Pot Laws Amended But Postponed Again

Budget issues – human services, fire protection – loom

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 2, 2011): The city council has postponed its final approval of two local medical marijuana laws at least until June 6. One law addresses zoning and the other handles licensing. With that postponement, the council stretched its formal consideration of medical marijuana regulation in the city to at least a year – it had held a June 7, 2010 closed session on the subject.

Stephen Kunselman Medical Marijuana Amendments

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) peruses a marked up copy of medical marijuana legislation. (Photos by the writer.)

On Monday, before the postponements, the council amended both medical marijuana laws, making changes to the versions to which they’d already given initial approval – all city ordinances must receive two affirmative votes at different meetings of the council. Based on the amendments approved Monday night, the votes taken on June 6 will likely count only as the first reading. If the council makes a substantive change to an ordinance after its initial approval, then the ordinance must receive an additional first reading.

Public commentary during the evening included remarks from several medical marijuana advocates, who have become a familiar cast of characters over the past year. One highlight of that commentary included corroboration of a 2004 sidewalk encounter – between a medical marijuana petition circulator and the city attorney – which had been described during public commentary at the council’s previous meeting.

Other public comment at Monday’s meeting focused on the upcoming fiscal year 2012 budget approval, with many of the remarks centered on human services funding. The council had a specific resolution on its agenda that would have allocated funding to local nonprofits that provide human services support – but the council decided to postpone the item. The funding level in the resolution would have been about 9% less than fiscal 2011 funding.

Remarks during the budget public hearing by the president of the local firefighters union focused on the number of deaths due to fire over time. During council communications, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), the chair of the council’s labor committee, reiterated a point he’s made before – that if unions make concessions on their contribution to the city’s health care plan, they can mitigate some (but not all) of the currently planned layoffs.

Public commentary at Monday’s meeting also featured remarks from county clerk Larry Kestenbaum on the following day’s single-issue election, along with an update on possible changes to state election law.

The council unanimously approved the site plan, development agreement, and brownfield plan for Packard Square, a residential development planned for the former Georgetown Mall property. Two days later, the county board of commissioners postponed their approval of items related to the Packard Square brownfield plan.

In other business, the council set a public hearing on a tax abatement for Sakti3; approved several interagency technology agreements that allow for partnership between the city, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; and postponed consideration of some large vehicle purchases. The council was also introduced to Paul Krutko, new CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, the local economic development agency.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Washtenaw County commissioner Yousef Rabhi explained how his interest in public service originated in connection with the Buhr Park Wet Meadow project, led by Jeannine Palms. Palms and others involved with the project, which began in 1996, were honored with a mayoral proclamation. 

Medical Marijuana

Before the council were two local laws on medical marijuana, one on zoning and another on licensing. Both laws had previously received initial approval, but after approving several additional amendments to both proposed laws on Monday, the council decided to postpone them to its June 6 meeting.

The medical marijuana zoning ordinance received its initial approval by the council at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting. The delay since the initial Oct. 18, 2010 zoning vote stems from the city of Ann Arbor’s strategy for legislating zoning and licensing of medical marijuana businesses. That strategy has been to bring both licensing and zoning before the city council at the same time for a final vote.

Kristin Larcom, Sabra Briere, Stephen Postema

Assistant city attorney Kristin Larcom (left), councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and city attorney Stephen Postema before the start of the May 2 meeting.

The context for development of zoning regulations was set at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, when councilmembers voted to impose a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities. The council also directed the city’s planning commission to develop zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses.

Subsequently, the city attorney’s office also began working on a licensing system. The council undertook several amendments to the licensing proposal at four of its meetings over the last three months: on Jan. 3, Feb. 7, March 7 and March 21. The council finally gave its first initial approval to the licensing proposal at its March 21 meeting. [.pdf of Michigan Medical Marijuana Act]

Medical Marijuana: Public Comment

Chuck Ream thanked the council for their work. In terms of growing medicine, council should drop all that language on cultivation facilities, he said. Such facilities are already regulated under state law. He also asked the council to drop record-keeping requirements – such requirements would create a list of “juicy targets” for prosecution. He told the council that they held the lives of good people in their hands.

He asked the council not to keep city attorney Stephen Postema in charge of the medical marijuana legislation or it would never get finished. He reminded the council of the remarks made at the April 19, 2011 council meeting by Trena Moss, who reported a 2004 sidewalk encounter with Postema, when she was gathering signatures for the petition to place a local charter amendment on the ballot – it eventually passed. According to Moss, Postema had told her that he had a strategy to block it, even if voters approved it. Ream has conveyed to the council the statement written by Moss on April 23, 2004 and the photo “line up” out of which she identified Postema as the man she’d encountered. Ream asked councilmembers to protect caregivers like they would protect a woman’s right to choose.

Rhory Gould began by saying Ream is hard to follow – Ream had said everything so well. Gould said he is a longtime Ann Arbor resident and a registered voter. He thanked the council for their thoughtfulness and hard work, and for considering the needs of patients and caregivers. He called the ordinances well-written, but issues remain that still need to be addressed, he said.

Keeping records for caregivers and cultivation facilities is a bad idea, Gould said. Landlord records are also a bad idea, he said. There should be no dollar amount on labels. That requirement is motivated by the best of intentions but is not necessary. He asked the council to move forward by passing a medical marijuana ordinance that addresses the needs of caregivers, patients and residents of Ann Arbor.

Kirk Reid thanked the council for listening. He identified himself as a patient who suffers from multiple sclerosis. He told the council he would never sign up under the proposed Ann Arbor ordinance, citing the vagueness and uncertainty of words such as “deem appropriate,” “deem to prohibit” and “justification.” Whose justification? he asked. He invited the council to sit down with patients and caregivers and work with them.

