Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 16, 2013): The city council’s last regular meeting of 2013 pushed well past midnight. And toward the end of the meeting, councilmembers batted around the idea of asking the city clerk to enforce the council’s rule limiting councilmember speaking time. It’s an issue that will be taken up by the council’s rules committee.
In some of its more significant business of the night, the council voted unanimously to deposit almost $1.4 million into the city of Ann Arbor’s affordable housing trust fund. The council’s final vote was unanimous, although Jane Lumm (Ward 2) offered an amendment to cut that amount in half, which failed on a 2-9 vote. Jack Eaton (Ward 4) joined Lumm in supporting that failed amendment.
The dollar figure of $1,384,300 million reflects the $1.75 million in gross proceeds, less brokerage fees and seller’s costs, from the sale of a downtown city-owned parcel known as the old Y lot. In 2003, the city paid $3.5 million for the property, located on William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The council approved the sale of the property to Dennis Dahlmann for $5.25 million at its Nov. 18, 2013 meeting. The city has made interest-only payments on a $3.5 million loan for the last 10 years.
Public commentary during the meeting was dominated by residents advocating in support of the Y lot resolution – several on behalf of the homeless community. A current point of contention for several of the speakers is the fact that the Delonis Shelter does not operate a warming center during daytime hours. Instead, the center allows the homeless to seek refuge there during the day when the temperature or wind chill drops to 10 F degrees. Addressing that issue is one of several possible ways to spend the money from the affordable housing trust fund. Others include using it to renovate properties managed by the Ann Arbor housing commission.
Two items in which the council also invested considerable time at its Dec. 16 meeting involved traffic safety. The council wound up adopting unanimously a resolution that directs city administrator Steve Powers to present a strategy for funding elements of the city’s non-motorized transportation plan, by specific dates starting next year. The final version adopted by the council reflected a compromise on the exact wording of the resolution – which among other changes eliminated explicit mention of any specific technology. The original resolution had specifically cited rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFBs), as does the non-motorized plan.
Thematically related to the funding plan for non-motorized transportation improvements was a proposal to allocate $125,000 from the current general fund reserve to pay for police overtime for traffic enforcement. The debate on police overtime centered on the question of whether chief of police John Seto had a plan to spend the money, which equates to about 70 additional hours a week for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2014. The resolution eventually won the support of all members of the council except for mayor John Hieftje.
The police overtime item was sponsored by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who were part of a six-vote majority that had backed a significant revision to the city’s crosswalk law at the council’s Dec. 2, 2013 meeting. That change – which eliminated a requirement that motorists stop for pedestrians who were at the curb but not within the crosswalk – was subsequently vetoed by Hieftje. The text of that veto was attached to the council’s Dec. 16 meeting agenda as a communication.
The council’s focus on traffic and pedestrian safety will continue next year, on Jan. 6, when the council is supposed to make appointments to a pedestrian safety task force, which it established at its Nov. 18, 2013 meeting.
Also generally related to the public right-of-way on streets at the council’s Dec. 16 meeting was an item that was postponed from the Dec. 2, 2013 meeting. The council was asked to consider assigning a specific cost to the removal of an on-street parking space caused by a development: $45,000. The original postponement stemmed from a desire to hold a public hearing on the matter before taking action. One person spoke at the public hearing on Dec. 16, and the council deliberated about a half hour before deciding to postpone again.
The council voted unanimously to make a roughly $65,000 allocation from the solid waste fund balance to pay for an initiative that will allow residents to add plate scrapings to their brown compost carts for curbside collection. The additional funds will cover an increased level of service at the compost processing facility – daily versus weekly grinding. The funds will also cover the cost of counter-top containers the city plans to give away to residents to encourage the initial separation of plate scrapings from garbage, and a subsidy for the sale of additional brown compost carts. Some of that allocation is expected to be recovered through reduced landfill tipping fees.
Also on Dec. 16, the council accepted a $50,000 grant from the USDA Forestry Service to be spent on a tree pruning initiative focused on the city’s largest street trees.
The council metered out its time generously on items involving large and small dollar amount alike at its Dec. 16 meeting. So nearly a half hour of deliberations went into a resolution that directed the city administrator to include $10,000 of support for the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair as he develops next year’s (FY 2015) budget. The council voted unanimously to support that resolution.
The council postponed an item that formally terminated a four-year-old memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan on the demised Fuller Road Station project. It had been added to the agenda the same day as the meeting, and that was the reason it was postponed. However, it was clear from remarks at the meeting that when the council takes up the resolution next year, it will have support.
Y Lot Proceeds
The council considered a resolution that deposits the proceeds of the sale of the city-owned former Y lot into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.
The approved $5.25 million sale price of the former Y lot will result in a gross difference of $1.75 million compared to the $3.5 million price paid by the city in 2003. The original resolution on the council’s agenda designated $1.56 million of that amount – which is all but a $190,000 brokerage fee – for deposit in the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Later, before the meeting started, a revision was made to the resolution, which reduced the amount to $1,384,300 to accommodate the seller’s closing costs at well.
The specific connection between the affordable housing trust fund and the former Y lot is the 100 units of single-resident occupancy housing that previously were a part of the YMCA building that stood on the site.
Various efforts have been made to replace those units over the years. [See, for example, Chronicle coverage: "The 100 Units of Affordable Housing."] Recently, the Ann Arbor housing commission and its properties have started to receive more attention from the council as an integral part of the city’s approach to providing housing to the lowest income residents. The council approved a series of resolutions this summer that will allow the AAHC to convert many of its properties to project-based vouchers.
The history of the city policy on proceeds of land sales goes back at least 20 years.
The most recent history includes the following:
- Oct. 15, 2012: City council approves a policy that ultimately leaves the policy on the use of proceeds of city land to case-by-case decisions, but indicates that for the Y lot, the proceeds will:
… first be utilized to repay the various funds that expended resources on the property, including but not limited to due diligence, closing of the site and relocation and support of its previous tenants, after which any remaining proceeds be allocated and distributed to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund;”
- Nov. 8, 2012: City council transfers $90,000 from proceeds of the land sale to Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority into the affordable housing trust fund.
- March 4, 2013: City council directs the city administrator to select a broker for the Y lot.
- July 3, 2013: City administrator Steve Powers announces that he’s selected Colliers International and local broker Jim Chaconas to handle the marketing of the property.
- Nov. 18, 2013: City council approves the sale of the former Y lot for $5.25 million to Dennis Dahlmann.
- Dec. 4, 2013: Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board waives its claim to reimbursement from the sale of the Y lot.
The Dec. 16 resolution reflected a departure from the most recent policy adopted by the city council – which called for reimbursements for various costs before net proceeds of the Y lot sale would be deposited into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.
But the resolution eliminates any wrangling between the city and the Ann Arbor DDA over how much in reimbursements might be owed for various purposes. The city has calculated, for example, that $365,651 in interest reimbursements could be owed, as well as $488,646 for the relocation of residents of the former Y building. The DDA has calculated $1,493,959 in reimbursements that it thinks it could claim – for interest payments and cost of demolition, among other items. But the DDA board has voted essentially to waive that claim.
It’s not clear if the DDA can waive all of that claim in light of the fact that the DDA used at least some TIF (tax increment finance) funds to pay for items like demolition and some of the interest payments on the loan. [.pdf of DDA records produced in response to Freedom of Information Act request by The Chronicle] If that were analyzed as a distribution of TIF to the city of Ann Arbor, then under state statute, the DDA would need to distribute a proportional amount to the other jurisdictions whose taxes are captured in the DDA district.
Y Lot Proceeds: Public Commentary
During public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, several people addressed the council in support of the council’s resolution on the proceeds from the Y lot sale. Several of them mentioned the 10-degree threshold used by the Delonis Center shelter to determine when the homeless can seek refuge during the day.
