinity of the nightclub. Thus, Plaintiffs’ conclusory allegations of racial animus “are … not entitled to be assumed true.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681.
Inferring racially discriminatory intent from the sequence of events alleged in the Complaint, as Plaintiffs ask the Court to do, requires an inferential leap that is not supported by the facts.
The Iqbal case was significant, because it’s been analyzed as signaling a change in the basic way that courts are supposed to consider motions to dismiss a case. Following Iqbal requires district courts to distinguish allegations that are statements of fact from those that are conclusions of law. It’s been analyzed as a return to “fact pleading” – which requires a claim to include all the relevant facts in support of the claims that have been asserted. From 1938 until Iqbal, the prevailing system had been “notice pleading,” which requires only sufficient facts to put someone on notice about the claims asserted against them. Under “notice pleading,” the expectation is the facts would be introduced partly under the discovery process – where a plaintiff would be able to depose witnesses and subpoena additional documents from a defendant.
Comm/Comm: Human Rights
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) who also serves on the city’s human rights commission, announced that the commission is partnering with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to hold a public hearing on Thursday, July 12, from 6:30-9 p.m. in the city council chambers in city hall. The purpose of this hearing is to hear testimony on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity – especially as it relates to the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Comm/Comm: Nuclear Weapons
Odile Hugonot Haber addressed the council on the topic of nuclear weapons. She recalled how 10 years ago she’d organized a week-long teach-in on nuclear weapons. She lamented the fact that not very much progress is being made – nuclear states are not reducing their stocks. The weapons will be smaller and meaner, she said. We’re spending a trillion dollars on nuclear weapons rather than on life, she said, and that’s concerning to her.
Kathy Griswold told the council that in the course of her work to document crosswalks and intersections that do not have adequate sight distance, she’d noticed two crosswalks that are only “half a crosswalk.” One is in front of Casey’s Tavern on Depot Street – on the north side of the street there’s not anything, but on the south side there’s a curbcut. The other location is on Traver at Nixon. She said there’s a curbcut on the south side of the street, but nothing on the north side.
Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Absent: John Hieftje.
Next council meeting: Monday, July 16, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]
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