Tender Thoughts at the Dollar Store. [photo]
Kitchen dessert prep on lower level visible inside Aventura from street. [photo] While I would have been content to have spent the evening on the outside peering in, allowing my pedestrian experience to be visually enhanced in that way, inside on opening night for the general public it was bang on delicious.
Parking structure indicates “Full” at 6:50 p.m. [photo]
Barricade, possibly ready for action for Midnight Madness next weekend, still has added signage from its last deployment: “Pathway Closed at Dam for Maintenance.” [photo]
In the solar system above Ann Arbor: Comet ISON lives! A December comet is just what I wanted for Christmas.
Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 20, 2013): After a final debate, commissioners adopted the 2014-2017 general fund budget, an unprecedented long-term document that some commissioners believe will improve strategic investments and organizational stability.
At their Nov. 20 meeting, commissioners made several amendments, but did not substantively change the originally proposed budget submitted by county administrator Verna McDaniel in early October. Initial approval had been given during a six-hour meeting on Nov. 6, 2013. The Nov. 20 meeting lasted about two-and-a-half hours.
The vote was 7-1, with dissent from Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) – though he cited three elements of the budget that he wanted to support: the community impact statements, outside agency funding, and position modifications. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent. Dan Smith (R-District 2), who had dissented in the initial vote on Nov. 6, stated that he still had several concerns with the budget, but he voted for it because the budget supported many important activities throughout the county. He noted that although it spanned four years, the board is required by state law to approve the budget each year, so “technically it’s a one-year budget.”
Several new amendments were made during deliberations on Nov. 20. An amendment proposed by Conan Smith (D-District 9) directs the administration to conduct a study of county staff “to assess the capabilities of the organization to meet the community outcomes and processes.” Another amendment directs the administration to conduct a “citizens experience study” that would help inform board priorities.
Alicia Ping (R-District 3) proposed an amendment to shift $500,000 from the facilities, operations & maintenance fund to a contingency fund for parking. That contingency fund will serve as a placeholder as the county renegotiates parking contracts with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The current contract, signed in 2004, runs through 2023.
As he has on previous occasions, Peterson argued against the four-year budget approach, preferring to maintain the current two-year budget process. He said that if he’s re-elected in 2014, he’ll fight to overturn the four-year budget and institute a one- or two-year budget instead. The board’s leadership – including Rabhi and Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), chair of the board’s ways & means committee – believe a four-year budget will improve long-term planning and stability, and could be transformational to the way that the county does business.
The board leadership also wants the board to be engaged in a continual process of monitoring the outcomes related to budget investments. To that end, on Nov. 20 the board also voted to adopt a set of “community outcomes” to guide that investment, as well as a framework for developing future budgets that reflect those desired outcomes. [.pdf of community outcomes resolution] Those outcomes are more detailed “impact statements” tied to budget priorities that the board approved on July 24, 2013.
A major discussion point at the Nov. 6 meeting – about the impact of budget cuts on the sheriff’s office – received much less attention on Nov. 20. However, after the meeting Rabhi told The Chronicle that discussions are underway with the sheriff, and that there will be a budget amendment brought forward soon that will address some of the concerns that have been raised by sheriff Jerry Clayton.
In addition to the budget, the board handled two items related to workforce development: (1) giving initial approval to accept $1,154,683 in funding from the Partnership Accountability Training Hope (PATH) program, which is part of Michigan’s welfare system; and (2) approving amended bylaws for the county’s workforce development board.
During public commentary, Christina Lirones advocated for the board to opt out of Pittsfield Township’s State Street corridor improvement authority (CIA). On Nov. 6, commissioners had voted to approve a tax-sharing agreement with Pittsfield Township and the CIA, which means that a portion of county taxes will be used to help fund the project. Lirones noted that there’s still time for the board to change its mind – as the board has one more meeting, on Dec. 4,
The board made one appointment on Nov. 20, adding York Township supervisor John Stanowski to an exploratory subcommittee for the future of the Washtenaw County road commission. Rabhi also indicated that nominations to other volunteer boards, committees and commissions would be brought forward for a board vote on Dec. 4. Though the deadline for submitting applications had passed, the deadlines have been extended until Dec. 1 for openings on three groups: the southeast Michigan’s Regional Transit Authority (RTA); the Washtenaw County historic district commission; and the Washtenaw County food policy council. More information about these positions is posted on the county’s website.
