The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Camp Take Notice it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ann Arbor OKs Possible Park Use Fee Waiver Tue, 19 Nov 2013 05:16:29 +0000 Chronicle Staff Charitable distribution of goods for basic human needs can now be conducted in Ann Arbor city parks without incurring a fee for park use. The proposal is not restricted to downtown parks, but the idea originated from an issue that emerged in connection with Liberty Plaza, a downtown park.

Final approval for the ordinance change to allow this fee waiver came during the Ann Arbor city council’s Nov. 18, 2013 meeting. The council had given initial approval to the ordinance change on Nov. 7. The final vote followed a public hearing on the issue that drew about a dozen people speaking in support of the waiver, including several associated with Camp Take Notice. Several dozen others attended the meeting to support the waiver as well.

The recommendation for the ordinance change came from the city’s park advisory commission at its Sept. 17, 2013 meeting. This broader policy change comes three months after the Ann Arbor city council waived all rental fees for the use of Liberty Plaza during a one-year trial period, based on a PAC recommendation. That city council action came at its July 15, 2013 meeting.

The Liberty Plaza fee waiver was approved in response to a situation that arose earlier in the spring, when the city staff considered applying fees to the hosting of Pizza in the Park at Liberty Plaza – a homelessness outreach ministry of a local church. The proposal recommended by PAC on Sept. 17, and now approved by council on Nov. 18, amends Chapter 39, Section 3:6 of the city code. [.pdf of revised ordinance language]

The ordinance change provides a permanent fee waiver for this specific purpose – the charitable distribution of goods for basic human needs – but it still requires that organizations get a permit to use the park, and follow permitting procedures, including clean-up obligations.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Ann Arbor Considers Broad Park Fee Waiver Wed, 25 Sep 2013 17:13:16 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Sept. 17, 2013): With about a half dozen Camp Take Notice supporters watching, commissioners recommended approval of a broad park fee waiver for charities that distribute “goods for basic human needs” in Ann Arbor parks.

Ingrid Ault, Alonzo Young, Camp Take Notice, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ingrid Ault, who was elected chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission on Sept. 17, shakes hands with Alonzo Young of Camp Take Notice. (Photos by the writer.)

The waiver, which would require approval by the city council before taking effect, follows action by the council this summer to waive all park rental fees for the use of Liberty Plaza during a one-year trial period, also based on a PAC recommendation. The goal of that waiver is to spur more activity in that urban park, at the southwest corner of Liberty and Divisions streets.

The issue of fee waivers arose earlier this year when city staff considered charging a rental fee to the church that hosted Pizza in the Park, a weekly homelessness outreach ministry. Members of Camp Take Notice, a group that advocates for the homeless, has been urging the city to apply a broad fee waiver throughout the entire park system for entities that provide humanitarian aid. The recommendation approved on Sept. 17 is a compromise worked out with city staff and Camp Take Notice representatives.

Discussion among commissioners focused on how the waiver would be handled. Parks & recreation manager Colin Smith stressed that all park rules would still apply, and that applicants would need to go through the standard permitting process in order to receive a waiver.

During their Sept. 17 meeting, commissioners also discussed the issue of releasing raw data to the public, in the context of two recent surveys – on dog parks and downtown parks. Tim Berla and others advocated for making the survey results available in a form that could be used by the public for analysis. [The data from both of those surveys had been available in a .pdf format, and can now be downloaded from the city's website as Excel files.] Other commissioners pushed for the city to develop a policy regarding the release of data – a standardized approach that would be approved by the city council.

The Sept. 17 meeting also included PAC’s annual election of officers. Commissioners unanimously selected Ingrid Ault as chair and Graydon Krapohl as vice chair. Bob Galardi was re-elected chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee. There were no other nominations. Current PAC chair Julie Grand is term limited and will be cycling off the commission in October.

Park Fee Waiver for Charities

On PAC’s Sept. 17 agenda was a recommendation to waive fees for any charity that distributes “goods for basic human needs” in Ann Arbor parks. It was brought forward by Christopher Taylor, a city councilmember and ex-officio member of PAC.

Christopher Taylor, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Christopher Taylor, a Ward 3 Ann Arbor city councilmember who serves as an ex-officio member of the park advisory commission.

The recommendation comes two months after the Ann Arbor city council waived all rental fees for the use of Liberty Plaza during a one-year trial period, based on a PAC recommendation. That city council action came at its July 15, 2013 meeting. That fee waiver was approved in response to a situation that arose earlier in the spring, when city staff considered applying fees to the hosting of Pizza in the Park in Liberty Plaza – a homelessness outreach ministry of a local church. Liberty Plaza is an urban park located at the southwest corner of Liberty and Divisions streets in downtown Ann Arbor.

The Liberty Plaza fee waiver applies to all activities – social, cultural, and recreational – with the goal of increasing the use of that urban park.

However, members of Camp Take Notice, a self-governed homelessness community, have lobbied for a written commitment that the city would allow humanitarian efforts to take place on public land generally, not just at Liberty Plaza. They’ve objected to the focus by the council and the park advisory commission on general activities – as opposed to the protection of humanitarian aid efforts.

The proposal considered by PAC on Sept. 17 would amend Chapter 39, Section 3:6 of the city code. [.pdf of revised ordinance language] It would be a permanent fee waiver for this specific purpose – the charitable distribution of goods for basic human needs – but it would still require that organizations get a permit to use the park, and follow permitting procedures, including clean up obligations.