Ray Gholston expressed his support for the allocation of funds from the proceeds of the Y lot sale to support affordable housing.
Tracy Williams introduced himself as a resident of Ann Arbor. He said that 700 people died from exposure last year, at least one of them here in Ann Arbor – someone who was a friend of his. “Shorty was a little guy but had a big heart,” Williams said. People like “Shorty” need more help, he added. The agencies who work in this area are doing the best they can, he said, but the Delonis Center weather “amnesty” of 10 degrees is too cold.
Mary Browning spoke on behalf of Religious Action for Affordable Housing. She said she was talking about affordable housing at the 30% of AMI (area median income) level, not 80% AMI. Folks who get help from the shelter need a place to go, she said. She strongly urged that the funds from the Y lot sale go toward affordable housing.
Ryan Sample told a story from three months ago, before the warming center opened. He was sleeping at the Baptist Church. He had to give his blanket to someone who needed it. Even at 40 degrees, when your clothes are wet, there can be the potential for hypothermia, he said, which isn’t covered by the “weather amnesty” of 10 degrees at the shelter. He wished he had a job and was able to work, he concluded.
Jim Mogensen spoke in support of the council’s resolution. The whole process has seemed endless, he said. He recounted the history from the mid-1980s, when the YMCA decided to create the 100 units of SRO housing, and tried to do that with conventional bank loans. That’s why the city of Ann Arbor had become involved, he said – to sign for the loans. And that’s why the city of Ann Arbor had a right of first refusal. The Y had not finally repaid what it owed the city until 2009, he pointed out. He wanted the council to think about those historical lessons as they thought about how to use the money that’s in the affordable housing trust fund.
Former city councilmember and former planning commissioner Jean Carlberg said that Mogensen had given a good history. She served on the city council when it faced the challenge of how to preserve the housing on the Y lot. The council felt it was in the public interest to exercise its right of first refusal on the Y lot, when the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority wanted to purchase the property. She urged the council to allocate the proceeds of the sale of the Y lot to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. With the loss of the Y housing, that increased the need for units – as determined in the Blueprint to End Homelessness – from 500 units to 600 units. The city council on which she served, she said, never expected the city to be repaid from the proceeds. It’s a chance to create a “pile of money” to be used for affordable housing.
Suzanne William was there to support her friends and family in the homeless community. She’d heard about and experienced the homeless situation in Washtenaw County for a long time, and said she supported the council’s resolution. She has a job in downtown Ann Arbor, she said, but can’t afford “affordable housing.” She told the council she earns $150 a week. It’s just absurd, she said, that the Delonis Center’s “weather amnesty” has a threshold of 10 degrees. She recalled curling up in a cardboard box even in the summer at 40 degrees and was cold. People are out there trying, she said, and they’re really hard workers. She suggested some counseling for those housed in affordable housing units.
James Hill asked all those who supported the agenda item on the Y lot proceeds to stand. At least 25 people stood up. He said that the council shouldn’t “skim off the top” for financial accounting reasons. He asked the council to inquire why the weather amnesty at the shelter’s warming center has been reduced from 25 degrees to 10 degrees.
Y Lot Proceeds: Weather Amnesty
During council communications, which came after the public commentary, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) talked about the “weather amnesty” that many public speakers mentioned. The Delonis Center had experimented with changing it from 10 degrees and making it 25 degrees last year. So the change to 10 degrees is the reversion to the previous policy, she explained. Briere’s reporting was based on talking to Ellen Schulmeister, head of the Delonis Center. [The Delonis Center operates an overnight warming center from mid-November to mid-March. It has a capacity of 65 beds, with another 25 spots in a rotating shelter. The discussion at the Dec. 16 council meeting focused on the possibility of a daytime warming center.]
Later, during public commentary at the end of the meeting, Seth Best allowed that the homeless community might have a short memory with respect to the weather amnesty policy changes, but he pointed out that when you’re homeless, you’re in survival mode, thinking about what to do tonight.
In a follow-up phone interview, Schulmeister confirmed Briere’s understanding – that the 25-degree weather amnesty for the daytime warming center was tried briefly last year, but that the 10-degree threshold had been a long-standing policy.
Schulmeister told The Chronicle that the experience they’d gained from the brief trial last year of a 25-degree weather amnesty policy was that it basically translated to operating an ongoing daytime warming center. [That conclusion is supported by hourly temperature data. Google Spreadsheet charting out hourly temps for 2013] She has estimated the cost of operating a daytime warming center at the Delonis Center at $160,000-$180,000 from November through March. The bulk of that cost would be for staffing, she said, though some would be needed for items like bathroom supplies, and increased water and electricity usage.
Y Lot Proceeds: Council Deliberations
During council communications near the start of the meeting, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she should have alerted the public to a revision to the dollar amount on the Y lot proceeds. The actual amount available is estimated to be $1,384,300, she said. The amount is an estimate, because the sale has not yet taken place, she stressed.
During mayoral communications, mayor John Hieftje invited Jennifer Hall, executive director of the Ann Arbor housing commission, to the podium to address the council. She described the single resident occupancy (SRO) units at the former Y. It had a staffed front door and a desk, and was actually a “hotel,” she said. The front door staffing helped the residents maintain their tenancy, she noted. Hall described working with the nonprofit Avalon Housing, Washtenaw County’s Community Support and Treatment Services (CSTS), and others to convert an AAHC property, Miller Manor, to a front-door staffed facility.
Hall said they’re working on a plan right now to secure the funding. She would be requesting some of the proceeds from the Y lot to make those services at Miller Manor happen. The maintenance area at Miller Manor is being converted to offices to facilitate the front-door staffing arrangement, she told the council.
When the council reached the resolution on its agenda, Briere reviewed how much money is in the affordable housing trust fund. She noted that the council still hasn’t heard from the Shelter Association – which runs the Delonis Center – about what it needs to get through the inclement weather. In the past, the council has used money from the affordable housing trust fund to support the shelter’s warming center, she said. [At its Oct. 17, 2011 meeting, the council authorized $25,000 in stop-gap funding for the shelter's overnight warming center – from the city's general fund reserve.]
Briere noted that the city has not been effective at putting money back into the affordable housing trust fund. The strategy of having PUDs (planned unit developments) contribute to the trust fund has not been used much recently, she said.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked for city CFO Tom Crawford. She said it’s a significant amount of money, and asked Crawford to walk the council through how much has been committed to affordable housing compared to the other council priorities.
After some back-and-forth between Lumm and Crawford, Briere pointed out that Crawford was talking about new and unique expenditures. Briere then reviewed various expenditures from the affordable housing trust fund.
Mayor John Hieftje said he’d support the resolution. Given the history of the property, it’s a relatively happy end to the story, he said.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted clarification of why eight votes were required. He wanted to know what would happen if this resolution failed. In broad strokes, Crawford explained, most of it would go to the general fund. Kunselman said he’d support the resolution, venturing that most of the money would go to support the Ann Arbor housing commission.
Lumm characterized the amount as a huge transfer from the general fund to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Crawford replied that it’s important to weigh all the city’s needs. He described how much general fund balance would remain if the resolution passed.
Lumm asked for an amendment to reduce the amount of the transfer by half, to roughly $692,000.
Y Lot Proceeds: Amendment to Reduce by Half
Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) responded to Lumm’s previous point about how much is spent on the council’s different priorities, by talking about how much the city spends on public safety compared to affordable housing – pointing out that the city spends $39.5 million a year on public safety.
We say one of our budget priorities is police and fire. That gets $39.5 million dollars in our budget. It’s the biggest chunk of our budget. We say it’s a priority and that’s where we are putting our money – in police and fire. Infrastructure is one of those – roads is $14 million. We say it’s a priority, we are putting most of the money in those areas. But we say affordable housing is a priority – compared to the big ones, it’s minuscule. If this is a priority, let’s fund it. When the Y came down, there were two big losses to the community. One was the hundred units.