John Henry Kaiser had signed up in advance to speak to the council, but when his name was called, Ream told the council that Kaiser is a cancer patient, and could not attend.

During his turn at public commentary reserved time, Thomas Partridge touched on a range of topics, but also included his view that “we do not need Ann Arbor to be known as the Marijuana Headquarters of the United States.”

Dennis Hayes thanked the council for giving advocates the right to speak. He allowed that he and Partridge didn’t agree about much, but would agree on the importance of the special education millage that was on the ballot the next day – everyone should pay attention to that. He said he’d previously made remarks about proposed amendments. He said he would welcome an opportunity to take a look at the amendments before the council voted. It’s important to pay attention to problems of regulating caregivers. He encouraged the council to take a lighter hand rather than a heavier hand. Ream reminds him frequently, Hayes said, that there are rights in the state statute, which shouldn’t be nullified by the local ordinance. The council should pay attention to what voters have said, as well as patient and caregiver needs.

Medical Marijuana Zoning: Council Deliberations

In broad strokes, the zoning regulations stipulate where medical marijuana businesses can be located geographically. From the regulations as amended on May 2, 2011:

(3) Locations of medical marijuana dispensaries and medical marijuana cultivation facilities.
A medical marijuana dispensary or medical marijuana cultivation facility may be located in the City only in accordance with the following restrictions:
a) Medical marijuana dispensaries shall only be located in a district classified pursuant to this chapter as D, C, or M, or in PUD districts where retail is permitted in the supplemental regulations.
b) Medical marijuana cultivation facilities shall only be located in a district classified pursuant to this chapter as C, M, RE, or ORL.
c) In C districts, buildings used for medical marijuana dispensaries or medical marijuana cultivation facilities shall meet the minimum parking requirements of Chapter 59 for retail uses, with no exceptions for existing nonconforming parking.
d) No medical marijuana dispensary or medical marijuana cultivation facility shall be located within 1000 feet of a parcel on which a public or private elementary or secondary school is located.

The deliberations by the council dealt first with the challenge of handling the vast array of changes to the text of the zoning regulations, which were last before the council for consideration at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting. On that occasion, the council had given the zoning regulations its initial approval.

The sheer number of changes to the text led to discussion at the outset on how to proceed – line by line, or all in one go. Very early on in the deliberations, the council suspended its rules on the number of speaking turns allowed by councilmembers on each motion – they’re ordinarily limited to two turns.

Medical Marijuana Zoning: Amendment – Omnibus Staff Recs

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) began by moving all of the amendments recommended by city staff at once.

She asked city attorney Stephen Postema to summarize the changes. He explained that many of them were motivated by a desire to coordinate the language in the zoning regulation with that of the licensing scheme.

For example, the legislative intent section for the zoning is now just what the licensing says. Five definitions are now taken straight from the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, Postema said. Other words and phrases have specific definitions – for cultivation facilities, dispensaries and home occupations. They’re unique to the zoning ordinance, and aren’t included in the state statute, so they’re defined.

Postema said the recommendations for amendments were sent to council on April 26, so he felt the council had had time to look them over.

By way of example of the kind of changes that were included in the staff-recommended amendments, the new definitions included one for “medical marijuana cultivation facility”:

ii. “Medical marijuana cultivation facility” means building [sic] where marijuana plants are being grown in compliance with the MMMA, other than as a medical marijuana home occupation.

New in that definition was the inclusion of “medical marijuana” as part of the term to be defined. That entailed inserting “medical marijuana” before instances of “cultivation facility.”

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked about a revision that struck “medical” from the phrase “medical marijuana plants”:

In a single family dwelling in any zoning district, no more than 72 medical marijuana plants shall be grown on the premises, regardless of the number of registered primary caregivers and/or registered qualifying patients residing in the dwelling.

Postema said that when it’s just the plants themselves, it’s just “marijuana” – because the state statute doesn’t call the plants “medical marijuana.”

Councilmembers then expressed uncertainty as to the process for approving the entire set of amendments recommended by the city attorney’s staff. One approach would have been first to vote on the set of amendments, then consider additional amendments, voting on them as well. A second approach would have been to amend the proposed amendments.

The consensus appeared to be that they’d take the first approach. But mayor John Hieftje indicated there would not be a vote on all the staff-recommended amendments. That statement was met with surprise from some councilmembers. Higgins sought confirmation: “We’re voting, right?” Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated that he did not understand the process. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) noted that after voting, additional amendments could be brought forward.

Briere stated that it’s the council’s choice how to proceed. She’d earlier begun to go through her own proposed amendments, but appeared now ready to vote on the staff-recommended amendments, then consider additional amendments.

The council opted to vote on the staff-recommended amendments, then consider other amendments.

Outcome on Omnibus Amendment: The council unanimously approved the set of staff-recommended amendments.

Medical Marijuana Zoning: Amendment – Code Reference

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) proposed the following amendment [deleted material is struck through; added material in italics]:

h) An annual zoning compliance permit signed by the owner shall be required, and must be renewed prior to the anniversary date of the issuance of the original permit shall be required consistent with Section 5:92.

She noted that zoning compliance permits are not unique to medical marijuana facilities – they have very broad requirements. She apologized to Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) for referencing another section of the code. Briere was alluding to Higgins’ historical objections to referring to other sections of code, which forces the reader to look up some other section. [.pdf of Section 5:92 of the city code]

It’s “simple business compliance,” no more or less than any other business, said Briere. The rationale behind the amendment was that the ordinance should not convey the idea that any group is being singled out or that records are being kept on a group of people.