Several supporters of Camp Take Notice attended the Sept. 17 meeting, but did not address the commission before the vote.

In introducing the resolution, Taylor recalled the history of the Liberty Plaza fee waiver, and of the Camp Take Notice advocacy for a broader waiver. He noted that the waiver doesn’t alter the authorized uses of the parks, or alter the permitting process. The wording “charitable distribution of goods for basic human needs” was arrived at in consultation with city parks staff, the city attorney’s office, and Camp Take Notice representatives, he said.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, noted that because it would amend an existing ordinance, the resolution would require initial approval at a first reading at city council, followed by a public hearing and final reading at a subsequent council meeting.

Taylor indicated that he would bring this resolution to the city council at its Oct. 21 meeting for a first reading, followed by a public hearing and final reading at a subsequent meeting.

Park Fee Waiver for Charities: Commission Discussion

Tim Berla noted that someone will have to decide whether a particular application for this waiver is acceptable or not. “It seems like a good definition,” he said, “but this is Ann Arbor, so it seems like also somebody will come up with something that is borderline.” There might be waivers requested for things that aren’t universally recognized as a community benefit, he said.

Matthew Butler, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

At the request of a resident, the city hired Matthew Butler to provide sign language interpretation during PAC’s Sept. 17 meeting.

Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith replied that he was comfortable with the proposed language. There’s room for interpretation on a lot of things handled by the parks staff, Smith noted. For example, activities are supposed to relate to the parks mission, which is open to interpretation. As with other things, the waiver will be looked at on a case-by-case basis, Smith said, adding that by going through the regular permitting process, there are opportunities for checks and balances.

Bob Galardi wondered if there is an appeals process, if the city rejects an application for a waiver. It varies, Smith replied. In this case, it would likely be appealed to the city administrator.

Alan Jackson described the phrase “basic human needs” as a “very fuzzy term.” Food and water comes to mind, he said, but does it extend to shelter or medical care? Is the park an appropriate place for that kind of thing? How broad does this waiver become, and what are the limitations? he asked.

Taylor replied that the word “goods” was specific, and therefore medical services wouldn’t apply. Jackson countered that pharmaceuticals are “goods.” Taylor felt that it would be outside the scope of the waiver.

Regarding shelter, Smith noted that all park rules outlined in Chapter 39 still apply, so no one would be allowed to stay in a park overnight. [.pdf of Chapter 39]

Julie Grand said she felt comfortable with the narrowing of the language, compared to the initial idea of allowing a waiver for humanitarian aid. She noted that the parks staff felt that this approach was “doable.”

Outcome: The fee waiver passed unanimously on a voice vote.

Park Fee Waiver for Charities: Public Commentary

At the end of the meeting during the agenda slot for public commentary, Alonzo Young told commissioners he was on the board of Camp Take Notice and he wanted to thank them for passing the resolution about the fee waiver.

PAC chair Julie Grand told him he’d given the most positive public commentary she’d ever heard, and she thanked him for his remarks.

Land Acquisition Annual Report

Ginny Trocchio is a staff member of The Conservation Fund who provides support to the greenbelt program under contract with the city. On Sept. 17 she briefed commissioners on the annual activity report for the city’s open space and parkland preservation program for the fiscal year 2013, which ended on June 30. [.pdf of draft fiscal 2013 activity report]

Ginny Trocchio, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ginny Trocchio, who provides staff support for PAC’s land acquisition activities as well as for the city’s greenbelt program, presented an annual report at the Sept. 17 meeting. In the background is sign language interpreter Matthew Butler.

The greenbelt program and park acquisitions are funded through a 30-year 0.5 mill tax that Ann Arbor voters passed in 2003. It’s called the open space and parkland preservation millage, and appears on the summer tax bill as the line item CITY PARK ACQ.

The city’s policy has been to allocate one-third of the millage for parks land acquisition and two-thirds for the greenbelt program. The greenbelt advisory commission (GAC) handles the portion for land preservation outside of the city limits, while the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) oversees the funds for parkland acquisition. PAC’s land acquisition committee, of which all PAC commissioners are members, makes recommendations for parkland purchases.

To get money upfront for land acquisition, the city took out a $20 million bond in fiscal year 2006. That bond is being paid back with revenue from the millage. Debt service on that bond in FY 2013 year totaled $1.227 million. [Two debt service payments are made during the fiscal year.]

Regarding parkland acquisitions, Trocchio reported that the city bought two properties in fiscal 2013, and accepted a donation from Ann Arbor Township – the Braun Nature Area, which is adjacent to the city’s Huron Parkway Nature Area. The purchases were:

  • 0.91 acres along Hampstead Lane, adding to the Kuebler Langford Nature Area – at a total cost of $118,944.
  • 0.35 acres along Orkney, to add to the Bluffs Nature Area – at a total cost of $120,774.

For the greenbelt program, five transactions were completed in the last fiscal year, covering 448 acres of farmland. [More details on those acquisitions, see Chronicle coverage: "Greenbelt Commission Gets Financial Update."]

Commissioners were also briefed on a financial report for fiscal 2013, related to the open space and parkland preservation millage. [.pdf of financial statements]

For the year ending June 30, 2013, Trocchio reported that net revenues from the millage were $2.626 million. Most of that – $2.141 million of it – came from millage proceeds. The other main revenue source was investment income of $111,137 in FY 2013. That  compared to $176,082 in investment income the previous year.