But the other loss we heard was the one that Jennifer Hall was telling us about. We lost the site that best served our most needy community members, by providing them a site that had a safe, 24-hour, seven-days-a-week staffed front door – for long-term housing. We don’t have anything else that does that. So for people who are hard to house – fighting addiction, worried about getting abused by people in their lives – they can walk in and they’ve got somebody stopping, watching their back when they get to the door, so they don’t get bullied or re-victimized and hurt. That’s the other thing we lost.
And that is why I was so delighted when I talked to Jennifer all last week, and she said: We have a plan [for converting Miller Manor to a front-door staffed facility] … Compared to what else we’re spending, we’re not putting the same money that we’re putting onto what we’re doing on the other priorities. … It still doesn’t help us move forward in terms of providing beds for those people we heard from who don’t have a warm place to sleep – tonight or when the warming shelter isn’t open. And so I think we need to be looking for other opportunities….
When I voted yes to sell the Y site to Dennis Dahlmann, I wasn’t doing it just to get the debt off the books – that was a good thing. I certainly wasn’t doing it to help him have one more property that wasn’t going to be a hotel to compete with him. I was doing it because I thought it was going to be a path to get money to fund affordable housing. This is our opportunity. We’re not going to get a lot of opportunities like this to put some money aside for affordable housing. We’ve got the needs. The 11 of us will all have a warm place to sleep tonight. We have a responsibility to do what we can to provide that for the rest in our community. Thank you.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) followed Warpehoski with three words: “What he said.” Briere was nearly as brief in saying she wished she could have said it as well as Warpehoski.
Lumm responded by expressing concern about the pressure that this would put on the general fund, saying she felt torn.
Outcome: The amendment to cut the amount in half failed on a 2-9 vote. Only Jane Lumm (Ward 3) and Jack Eaton (Ward 4) voted for it.
Y Lot Proceeds: More Council Deliberations
Lumm noted that the council reached a different conclusion about what the policy should be last year after a long discussion – that there would be reimbursements. So she was torn, she said.
Eaton said he’d support the resolution, but he expressed concern that the city hasn’t approached the policy questions adequately. He allowed that more should be done for affordable housing, but said the city needs to “aim at the right targets.”
Kunselman pointed out that the money is not actually being spent by passing the resolution. Rather, it would go into the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Kunselman noted that previous councils have made decisions about this policy, but this council will make its own decision. The council has heard a lot of voices calling for the council to do something to support affordable housing, he said. The money is not going anywhere until the council spends it, he concluded.
Briere ventured that more than 30% of funding for affordable housing has been cut – by the federal Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and by the state. That came in response to Lumm’s citing the percentage reduction in funding and staffing levels for the Ann Arbor police department.
Briere allowed that Lumm’s point about 10% of proceeds that the council set as a policy last year is accurate for city-owned properties – but she pointed out that the resolution separated out the Y lot from other downtown properties. Briere noted that if the city tried to repay the reimbursements, there wouldn’t be much left. She also pointed out that this is the last year that this trust fund will exist separately as a fund – due to new accounting standards. In the future, it will simply be general fund money that’s allocated to affordable housing. It will no longer be a separate fund, she said.
By way of more specific background, city finance director Karen Lancaster explained in an emailed response to a Chronicle query that the relevant standard is GASB 54. The standard states, among other things, that if transfers from the general fund are the primary revenue source, then that fund must be displayed as part of the general fund.
During council deliberations, Briere noted that currently, the city’s housing and human services advisory board must make a recommendation on how money in the affordable housing trust fund is spent. She was not sure how that will play out in the future.
Hieftje then talked about how federal funding for affordable housing has been drying up. He didn’t think it was appropriate to include the public safety budget in this discussion. He called the recent turnaround at the Ann Arbor housing commission spectacular.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to deposit $1,384,300 million – the entire proceeds, less brokerage fees and seller’s costs – from the sale of the former Y lot into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.
Y Lot Proceeds: More Public Commentary
During public commentary at the end of the meeting, four people addressed the council with remarks related to the vote on the Y lot. Dave DeVarti thanked the council for their unanimous vote. He pointed out the property has never been on the tax rolls, because the Y is a nonprofit. He asked the council to look at the tax receipts from that property and consider using that revenue to fund supportive services.
By way of additional background, during his period of service on the DDA board, DeVarti was a staunch supporter of funding for affordable housing. DeVarti was not reappointed, and in late 2008 Keith Orr was appointed to replace him. After DeVarti left, board members sometimes have quipped that they were “channeling Dave DeVarti” when they spoke in support of affordable housing.
During public commentary at the DDA board’s Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, DeVarti had addressed the topic of the former Y lot, suggesting that the DDA purchase the lot outright, so that the need to repay the loan would be removed as the impetus for selling the lot. That approach would give the city a lot more flexibility, he had argued.
During the final public commentary at the council’s Dec. 16 meeting, Seth Best wished the council happy holidays. He thanked councilmembers for their vote on the Y lot. He invited councilmembers to participate in national homelessness awareness day, on Dec. 21. He told the council that the homeless community operates in “survival mode.” When the “weather amnesty” temperature changes, they have a short memory, he said, because they are thinking about what they have to do tonight. He talked about the proposal from McKinley for affordable housing on South State Street – which considers “affordable housing” to start at $900 a month.
Caleb Poirier updated the council on a property that the homeless community has acquired. He alerted councilmembers that there will eventually be requests coming to the council in connection with that property.
Non-Motorized Transportation Plan Funding
The council considered a directive to the city administrator to provide a funding plan for elements of the city’s non-motorized transportation plan.
The council approved the updated plan at its Nov. 18, 2013 meeting.
The new document is organized into three sections: (1) planning and policy updates; (2) updates to near-term recommendations; and (3) long-term recommendations.
The Dec. 16 resolution – which is co-sponsored by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – was structured in part based on those main sections.
Among other specific instructions, the resolution directed city administrator Steve Powers to present a strategy for funding the plan’s recommended midblock deployments of rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFB).
Examples of planning and policy issues in the non-motorized transportation plan include design guidelines, recommendations for approaches like bike boulevards and bike share programs, and planning practices that cover education campaigns, maintenance, crosswalks and other non-motorized elements for pedestrians and bicyclists.
For example, the update recommends that the city begin developing a planning process for bike boulevards, which are described as “a low-traffic, low-speed road where bicycle interests are prioritized.”
Sections of West Washington (from Revena to First), Elmwood (from Platt to Canterbury) and Broadway (from its southern intersection with Plymouth to where it rejoins Plymouth about a mile to the northeast) are suggested for potential bike boulevards.
Near-term recommendations include lower-cost efforts like re-striping roads to install bike lanes and adding crossing islands.
Longer-term projects that were included in the 2007 plan are re-emphasized: the Allen Creek Greenway, Border-to-Border Trail, Gallup Park & Fuller Road paths, and a Briarwood-Pittsfield pedestrian bridge.
The city’s non-motorized transportation plan is part of the city’s master plan. The planning commission adopted the updated plan at its Sept. 10, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of draft 2013 non-motorized transportation plan update]
Non-Motorized Plan Funding: Council Deliberations
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) led things off by reviewing the content of the resolution. Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) asked for systems planning unit manager Cresson Slotten to field questions. She first got confirmation from Slotten about a correction to the plan – that there are supposed to be only 20 RRFBs in the plan, not 24. She asked how the RRFBs were determined as the technology to be deployed as solutions. Slotten regretted that transportation program manager Eli Cooper was out of town, because Cooper could give a more detailed answer.
But Slotten assured Kailasapathy that a detailed analysis had been done. He allowed that Pat Cawley and Les Sipowski, city traffic engineers, had been involved in the determination of the RRFBs as solutions and their locations.
Kailasapathy wanted to propose an amendment to make clear that traffic engineers would be involved in the final determination, which she then moved.