Higgins confirmed that in the licensing scheme, the zoning compliance permit is not handled by the licensing board.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked city attorney Stephen Postema what his opinion was. Postema said the reason the language had originally been included was to let people know what the requirements are without having to go back and look at another part of the city code. Referencing the other section is also acceptable, he said.

Outcome on Amendment: The council unanimously approved replacing specific requirements with a reference to Section 5:92.

Medical Marijuana Zoning: Amendment – Plant Limit

The zoning regulations already included a limit of 72 marijuana plants in connection with a business operated as a home occupation.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) proposed an amendment that added a limit of 72 plants on the premises of any medical marijuana cultivation facility. That’s a maximum of 72 plants per address, she said.

City attorney Stephen Postema focused the council’s attention on the fact that a “medical marijuana cultivation facility” is defined as a building where plants are being grown.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wondered what the difference is between a cultivation facility and a home occupation, if both are limited to 72. Briere explained that essentially it’s expected that it will be caregivers who grow the plants – either in their own home, or not in their own home. If they did not grow in their own home, that would make it a cultivation facility.

Outcome on Amendment: The amendment limiting the number of plants in a medical marijuana cultivation facility to 72 passed, with dissent from Higgins.

Medical Marijuana Zoning: Amendment – Home Occupation

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) offered another amendment very much in the spirit of a previous one that removed a description of specific requirements and instead referenced another part of the city code – Section 5:92.

A list of (a)-(j) items were reduced to just four with Briere’s amendment.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) again wanted city attorney Stephen Postema’s opinion, who characterized it as the same issue they’d looked at before. Briere reiterated the rationale – if people are not familiar with the entire code, they may read the zoning regulations on medical marijuana as if the city is establishing special rules for a special category of people. That’s avoided by reference to other code sections.

Mayor John Hieftje agreed with that strategy. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wondered why one of the items had been left in the section: “No transfer of marijuana to registered qualifying patients other than those residing in the dwelling shall occur.” Smith said it did not involve any vehicle trips, because there are no home visits. She wanted to know why the clause was still in there.

Postema said this was consistent with the language approved a long time ago. Smith said she understand that, but it’s one of three surviving clauses in the section – it mystified her. It’s irrelevant if you say the transfer can’t occur, she said. Postema told Smith that the council had talked about the fact that it didn’t want transfers to take place except at patients’ homes. If that’s not what the council wishes, then it can be changed.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) also supported deletion of the clause. He said it struck him as interference – an unnecessary burden. If other restrictions are consistent with Section 5:92, then he felt it was a reasonable balance.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said that looking through all the changes, it makes perfect sense. The clause in question is highlighted as one exception, so he supported Smith’s additional amendment. He said he was not sure why they would call out transfers specifically.

Hieftje noted that with a 72-plant limit, that amounted to a limit on the number of clients.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning department, to explain zoning compliance permits. He wanted to know how Section 5:92(1) would be applied, which reads in part:

It shall be unlawful to begin the excavation for the construction, the moving, alteration, or repair, except ordinary repairs as defined in Chapter 98 of the Ann Arbor City Code, of any building or other structure, including an accessory structure, costing more than $100.00 or exceeding 100 square feet in area …

He wanted to know if it’s possible that a zoning compliance permit wouldn’t be required if the $100 limit were not exceeded. Rampson said it’s hard to say, but she thought Kunselman’s conclusion was right – with the exception of a day-care facility. She suggested that people obtain a compliance permit in case someone calls to complain, but the city would not necessarily require one.

Outcome on Amendment: The amendment replacing specific language on home occupations with a code reference was unanimously approved.

Medical Marijuana Zoning: Amendment – 1000-foot Buffer

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) proposed amending the required buffer between dispensaries and cultivation facilities and schools from 1000 feet to 1010 feet. He said that round numbers are not necessarily any better. The 1% difference does a better job of accomplishing what they’re trying to accomplish, he contended. The intent is not to impact existing dispensaries – it’s to make sure they’re not cutting off parts of blocks.

At the request of Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Hohnke asked Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, to explain. Hohnke confirmed with her that the extension of the buffer by 1% would in certain locations help to bring a complete block into the buffer zone. Rampson said there’s no magic number. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked Rampson if she’d drafted some maps depicting the 1010 buffer. No, Rampson said, the question came up after they’d looked at the issue. The city has a map showing the 1000-foot buffer. Briere asked by the next meeting to have maps with 1000, 1100 and 1250-foot buffers shown. She said she’s uncomfortable with a 10-foot change – she found that odd. She noted that Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had actually wanted to decrease the buffer.

At that point mayor John Hieftje asked city attorney Stephen Postema if the changes they’d undertaken to that point were substantive enough to require an additional reading before the council, if the council voted to approve the main motion. Postema said that many of the amendments are small enough, but the deletion of the prohibition on transfer, and tinkering with the 1000-foot buffer, could amount to substantive changes. The wiser course would be to have an additional reading, he advised.

Hieftje said he needed clearer advice. Postema suggested postponing to the council’s first meeting in June.

Weighing in on the buffer question, Smith said it doesn’t make sense to add 10 feet – there is already a limit on the number of dispensaries. She said she thought 500 feet is adequate, and 1000 feet is more than cautionary – so 1010 makes no sense.

Outcome: The council voted down the amendment changing the buffer to 1010 feet. Voting for it were Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke, and Mike Anglin, which was one short of the six votes it needed.