Karen Levin, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Karen Levin, an Ann Arbor park advisory commissioner.

Expenses for the year were $3.357 million. In addition to $1.227 for debt service, expenses included $1.757 million in greenbelt projects and $242,867 for parkland acquisition.

As of June 30, 2013, the fund balance stood at $8.856 million, with about equal amounts designated for the greenbelt ($4.413 million) and park acquisitions ($4.442 million). The greenbelt program also received $396,900 in reimbursements from the USDA Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP), and $5,330 in contributions – primarily a $5,000 gift from Cherry Republic.

Administrative costs of $129,966 in fiscal 2013 equate to 3.9% of total revenues. Administrative costs over the life of the millage are limited by ordinance to be no greater than 6% of revenues.

Trocchio also noted that she hopes to hold a joint session of the greenbelt and park advisory commissions sometime later this year.

There was minimal discussion among commissioners. Julie Grand noted that the city has accomplished a lot of its initial goals for land acquisition, but there are still funds available for that purpose. There’s nothing to prevent PAC from looking at its priorities and potentially approaching landowners who might be interested in selling, she said.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Survey Data

Tim Berla introduced a topic regarding the accessibility of raw data from surveys that the city conducts. Specifically, he noted that subcommittees for PAC had recently done two surveys – for dog parks, and downtown parks. In addition to producing .pdf files with the results, it would also be helpful to have the raw data available for anyone in the community who wants it, Berla said. For example, someone might want to compare the difference in attitudes toward dog parks by comparing responses of dog owners and non-dog owners.

He had advocated for releasing the data, and referenced some email exchanges with others who had raised objections that he said he didn’t completely understand. So his question was whether the city would release the survey data in raw data form.

Tim Berla, Alan Jackson, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Park advisory commissioners Tim Berla and Alan Jackson.

Colin Smith, parks & recreation manager, replied that he had sent an email to all PAC members in response to Berla’s query. The city’s IT staff had indicated that it would be possible to release the data, likely in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. There’s no way to lock the file to prevent someone from modifying it, Smith noted, so that’s an issue that PAC should discuss.

There are several ways to handle the survey data, Smith said. Because the recent surveys used SurveyMonkey, it’s possible to run multiple reports and cross-tabulations, he said – for example, to look at responses for downtown residents between the ages of 25-44. Smith suggested that anyone who wanted a particular type of report could email a request to staff, who could then run the report and publish it on the PAC website.

Berla thought that for the sake of transparency, there should be a way to release the data. He didn’t dispute that people might use the data in a manipulative way. “There’s no way you can give somebody a spreadsheet and prevent them from doing something nefarious,” Berla said. “The good thing is that everybody would have the data,” he added, so anybody could verify the information.

The data is a public resource, Berla said. The point is to learn about how the community feels on these two issues. The advantage to releasing the data would be that it wouldn’t entail more work for staff, he noted. Berla said his main goal is for people to have access to the information.

Graydon Krapohl asked what the city’s policy is on releasing data. He noted that the data collected by PAC’s subcommittees belongs to the city. That’s the bigger issue, he said, and it would apply to all city surveys.

Smith said he didn’t have the answers to some of these questions. More tools have been available in recent years for getting feedback, including social media, and sometimes the policy doesn’t keep up, he noted. That’s something that city staff need to put more work into, he said. Smith pointed out that certain kinds of information – like emails and phone numbers from survey respondents – aren’t released.

Missy Stults observed that the .pdf file posted on PAC’s website includes all the information from the surveys – not just a summary. She also wondered whether the city parks staff had capacity to handle a lot of requests for survey reports.

Stults also suggested that PAC could encourage the city to come up with a policy on the issue of releasing survey data. A lot of people want the data and think that the city is holding it back, she noted, so it would be great if there were a standard policy to explain how the city operates in this regard.

Alan Jackson said he didn’t really understand the reluctance to release data. Without the raw data, it’s not possible to do relational searches. There might be things that could be learned – nuances about the data – that members of the public could discover, he said. Doing the surveys has been a learning experience for PAC, he added. One of the key lessons is to understand what will be released at the end. Jackson didn’t see any reason to hold back the data available from the surveys.

Mike Anglin, a Ward 5 city councilmember who serves as an ex-officio member of PAC, said that what the public pays for is public property. He suspected that the city would have a hard time telling people that they couldn’t have access to the data. Some local groups “are pretty sophisticated with data,” he said.

Graydon Krapohl, Bob Galardi, Ann Arbor park advisory commission

From left: Park advisory commissioners Graydon Krapohl and Bob Galardi.

Anglin noted that the city ran into a similar situation with a survey regarding a convention center, saying that the survey’s open-ended responses weren’t included in a final report. “If you’re going to ask the public, then you should report back to the public on what you found,” Anglin said.

Krapohl again urged the staff to develop a coherent city policy. It will only become more complicated as more people start using social media, he noted. If each commission decides how to handle it, then there will be a lot of inconsistencies, he said. The IT staff needs good guidance, and that has to come from a policy that should be reviewed by the city attorney and approved by the city council, he said.

Stults supported releasing data, but agreed with Krapohl that a clear, standard policy is needed. Another challenge is that some people want the surveys to be statistically significant, she noted. That’s something that the staff and PAC don’t have the resources to do, so they need to be very clear about that.