Jack Eaton (Ward 4) ventured that the sponsors of the resolution had not contemplated any other engineering solutions other than RRFBs. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) responded to Eaton by asking Slotten a series of questions.
Briere asked if it’s always the case that when a city plan calls for putting some type of infrastructure in a location, that the infrastructure specified in the plan is always installed. Slotten described how there’s a lot more detailed analysis when a project is actually measured out in the field. Briere asked who would do that work. Slotten said that city traffic engineers working with in-house surveyors would probably do that work. In response to another question from Briere, Slotten allowed that sometimes the final project is not the same as what was in the plan.
Mayor John Hieftje then engaged in some back-and-forth with Slotten to establish what the role of traffic engineers is in determining RRFBs as a solution in a particular location. Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she wanted to know that staff has the latitude to determine the exact locations and details. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) ventured that a plan is a plan, and that plans change. Kunselman got confirmation from Slotten that there could be conditions that warrant looking outside the plan for a solution. Kunselman supported Kailasapathy’s amendment.
Taylor noted the “juicy bit” that the council was talking about removed specific reference to the RRFBs. The idea is not to predetermine what engineering features go into any particular crosswalk, Taylor said – which made sense to him. So Taylor indicated support for at least part of Kailasapathy’s amendment.
Kailasapathy explained that she wanted to avoid creating the impression for staff that there is a “mandate” for RRFBs. Briere said that plans are not solid but rather a little “squishy.”
Briere cited some of the specific words from Kailasapathy’s amendment: “implement recommendations of the city’s traffic engineers.” Briere ventured that “as applied by the city traffic engineers” could work.
City administrator Steve Powers weighed in by suggesting that if the direction from the council is to revisit previous evaluations and recommendations that are contained in the non-motorized transportation plan, then that direction from the council needed to be made clear.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) noted that a lot of improvements had been made in engineering technology. Anglin asked if the locations designated for RRFBs are not eligible for HAWK signals. He contended that RRFBs ask motorists to interpret a yellow light as requirement to stop. He appeared to be advocating for HAWK signals instead of RRFBs. Anglin said he’s heard that HAWK lights are too expensive, but asked what the cost of safety should be.
Hieftje responded to Anglin by venturing that the city traffic engineers are up to date on the latest technology. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) raised the question of how this resolution relates to the establishment of the pedestrian safety task force.
Eaton said his understanding is that there’s no detailed and particularized engineering study that’s been done of the general locations of the RRFBs in the non-motorized plan. He wanted to make sure it’s done right.
Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) noted that there were three elements to the amendment offered by Kailasapathy: (1) it should be technology neutral; (2) traffic engineers should be involved; and (3) the downtown is highlighted specifically. Warpehoski said he was fine with (1). He thought (2) was redundant but didn’t have a problem with it. He had some ideas about (3).
At that point the council decided to recess to hammer out some language they could all agree on. The language the council considered after emerging from recess was as follows:
RESOLVED, That the City Council directs the City Administrator to report to City Council by January 1, 2014, his plan to enhance and improve traffic enforcement at and around crosswalks;
RESOLVED, That the City Council directs the City Administrator to report to City Council by March 1, 2014, his plan to fund, effect, and otherwise implement the 2013 Update to the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan’s actionable recommendations to improve midblock crosswalks;
RESOLVED, That the City Council directs the City Administrator to report to City Council by April 21, 2014, his plan to fund, effect, and otherwise implement actionable Near-term Recommendations of the 2013 Update to the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan;
RESOLVED, The City Council directs the City Administrator to report to the City Council by March 1, 2014, his plan to direct the City’s traffic engineers to recommend solutions to improve pedestrian safety in downtown;
RESOLVED, That the City Council directs the City Administrator to report to City Council by June 30, 2014, his plan to fund, effect, and otherwise implement actionable Long-term Recommendations of the 2013 Update to the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan; and
RESOLVED, That the City Council desires that the foregoing plans include elements of the 2013 Update to the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan related to pedestrian, driver, and cyclist education; improved signage; improved engineering of pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle interface zones; and increased enforcement attention to pedestrian safety.
Kunselman said he wanted remove the dates specified in the resolution, saying that he wanted to give the city administrator more flexibility. He pointed out that the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, would have a lot of responsibility for the implementation of the non-motorized plan. Kunselman took the occasion to reiterate the fact that he dislikes the fact that Cooper serves on the board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.
Kunselman said he’d prefer that all of Cooper’s energy go into his responsibilities as transportation program manager and none of it go into the AAATA. [Kunselman voted against Cooper's appointment two years ago at the council's Dec. 19, 2011 meeting.]
In response to a question from Hieftje, Taylor said that the dates in the resolution were characterized by the city administrator as “feasible.” Lumm indicated support for the amendment, saying she’d support it.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to direct the city administrator to present a funding and implementation plan for the city’s non-motorized transportation plan. The version passed by the council was amended at the table. [.pdf of amended non-motorized implementation resolution]
$125K for Traffic Enforcement
The council considered an allocation of $125,000 from the general fund balance to pay for police overtime required for additional traffic enforcement. The item began conceptually as a $500,000 allocation described by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who was persuaded by co-sponsors Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Jack Eaton (Ward 4) that $125,000 would be a more reasonable amount to spend.
Data from the city’s most recent comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR), compiled with previous CAFRs, shows that traffic citations have continued for the past three years at significantly lower levels than previously:
Some insight into the question of how much time AAPD officers have available for proactive policing activities – like traffic enforcement – has been provided to councilmembers in the form of timesheet data that officers have been logging since the beginning of 2013.
In the charts below (by The Chronicle, with data from the city of Ann Arbor), green shading indicates unassigned time and time dedicated to proactive policing activities. Dedicate policing activities include: bicycle patrol, business contact, check person, citizen/motorist assist, code citation, community event, community meeting, downtown foot patrol, extra patrol (general), extra patrol (parks), felony, impound, liquor inspection, misdemeanor, parking citation, property check, recontact, traffic enforcement (general), traffic enforcement (laser), traffic enforcement (radar), traffic problem, and traffic stop.
In a memo to the city administrator dated Nov. 4, 2013, chief of police John Seto indicated that he’s already begun to assign additional proactive duties to officers, based on the results of the timesheet analysis:
As a result of this data, supervisors and officers have been identifying additional dedicated proactive policing activities to engage in for the remainder of 2013. Staffing modifications will also be taking place for 2014. An additional officer will be assigned to Special Services to address traffic complaints. The distribution of Patrol Officers will also be modified to increase the number of officers assigned to the swing shift, where the volume of calls for service is greater.
$125K for Traffic Enforcement: Council Deliberations
During council communications at the start of the meeting, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) reported on a meeting on traffic safety held at Bach Elementary School the previous week. His remarks were largely positive.
About 100 people attended, he said. This is the kind of approach the city should be taking, he said, noting that the meeting was well attended by staff. Three councilmembers attended, he said, including Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1)
When the council reached the item on the agenda, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led things off by quipping that the discussion should be short, because the resolution was short. He allowed that he’d wanted to put a lot more funding in police chief John Seto’s hands than the $125,000 that’s in the resolution. Revenues have been down from traffic citations, he noted. And there’s a need to curtail motorists from speeding. Things like cars passing stopped school buses have also been raised as concerns, he said.
Lumm thanked Kunselman for leading this effort. She thought everyone could support the idea that increased traffic enforcement is an important part of improving traffic safety.
Mayor John Hieftje said he understood the motivation for the resolution. But it’s unusual to give staff money to spend without asking how staff would specifically solve the problem the council has identified, he said. He also pointed to the timesheet breakdown for police officers showing that officers may have time to implement additional traffic enforcement within the existing staffing levels, without using overtime.