Medical Marijuana Zoning: Motion to Postpone

A motion was made to postpone the zoning ordinance.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) elicited from city attorney Stephen Postema the view that it was a “close call” as to whether the council would need to give the zoning ordinance an additional approval, if council voted to approve the ordinance that night.

In light of the fact that possibly another reading before the council would be required, even after voting that night, Taylor said, “I’m all for voting.”

Alluding to the revised legislation that is marked up with color-coded revisions, mayor John Hieftje said he’s wanted for a long time to have something to read without colored print. He suggested trying to get a clean page before voting.

Final Outcome on Zoning: The council voted to postpone the zoning ordinance until June 6. Sandi Smith and Christopher Taylor dissented.

Medical Marijuana Licensing: Council Deliberations

Over the course of the council’s months-long consideration of medical marijuana licensing requirements, among the more significant revisions has been to exclude home occupations from licensing requirements. On Monday, several amendments were passed, but the most significant one excluded another major category from licensing requirements: cultivation facilities.

Medical Marijuana Licensing: Amendment – Insertions

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off with a set of changes that involved wholesale insertions of language. The amendment added “medical marijuana” before instances of “dispensary” or “cultivation facilities.” The amendment also inserted “registered qualifying” before instances of “patient” and inserted “registered primary” before instances of “caregiver.”

Outcome on Amendment: The council unanimously approved the insertion of the various phrases.

Medical Marijuana Licensing: Amendment – Completeness

The second amendment proposed by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) made clear that the link between the cap on licenses and applications is for complete applications. In amended form, that section of the ordinance reads:

The first year’s licenses shall be capped at a number 10% higher than the number of complete applications for licenses submitted to the City in the first 60 days, after the effective date of this chapter, but not more than 20 medical marijuana dispensary licenses shall be issued in the first year. Any license terminated during the license year returns to the City for possible reissuance.

Outcome on Amendment: The amendment specifying the completeness of applications was unanimously approved.

Medical Marijuana Licensing: Amendment – Cultivation Facilities

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) then proposed that references to “cultivation facilities” be removed. In arguing for the exclusion of cultivation facilities from licensing requirements, she said that according to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMLA), they are supposed to be cautious. She cited the relevant passage from the MMLA:

Possession of, or application for, a registry identification card shall not constitute probable cause or reasonable suspicion, nor shall it be used to support the search of the person or property of the person possessing or applying for the registry identification card, or otherwise subject the person or property of the person to inspection by any local, county or state governmental agency.

Briere said that passage tells her the city is not supposed to be looking at or keeping records or inspecting property of applicants for the state registry identification card. While dispensaries have decided to go public, she said, caregivers have not. She said she could not understand why the city sought to license caregivers.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said she wholeheartedly supported removal of cultivation facilities from licensing requirements. She felt it was inviting people to aggregate a large number of mature plants and register with the city, and it was an invitation for the DEA to come in.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked the city attorney Stephen Postema to weigh in. Postema said that in some ways, this is a policy decision for the council. He said he disagreed with Briere that there’s anything in the state law that prevents the city from having reasonable regulation.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, how she saw the role and utility of having cultivation facilities in the licensing scheme. For the zoning regulations, cultivation facilities are included. Rampson said that cultivation facilities are different from home occupations. Home occupations are in someone’s own home, whereas cultivation facilities are a commercial operation. That’s why the city planning commission recommended specific zoning districts where it would be appropriate to have a cultivation facility, she said.

Taylor asked if the limit of 72 plants for cultivation facilities – now amended into the zoning regulations – would address the planning commission’s concern. Rampson allowed that the 72-plant limit would address some concerns. Based on the information staff had received, they were talking about quite large operations and they were concerned about that.

Rampson said there could still be an agglomeration of facilities in multiple tenant spaces. But mayor John Hieftje said that possibility had been eliminated. Taylor suggested that the concern of scale should disappear with the 72-plant limit.

Postema interjected concerns about not having a license on something that is a commercial facility. He contended that security concerns are the same, whether it’s large scale or small scale. Safety and security concerns are theoretically there whether the operation is large or small, he said. Safety and security is a hallmark of all licensing, he said.

Smith asked if a change in use for any building would set off an inspection process for city that would take care of risks associated with health and safety. Smith said security measures would be inherent in the product being grown.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) made the same observation she’d made in connection with the zoning deliberations: The only difference between a home occupation growing operation and a “cultivation facility” is that a cultivation facility is offsite from a residence. If the limit is 72 plants, she wondered, how can you have the medical marijuana co-ops, which already operate in the city? She asked if the passage of the 72-plant requirement and their exclusion from the licensing requirement would shut down the co-ops? Briere replied that she hoped so.

Taylor said he was confident in the strength of the 72-plant limit in the zoning regulations.

Without a licensing requirement, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked if there is a limit somewhere on number of cultivation facilities. [If cultivation facilities were required to be licensed, the cap on the number of licenses would provide that limit.] He noted there are a lot of property vacancies, and having grow operations could be a good way to pay the rent. He expressed concern that the community could be overrun with a lot of grow operations.

Briere said a problem with restricting the number of cultivation facilities is that there may be more than the city can see today. The city doesn’t want them to be large cultivation facilities, she said. The number of 10 as a limit was a number that was suitable, she said, when the council believed the city might have to deal with large grow facilities.

Kunselman replied that if the city doesn’t license cultivation facilities, they won’t know the facilities are there, and the grow operations will show up without signs. Briere responded by saying that if the city licenses cultivation facilities, it starts collecting information on caregivers, and that becomes available to the federal government. The state can protect its information, but it’s harder for local governments to protect it, she said. Smith said it would be excellent to charge the licensing board with examining the issue and bringing that as a recommendation after a year.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked Postema to weigh in. Postema said that initially when the council addressed the issue, aggregation was the concern. He suggested that another tool available to the council, separate from licensing, is another zoning tool: restrictions on how near to another facility a cultivation facility can be.