Julie Grand noted that because this is a very educated community, people should also understand the cost that would be involved in conducting a survey that’s statistically significant. The city tries to reach as many people as possible in its surveys, but it’s not possible to be representative of the entire city. The results are representative of the people who are willing to take the time to complete the survey, she said. It’s not realistic that the city would pay tens of thousands of dollars to do a survey that’s more sophisticated. The surveys that are done are one way to get feedback – but not the only way, Grand said.

Jackson agreed that a survey is only part of the process. “Ultimately, our role is to provide judgment to council, who will make decisions,” he said. Certainly it’s important to solicit public opinion, he added, and that’s why PAC did these surveys. “But we don’t have to be a slave to some bizarre criteria that people come up with,” he said.

Smith again stressed that all of the comments received from the dog park survey and the downtown park survey had been posted online [in .pdf form] – “hundreds and hundreds of pages of them.” He said he’d follow up with other city staff regarding the next steps to develop a policy on this issue.

The data for both surveys is now available in .pdf and .xls formats. [.pdf of 306-page dog park survey results] [.xls file of dog park survey results] [.pdf of 110-page downtown park survey results] [.xls file of downtown park survey results]

Officer Elections

The Sept. 17 agenda included PAC’s annual election of officers. The current chair, Julie Grand, is term limited. Her last meeting will be on Oct. 15. Ingrid Ault has served as vice chair for PAC since Oct. 16, 2012, and chairs the commission’s downtown park subcommittee.

Julie Grand, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Julie Grand, outgoing chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, holds up a blank ballot prior to the Sept. 17 officer elections.

Ault was the only nominee for chair. PAC’s bylaws require that officer elections be conducted by secret ballot, even if there are no competing nominations. The ballots were passed to Colin Smith, the city’s manager of parks and recreation, for tabulation. Ault was unanimously elected, and will lead her first meeting as PAC chair on Oct. 15.

Graydon Krapohl, who joined PAC in January of 2013, was the only nominee for vice chair. He was also elected unanimously. In announcing the results, Smith joked that the spelling of Krapohl’s name showed some variations.

PAC’s chair is responsible for nominating the chair of the commission’s budget and finance committee. Grand nominated the current committee chair, Bob Galardi. This did not require a secret ballot, and his re-election took place with a unanimous voice vote.

Communications & Commentary

There were several opportunities for communications from staff or commissioners during the Aug. 20 meeting. Here are some highlights.

Communications & Commentary: Manager’s Report

Colin Smith, the city’s manager of parks and recreation, gave several brief updates. He noted that the skatepark construction is well underway at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park. The concrete will be poured soon, he reported. Wally Hollyday, the skatepark designer, is basically living in town for the next few weeks to oversee the project, Smith said.

Roof construction at the Mack pool and Vets ice arena is wrapping up – a project that’s perhaps less exciting than the skatepark, he noted, but very necessary.

The Vets ice arena recently opened, and indoor ice skating has started. In other construction projects, the playground at Esch Park is completed, and phase two of the Gallup renovations has begun. The hope is that the Gallup work will be finished in November.

Smith also highlighted the city’s season-ending dog swim at Buhr Park pool. In 2012, 163 dogs “took their humans to that event,” he joked. This year, there were 419 dogs. He attributed the increase to outreach that staff had done to elevate the event’s profile.

Communications & Commentary: Recreation Advisory Commission

Tim Berla gave a report from the recreation advisory commission (RAC), on which he serves. The group advises Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, a unit of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. He said they’re working on a coach recognition program, to develop a Rec & Ed coaching hall of fame.

He also reported that AAPS trustee Glenn Nelson attended the RAC meeting to talk about the sinking fund millage renewal that’s on the Nov. 5, 2013 ballot. Berla described it as not a tax increase, but a continuation of funding to put money into the local schools, to pay for infrastructure needs. He hoped everyone would support it.

By way of additional background, the sinking fund millage was first passed in 2008, expiring in 2014. The ballot on Nov. 5 will include this statement:

Shall the Public Schools of the City of Ann Arbor, County of Washtenaw, Michigan, be authorized to levy 1.00 mill ($1.00 per $1,000 of taxable valuation) to create a sinking fund for the purpose of the construction or repair of school buildings and the improvement and development of sites and, to the extent permitted by law, for other purposes, including, but not limited to, the acquisition and installation of furnishings and equipment, by increasing the limitation on the amount of taxes which may be imposed on taxable property in the School District for a period of five (5) years, being the years 2015 to 2019, inclusive? It is estimated that 1.00 mill ($1.00 per $1,000 of taxable valuation) would raise approximately $7,450,000 in the first year that it is levied.

Communications & Commentary: Dog Park

Karen Levin gave a brief update on work of the dog park subcommittee. Survey results are posted online, with about 1,500 responses. [.pdf of 306-page survey results] [.xls file of survey results] Two public meetings are being held – on Sept. 11 and Sept. 24. The subcommittee is still gathering information, Levin said, both on possible locations for a more centralized dog park, as well as how to improve the city’s two existing dog parks.