At the end of the meeting, Rabhi reminded commissioners that a holiday reception will be held prior to the board’s next meeting on Dec. 4, in the lobby of the county administration building at 220 N. Main from 4-6 p.m.
Flipping the bird to someone on Thanksgiving Day would be rude. Unless you’re the University of Michigan Library. When the library flips the bird, it is an occasion to give thanks.
By way of very brief background, the Audubon Room at the UM Hatcher Library is named after the first book of any kind – special or otherwise – acquired by UM in 1838: “Birds of America,” illustrated by John James Audubon.
It is not a tradition at Thanksgiving to turn the page of the book on display to the page that shows a turkey. I’m a little disappointed about that. But a few years ago the stars aligned, and the routine flipping of pages in the book allowed the happy coincidence of Thanksgiving and a turkey page in Audubon’s book.
If the stars align again sometime in the future, that will make it all the more special to have the turkey page displayed on Thanksgiving.
In the meantime, this year library staff have given a nod to the turkey page by including a plug for the book on its website as a part of the library’s Thanksgiving message. And I am thankful for that.
I am also thankful to our readers. So here’s wishing all of you and everyone you care about a Happy Thanksgiving!
The remarkable coincidence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving this year hardly compares with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine a standard child’s turkey joke with a change to a local crosswalk law – which will be considered by Ann Arbor city council at its post-holiday meeting on Dec. 2.
In broad strokes, the Ann Arbor city council first enacted a local crosswalk ordinance in 2008. The law was supposed to explain how motorists and pedestrians should interact at crosswalks. In 2010 the council modified the law, and in 2011 gave it a further tweak. After those revisions, for the last two years, Ann Arbor local law has differed from the Uniform Traffic Code (UTC) rule in two ways.
First, under current local law, motorists in Ann Arbor are supposed to yield the right-of-way to those pedestrians not just “within a crosswalk” but also to those who are “stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk.” Second, when driving toward a crosswalk, motorists in Ann Arbor don’t have the option to yield to a pedestrian by merely slowing down; instead they’re required to yield by stopping.
The proposal the council will consider for final approval would scrap the whole section of the city code, reverting to a reliance on the UTC – which allows slowing for pedestrians, stopping only when necessary, and does not apply to any pedestrians other than those within a crosswalk.
A council majority of six members is currently supporting the repeal – Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) – with five of them sponsoring it. According to sources from both groups, backchannel discussion has included the possibility of a compromise on Dec. 2 that would leave in place the requirement to stop, but would still confine the motorist’s responsibility to yield to just those pedestrians within the crosswalk. The regular city council Sunday caucus has been shifted from 7 p.m. to 1 p.m. to allow for better attendance to discuss the crosswalk ordinance.
Given the historical background of the 2010 change, I’m not sure that the compromise solution makes much logical sense. And I think that the current words on the page – which extend the right-of-way to pedestrians at the curb – more nearly reflect the kind of community to which we should aspire.
But that sort of compromise might offer a chance for us as a community to stop (not just slow down) fighting about words on the page and to give full gas to education and enforcement. And I’m for that, especially in the context of the pedestrian safety task force that the council established on Nov. 18. Members of the task force will be appointed at the Dec. 16 meeting based on applications received by Dec. 2.
This sort of “compromise” could serve the same function as gravy at a Thanksgiving dinner: You load up a plate of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and then, when the green bean casserole is passed your way, you take some of that too, because Aunt Dorothy (rest in peace) is looking right at you and it’d be impolite to refuse, even though green bean casserole is flat-out gross, so you ladle that “compromise gravy” over that heap of food, you clean your plate, and everybody can focus on the task at hand – which includes talking about how good everything tastes.
