Stories indexed with the term ‘Israel’

Column: On Taking Time to Hear

At the Aug. 18 Ann Arbor city council meeting, anti-Israel activists left council chambers mid-session. Their parting shot was to contend that the council cared more about deer than about people. The reference to deer was an allusion to an agenda item that allocated $20,000 for development of a deer management plan. It was approved by the council in a unanimous vote.

But this column is not about deer versus people. It’s about corporations versus people. Also football. Even the U.S. Constitution.

This is the electronic time clock at the public speaking podium in Ann Arbor's city council chambers. The elements in red (except for the American flag in the background) have been digitally added. 

This is the electronic time clock at the public speaking podium in Ann Arbor’s city council chambers. The elements in red (except for the American flag in the background) have been digitally added.

First, here’s some background. On Aug. 18, the anti-Israel activists had not been able to address the council during reserved public comment time at the start of the meeting – because the council rules stipulate that preference is given to speakers who want to address an agenda item. A boycott against Israel was not on the agenda.

So during that comment period, the council heard from five people who spoke in favor of spending the $20,000 on a deer management plan. The other five reserved slots were taken by: Thomas Partridge, who was officially signed up to talk about the planning commission’s work plan (one of the attachments in the clerk’s report); two people who signed up to talk about revisions to the taxicab ordinance; and two people who had signed up to talk about the lease agreement with the University of Michigan for three parking lots at Fuller Park.

That meant that anti-Israel activists were not able to reprise their demonstration at the previous council meeting, on Aug. 7, when eight of their group were signed up to speak. On that occasion, nearly all the commentary was complete. But then chants of “Boycott Israel” led mayor John Hieftje to recess the meeting. And he eventually decided to have Ann Arbor police clear the room of more than 50 activists. In this case, “clearing the room” translated into two officers telling the group’s leaders – Blaine Coleman and Mozghan Savabieasfahani – that they and their group had to leave. And after a few minutes, amid more loud chants and heated statements, the group left council chambers under their own power.

The contrast on obvious display at the Aug. 18 meeting was between two types of meeting attendees: (1) those who wanted to address the city council about an agenda item; and (2) those who wanted to address the council, but not on an agenda item.

That’s not the contrast I want to focus on. I want to focus on the contrast between two speakers who were alternates on the waiting list for reserved speaking time – both of whom wanted to address the council about an agenda item.

The two alternates were: Larry Baird, an Ann Arbor resident who signed up to talk about the Fuller Park lease agreement; and Michael White, a representative of Uber who was attending the meeting to speak against regulation of drivers for hire. Baird was slotted ahead of White on the alternate list. [Full Story]

UM Diag

Protest against violence in Gaza begins on the University of Michigan Diag and heads towards intersection of N. University and State Street. Chant: “Boycott Israel, Stop Bombing Gaza.” [photo 1] [photo 2]

City Council Debates Utility Connection Costs

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 22, 2013): One item on the consent agenda was responsible for extending the city council’s meeting by at least 40 minutes – the annual setting of fixed charges for water main and sanitary sewer improvements. The council chose not to approve the increase that had been calculated by city staff. That left the charges at their current levels – $15,552 and $24,665 for water and sewer, respectively – instead of raising them by just under 3% to $15,967 and $25,370, respectively.

Ann Arbor Water Main and Sanitary Sewer Fixed Charges: 2004 to present.

Ann Arbor water main and sanitary sewer fixed charges: 2004 to present. The proposed increase indicated for 2013 was not adopted by the city council at its Jan. 22 meeting.

The charges are due when a single- or two-family property connects to water and sewer for the first time. The charges are paid by either the contractor/developer or the property owner, depending on who makes the request for a connection.

Consent agenda items – a subset of the council’s business – are by definition voted on as a group, but councilmembers can choose to pull out items from the consent agenda for separate discussion.

That’s what happened at the Jan. 22 meeting. After an attempt to postpone the item failed, the council simply chose not to adopt the increases. But councilmembers were split on the question, with Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje voting for the increased charges. Arguments against the increase were based on the amount of the increases, their possible impact on the likelihood of infill development in lower-income neighborhoods, and the fairness of charging new connections for depreciation costs.

The other major chunk of the council’s meeting was devoted to a briefing from Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton on the transition of police dispatch operations for the city to the sheriff’s office – Washtenaw Metro Dispatch (WMD). Highlights of that presentation included benchmark metrics. For example, WMD answers 97% of all calls within 20 seconds (4 rings). Total call processing time – from when the call is received until some unit is dispatched – ranges from 2.2 minutes for robberies to 5.16 minutes for disorderly conduct calls. According to Clayton, over the last six months since operations have been shifted to WMD from Ann Arbor police dispatch, the cost per 911 call has been decreased by more than half – from just under $40 per call to around $16 a call.

The council also established a project planning budget for a sidewalk on a quarter-mile stretch of Newport Road just north of Wines Elementary School. In other business, the council approved establishing a residential parking district off Washtenaw Avenue southeast of the University of Michigan campus, because streets in the neighborhood were being effectively used as a commuter parking lot for students taking the bus further into campus.