Communications & Commentary: Downtown Park

Ingrid Ault, chair of the downtown park subcommittee, reviewed that group’s work. Like the dog park, there has been a survey that yielded nearly 1,600 responses. [.pdf of 110-page survey results] [.xls file of survey results] Two public forums – on Sept. 9 and Sept. 18 – were also held. Eight city parcels have been identified as having potential for additional public space, she said. Those parcels, which were part of the survey, are:

  • the surface parking lot on South Ashley, north of William, known as the Kline lot
  • the surface parking lot at the northeast corner of Main and William, next to Palio restaurant
  • the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure
  • the surface lot north of William, between Fourth and Fifth avenues – the former YMCA site
  • the top of the Library Lane underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue
  • the surface parking lot at First & William
  • 415 W. Washington, across from the current Y
  • 721 N. Main, near Summit

The subcommittee is addressing three questions, Ault said: (1) Is there a need or desire for additional public space in the downtown or near downtown? (2) If yes, then what space would people like to see as an additional public space, and how would they like to use it? and (3) How does the city fund it?

Ault hopes to report back to PAC at its Oct. 15 meeting with recommendations. The goal is to forward recommendations to city council for its first meeting in November, she said.

In response to a query from Tim Berla, PAC chair Julie Grand said she expects the two committees will bring forward recommendations in the form of resolutions for commissioners to consider and vote on.

Present: Ingrid Ault, Tim Berla, Bob Galardi, Julie Grand, Alan Jackson, Graydon Krapohl, Karen Levin, Missy Stults, and councilmembers Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor (ex-officio members). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.

Next PAC meeting: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. PAC’s land acquisition committee meets on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 4 p.m. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

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Liberty Plaza Fees Waived on Trial Basis Tue, 16 Jul 2013 03:01:26 +0000 Chronicle Staff Fees for use of Liberty Plaza – a park located at Liberty and Divisions streets in downtown Ann Arbor – will be waived for the next year on a trial basis. Action to waive fees through July 1, 2014, was taken at the Ann Arbor city council’s July 15 meeting.

The park advisory commission had voted at its June 18, 2013 meeting to recommend a trial waiver of fees at Liberty Plaza. The fee waiver comes in response to a situation that arose earlier in the spring, when city staff applied fees to the hosting of Pizza in the Park in Liberty Plaza – a homelessness outreach ministry of a local church.

Members of Camp Take Notice, a self-governed homelessness community, have addressed the council at several of its recent meetings on this topic. They’re keen to see a more general written commitment that the city would allow humanitarian efforts to take place on public land generally. They’ve objected to the focus by the council and the park advisory commission on general activities – as opposed to the protection of humanitarian aid efforts.

For example, the staff memo accompanying the resolution states: “The waived rental fee will be promoted with a goal of attracting additional musicians, performers, and other events at Liberty Plaza.” And a key “whereas” clause of the resolution reads: “… it is the goal of PAC to further activate Liberty Plaza by increasing social, cultural, and recreational activities that take place there; …”

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Funds OK’d for Camp Take Notice Residents Thu, 07 Jun 2012 01:50:00 +0000 Chronicle Staff At their June 6, 2012 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners authorized a grant agreement for up to $60,000 in emergency housing assistance for residents facing eviction from Camp Take Notice, a homeless encampment on state-owned land in Scio Township. The funds will come from the Salvation Army of Michigan, to be provided to the county’s Barrier Busters Unmet Needs Fund. No general fund dollars will be used.

According to a staff memo, residents living in Camp Take Notice have been told by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation – which owns the land off of Wagner Road, where the camp is located – that they’ll need to leave by June 22. Several community groups – including the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, the county’s office of community and economic development, the county sheriff’s office, and local nonprofits serving the homeless – are working with state agencies to help identify housing and support services for these individuals. Staff of the county’s Community Support & Treatment Services Project Outreach Team (PORT) are also involved.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) is providing $270,000 in housing subsidies for the 50-70 people who are currently staying at Camp Take Notice. The $60,000 in funds from the Salvation Army will be used for emergency transitional housing in motels, and for security deposits when more permanent housing is found. The MSHDA funds will be managed by Michigan Ability Partners (MAP) and the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, and those agencies will help find permanent housing for Camp Take Notice residents. The office of community and economic development will manage the $60,000 in funds for Barrier Busters, which helps coordinate efforts of local human services agencies.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building, 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Laws of Physics II: Homeless Encampment Wed, 01 Sep 2010 13:37:48 +0000 Dave Askins Exactly one year ago, on Sept. 1, 2009, the homeless community that had been camping behind Arborland mall was evicted from that location by Ann Arbor police officers. So the residents of Camp Take Notice, a self-governed community of homeless people, spent that first night of September just north of the park-and-ride lot at Ann Arbor-Saline Road and I-94.


Signs on the trail to Camp Take Notice. (Photos by the writer)

Last year, The Chronicle reported the commentary on those events from Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County: “It’s simple physics,” she said. “People have to be some place, and if people don’t have a place to be, they will find a place to be.”

The state police paid a visit, taking names but making no arrests. Later one of the campers, Caleb Poirier, would be arrested on charges of trespassing on the Michigan Dept. of Transportation property. Poirier was represented by David Blanchard of the law firm Nacht & Associates, P.C. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of Poirier, and the charges against the camper were eventually dropped. The camp’s current location is off Wagner Road near I-94.

In the course of the past year, members of the community – some homeless campers, some not – who organized in support of the tent encampment under the name Michigan Itinerant Shelter System Interdependent Out of Necessity (MISSION) have achieved more than simply a successful legal defense of one of their members. They were a key force in prompting the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to consider allocating emergency shelter funds for the winter of 2009-10.