With or without a compromise, and with or without a repeal, the pedestrian safety task force work is going to be informed by a veritable Thanksgiving feast of data on pedestrian crashes. In response to city council requests, staff have compiled all manner of charts, graphs and maps. And that’s the main purpose of this column: to serve up the compilation of all that data. [.pdf of all charts, graphs and maps]
Based on those reports, I don’t think it’s possible to draw conclusions about any impact the current ordinance might have had on safety – good, bad or indifferent. But a lot of insight from these reports can be gained that might help inform the task force’s activity as they work toward a February 2015 deadline for delivering recommendations to the council.
For readers who are not familiar with the joke answer to the question posed in the headline of this column, it’s provided below. That punchline follows a more detailed history of the local ordinance since 2008, several colorful charts and graphs, and a photograph of former Ward 4 councilmember Marcia Higgins wearing a tiara.
Workmen loading construction barrels onto a truck. When I ask if it is done, they say “pretty much.” Madison doesn’t look done, but they might have gotten as far as they can go this winter.
Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 18, 2013): The first meeting of the post-election council stretched 6 hours and 45 minutes past its scheduled start time of 7 p.m. It was not until after 1 a.m. that the council considered an agreement to sell a city-owned property north of William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues in downtown Ann Arbor – to hotelier Dennis Dahlmann for $5.25 million. The council deliberated for about 10 minutes on that issue before taking a unanimous vote to sell.
Earlier in the evening, an hour-long chunk of the meeting was taken up by deliberations on the admission of Ypsilanti Township as a member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. After an hour of discussion and questioning, the council voted unanimously to approve the addition of the township as a member of the AAATA. The council’s action brought the number of AAATA member jurisdictions to three: the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township.
The council also deliberated for almost an hour before giving initial approval to a repeal of the city’s crosswalk law – so that vehicles would have the option of slowing (in addition to stopping) to yield to pedestrians. The repeal also eliminates the explicit need for motorists to yield to pedestrians who are standing at the curb – making motorists responsible for yielding only to those pedestrians who are “within a crosswalk.” The repeal passed on a 9-2 vote, but will need a second vote at a future meeting to be enacted. Back-channel discussion of some kind of compromise approach has unfolded since the meeting, but it’s not clear what, if any, impact that might have.
On an issue related to the crosswalk ordinance change, 40 minutes was spent on council discussion on a pedestrian safety task force – which had been postponed from its Nov. 7 meeting. Ultimately the council voted to establish a nine-person pedestrian safety task force with a charge of delivering a report with recommendations by February 2015. Applications from interested citizens should be turned in to the mayor’s office by Dec. 2, 2013, with the task force members to be appointed on Dec. 16. [.pdf of standard city board and commission task force application]
The council also spent about a half hour deliberating on final approval to a change to the ordinance that regulates the tax increment finance (TIF) capture of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The change replaced the restriction in the ordinance originally enacted in 1982 with one that in the next few years will result in about $2 million in additional TIF revenue annually, compared to the amount the DDA would have received under strict enforcement of the 1982 language. Dissenting on that vote were Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4).
Near the start of the meeting, Teall was selected as mayor pro tem, on a 6-5 vote. The council left its other organizational business – adoption of rules and assignment to committees – until Dec. 2.
The members of the rules committee will have a fresh assignment based on other action of the council on Nov. 18. The council passed a resolution that in part directs the rules committee to develop a set of standards for the conduct of councilmembers, based on “applicable statutes, regulations, existing city policies, and best practices such as Section and 2a of Public Act 196 of 1973 and the Ethics Handbook for Michigan Municipalities.”
Other business handled by the council included the final approval of a revision to the city’s ordinance on park use fees – to allow for a waiver for groups using a public park for the charitable distribution of goods to address basic human needs. Council chambers were filled with supporters of that resolution.