The new residential parking district is located in a neighborhood in the vicinity of the Beth Israel Congregation. Beth Israel came up during communications time as Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) responded to public commentary critical of him for not yet bringing a resolution to the council table on the topic of Palestinian rights. Warpehoski essentially indicated he would not be contemplating such a resolution as long as demonstrations continue outside Beth Israel on Saturdays during worship services.

Half of the public commentary at the start of the meeting was on the topic of a proposed dog park – in West Park, across the street from the New Hope Baptist Church. The proposal had been expected by supporters to be on the council’s agenda, but it had not been included. So some turned out to urge council to pursue a dog park at that location. Others simply advocated for establishing a centrally-located dog park somewhere in the city.

The decision to pull the item from the agenda had come after the city’s park advisory commission had voted in December to recommend establishing a dog park in the West Park location for a one-year trial period. But subsequently, parks staff and commission leaders were convinced by members of the New Hope congregation not to push the proposal ahead for consideration by the city council. [Full Story]

City Council Acts on Wind Power, Park Items

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 7, 2013): Most of the council’s first regular meeting of the year was taken up with discussion of a U.S. Department of Energy grant of nearly $1 million for construction of two wind turbines, likely to be constructed on Ann Arbor Public Schools property.

This apple on a city council desk reflects the fact that part of the meeting was devoted to core priorities.

This apple on a councilmember’s desk could reflect the fact that part of the meeting was devoted to core priorities. (Photo by the writer.)

Councilmembers established a concern about the possible financial risks associated with the project, and a desire that public input be solicited on the ultimate decision for a site. But the vote was unanimous to accept the grant, which includes an obligation to provide roughly $480,000 in matching funds. That match is expected to be provided by Wind Products Inc., a company located in Brooklyn, New York.

At a meeting of the city’s energy commission held the following night, commissioners expressed their dissatisfaction that the proposal had not been brought to that body for review.

Some of the council’s deliberations on the wind turbines included the question of whether the effort was consistent with the council’s priorities for the next two years – ones that were formally adopted at the Jan. 7 meeting. The priorities, which had been identified in a Dec. 10 planning session, included the basic areas of: fiscal responsibility, public safety, infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing.

The council had three parks-related voting items on its agenda, neither of which prompted extended deliberations. One was approval of a design for the new skatepark in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, which is expected to start construction in the spring and be completed in the fall. A second voting item was the approval of another contract with the Conservation Fund, which helps manage operations for the city’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs.

A third parks-related voting item was authorization of a contract to replace roofs on two buildings at Cobblestone Farm.

Another agenda item – related to parks, but not requiring a vote – was a presentation from the council-appointed task force that’s been asked to make recommendations for a future vision of the North Main Street corridor, extending to the Huron River, including the MichCon property. They focused their presentation on the 721 N. Main property, for which the council had authorized two grant applications at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting. The group has a summer 2013 deadline to make recommendations for the whole area.

Also on the topic of parks, the council heard from representatives of New Hope Baptist Church during public commentary, regarding a planned new dog park. Members of the congregation oppose the location of the dog park inside West Park, because it’s immediately adjacent to the church on Chapin Street. Also during public commentary, the council again heard calls for the top of the Library Lane parking garage to be designated as a park.

Some other items on the agenda could be grouped under land use and planning. The council gave approval to changes to the site plan for Packard Square, a proposed redevelopment of the former Georgetown Mall. The council had postponed the item from its Dec. 3, 2012 agenda.

And the council gave initial approval to a zoning request in connection with the proposed Summit Townhomes project site, just east of Stone School Road. The land was recently annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township.

Also as a result of council action, Ann Arbor residents could have some additional flexibility for parking cars on their front lawns – beyond just the occasions of University of Michigan football games.

In other business, the council approved the appointment of Carrie Leahy to the board of the local development finance authority (LDFA). The LDFA is a tax-increment finance (TIF)-funded entity that comprises the geographic area of the city of Ann Arbor’s downtown development authority, as well as the city of Ypsilanti’s DDA.

Other public commentary heard at the meeting included remarks opposing continued investment in companies that provide military hardware to Israel.

One hour immediately preceding the regular meeting was a special session of the council. Its agenda consisted only of a closed session, to discuss labor negotiations – which is an allowable topic for a closed session under the Michigan Open Meetings Act. [Full Story]

Pre-Thanksgiving Council Pre-Heats Oven

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 19, 2012): The first meeting of the council’s new edition featured delaying action on two main agenda items – revisions to the Ann Arbor living wage ordinance, and two competing proposals about the city’s public art ordinance.

The newly elected members of council are sworn in by city clerk Jackie Beaudry (back to camera). From left: mayor John Hieftje, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

The newly elected members of council are sworn in by city clerk Jackie Beaudry (back to camera). From left: mayor John Hieftje, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1). (Photos by the writer.)