Kunselman pressed Briere to explain how gathering information on cultivation facilities was different from gathering information on dispensaries. Why don’t we treat them the same? Briere explained that deciding to grow away from your home doesn’t mean you want to grow it for the public. Maybe you want to do it because of children, or whatever personal reasons, or maybe there’s no space, she said. So by growing away from your home, you become a “cultivation facility” – even though you’re just an individual patient or caregiver. A cultivation facility is not a commercial activity only, even though it’s logical to assume that, she said.

On another level, Briere continued, they should think about whether the city is pushing people to grow marijuana as a home occupation. The more restrictions the city places on people growing marijuana away from their homes, she said, the more the city encourages growing in homes, thus in neighborhoods.

Some people are growing marijuana to make money, Briere said, and some are growing for a patient whom they love – and they’ll do that in a basement, closet, attic or warehouse. It’s difficult to decide if they should be paying a fee for a license. She said she didn’t have an answer and that’s why she had proposed the amendment.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said the discussion was coming at a late date. He wanted a comprehensive ordinance, and part of that includes facilities for growing marijuana, he said. His reading of the statute is that you can have authority as a city to regulate – it’s a question of whether Ann Arbor wants to regulate in that way. His own sense is that it’s easier to be more restrictive, then if the regulation is not needed, it can be relaxed, he said.

Hieftje inquired of Briere if the motivation is to eliminate a layer of documentation – yes, said Briere, and to simplify the law. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) saw it also as also a matter of fairness to those who choose to grow not in their own home.

Outcome on Amendment: The council approved the amendment eliminating cultivation facilities from licensing requirements, with dissent from Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo and Marcia Higgins.

Medical Marijuana Licensing: Amendment – Strike “Federal”

The next amendment suggested by Briere was to strike the word “federal” as follows:

(5) The license requirement set forth in this chapter shall be in addition to, and not in lieu of, any other licensing and permitting requirements imposed by any other federal state or local law.

Outcome on Amendment: The amendment to strike “federal” was approved, with dissent from Stephen Rapundalo.

Medical Marijuana Licensing: Amendment – Council Approvals

The final amendment handled on Monday was again introduced by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and included a motion to change the title of the licensing board to “Medical Marijuana Licensing Board” and to establish a procedure for approval or rejection of each license application by the city council.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked city attorney Stephen Postema for his thoughts. Postema said he had no issue with that.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wondered if the instruction should be that the council had to act on each application, or if it should simply allow the council to act. Postema said the language means that a recommendation from the board must be given an up or down action. Mayor John Hieftje said he had a concern there, because the issue has already taken over large chunks of the council’s time. He wondered if there was any way they can limit it. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she didn’t think she’d ever seen a recommendation coming from a board that says the council must act.

Briere offered to change the recommendations from the licensing board to the council to make them an annual event instead of an ongoing process. The council settled on an annual process, though Sandi Smith (Ward 1) expressed a preference for a quarterly process.

Outcome on Amendment: The council unanimously approved the amendment specifying how the council approves each license.

Medical Marijuana Licensing: Motion to Postpone

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she’d be happy to end the deliberations, but said she was nearly done with the major part. Mayor John Hieftje asked how much time she figured remaining amendments would take. Briere estimated 30 minutes. A motion was made to postpone the licensing ordinance in its form as amended.

Outcome on Licensing: The council voted unanimously to postpone consideration of the medical marijuana licensing ordinance until its June 6, 2011 meeting.

Human Services Allocations

Before the council was a resolution to allocate funding for nonprofits that provide human services in the city for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, 2011. The $1,159,029 in the resolution reflected a 9% reduction from FY 2011.

The city’s support for human services is allocated in coordination with additional funding from other agencies: United Way of Washtenaw County ($1,677,000), Washtenaw County ($1,015,000) and Washtenaw Urban County ($363,154).

Human Services Allocations: Budget Public Hearing

On Monday, the council held its public hearing on the fiscal year 2012 budget, which will be considered formally on May 16. Several of the speakers directly or indirectly addressed human services spending in that budget.

Thomas Partridge said the budget shouldn’t be passed without reviewing it for progressively-scaled fees. People have suffered too long under regressive taxes, he said, which had culminated in an effort to recall Gov. Rick Snyder. He reminded the council that the right to recall elected officers can be applied to local officials, as well. He called on the mayor and the council to live up to their responsibility to come up with a budget, tax and fee structure that is progressively-scaled to give consideration to the most vulnerable in society.

Susan McGarry introduced herself as the minister at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church – she also serves on the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) working group on racial and economic justice. She urged the council not to make cuts to the community’s safety net. She said she’s been a professional minister for over 30 years. The church had started sheltering by letting people sleep in their basement. Since then so much has improved, she said. We have a community where we can be proud, she said. She argued against those who would say that “we make it too easy for poor people.” It’s a hard budget, but it’s difficult for the most vulnerable among us, she said. In a difficult time, we need to keep that good work going forward.

Lucia Heinold also introduced herself as a member of ICPJ. She said that Ann Arbor is a caring community. We need good fire protection, but we need to keep the poorest among us in our minds, she said. It does us no good to have a great park system if we have people who are too poor and sick to get to the parks. She thanked the council for all the work they had done. As treasurer of some organizations, she knows how hard it is to keep things running in the current economic climate.