Briere wanted Seto to explain how this money would be spent. Seto said there’s not a specific plan for using this overtime money. There are various general ways: individual officers assigned to specific locations, or officers can be dedicated to a promotion and educational effort. Briere asked Seto if he could provide a specific plan and a budget for implementation by Jan. 22, the council’s second meeting in January. “It depends,” replied Seto.
Briere observed that even if Seto just followed the simple resolution, he’d still have to come up with a plan. She wanted Seto to tell the council how much it might cost to implement increased traffic enforcement. She ventured there might be various levels of implementation – which could cost even more than $125,000. She wanted Seto to develop a specific plan for implementation.
Seto said that if the council directed him to do so, he could come back with a specific traffic enforcement enhancement plan. He said that the $125,000 translates into 1,800 additional hours and indicated a lack of certainty that it could all allocated right now. Briere asked if Seto could come back with the cost for a plan that he would implement.
In a reference to a remark by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) from a previous council meeting, Kunselman exclaimed: “Talk about micromanaging!” He noted that the $125,000 figure came from the city administrator. Seto didn’t have to spend it all, Kunselman said. He called it a small amount in response to community concerns. He allowed that it would require eight votes to pass [because it was a budget amendment] and he invited those who wanted to vote against it to do so.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) thanked Seto for attending the Bach Elementary School meeting on traffic safety. He ventured that Seto has heard directly about some of these citizen concerns.
Responding to Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Seto said that $125,000 translates to 26 weeks of eight 8-hour shifts.
Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) indicated he’d support the resolution, citing concerns that were reflected in the recent National Citizens Survey. [For the open-ended response survey item, which asked respondents to identify the city leaders’ top three priorities to maximize the quality of life in Ann Arbor, public safety was one of the top three items, with 19% of the open-ended responses identifying safety, crime and police as a concern. Also cited in 19% of responses were government, taxes and communication. However, the dominant concern in the open-ended responses was mobility issues – as 57% of responses were coded as related to roads, transportation, traffic, traffic enforcement, bikes and pedestrians.]
Warpehoski said that traffic safety is the one area where increased investment in safety services is justified. He said he was frustrated that he wasn’t able to get benchmark data about traffic safety. The question Warpehoski had submitted to staff before the meeting and its response was as follows:
Question: Do we have any data by which to benchmark Ann Arbor’s traffic safety compared to other communities (e.g. within the SEMCOG region, peer cities of similar size, or other appropriate comparisons)? In particular, I would like to see data for accidents per vehicle miles traveled, excluding freeways such as I-94, US-23, and M-14. (Councilmember Warpehoski)
Response: We do not have data on vehicle miles traveled within the City of Ann Arbor.
Taylor said that he didn’t disagree that traffic enforcement is deeply important. But he thought that the resolution the council was considering amounted to pre-funding a plan that’s not yet in front of the council. [He was referring to the council's direction to city administrator Steve Powers, taken earlier in the meeting, to develop an implementation strategy for the non-motorized transportation plan.] Taylor wanted to postpone until the next meeting.
$125K for Traffic Enforcement: Council Deliberations – Postponement
Petersen punched the air, raising her hand to be called on. She argued against Taylor’s contention that this resolution was somehow at odds with the previous resolution on the non-motorized transportation plan. She contended that this police overtime actually strengthens that resolution “I don’t know why we wouldn’t do this now,” she said.
Kailasapathy said that this resolution is basically choosing something that seems reasonable – echoing Warpehoski’s sense that this amount is roughly the equivalent of adding an FTE for traffic enforcement. She said she’d support the resolution.
Responding to a question from Hieftje, Seto said there are currently four traffic enforcement staff, plus one administrative position. On Jan. 1 Seto was already planning to assign an additional person to traffic enforcement. This resolution would essentially bring the total to six.
Eaton said that it’s important to be safe – not just from rapes and murders. He described some neighborhoods where cars speed so fast that they leave the roads and run into people’s houses.
Hieftje said he wanted to hear the plan before the council throws the money at it. He supported the postponement. Lumm said she wouldn’t support the postponement. She talked about the overall staffing levels of the AAPD, noting that the number of sworn officers currently is down to 119. She cited the number of emails that she receives asking for more traffic enforcement.
Kunselman said he wouldn’t support a postponement, contending that Seto has already described a plan. He indicated that success will be measured by the number of traffic citations issued.
Taylor pointed out that the previous resolution on implementation of the non-motorized transportation plan does address enforcement around crosswalks.
Outcome on postponement: The motion for postponement failed with support only from Hieftje, Briere and Taylor.
$125K for Traffic Enforcement: More Council Deliberations
Warpehoski noted that the “results” that Kunselman had highlighted are in terms of revenue and citations, but Warpehoski wanted results measured in a way that’s related to traffic safety. He didn’t think police services should be treated as a cash register.
Hieftje said one reason that traffic citations are down is that penalties – for drunk driving, for example – are harsher and people pay more attention. Hieftje said he didn’t want to just throw money at a problem.
Teall echoed Hieftje’s sentiments. She was concerned about a possible backlash from increased enforcement. Briere affirmed there are as many people who are angry about lack of traffic enforcement as who are angry about too much traffic enforcement. Briere described herself as not very gung ho when it comes to rules, but she believed in traffic enforcement. She’d prefer that Seto tell the council how much money he needed, rather than the council tell the chief.
Briere asked Seto if 70 additional hours a week in traffic enforcement is actually feasible. Seto described how his intent would not be to just implement some speed traps – saying that high crash locations can be targeted using a new city system. Seto said he can start this additional enforcement on Jan. 1. Petersen said she couldn’t think of a better day to start than Jan. 1, because of the NHL’s Winter Classic that’s planned for that day.
Petersen asked for and received confirmation that the figure of $125,000 had been vetted with the city administrator and that Seto had called it feasible. Kunselman followed up on Petersen’s remarks by saying that not only had the number been vetted, but Seto had also described a plan for implementation. He agreed with Warpehoski’s point that revenues are not the only measure of success. He said he wouldn’t mind hearing complaints about too much traffic enforcement.
Taylor allowed that the $125,000 had been “vetted.” He asked Seto if the plan that starts Jan. 1 will cost about $125,000. Seto replied: “It could.” Taylor allowed that the existence of a budget doesn’t necessitate the spending of that budget. Seto agreed that it might not be necessary to spend all of that $125,000.
Taylor concluded by saying “I think this is sloppy,” pointing out that the council is a couple weeks away from having a plan with a dollar figure on it [an allusion to the non-motorized transportation plan implementation strategy the council had voted to direct the city administrator to develop earlier in the meeting]. It’s not a professional way to approach things, Taylor said. But he had a lot of confidence in Seto’s ability to produce a plan the city is proud of – a plan that will be effective and not just burn through the money just because it is there.
Outcome: The council voted over the lone dissent of mayor John Hieftje to approve $125,000 to pay for overtime so that Ann Arbor police officers can provide additional traffic enforcement.
How Much Is a Parking Space Worth?
Postponed from the council’s Dec. 2 meeting was a resolution that would define how much developers would need to pay the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority if a developer’s project requires removal of a metered on-street parking space. The proposed amount is $45,000 per space. The payment would go to the Ann Arbor DDA because the DDA manages the public parking system under a contract with the city.
The rationale for postponing the item – offered by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) at the council’s Dec. 2 meeting – was that because it amounts to a fee, a public hearing should be held on the matter before the council votes.
In this matter, the council would be acting on a four-year-old recommendation approved by the Ann Arbor DDA in 2009:
Thus it is recommended that when developments lead to the removal of on-street parking meter spaces, a cost of $45,000/parking meter space (with annual CPI increases) be assessed and provided to the DDA to set aside in a special fund that will be used to construct future parking spaces or other means to meet the goals above. [.pdf of meeting minutes with complete text of March 4, 2009 DDA resolution]
The contract under which the DDA manages the public parking system for the city was revised to restructure the financial arrangement (which now pays the city 17% of the gross revenues), but also included a clause meant to prompt the city to act on the on-street space cost recommendation. From the May 2011 parking agreement:
The City shall work collaboratively with the DDA to develop and present for adoption by City Council a City policy regarding the permanent removal of on-street metered parking spaces. The purpose of this policy will be to identify whether a community benefit to the elimination of one or more metered parking spaces specific area(s) of the City exists, and the basis for such a determination. If no community benefit can be identified, it is understood and agreed by the parties that a replacement cost allocation methodology will need to be adopted concurrent with the approval of the City policy; which shall be used to make improvements to the public parking or transportation system.