The council also formally adopted an update to the city’s non-motorized transportation plan, after having postponed the item on Nov. 7. And as a part of its consent agenda, the council approved various street closings associated with New Year’s festivities – The Puck Drops Here in downtown Ann Arbor and the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.
Lots of people picking up turkeys at Knight’s Market today.
Blake Transit Center. Logo up. [photo]
At their Nov. 26 meeting, the Washtenaw Community College board of trustees has unanimously voted to opt out of Pittsfield Township’s State Street corridor improvement authority (CIA). The Washtenaw Voice, WCC’s student newspaper, posted the outcome of the vote on its website, as part of a live blog from the meeting. At stake was nearly $3 million in taxes that would have been diverted to fund road improvements along State Street over a 20-year period, if WCC had not opted out. [Source]
At Literati signing of his book, “Fourth and Long,” John U. Bacon poses the question: “Am I smarter than a frog?” [photo]
The concrete base poured to support the tower crane is now fodder for the jackhammers. Sidewalks need to be accessible before the public portion of the garage can be used for actual public parking. [photo]
The Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition has posted information on its website advocating against a pending change to the city of Ann Arbor’s crosswalk ordinance. The post includes a document with crash diagrams – extracted from official reports – of pedestrian accidents at non-signalized crosswalks over the last four years. [.pdf of crash diagrams] Instead of revising the ordinance, the WBWC wants to allow time for a recently established pedestrian safety task force to make a recommendation: “WBWC urges Council to utilize the newly formed Pedestrian Safety Task Force as a place to begin looking at all the crash data and prioritizing engineering, enforcement and educational measures that will enhance walkability in our community.” [Source]
Aventura, the new tapas restaurant, is packed for its soft opening for friends and family. Opens to the general public on Friday. The tapas sign and ceiling-to-floor windows really liven up that section of East Washington.
Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (Nov. 21, 2013): The board’s meeting was highlighted by applause for an action taken by the Ann Arbor city council three days earlier – to give its approval to the addition of Ypsilanti Township as a member of the AAATA.
The AAATA board had already given approval to say yes to the township’s request to be added as a member – on Sept. 26, 2013. And Ypsilanti’s city council – the other recently-added jurisdiction – had given approval of the move at its Oct. 15, 2013 meeting. The Ann Arbor city council had considered the question at its Oct. 21, 2013 meeting, but had postponed action until Nov. 18, 2013.
The addition of Ypsilanti Township as an AAATA member will increase the number of positions on the AAATA board from nine to 10, with the additional member appointed by the township. Board chair Charles Griffith indicated at the Nov. 21 meeting that the name of Larry Krieg would be put forward by township supervisor Brenda Stumbo for confirmation by the township board of trustees. It’s hoped, Griffith said, that Krieg would be able to attend the next meeting of the board, on Dec. 19, as a member. Krieg attended the Nov. 21 meeting as an audience member. During public commentary at the meeting, Krieg called Ypsilanti Township’s admission into the authority a “victory for regionalism and common sense.”
In its one piece of new business on Nov. 21, the board approved an increase to the AAATA’s contract with Advance Security, to allow for around-the-clock security service coverage at the Blake Transit Center construction site. According to the staff memo accompanying the board resolution, the additional security is required until the new building can be outfitted with doors, windows and locks. The last time the board approved the annual contract it was for $205,000. The increase brought the annual value of the contract to $242,000. The BTC is now expected to be completed by the end of January 2014.
Another highlight of the meeting was a presentation on a comparative analysis the AAATA is conducting of its performance, using statistics from the National Transit Database, and a set of 20 peer transit authorities. The peer set was determined by a tool that is available through the Florida Transit Information System (FTIS). Three key metrics were presented at the Nov. 21 meeting: operating cost per service hour, rider trips per service hour, and operating cost per rider trip. While the AAATA’s operating cost per service hour is greater than its peer group average, according to the AAATA that’s counterbalanced by the number of rider trips per service hour – which leads to a lower cost per rider trip than its peer group average. In this report, The Chronicle presents that data as well as examples of other kinds of data that can be compared across the peer group.