Michael Appel Avalon Housing Cranes

Michael Appel with Avalon Housing supporters, who are holding more than 4,000 paper cranes to represent the number of people who have used Avalon's services.

Michael Appel, associate director of Avalon Housing, was joined at the podium with a supporting cast of people holding 4,738 paper cranes – one crane for every person that Avalon Housing had served in 2010 through its homelessness programs. The beauty of that many colors, he said, contrasted with the sheer number of people who had lost their housing. For over a year volunteers had been making the cranes to help visualize the scale of the problem. He reminded the council that they would be acting that night only on the human services part of the budget, but said that it was connected to the rest of the budget. People are not using public safety services, if they’re using Avalon’s services.

Ellen Schulmeister, director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, described a client who had been helped through the association’s programs – a man named Charlie who, among other challenges, suffered from migraine headaches. He was falling through cracks in the system, and in late 2010 came to the Delonis Center, out of ideas. He entered the center’s residential program, she said, where a case manager helped him design a plan. The first step was to get his medical needs addressed. His case manager helped him apply for Social Security, which gave him a monthly income, and he was able to take the step of finding stable housing. He moved into that housing on Feb. 1.

Diana Neering, who is also with the Shelter Association, gave the council a second sketch of one of the association’s client success stories. It was the story of Matthew, who appeared at the shelter wearing boots and dark sunglasses. He had a mental disorder and would talk of owning 40 Internet businesses and being a friend of the University of Michigan president. Staff finally convinced him to give the shelter a try. He received mental health treatment through a prescription. His case manager had helped him apply for Social Security benefits and he was quickly approved. He now has income, health insurance, housing and treatment. “We didn’t give up on him,” she said. So she asked the council not to give up on the shelter.

Nicole Adelman, executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County at Alpha House, told the council that the city had supported human services funding for many years, and they should be proud of that. She asked the council to please not cut the budget this year. Ultimately, that money keeps people out of emergency rooms – it saves the community money, she said.

Joanne Motino Bailey, director of nurse midwifery service at the University of Michigan Health System, said she also worked with Planned Parenthood and has watched the funding be used to change women’s lives and provide the integrated care they need. She strongly encouraged the council to continue the funding.

Barbara Niess May, executive director of SafeHouse Center, noted that SafeHouse receives human services funding from the city. The long-term support that the city council has given to human services funding is part of what makes Ann Arbor a safe and pleasant place to live. She pointed out that the majority of funding that’s invested stays in the community and often leverages other resources. She said she’d be remiss not to thank the council for this gift, but said it’s also a necessary investment.

Pam Smith introduced the council to Child Care Network as a 33-year-old nonprofit that helps families find childcare. It had enjoyed 30 years of support from city of Ann Arbor. The nonprofit helps the most economically vulnerable, but they pay a portion of the child care – that helps keep parents involved. Clients have gone on to hold jobs as bank mangers and customer services representatives in the community, she said.

Also addressing the council for the Child Care Network was Lori Bush, director of family support programs. She told the council it’s difficult to get parents to come represent the nonprofit’s programs because they have time commitments, so she read a letter from one of their parents who is a client, who described how the nonprofit had helped her.

Julie Steiner, executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, encouraged the council to continue funding. She told the council that nonprofits don’t just stand before the city and ask it for money. She described starting a program for a “single point of entry” to save people’s energy. She described how the money allocated to WHA helps the organization bring additional money – leveraging the money it receives – $1.5 million had been obtained through the federal stimulus (AARA) for rapid rehousing.

Former councilmember Jean Carlberg said it was very nice to be in front of the council. When she’d left the city council, she went to the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, because she appreciated the fact that the alliance included 25 partners to work on homelessness. But she said her interest is more than homelessness. She noted that those who benefit from human services are not just clients, but also friends and neighbors.

Referring to the 4,000 paper cranes presented by Michael Appel and his group, Carlberg said that number would need to be multiplied by 5 to include people who are in crisis and near crisis. The issue concerns more than just people who receive services directly. She also pointed out that the money stays here and multiplies in the community. It’s a relatively small amount, she said. It’s a difficult choice, but she compared it to choosing between temporary inconveniences versus taking away a basic human need. There’s not a temporary consequence to that, she said. The city’s money would be well spent in the community.

Human Services Allocations: Council Deliberations

Mary Jo Callan, head of the joint city/county office of community development, described the human services funding levels this year compared to last year as a $116,000 reduction. The office as a whole had made a 7% reduction, even though the target was 2.5%. As Callan explained during a February 2011 working session, the previous year’s budget had assumed federal funds that did not, if fact, materialize. So they were “starting in a hole,” she said.

Mayor John Hieftje asked whether the 2.5% target was met, leaving the federal funds out of the equation. Callan confirmed that the federal funding is essentially the difference between the 7% reduction compared to the 2.5% target.

Referring to the coordinated funding approach to support nonprofits that provide human services, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said that in Washtenaw County, we are doing something unique in aggregating funds. That approach really maximizes and leverages the available funding. She commended the work that had gotten the community this far. She asked Callan to comment on the coordinated funding model.

Sandi Smith, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins

Foreground to background: Councilmembers Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and city attorney Stephen Postema.

Callan confirmed that her office uses a coordinated funding model that includes public entities – the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and Urban County – and the Washtenaw United Way. The idea is for these entities to examine how best to invest and amplify the effect of their funding. A review team representatives from each governing board helped evaluate the criteria set out for applicants beforehand. They’re funding a total of 63 nonprofit programs. The city of Ann Arbor funds aren’t directly supporting all of those 63, Callan said, but the availability of city funds allows decisions to be made about all of the nonprofits.