Subject to administrative approval by the city, it’s the DDA that has sole authority to determine the addition or removal of meters, loading zones, or other curbside parking uses.
The $45,000 figure is based on an average construction cost to build a new parking space in a structure, either above ground or below ground – as estimated in 2009. It’s not clear what the specific impetus is to act on the issue now, other than the fact that action is simply long overdue. In 2011, the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research expansion was expected to result in the net removal of one on-street parking space. [For more background, see: "Column: Ann Arbor's Monroe (Street) Doctrine."]
The resolution was sponsored by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Taylor participated in recent meetings of a joint council and DDA board committee that negotiated a resolution to the question about how the DDA’s TIF (tax increment finance) revenue is regulated. In that context, Taylor had argued adamantly that any cap on the DDA’s TIF should be escalated by a construction industry CPI, or roughly 5%. Taylor’s reasoning was that the DDA’s mission is to undertake capital projects and therefore should have revenue that escalates in accordance with increases in the costs to undertake capital projects.
Based on Taylor’s reasoning on the TIF question, and the explicit 2009 recommendation by the DDA to increase the estimated $45,000 figure in that year by an inflationary index, the recommended amount now, four years later, would be closer to $55,000, assuming a 5% figure for construction cost inflation. The city’s contribution in lieu (CIL) parking program allows a developer (as one option) to satisfy an onsite parking space requirement by paying $55,000. (The other option is to enter into a 15-year agreement to purchase monthly parking permits at a 20% premium.)
The actual cost of building an underground space in the recently completed (2012) underground Library Lane parking structure could be calculated by taking the actual costs and dividing by 738 – the number of spaces in the structure. Based on a recent memo from executive director Susan Pollay to city administrator Steve Powers, about 30% or $15 million of the cost of the project was spent on items “unneeded by the parking structure.” That included elements like oversized foundations to support future development, an extra-large transformer, a new alley between Library Lane and S. Fifth Avenue, new water mains, easements for a fire hydrant and pedestrian improvements.
The actual amount spent on the Library Lane structure, according to DDA records produced under a Freedom of Information Act request from The Chronicle, was $54,855,780.07, or about $1.5 million under the project’s $56.4 million budget. Adjusting for those elements not needed for the parking structure yields a per-space cost of about $52,000. [(54,855,780.07*.70)/738] [.pdf of Nov. 22, 2013 memo from Pollay to Powers][.pdf of budget versus actual expenses for the 738 space Library Lane structure]
The last two month’s minutes from the DDA’s committee meetings don’t reflect any discussion of the on-street parking space replacement cost. Nor has the issue been discussed at any recent DDA board meeting.
By way of additional background, the Ann Arbor DDA’s most recent financial records show that last year, on-street parking spaces generated $2,000 in gross revenue per space or $1,347 in net income per space annually. The contract with the city under which the DDA operates the public parking system stipulates that the city receives 17% of the gross parking revenues. So the city’s revenue associated with an on-street parking space corresponds to $340 annually.
How Much Is a Parking Space Worth: Public Hearing
Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a past candidate for public office. To his knowledge, he said, the resolution contained no language specifying how parking spaces should be provided for pickup and dropoff for people with disabilities. He said that the proposal should be referred back to a committee for further review. He said the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has been functioning as a stealth government, an agent of the city of Ann Arbor.
How Much Is a Parking Space Worth: Council Deliberations
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) introduced the item by saying there had been several amendments to the resolution and he hoped that the amendments had been disseminated. [.pdf of amended version of policy]
Taylor then reviewed the resolution: It would charge developers for removing parking meters. He characterized the process as a “long and slow burn.” He called the charge a replacement fee. He argued for having such a fee by saying that the city’s parking system is a finite resource. There’s a choice to allow removal or not, he said. So the amount required to be paid as a fee, he said, is $45,000, which is approximately the cost of creating a new parking space in a structure. There’s a caveat whereby the cost could be waived if the removal is deemed to be a public benefit, he noted.
Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) asked for staff to approach the podium to answer some questions, and Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, came forward. Kailasapathy said she saw a parking space as a capital asset. She asked if the money that is paid as a fee should be segregated into a separate fund, saying it should not be treated as simple revenue. Pollay replied that this has not yet been thought through in detail, but the DDA’s operations committee would be taking that up. Kailasapathy wanted to add an amendment that would require the segregation of funds into something like a sinking fund.
Taylor had no objection to segregating the funds, but was not sure that the city council should be telling the DDA exactly how to do the accounting. City administrator Steve Powers weighed in, saying that the city could work with the DDA to reserve the funds in some manner.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) offered some generally supportive comments about the concept of charging some kind of fee. Pollay indicated she understood that the council is keen to see the capital funds set aside and separated somehow.
Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked if the money that’s paid could be used to build any capital project or if it had to be a parking space. She was worried about having enough critical mass of funding to undertake the building of a new parking structure. Pollay said that this money to be paid would not necessarily be the only money used to build a new parking structure. The money from the fee would be added to the pot when it comes time to build a new parking structure, Pollay said.
Petersen wanted to know if the money could be used to add on to an existing structure. Pollay’s response was affirmative, as she pointed out that the Fourth and William structure had been extended upward.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said that if the money is earmarked for new construction, that makes accounting challenging because it’s not known when construction will happen. Why not just use the money for debt service on parking structures? he asked. Kunselman asked how many spaces have been removed recently. Pollay told Kunselman that about 50 had been removed in the last five years. She allowed that some on-street spaces have also been added through projects like the Fifth and Division street improvement project.
Mayor John Hieftje asked the council to think about whether the issue could be worked out that evening or if it should be put off. Taylor then read aloud wording of a proposed amendment about “financial controls” to segregate the funds so that they can be reinvested in construction of new parking spaces. Kailasapathy wanted the language to be flexible enough to construct new spaces or also replace existing spaces.
The wording of the amendment, which had been forwarded to the press during the meeting by city clerk Jackie Beaudry on request of the council, was: “Therefore, the City of Ann Arbor and the DDA will establish financial controls to segregate cash flows from the removal of on-street parking in order to reinvest these funds in the creation of parking spaces.”
Hieftje asked again if it might be a good idea to put off the question. Taylor was content to see it postponed, as was Kailasapathy.
Lumm then raised an issue she described as a “nit.” There are references in the resolution to development projects taking spaces out of the system, she noted. Lumm asked if the DDA operations committee would consider describing it differently, when that committee reviewed the policy. Many of the spaces that have been “gobbled up” recently have not been by developers but rather by UM or the city itself, Lumm said.
Petersen then said she had an amendment she wanted to add into the mix. Hieftje told her to send it to the DDA operations committee for their discussion.
Outcome: The council voted to postpone until the first meeting in January a vote on a policy that sets the price for removal of an on-street parking space at $45,000.
Solid Waste: Plate Scrapings
The council considered allocating $64,550 from the solid waste fund to support a food-scrap composting initiative. That request came in the context of the council’s recent adoption of an update to the city’s solid waste plan. When the city council adopted the solid waste plan update on Oct. 7, 2013, a modification was made during deliberations.
The amendment undertaken by the council at that meeting eliminated mention of a possible transition to bi-weekly trash pickup or pay-as-you-throw initiatives.
However, one of the recommendations that is thought possibly to lead to a reduction in curbside garbage pickup – which would have been the basis for any decision to reduce the frequency of trash pickup – was left in the plan.