And their recent achievement of official nonprofit status as a 501(c)(3) organization means that the goal of finding land sponsors to host the camp legally appears a bit more realistic. A student with the University of Michigan Law School who’s working with MISSION has sketched out a model for how liabilities could be handled by defining appropriate relationships among the land sponsor, MISSION and the homeless camp. The group heard a presentation on legal issues last Friday morning at the Washtenaw County Annex on Fourth Avenue.

But it’s all still a matter of physical laws. UM physics doctoral student Brian Nord, who’s president of MISSION’s board, compares Camp Take Notice to a gas and MISSION to a relief valve: “As long as the environment within camp is positive and community-driven, the methods of CTN can be fluid and operate as a gas. However, the established societal regulations and more so the prejudices act as a maximal container of this fluid. MISSION, the valve, has to evolve itself to consistently advocate for the rights of the individual, while appearing as part of the establishment to the camp.”

As The Chronicle noted a year ago, “This is a story that does not yet have an end, nor will it likely ever have one.” But it is now time for an update.

A Brief Review of the Past Year

In the course of the past year, the phrase “Camp Take Notice” has appeared in more than 20 different Chronicle articles, many of them reports from public meetings when supporters have addressed a public body during public commentary in support of the camp.

One of those occasions was the Nov. 5, 2009 Ann Arbor city council meeting when the council voted to approve $159,500 in emergency shelter funds, which came the day after the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority had approved $20,000 to pay for additional shelter beds. The money helped expand the number of spaces available in the Delonis shelter warming center by 25 beds and added another 25 spots to the rotating shelter program.

The resolution had come before the city council after a presentation at its Oct 19, 2009 meeting from Mary Jo Callan, the director of the city/county office of community development. Underpinning the presentation had been a series of meetings by a working group that had met several times, beginning last August. That group included Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Ellen Schulmeister (director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County), Susan Pollay (executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority), Jennifer L. Hall (housing program coordinator in community development), Andrea Plevek (human services analyst), Deb Pippins (program administrator for the Homeless Project Outreach Team, or HPORT), and mayor John Hieftje.

While publicity around its September 2009 eviction had helped provide momentum for the emergency shelter funding, Camp Take Notice itself did not receive direct benefit from that additional funding.

As spring approached, and the camp faced eviction from their new location near I-94 and Ann Arbor-Saline Road, Brian Nord addressed the county board of commissioners. From The Chronicle’s report of the March 3, 2010 county board of commissioners meeting:

Though there are open beds in the county’s rotating shelter system, Nord said that for a variety of reasons, that isn’t an option for many Camp Take Notice residents. [The rotating shelter, which operates during the winter month, is a partnership between the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County and 15 local congregations. This year, the number of beds in the rotating shelter system was increased from 25 to 50 through emergency funding by the city of Ann Arbor and the county.] If Camp Take Notice is disbanded, Nord said its residents will seek outdoor shelter elsewhere, in a place likely less accessible to those offering supportive services. The camp is a refuge, he said, something that many residents don’t find in traditional shelters.

Nord pointed out that the county is about halfway toward meeting its bricks-and-mortar goal of having 500 beds for the homeless, as specified in the 2004 Blueprint to End Homelessness. He also noted that they’re six years into the 10-year plan. Allowing outdoor rotating shelters, with supportive services, may be a way of reaching that goal until the county emerges from its economic downturn.

Responding to Nord’s comments, commissioner Kristin Judge praised the efforts of MISSION, saying she’d met with them and found them to be a heartfelt group who really cared about the condition of the homeless. She asked for the administration to give the board an update on the status of the Blueprint to End Homelessness at some future meeting.

At the county board’s May 5, 2010  meeting, commissioner Kristin Judge made a plea to the public for land sponsorship for the camp – the camp had been evicted from a new spot near  I-94 and Ann Arbor-Saline Road the previous week and had relocated to its current spot near Wagner Road.

Among the barriers to land sponsorship – by communities of faith or other organization – are questions about legal liability. If a church were to allow the tent community to set up on their land, does that entail a legal responsibility by the church for the campers’ well-being? Would the relationship be the same or different from a landlord-tenant relationship? If a camper were to cause damage to an adjacent property, would the church incur liability for that damage? If there is a legally-defined relationship, then who are the parties? Would it be the church and the individual campers? Or would the relationship exist between the church and the camp as a group?

Some of those questions are starting to get answers. The basic question about the entity with whom a land sponsor would have a legal relationship is answered in the form of MISSION, because it has now received its official 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

Last week, The Chronicle tracked the work of the group over the course of three days – a MISSION board meeting on Tuesday, a Camp Take Notice camp-wide meeting out at the camp on Thursday evening, and a meeting of board members with a UM law student and her advisor on Friday morning.

MISSION Board Meeting

The MISSION board meets on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. Last week, the board was initially in danger of failing to achieve a quorum, but eventually enough members trickled in to conduct business.

MISSION Meeting: Pre-Meeting Small Talk

While they waited, Caleb Poirier gave an update from camp to those who were already present – Brian Durrance, George Lucero, Emilio Lucero, Kristen Muehlhauser, and Peggy Lynch. Poirier described how he’d spent much of the day sewing up a split seam in the big tent that is planned to become a communal gathering place – it’s been a two-week project, he said. The tent is 40 x 20 feet.