Smith asked Callan to illustrate how city dollars are leveraged by giving the ratio of dollars invested to dollars brought in. Callan told Smith that two years ago, a local dollar brought in $10 in additional support. That figure has now grown to $13, she said. The growth, she said, is due to a couple of factors. First, nonprofits are relying on being entrepreneurial and going after funds to support their core mission. Second, as the city allocates funding, it is now demanding “capacity” from those nonprofits, so the city is investing in nonprofits who know how to generate dollars.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who was one of the architects of the scoring metric used to evaluate nonprofits that apply for city funds, asked Callan about Meals on Wheels. He said he fully supported its mission and they do great work. But the fact of the matter is that it’s a University of Michigan program. “Yet they come to us?” he asked. Surely UM can find that amount of money, he ventured. So he asked Callan why Meals on Wheels comes seeking city dollars.

Callan told Rapundalo that other people have asked that too. Callan said she did not have an answer that would be good enough for some folks – but Meals on Wheels uses local dollars to leverage money, too. Part of it is also a policy issue – the city has always funded some programs.  They’re a part of the portfolio. Callan told Rapundalo that she appreciated his acknowledgment that Meals on Wheels does really good work. Rapundalo replied to Callan’s remark – she told him it’s a legitimate question – by saying that’s why he brought it up.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she’d like to postpone the resolution, because she was not prepared to vote that night. She held out hope that between now and the council’s next meeting, the city can find “an additional dime.”

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone consideration of human services funding.

Packard Square

Before the council were resolutions to approve the site plan and development agreement, as well as the brownfield redevelopment plan, for the Packard Square project, which is located at the site of the former Georgetown Mall. The development would include 230 apartment units, 23,790 square feet of retail space, 454 parking spaces and stormwater detention facilities.

At its March 15 meeting, the Ann Arbor city planning commission had unanimously recommended approval of the Packard Square site plan. [Chronicle coverage: "Packard Square, Fraternity Site Plan OK'd"]

The total investment by the developer for this project is about $48.2 million. The amount of that which falls under the brownfield plan’s eligible activities is $2.82 million – for site preparation, demolition, footing drain disconnects and sanitary sewer upgrades, and remediation of contaminants from the former dry cleaning business on that site.

Packard Square: Public Hearing

Mary Krasan thanked Margie Teall (Ward 4)and city planner Jeff Kahan for their time and effort in expediting a solution to the Georgetown Mall situation. The Packard Square project is not perfect, she said, but she hopes it will be a beneficial one to the neighborhood’s quality of life. The neighborhood has been lucky – it’s looking at an end to that particular blight, when other neighborhoods have no certain end in sight. Neighborhoods need protection against the impact of blight on property values and on morale, she said.

Jeanne Horvath told the council that her property abuts the old Georgetown Mall site. She described the proposed project as not the best, but better than what they have now.

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Democratic Party leader calling on council to pass amendments to the development agreement, saying the council needed to table it for this agenda. The amendments should ensure access for the most vulnerable – students, adults and families. There needs to be adequate access to the development, he said.

Packard Square: Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) reported that the city’s brownfield committee had met several times looking at the request. [The project is located in Ward 4.] She explained that the soil contaminants [tetrachloroethylene] will be removed to a concentration meeting a 10(-5) standard instead the more stringent 10(-6) standard. The reason for that, she said, is that a vapor barrier would be installed, at the request of the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality. The brownfield committee will be bringing a resolution before the council to ask the city’s environmental commission to review brownfield plan policies and to update them to add precautionary measures that were not available 10 years ago.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she’s delighted the site plan was in front of the council. She said the residents are excited about it. Higgins echoed Teall’s comments – it’s not often that near neighbors say they really want the council to move forward on a project. It’s become a real community dialogue, she said. Teall added that it’s been a dialogue between developer and residents.

Outcomes: On separate votes, the council unanimously approved the site plan, development agreement and brownfield plan for Packard Square.

Sakti3 Abatement

Before the council was a resolution to set a public hearing on the granting of a tax abatement to Sakti3, a University of Michigan battery technology spinoff from the University of Michigan. Sakti3 is led by UM professor Ann Marie Sastry. The public hearing will be held as part of the city council’s June 6, 2011 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

Sakti3 is requesting an abatement on $200,000 of real property improvements (electrical construction work) and $2.2 million of personal property (battery cycling equipment, thermal chambers, machine shop equipment, server system).

If granted, the abatement would reduce the annual tax bill on the new improvements by about $17,000 for each year of the abatement. According to city staff, the new real and personal property investments would generate about $22,500 in property taxes each year.

At their March 21 meeting, the council voted to set a public hearing on the establishment of the industrial development district under which Sakti3 is applying for an abatement. And on April 4, the city council approved the establishment of the district.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously without comment to set the public hearing date for the Sakti3 tax abatement.

Municipal Center Construction

The city’s new municipal center, located on the west side of city hall (the Larcom Building) has its main entrance off Huron Street. The street address for city hall is now 301 E. Huron.

Municipal Center Construction: City Administrator Update

During his communications time, interim city administrator Tom Crawford gave the council an update on renovations that are being done on the Larcom building.

In the basement, the area that had flooded due to a burst pipe dried well and there’s no mold, he said. Radon levels are below the action level for residential construction, he said. On the first floor the sprinkler piping is finished – drywall installation and asbestos abatement continue. Two elevators in the west tower are complete and have passed inspection. The old elevators are permanently out of service.