The AAATA board also gave some discussion to a recent presentation given to its planning and development committee from Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) staff on plans for US-23. MDOT intends to use an Active Traffic Management (ATM) system to direct traffic and decrease congestion in the US-23 corridor – because there’s no funding to add an additional lane. That’s hoped to be implemented by 2016. The ATM system would involve upgrading the median shoulder, installing intelligent transportation system (ITS) equipment, constructing crash investigation sites and periodically using shoulders as travel lanes. The plan will also include widening three bridges from North Territorial Road to Eight Mile Road. The AAATA has been asked by MDOT to consider providing park-and-ride service from those bridges.
During the meeting, the board also watched a video that has been produced to explain the connector study – an alternatives analysis for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops. The study has winnowed down options to six different route alignments.
At its Nov. 21 meeting, the board also heard its usual range of reports and communications.
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Nov. 19, 2013): The main agenda item this month was a project that PAC had acted on over a year ago: The relocation of tennis courts at Windemere Park.
As part of an effort to replace the deteriorated courts, commissioners had recommended relocating them to a different spot within the park. That action took place at their meeting on Oct. 16, 2012, with the expectation that parks staff would solicit bids and seek city council approval for a construction contract to rebuild the courts in the spring of 2013.
But pushback from residents – and advocacy from city councilmember Jane Lumm, who represents Ward 2 where Windemere Park is located – led to further discussions, an online poll conducted by residents, and ultimately a return to PAC. On Nov. 19, several residents attended the meeting, including Lumm, and asked PAC to reconsider its recommendation.
Rather than relocating the courts toward the center of the park, they hoped to shift the location to the north so that more open space in the park would be preserved. PAC’s Nov. 19 meeting included a presentation in support of this option by Ed Weiss of the Earhart Knolls Homeowners Association and Jeff Alson, a resident and member of the Glacier Highlands Homeowners Association. However, one homeowner attended the meeting to disagree – her home would be closer to the courts if the location is changed.
Some commissioners expressed concern about setting precedent for a reversal of their decision, but after discussing the issue they voted unanimously to schedule another public meeting with residents. Options to consider will include the one that was originally recommended by PAC and the one that’s now being proposed by some residents as an alternative. The city might also conduct its own online poll to get additional feedback. It’s possible that the new public process will push back the project until the 2015 construction season.
Also on Nov. 19, commissioners got an update on the first four months of the fiscal year from Bob Galardi, chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee. For all parks and recreation facilities, the current projections of $3.943 million in revenues are about $52,000 over the originally budgeted amounts. In particular, revenues related to the Argo Cascades are $100,000 better than expected. On the expense side, overall costs are projected to be $5.211 million – or $50,000 less than budgeted. The fiscal year runs from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014, and Galardi cautioned that these projections represent an early interim report.
The meeting included several updates and reports, including news that long-time PAC member Tim Berla – who served as the representative from Ann Arbor Rec & Ed’s recreation advisory commission – will no longer be serving on PAC. He attended his last meeting in September. PAC chair Ingrid Ault expects a new RAC appointment by early 2014.
In an update from the city council, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) – one of two council representatives who serve on PAC – noted that a park fee waiver recommended by PAC had been approved by the council on Nov. 18. The waiver is for groups who want to distribute goods for basic human needs at a city park. He also noted that on Nov. 7, the council had accepted PAC’s report on downtown parks and open space “with speed and a lack of unhappiness.” He did not mention that the other council representative on PAC, Mike Anglin (Ward 5), had dissented on that vote to accept the report.
Car crash. Fire truck partially blocking lane. Also it is cold out.
An online “open letter” from University of Michigan faculty to president Mary Sue Coleman and provost Martha Pollack asks that the proposed Administrative Services Transformation (AST) project – which aims to reduce costs by centralizing services – be terminated. As of early afternoon on Saturday, Nov. 23, the letter had received over 600 signatures. From the letter: “AST is a top-down program that eliminates the ability to retain corporate knowledge and leverage the unit-culture experiences of some 300 support staff while limiting their contributions to a series of transactional tasks in a call center.” [Source]
This past week’s Ann Arbor city council meeting did not adjourn until nearly 2 a.m. Several factors contributed to the length of that meeting.