Lynch is a relatively new volunteer for the group. She’s a parishioner at St. Mary student parish at the University of Michigan. So while they waited, Lynch described for the others how she was interested in involving her congregation with the group, but initially wanted to observe and listen to understand what the group actually needed: “We’ll follow your lead, ” she said.

By way of example, she said that thinking about infrastructure for the camp, if there were no lights, her first thought was “Let’s get you lights!” But Lynch said she was not sure if installation of lighting at the camp would be worth it, if it wound up alienating the camp’s neighbors – she wanted to make sure that the considerable generosity of the St. Mary parish was channeled in a direction that the camp actually needed. She was concerned that they did not create infrastructure that caused a building inspector to appear.

However, any possible annoyance of neighbors with lighting is not a practical risk, given the relatively remote, out-of-the-way location of the current camp. And the fact that the camp is without permission occupying land belonging to MDOT means that inspections for building codes are a moot point. But Lynch’s basic point that she wanted to tread lightly on the camp’s direction was appreciated by the group.

Durrance noted that as far as what the camp needs, winter is coming – and a communal area that’s heated and lighted would be a welcome addition. Lynch wanted to know if the idea was to have a communal area where people could stay warm if the weather brought life-threatening cold. Durrance told Lynch that it was more the idea of a community center where people could come together – a place where they could get their cell phones charged, for example. He noted that one of the huge challenges for the homeless was finding a way to keep their cell phone batteries charged.

A brief discussion ensued about a marine battery-powered LED lighting system and the possibility of purchasing a wood burning stove.

Lily Au gave a brief report out from a recent meeting of the Washtenaw Urban County, noting that there’d been sentiments expressed at that meeting suggesting that law enforcement needed to be notified about the existence of Camp Take Notice. Au reported that Mary Jo Callan, director of the city/county office of community development, had indicated that the camp enjoyed the support of a nonprofit organization. [For the Chronicle's report on that meeting of the Urban County, see "Urban County Reallocates Housing Funds"]

MISSION Meeting: Agenda Items

With a quorum achieved, the meeting came to order, with Kristen Muehlhauser chairing it and Lotus Yu taking minutes.

The agenda included reports out from the camp, which was ground that the group had already partially covered. They addressed the issue of a central “office tent” where new arrivals could be greeted. The tent that Poirier had been sewing is planned for such a community-type facility. Muehlhauser wanted to know if they needed to schedule a work party to erect the ridge pole for the tent.

Poirier characterized the previous week’s camp-wide meeting as “sedate – not too terrible as far as they go.” He noted that there’d been good attendance, but he was still trying to get the last 1/5 of the campers to attend.


A camper-made flyer for Camp Take Notice from last year was passed around during the Aug. 24 MISSION board meeting.

On the question of a camp flyer, there is not a current version, but a copy of a camper-made flyer from last year was handed around – it was a visual riff on the Uncle Sam “I want you!” poster. Lynch suggested that she knew of a graphic artist who might be willing to tackle the project.

The deadline for submissions to Groundcover News was announced as Aug. 25. Poirer said he’d try to write something and submit it for the following day.

Lucero, as the treasurer, reported out on the group’s finances. It was a brief report: $157 was the current balance, which would drop to $127 when the check he’d just written cleared.

A section of the agenda on policy updates was postponed at the request of board members Brian Nord and Erika McNamara, who could not attend the meeting.

Lotus Yu gave an update on funding requests. The first application from MISSION as a nonprofit organization will be to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority for bus tokens. Yu told the group that the application would be going in the mail the next day. Yu also described some larger grants that MISSION might want to consider applying for – from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. Lily Au gave the group an update on how Busch’s and Kroger organize their fundraising opportunities.

Also related to fundraising, Lynch mentioned the possibility of the St. Mary parish steering the proceeds from their Advent Giving Tree to the group. She also noted that her employer, Masco Corporation, offers a cash match of up to $500 for time that employees donate to nonprofit causes. Lynch stressed the importance of coming up with a budget for specific items that the camp needed.

Upcoming events announced included a meeting sponsored by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority at the Center for Independent Living on Sept. 26 from 4-6 p.m. to get feedback as the AATA develops its transit master plan. On Sept. 11, homeless advocate Mark Horvath – of and Hardly Normal – will be visiting Detroit. A brief discussion focused on who might host Horvath.

Poirier wrapped up the evening by suggesting that the meeting that night had been a very comfortable-sized gathering, but that when there are more people who attend, he knew that people can get frustrated as the fight for “air time.” To address that, he indicated that he’d be convening smaller meetings focused on specific topics on different days of the week.

Camp Take Notice Camp Meeting

Camp-wide meetings take place on Thursdays around 8 p.m. This time of year, especially in the woods where the camp is located, that means that darkness is already starting to fall.


Camp Take Notice meeting agenda from Aug. 26, 2010.

The brief orientation of The Chronicle by campers as they gradually trickled into the common area put the camper population at a bit over 30 people.  Some of them who arrived at the meeting had just disembarked from the #9 AATA bus, which stops on Wagner Road near the camp.

Caleb Poirier noted that “about a third of us are here – do we know where the rest of us are hiding?” Some people left the circle of chairs to coax some other campers to join the meeting.

By the time the meeting convened, there were around 25 people seated in the circle, including non-camper members of the MISSION board.  Acoustics were a challenge. The noise from the highway traffic – I-94 on one side and M-14 on the other – resulted in frequent requests for people to speak louder.