That recommendation is to allow plate scrapings to be placed in residents’ brown composting carts that the city uses to collect yard waste for processing at the city’s composting facility. That facility is operated by a third-party – WeCare Organics. The goal is to reduce the proportion of the city’s landfilled solid waste stream that’s made up of food waste. A recent inventory of the contents of some city trash trucks showed that about half of the weight is made up of food waste.
[Waste Less: City of Ann Arbor Solid Waste Resource Plan.] [Appendices to Waste Less] [Previous Chronicle coverage: Waste as Resource: Ann Arbor's Five Year Plan.]
The $64,550 allocation breaks down this way:
- $14,950 for an increased level of service from WeCare Organics at the compost processing facility (daily versus weekly grinding). The city is estimating no increased net cost for this increased service based on a reduction in landfill tipping fees. The city pays $25.90 per ton for transfer and disposal of landfilled waste. That’s $7.90 more than the city pays WeCare organics ($18 per ton) for processing compostable material. City staff is estimating that the program will divert 2,100 tons from the $25.90 category – for a savings of 2,100*$7.90=$16,590.
- $24,600 for the cost of 6,000 Sure-Close counter-top containers the city plans to give away to residents to encourage the initial separation of plate scrapings from garbage.
- $25,000 for a subsidy to sell an estimated 1,000 additional brown compost carts to residents at a cost of $25 per cart instead of $50 per cart. About 12,000 carts are already in use.
Solid Waste: Plate Scrapings – Public Commentary
Barbara Lucas spoke in support of the expanded food waste composting. Her family had participated in a pilot program. Where she currently lives, there are various wildlife that makes composting food scraps challenging. She said that during the pilot program, there wasn’t a problem with odor. When there’s other yard waste in the composting cart, that helps, she said.
Solid Waste: Plate Scrapings – Council Deliberations
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) introduced the resolution. Jack Eaton (Ward 4) confirmed that this resolution would not change the seasonal compost collection schedule. Solid waste manager Tom McMurtrie was invited by mayor John Hieftje to demonstrate the counter-top containers, which would be offered free to residents.
Eaton asked how many households use a garbage disposal and would not use this service. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she thought that the estimates of how many tons would be added to the compost and diverted from garbage are optimistic. She called the giveaways “gimmicky.” But she said it’s not a huge investment to give it a try.
Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) questioned the viability of the city’s estimates. If the 2,100 ton estimate is not accurate, then the city would pay for the additional service of grinding the compost plus the giveaways, she ventured. McMurtrie allowed that Kailasapathy was right about that.
Kailasapathy wanted to know if a pilot could be conducted, just for Monday route collection, for example. McMurtrie said in such a pilot. it would be logistically difficult to maintain the separation of the material at the composting site.
McMurtrie explained that WeCare set the price for the additional grinding at below its cost, because WeCare wants to see the program succeed. For a pilot, WeCare would need to bring in the equipment for the same frequency – but for a limited pilot, it would be over a much smaller tonnage base.
Briere argued for the resolution. She wondered how residents might deal with raccoons. McMurtrie suggested modifying the compost cart by adding a bungee cord – but cautioned that residents need to remember to take the bungee off when they set out the cart. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) re-confirmed Eaton’s point from early in the deliberations – that compost will still not be collected in the winter months.
Kunselman ventured that a considerable educational effort will be required. He asked about the mention of the MDEQ requirements in the staff memo. McMurtrie explained that the city’s proposal is consistent with MDEQ guidelines. The daily processing is what WeCare views as appropriate procedures for dealing with this type of material, he said.
Kunselman asked about the end product: Will adding food waste have an impact on the quality of the end product? No, said McMurtrie.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to appropriate $64,550 to fund the food-scrap composting initiative.
The council considered a resolution accepting a $50,000 grant from the USDA Forestry Service – to put toward a tree pruning initiative. The pruning program would target those trees in the public right-of-way that are most in need of pruning (Priority 1). The initiative is also focused on the larger of the city’s street trees – those bigger than 20 inches in diameter. Those are the trees that have the greatest impact on the mitigation of stormwater.
Here’s where the trees targeted by the program are located:
From the city’s online tree inventory, The Chronicle queried those trees greater than 20 inches in diameter and designated as Priority 1 for pruning. A total of 684 trees fit those criteria. Here’s how they broke down by height, diameter and species.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously without discussion to approve the receipt of the $50,000 USDA Forestry Service grant for tree pruning.
Killing Fuller Road Station MOU
An item added to the Dec. 16 meeting agenda on the day of the meeting would officially terminate a four-year-old memorandum of understanding between the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan on Fuller Road Station.
Fuller Road Station was a planned joint city/UM parking structure, bus depot and possible train station located at the city’s Fuller Park near the UM medical campus. The council had approved the MOU on the Fuller Road Station project at its Nov. 5, 2009 meeting on a unanimous vote. [.pdf of Nov. 5, 2009 MOU text as approved by the city council] However, a withdrawal of UM from the project, which took place under terms of the MOU, was announced Feb. 10, 2012. So it’s been clear for nearly two years that the MOU was a dead letter.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) sponsored the Dec. 16 resolution. The idea to terminate the MOU has its origins in election campaign rhetoric. He had stated at a June 8, 2013 Democratic primary candidate forum that he intended to bring forth such a resolution to “kill” the Fuller Road Station project. From The Chronicle’s report of that forum:
Kunselman also stated that he would be proposing that the city council rescind its memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan to build a parking structure as part of the Fuller Road Station project. Although UM has withdrawn from participation in that project under the MOU, Kunselman said he wanted to “kill it.” That way, he said, the conversation could turn away from using the designated parkland at the Fuller Road Station site as a new train station, and could instead be focused on the site across the tracks from the existing Amtrak station.
The city continues to pursue the possibility of a newly built or reconstructed train station, but not necessarily with the University of Michigan’s participation, and without a pre-determined preferred alternative for the site of a new station. At its Oct. 21, 2013 meeting, the council approved a contract with URS Corp. Inc. to carry out an environmental review of the Ann Arbor Station project – which should yield the determination of a locally-preferred alternative for a site.
Killing Fuller Road Station MOU: Council Deliberations
Kunselman lead off by saying he would like to postpone the resolution. He indicated that he thought he’d managed to add the item to the agenda on the Friday before the Monday meeting, but it turned out he had not done so. In light of the council’s discussion at their Dec. 9 budget planning session – when councilmembers had said they’d strive to avoid adding resolutions at the last minute – Kunselman said he wanted it postponed.
Mayor John Hieftje and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) both indicated they’d vote for the resolution – but also said they didn’t think the resolution was necessary. They indicated they were willing to vote for the resolution without postponing. Kunselman nevertheless wanted to postpone it, because it was added late to the agenda.
Outcome: The council voted to postpone the Fuller Road Station resolution until its next meeting.
Community Events Funding: Street Art Fair
At its Dec. 16 meeting, the council considered a resolution directing city administrator Steve Powers to include in the fiscal year 2015 budget an additional $10,000 in community events funding to support the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. The city’s FY 2015 begins on July 1, 2014.
A memo supporting the resolution noted that the AASAF has run an annual deficit for several years. An email sent to Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) by Maureen Riley, executive director of the AASAF, specified those annual deficits as follows:
- 2013 – anticipated to be approximately ($8,000)
- 2012 – ($6,316)
- 2011 – ($5,769)
- 2010 – ($6,040)
- 2009 – ($33,693)
Lumm and Taylor sponsored the resolution. Lumm is a former AASAF board member.
The rationale for providing support for the AASAF but not the other three art fairs is based on the additional costs the AASAF has to pay to the University of Michigan, as well as the provision by AASAF of community benefits that reduce its opportunity to gain revenue – including the Demo Zone, Art Activity Zones, Street Painting Exhibition, and the Fountain Stage. The background memo also indicated that the other three art fairs have offered written support for the $10,000 to the AASAF.
