Support at Caucus for Mack Pool, Access to Info

Hieftje: "I'd be surprised if Mack Pool and Leslie Science Center weren't funded."

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (May 3, 2009): Counting the mayor, there were four members of council who heard from citizens on Sunday night on topics that included the closing of Mack Pool, accessibility to information on planning, and the new underground parking garage. After hearing from citizens, caucus concluded without councilmembers engaging each other on any work of council as they sometimes do.

Accessibility to Planning Information

On council’s agenda for Monday, May 4, is the adoption of the Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update. Council heard from a citizen who noted that there was not a copy of the plan available on the second floor of the Larcom Building in the public notebook, and that the size of the online file made her reluctant to risk downloading it out of concern it would lock up her computer. [It's a 10MB file. Although the text is digital (i.e., not a scanned image) the document is fairly graphics-intensive.] She wondered how she might get access to the information. What are the changes being proposed, she wondered?

Note: Planning commission recommended adopting the plan with the following amendments, and they are reflected in the document before council on Monday night:

… subject to making the following four amendments to the short-term recommendations in table 3-1: (1) remove or reprioritize the Nixon Corridor Study and add a State Street Corridor Study (Eisenhower Parkway to Stimson Street) for the purpose of determining system improvements needed if density recommendations are made on State Street; (2) have staff work with MDOT on the road diet for Jackson Avenue from Maple Road to Revena Boulevard; (3) establish a line-item in the CIP for gap improvements in the sidewalk system, with priority to gaps from neighborhoods to schools, and to transit; and (4) adding another location to the recommendation “Assess Potential for Place Based Tax Increment Funding…”: the Jackson Avenue/Maple Road Intersection, primarily west along Jackson Avenue to Wagner Road and north along Maple Road to Dexter Avenue, also considering appropriate segments to the south and east where zoning is currently non-residential.”

She noted that the transportation plan would presumably be included in the planning commission’s work at their Tuesday night meeting – as that body considers a consolidation of all the various area plans into a single document. What’s the linkage between the transportation plan and that master plan, she wondered? And how could the public gain access to the most recent draft of the proposed consolidation of plans – she expressed some skepticism based on an earlier draft that it was merely a consolidation without any substantive changes. In addition to that concern, she said that there were places in the consolidated plan that referenced “the plan” when it wasn’t apparent what plan was actually meant. “That’s just not real access to that information,” she concluded, adding, “I don’t see how you guys could vote on it intelligently.”

Mayor John Hieftje responded by saying that council typically didn’t track things through planning commission, precisely because things could change along the way, but at the appropriate time, they would take a more detailed look at it.

Woven through the resident’s concerns was the issue of access to information: Where was the legal notice published announcing the Tuesday election [for school board]? She suggested that the Tree Town Log, which is a monthly publication of government events (both online in .pdf form and in paper format), include more actual government events, as contrasted with parks and recreation events, so that citizens had a clearer idea of what was going on with respect to civic affairs.

Hieftje defended the city’s website by citing an award for user interface, to which she responded that standards needed to be higher than “good enough to win awards.”

Councilmember Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) solicited feedback on the city’s online calendar listing of city events. The resident said that it was fine as far as it went, but suggested that when you click on the event title to get more information, there wasn’t really all that much more information there. She suggested, for example, that a link to a council meeting’s agenda would be useful to include in a calendar listing for a council meeting.

Mack Pool

A half-dozen or more supporters of keeping Mack Pool open were at caucus, some of them indicating an affiliation with a2qua by wearing T-shirts with the logo. Before any of the Mack pool user advocates spoke, Hieftje offered his reassurance: “I’d be surprised if it wasn’t funded – along with the Leslie Science Center.” He suggested that there could be a working group in Ward 5 that might promote a better conversation with Ann Arbor Public Schools on the subject.

A representative of Mack pool users, who spoke on behalf of many others at caucus, stressed that the users of Mack pool were not just saying “Hey, give us the money!” but rather that they had developed a plan for the pool, which included: reducing costs, increasing use, and increasing fees for non-seniors. The facility is not sustainable for the Ann Arbor public school system alone, he said, due to the inherent fixed costs (e.g., like heating the pool), so there needs to be a partnership. This partnership, he said, would ideally come from cooperation between the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor public school system. In Ann Arbor, he said, there were essentially “three governments” that could cooperate better: the University of Michigan, the public schools, and the city.

In addition to the medium-term goal of making Mack sustainable, he suggested that investments could be made to showcase Mack Pool as a “green pool,” perhaps by using ozone for purification instead of chlorine. When financial difficulty forced the city to think about cutting, he said, it was a good time to think about improving services through better cooperation, without cutting.

One of the problems identified regarding cooperation was the scheduling of 35 hours of pool time by the school system, when it only used 15 hours of that time. Councilmember Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Hieftje related that there had historically been attempts by the city to achieve a better and fairer balance between Rec & Ed (the AAPS community education arm) and the city for bearing the cost of various facilities. [On the agenda for Monday is an agreement between the city and the schools for maintenance of ball fields – a resolution that is sponsored by councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).]

The speaker noted that from a PR perspective, it’s not good positioning for the Leslie Science Center to be linked to the pool, and stressed that they did not wish to sound like they were throwing the science center under the bus. He emphasized that there is some serious swimming going on at Mack Pool (people get in the pool and swim up and down the lane for an hour) as opposed to the “splashing around a lot” that goes on at Fuller.

Councilmembers also heard from a swimming instructor who noted that of the various pools where she gives swim lessons, Mack is by far the  easiest one to teach in. In fact, she said, some of the others make it quite difficult to provide instruction.

Underground Parking Garage

Councilmembers also heard from a resident who’d recently attended a meeting of the Gray Panthers where Heiftje had been a guest speaker.  She said she was there at caucus to take exception to a description the mayor had given of Europe during his remarks to the Gray Panthers. [It's a standard talking point of the mayor's to cite the hundreds of bicycles that he's seen parked at train stations when visiting Europe, with all of the automobile parking underground.]

“I want to know how you can destroy space around the public library!” she said, referring to the plan to build an underground parking garage under what is now a surface parking lot. She asked if anyone had bothered to survey women about their attitudes towards parking underground [an allusion to perceptions of decreased safety in underground structures as compared to surface lots]. She described living in Indianapolis in Riley Towers, where there was a lot of space around the building. She went on to describe the importance of air, light, and space around buildings, saying that she’d prefer that the space remain empty next to the downtown location of the Ann Arbor library.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) chimed in, alluding to the height of Riley Towers, pointing out that you can’t have it both ways: lots of air and space and short buildings. He also noted that as of now, the plan is to build the underground parking garage and put surface parking back on top. The Gray Panther responded by saying that Rapundalo had a rebellion in his ward, such was the overall dissatisfaction there with city government.

In defense of building additional parking spaces, Hieftje cited the need to plan for the contingency of losing the parking on the Brown block, if it is developed. [First Martin shows the property in its portfolio under "build to suit."]