But instead of writing a few thousand words analyzing those factors, I’d like to point out something that was absolutely not a factor. The council did not lay claim to the public’s time by considering any resolutions last Monday that wished someone a happy birthday.
But that was the sort of thing the Ann Arbor city council of 43 years ago did.
I was alerted to this by Jim Mogensen, whose name some readers will recognize as a resident who will reliably appear to comment at various public meetings on topics like transportation and social justice. One of Mogensen’s favorite rhetorical tactics is to tie current events to decades-old actions and to remind people of some forgotten historical point.
Mogensen spoke at the Ann Arbor city council’s Nov. 18 meeting urging the approval of a resolution that added Ypsilanti Township as a member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. He called it the continuation of a process that began over 40 years ago. And ultimately the council voted 11-0 in favor of adding Ypsilanti Township to the authority.
Three days later, at Thursday’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s board, Mogensen’s remarks served to bridge that four-decade span – between the Jerry Lax of Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels P.C. who currently provides legal counsel for the AAATA, and the Jerry Lax who was Ann Arbor city attorney back in 1970.
Mogensen bridged those four decades by reading aloud a city council resolution from 1970 recognizing Lax’s birthday, which, as luck would have it, is today.
The full text of the tongue-in-cheek resolution is presented below. But it’s not just the hilarious text of the resolution that I thought was worth sharing with readers. It’s something else from that page of the council’s minutes that I thought was even more remarkable.
Michigan Radio is reporting that Ann Arbor resident Dave DeVarti has joined a lawsuit against the Secretary of State of the state of Michigan – for rejecting his choice of personalized license plate: “WAR SUX” [Source] DeVarti was a long-time member of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board and served briefly in the mid-1980s on the Ann Arbor city council.
Washington is closed to through traffic, both lanes, as some elaborate crane work progresses. [photo]
Vogel’s is creatively supporting our local football team. [photo]
Applicants for one of two Washtenaw County seats on southeast Michigan’s Regional Transit Authority (RTA) will have until Dec. 1, 2013 to apply. Richard “Murph” Murphy was appointed last year for the seat on the newly established transit authority, which had only a one-year term associated with it.
However, Murphy is not seeking re-appointment to the seat – a point that was included in CEO Michael Ford’s report to the board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority at its Nov. 21, 2013 meeting.
The RTA was established in a lame duck session of the Michigan legislature in late 2012, and includes a four-county region – Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne – with each county making two appointments to the …
The Grambling State University football team plays in the unheralded Southwestern Athletic Conference, in the division beneath the big boys. They had an 11-game losing streak, stretching back into the 2012 season.
In short, this was not a team that warranted national attention.
But the Grambling Tigers finally got some last month. No, they didn’t notch their first win that day – or even another loss. They didn’t play – and it wasn’t due to bad weather or a bye week. The players simply refused to take the field.
Grambling is a historically black college with a rich tradition. Their legendary coach, Eddie Robinson, won 408 games, which set the record Joe Paterno would break, then relinquish, due to NCAA sanctions.
One of Robinson’s biggest stars was Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl title.
But, as a coach, Williams was more beloved than successful. His Grambling teams couldn’t get it done, while the school itself suffered draconian budget cuts. The players had to travel by bus and work out in a weight room so decrepit, several suffered staph infections.
This fall, it all came to a head.
The new Blake Transit Center, still under construction in downtown Ann Arbor by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, will get additional unarmed security from Advance Security as a result of AAATA board action at its Nov. 21, 2013 meeting. The board approved an increase from the $205,000 annual contract amount authorized by the board at its April 19, 2012 meeting to bring the annual value of the contract to $242,000.
The increase will allow for around-the-clock security service coverage at the Blake Transit Center construction site. According to the staff memo accompanying the …