One business item was to allocate the funds from a $50 gift card that had been donated. There was a fairly straightforward consensus that $25 of that should be put towards the weekly garbage pickup. Discussion of the other $25 included a suggestion that the possibility of a “movie night” be explored, by bringing a DVD player and screen out to the camp. The suggestion was met with a Bronx cheer from across the circle, which caused the suggester to slam his walking stick down in the middle of the gathering – it careened crazily in the center of the circle of chairs, but caused no damage, as he retreated to his tent. Poirer declared that “both responses were inappropriate.”

And the meeting moved on through the printed agenda.

Receiving some discussion was the idea of providing some kind of fixed stair at the entrance to the trail just past the guardrail – it’s very steep and when snow comes, it could be very difficult to navigate. One agenda item provided an opportunity for campers to thank fellow campers. Poirier collected thanks for his work sewing up the rip in the community tent, which still needs to be set up. He also received an appreciative word for writing a letter of recommendation for someone. Poirier dished out thanks to a camper just for attending the meeting after spending the day laying concrete.


As the banner indicates, a camp-wide community meeting takes place every Thursday at 8 p.m. Last Thursday's meeting was attended by around 25 campers.

Toileting received discussion in the form of a proposal to acquire porta-potties. The steep incline at the trail head would be a challenge for installation. Poirier focused on the importance of people not doing their business out in the woods, leaving toilet paper lying around. He noted that it’d be the No. 1 reason people would try to use to shut down the camp – campers are supposed to bury their waste or double-bag it and pack it out to the trail head for the weekly garbage pickup. Poirier warned his campmates that he’d be collaring someone every day to help him police the area by picking up individual dumps, but offered a choice: “You can hold the shovel, or the bag.”

Towards the end of the meeting, a review of camp quiet hours was reviewed: Monday through Thursday, quiet hours start at 11 p.m.; on Friday and Saturday, they start at midnight; on Sunday it’s back to 11 p.m.

UM Law Clinic Meeting at The Annex

Friday morning in a second floor conference room in Washtenaw County’s Annex Building on Fourth Avenue in Ann Arbor, MISSION board members, along with Washtenaw County commissioner Kristin Judge, received an update on legal issues that would be involved in land sponsorship of Camp Take Notice. University of Michigan law student Erika Jost, along with her advisor on the project, Southfield attorney Warren Dean, gave the background.

Jost identified the three kinds of entities for whom liability issues could arise: the land sponsor, MISSION, and the individual campers. The relationship between the land sponsor and MISSION, and between MISSION and the campers, would need to be defined legally, she said. It would be important, she noted, for the camp to have an enclosed area, with a single entrance and exit.

The kind of agreement Jost described to the group was a sub-licensing agreement as opposed to a lease agreement. Lease agreements, she noted, would bring along with them all of the associated landlord-tenant rules. Licensing is a way, she suggested, for keeping as much liability as possible off the land sponsor.

One issue that MISSION needed to be mindful of, Jost said, was how much control the camp exerted over the lives of individual campers and whether a “dependency relationship” was created between the camp and the individual campers. To the extent that a kind of institutionalized schedule was imposed, or services like job training or job searches were provided, liability could accrue to MISSION.

Peggy Lynch, who volunteers for MISSION, wondered if referrals by the camp to other community services would also have liability consequences. Jost didn’t think so. Judge noted that the community had job training and job search resources, and that it made sense to steer campers to places where that kind of service was already provided.

Jost also ticked through some other issues that should be part of a licensing agreement – there would be a certain amount of expected wear and tear on the land resulting from a moderate number of tents pitched there. In connection with land impact, Dean suggested that the potential environmental damage that a camp could cause to the land – in terms of actual pollution – was an issue unlikely to arise, but that should be addressed.

The group also discussed the issue of background checks for campers and possible screening. Jost said that from the point of view of the land sponsor, the less they know, the less liability they have. Robert Braun suggested that the basic screening out of people who simply wanted to party, versus those who were trying to get their life together, is an important consideration. Jost suggested that the issue might be addressed at the level of camp rules. Individuals not following the rules could be “ejected.” That meant, however, that the camp probably needs the ability to eject people, if necessary, not just from the camp area, but also from the land sponsor’s entire property.

That led to a discussion of the relationship between the camp and law enforcement officials who might be seeking individuals who live at the camp. The consensus seemed to emerge that from a practical point of view, the camp should not be supporting criminal behavior, and from a public relations point of view, it is important not to be perceived that way.

At the meeting, Judge gave an update on her efforts to identify potential land sponsors. She also indicated that transportation support for the camp might be found with the Western Washtenaw Area Value Express (WAVE). The camp is in the WAVE’s area of service and campers may qualify for door-to-door service.

In response to a query from Lily Au, Judge also gave a realistic assessment of the Washtenaw County budget in the coming year. She noted there were some board members who might support eliminating all of the $4 million that is currently budgeted for nonprofits, and even that kind of approach would not erase the currently projected $16 million deficit. The issue, she said, is which county services are mandated by the state and which are not.

Out of the roughly $100 million budget, Judge said, $66 million covers mandated services. Some of the non-mandated expenditures are still seen as essential she said, if they help reduce the costs of mandated services. As an example of an non-mandated, but still essential service, she cited JPORT, which is a program that provides mental health assistance to those in jail as well as in the community. Judge entertained the idea of including MISSION in the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, given its recently achieved nonprofit status.

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