Legislative activity on the public art ordinance resulted from the Nov. 6 rejection by voters of an alternate means of funding public art – a 0.1 mill tax that would have generated roughly $450,000 annually. At the Nov. 19 meeting, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) proposed ending the existing public art program, which requires that 1% of the budget for all capital projects in the city be allocated for public art – with a limit of $250,000 per project. A competing proposal, from Sabra Briere (Ward 1), would narrow the type of capital project from which Percent for Art funds could be allocated. Briere’s proposal would have the practical effect of reducing – by about 90% – the amount of public art funds generated by the existing program. In the last two years the program has generated over $300,000 a year, and more in previous years.

The council wound up tabling both proposals, a parliamentary move that means there’s no particular time in the future when the council must consider them. The proposals will expire, if the council does not take them up off the table in six months. However, the council’s strategy will likely be to appoint a committee to study the matter and to suspend temporarily the existing program. A resolution to that effect was added to the council’s agenda during the meeting, after the tabling of the other proposals – but that third resolution was then postponed until the council’s Dec. 3 meeting.

Also postponed was a set of revisions to the city’s living wage ordinance. The main change would be to exempt those nonprofits from the ordinance that receive funding through the city’s human services allocation, which has totaled roughly $1.2 million each year for the last several years. The ordinance currently has a waiver provision, requiring a city-council-approved plan for compliance with the living wage ordinance within three years. Only one such waiver has been sought since the living wage ordinance was enacted in 2001. That came at the council’s meeting earlier this month, on Nov. 8, 2012.

Based on council deliberations at the Nov. 19 meeting, the living wage revisions in their current form seem likely to be approved only with great difficulty. Some councilmembers seemed more interested in pursuing exemptions for categories of workers – temporary or seasonal – instead of exempting categories of organizations. The living wage ordinance revisions were postponed until Feb. 19.

Getting initial approval were changes to two other city ordinances – on noise and the storage of cars on streets.

The changes to the noise ordinance were prompted by the impact that recent construction of the Landmark building at 601 S. Forest had on neighbors. If given final approval by the council, the changes would make clear that holidays are to be treated like Sundays and that supervisors can be cited under the ordinance, not just a worker who’s operating a piece of equipment.

The revision to the towing ordinance would make it easier to prevent people from storing inoperable vehicles on city streets. Like all changes to city ordinances, it will need a second vote by the council, after a public hearing.

In other business, the council authorized a $15,000 budget for analyzing alternatives for installing a sidewalk along a section of Scio Church Road. Residents in the area have petitioned the city for a sidewalk.

And Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) used his communications time toward the end of the meeting as an occasion to deliver harsh criticism of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and mayor John Hieftje.

In the first meeting for newly elected councilmembers, the council also chose Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) to serve as mayor pro tem, as she has for the last three years. The order of succession to the mayor, based on seniority lines, was also set. [Full Story]

AATA Lawsuit Update: Motion Hearing

U.S District judge Mark Goldsmith heard motions today, April 19, 2012, at the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, in Flint, Michigan, on a lawsuit filed last year against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. At the AATA board meeting on April 19, board chair Jesse Bernstein reported that Goldsmith did not rule on anything from the bench; his written ruling is expected at some unspecified future time.

The initial lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on Nov. 28, 2011 on behalf of activist Blaine Coleman, who had sought to purchase an advertisement for the sides of AATA buses. The AATA refused to run the ad. The proposed ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid,” and an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a … [Full Story]

ACLU Files Motion in AATA Bus Ad Lawsuit

On Nov. 29, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed with the U.S. District Court (Eastern District of Michigan) a motion for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, to compel the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to accept an advertisement it had previously rejected. [.pdf of Nov. 29 ACLU motion]

The previous day, on Nov. 28, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of activist Blaine Coleman, who had sought to purchase an advertisement for the sides of AATA buses. The AATA refused to run the ad. The proposed ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid,” and an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. [.pdf of image and text of proposed ... [Full Story]

Vigil for Peace in Gaza Fills Street Corner


Scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. last Thursday, a vigil organized by Michigan Peaceworks and the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice had people filling all four corners of Liberty and Main streets in downtown Ann Arbor. The vigil was organized to call attention to the military violence in Gaza, with organizers calling for an immediate ceasefire. When I arrived around 6:45 p.m. it was apparent from the signage and the shouts that some of the demonstrators had taken a more strident position than the vigil organizers had likely hoped for. [Full Story]

Demonstrators Protest Gaza Violence

Demonstrators on southeast corner of Liberty and Fifth in downtown Ann Arbor

Demonstrators on the southeast corner of Liberty and Fifth in downtown Ann Arbor.

While out and about early Friday afternoon, The Chronicle noticed a Channel 7 News truck parked across from the Federal Building at Fifth and Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor. A little over an hour later, the news truck had disappeared. But according to one of the people demonstrating on the corner, before departing the camera crew had shot footage of the local protest prompted by recent and ongoing violence in Gaza. [Full Story]