The dollar amount roughly corresponds to the allocated cost to the AASAF from the total that is charged by the city for various services to the four art fairs collectively.
At the council’s Dec. 2, 2013 meeting, Taylor had announced his intent to bring forward the resolution asking that an additional $10,000 be included in the city’s FY 2015 budget.
Ann Arbor Street Art Fair: Council Deliberations
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) led off by reviewing the background of the resolution. He explained why the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair is different from the other art fairs in its revenue challenges.
Margie Teall (Ward 4) responded to Taylor by relating her experience in allocating the community events funding serving on the council’s community events fund committee. She was concerned about doing something for one organization, but possibly not others.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) described her volunteer work with the AASAF and her service on the board. There’s only so much you can raise in booth fees, she said. She then ticked through the specific challenges the AASAF faces. Lumm called the AASAF one of Ann Arbor’s “icons.” She said that $10,000 is a small amount for the city, but is crucial for the AASAF.
Mayor John Hieftje described the AASAF as a special situation, so he’d support the resolution. Hieftje noted that it’s a small item. He then referred to the council budget planning session from Dec. 9, and highlighted the council’s expressed desire at that session to keep its meetings moving along. He hoped this item could be dispatched without a lot more discussion.
Jack Eaton (Ward 4) asked if the proposal is for the support of the AASAF to be recurring. Taylor replied by saying he’d expect it to be reconsidered in each subsequent year.
The executive director of the AASAF, Maureen “Mo” Riley, was asked to come to the podium. She responded to a question by saying that the rent paid to the University of Michigan is about $5,000.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that this approach doesn’t guarantee that AASAF would get the money as a result of the community events funding disbursements. He pointed out that the funds could have been appropriated from this year’s FY 2014 budget and the council would then be done with the issue.
Teall responded to Kunselman’s point by saying that typically when community events are funded, the council would ask what exactly the money would go toward. Taylor responded by ticking through some of the background in the memo. Teall said she can’t not support it, calling the AASAF her favorite art fair.
But Teall said she questioned this resolution partly because the AASAF is required to pay rent to the UM, and she wished UM would “pony up,” too. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) indicated that she considered the art fairs a kind of public art. By way of background, Petersen had submitted a question to staff in advance of the meeting exploring the possibility that public art funds could be tapped. From the staff responses to councilmember questions:
Question: What is the current balance of the City’s various funds dedicated to public art. Can these funds be tapped to support this effort? (Councilmember Petersen)
Response: $1,392,395.72. No. All of these funds are restricted for purposes related to their origin. Most of the funds were derived from the utility funds and streets. [.pdf of staff answers to pre-meeting (Dec. 16, 2013) councilmember questions]
Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) pointed out that the community events fund does fund FestiFools, Dancing in the Streets, and other nonprofit events – for the fees that they incur from the city. So he tied the resolution back to that aspect – the fees that AASAF must pay to the city of Ann Arbor for various services.
Lumm spoke again in support of the resolution. Teall said she thought that this should go through the regular community events fund allocation process – through the council’s committee. She was very hesitant. She wanted to see an application from AASAF for the funding.
Responding to Teall, Hieftje said that he thought this was a completely different category from other events. It’s more like the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, he said.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to direct the city administrator to include $10,000 of funding for the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair when he prepares next year’s (FY 2015) budget.
Communications and Comment
Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.
Comm/Comm: Snow Plowing
City administrator Steve Powers invited public services area administrator Craig Hupy to report on the snow plowing activity after the Friday and Saturday snowfall. Hupy summarized the snow accumulation citywide at 5.5-7.5 inches. He said there was some drifting due to wind. The city’s goal is to have all roads plowed within 24 hours. For this storm, it took 26 hours to plow the travel lanes and 30 hours for the cul de sacs, Hupy said.
Comm/Comm: Self-Discipline, Dissemination of Information
The council discussed a couple of issues involving how councilmembers behave during meetings. The first issue involved dissemination of information during meetings and the second involved councilmembers exceeding the time limits on their speaking turns.
During council communications time toward the end of the meeting, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) said that he had a previous practice of announcing that he was breaking the rules when he disseminates information during the meetings. [Those occasions involve the text of amendments made to resolutions during the meeting, which councilmembers send via email.] He’d missed an instance of that, so he wanted to rectify that by announcing it retroactively. He said that as a member of the rules committee, he will work on an “above-board” ways of disseminating information.
Related to the topic of disseminating information, the staff’s answers to the council’s “caucus questions” – submitted in advance of the meeting – were attached to the city’s online Legistar agenda management system under the city administrator’s communications. [.pdf of staff answers to pre-meeting (Dec. 16, 2013) councilmember questions]
Also during council communications time toward the end of the meeting, mayor John Hieftje took the pulse of the council for their view on managing councilmember speaking time. Under the council’s rules, for each question before the council, councilmembers get two turns – five minutes for the first turn and three minutes for the second turn.
Hieftje raised the possibility of having the city clerk time councilmember speaking turns. [This possibility had been broached at a rules committee meeting last summer on June 13, 2013. The consensus at that meeting had been that it would put the clerk in an awkward spot, and would require her to exercise judgment on whether to start the timer if a councilmember was simply asking questions of staff, or whether the councilmember then also used the time to argue for a position.]
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) ventured that councilmembers should set their own timers. Hieftje said he thought a solution where councilmembers self-policed their speaking time would be best, because it would be a burden on the clerk to ask her to do that. Kunselman quipped that he’d bring forward a budget resolution for kitchen timers.
Comm/Comm: Local Officers Compensation Commission
During council communications at the start of the meeting, Jack Eaton (Ward 4) reported that he was disappointed that the agenda didn’t include any appointments for the local officers compensation commission.
The commission has only two members, but it needs four commission members to achieve a quorum, he noted.
He pointed out that the city attorney and several councilmembers had received an email from Dave Askins [this reporter and Chronicle editor] in May of this year noting the vacancies on the commission.
A few minutes later during mayoral communications, mayor John Hieftje reported that the LOCC had met but had not achieved a quorum.
Comm/Comm: Rabhi Says Thanks
During public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Washtenaw County board chair Yousef Rabhi addressed the council, saying he was attending the meeting as a citizen. But as one elected official to others, he thanked them for serving with honor, dignity and respect. The thoughtful discussion that evening was telling of their willingness to come to the table to work in good faith, he said. As the year wraps up, he wanted to extend a thank you.
Comm/Comm: Blighted Properties
During public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Ed Vielmetti told the council about eight properties that were coming before the building board of appeals at its meeting later in the week, on Dec. 19. He said it’s unfortunate that many properties are now in need of demolition.
Comm/Comm: Winter Classic
During public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Kai Petainen reminded the council that the NHL’s Winter Classic is coming up. He drew a laugh – because Petainen hails from Canada and has previously plugged the event to the council. He told councilmembers that they’ll need some additional police, but stated “I’m sure the Canadians will be nice.” He told John Hieftje, in a light-hearted way, that it would not be a good idea to meet with the mayor of Toronto if he requests a meeting. Hieftje responded by saying: “He may have smoked crack cocaine, but I believe him when he said he did it during one of his drunken stupors.”
Comm/Comm: Thomas Partridge
Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a recent candidate for various public offices. He said he plans to campaign for office in the future as well – to make sure there’s a candidate committed to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable. He referred to the recent murder of a 71-year-old Ann Arbor resident, saying that residents deserve the respect of the council. Residents deserve discrimination-free planning, he said. If every item on the agenda were passed, there still won’t be any progress in protecting the most vulnerable residents, he said.
Present: Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Jane Lumm, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, Christopher Taylor, Jack Eaton, Margie Teall, Mike Anglin, Chuck Warpehoski, John Hieftje.
Next council meeting: Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]
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