Municipal Center Construction: Wheeler Contract Extension

Before the council was a contract extension with William Wheeler for oversight of the municipal center construction project. In March 2010, the council had voted to continue Wheeler’s services as the municipal center project manager – Wheeler is a former city of Ann Arbor employee.

The contract language stipulated that it would expire when Wheeler hit a maximum compensation of $126,000 or by April 30, 2011. The council approved a contract extension of 60 days, with no increase in the cap on total compensation.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously without comment to approve the contract extension for William Wheeler.

Interagency Technology Agreements

The council was asked to consider the approval of several interagency agreements on the use of technology with: (1) Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; (2) Washtenaw County for data storage services; and (3) Washtenaw County for backup services.

The AATA board had discussed the collaboration at its April 21 meeting. The data storage services to be provided by the county will cost $73,632 for four years. The backup services to be provided by the county will entail an annual service cost of $102,607 for four years.

Tom Crawford Marcia Higgins

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) is not getting a tutorial on how to pack a snowball. As interim city administrator Tom Crawford noted during his communications – it's spring.

Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO and interim city administrator, noted that the state looks at this kind of collaboration favorably. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked whether the city’s recent arrangement to provide the city of Chelsea with IT services would count as collaboration from the state’s point of view – yes, said Crawford, if Ann Arbor gets to count things it’s already started.

Dan Rainey, head of IT for the city, explained the nature of the shared storage and shared backup – there will be one machine at city hall and one at the city’s Wheeler Center. Mayor John Hieftje said some people might question the cost. What would happen if the city didn’t spend the money, he asked. Rainey said the city would be at significant risk of not being able to recover data. That might mean the loss of critical data like maps, financial data, data on the wastewater plant, and day-to-day operations. It’s really important to have a means to back up and recover it, Rainey said.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted there are some people who think the city spends way too much money on IT. She asked Rainey to describe how much of the city’s IT operations are handled by his department. He explained that his department operates across the entire organization – 98% of all the city’s IT costs are in the IT department’s budget. Briere concluded that this reflects a change in the way the city government does business.

In response to a question from Hieftje, Rainey said that IT costs have remained relatively flat over the last three years. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked if the city would eventually move to cloud-based technology. Rainey explained that several of the applications used by the city are already cloud-based: including HR, payroll, and law enforcement and courts system software. He also said the city is shrinking its physical footprint by converting paper documents to digital form.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the three interagency IT agreements on its agenda.

Street Closings

On its agenda were approvals of several street closings. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked his colleagues to excuse him from voting on one of them. Grizzly Peak, which was requesting a closing of Washington Street in connection with a Sept. 16-17, 2011 Oktoberfest celebration, is a client of  the law firm Butzel Long, where Taylor works.

Other street closing requests were for: 1) the Ready Set Fly 5K on Saturday, May 21 from 8:45 A.M. to 11:00 A.M., and 2) The Event on Main, a fundraiser for the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospital, on South Main Street between William and Liberty, from 6 a.m. on Thursday, June 23 to 2 a.m. on Friday, June 24.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve all the street closing requests.

DTE Power Line Relocation

On the council’s agenda was the finalization of an agreement with DTE to relocate power lines in connection with the East Stadium Bridges reconstruction project. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, if the lines would be buried. The answer – yes – was provided by Homayoon Pirooz, head of project management for the city, who stayed until the end of the meeting, along with city engineer Michael Nearing.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the agreement with DTE.

Large Vehicle Purchases

The council was also asked for authorizations to purchase two large vehicles – an Elgin street sweeper and a combination sewer truck – and a large piece of truck-mounted equipment (a rodder for clearing out sewer lines).

Higgins said she felt like the ghost of Chris Easthope was sitting in her seat – she had questions about whether the purchases were necessary. [After the meeting, she told the Chronicle that former councilmember Easthope had on occasion questioned the purchase of some large vehicles when staff had recommended acquiring them – if a truck had limited miles on it, then the age of the vehicle wouldn't necessarily justify its replacement.]

After confirming with Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, that the staff did not need the council to act urgently, Higgins moved to postpone the sewer truck purchase. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) later moved postponement of the street sweeper.

Outcome: Votes on the two vehicles were unanimously postponed, but the rodder was approved at a cost of $87,500.

AATA Appointments

Before the council were two nominations that had been made at the council’s previous meeting to reappoint Charles Griffith and Rich Robben to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

Outcome: Griffith and Robben were unanimously confirmed as members of the AATA board.

Work Session Minutes

Before the council voted on approval of various sets of minutes from prior meetings, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) inquired why the March 14, 2011 work session did not include councilmember attendance. He was assured that the record of attendance would be added.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve minutes from previous meetings.

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: Taxicab Rate Increase – Public Hearing

As a part of his interim city administrator’s report, Tom Crawford noted that the city’s taxicab board is recommending a rate increase. At the council’s May 16 meeting, a public hearing will be held and the recommendation will be considered. The rate increase would affect only the mileage component of fares, which were last approved on May 19, 2008. The mileage increase from $2.25/mile to $2.50/mile had been requested by several taxicab companies in light of rising fuel prices. The taxicab board has indicated with this increase, it does not anticipate considering another rate change until the gas prices were over $5/gallon for at least two consecutive months.

Comm/Comm: Downtown Development Authority

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reported that there was some “confusion” but then rejected that as “too strong a word” and settled on “a couple of different interpretations” of the city ordinance governing TIF (tax increment finance) capture for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority district, which will be need to be worked out. That’s why a resolution had been struck from the council’s agenda – it would have allowed the council to ratify a new contract under which the DDA would continue to manage the parking system.

Taylor said that Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO and interim city administrator, was involved in working out the issue along with city attorney Stephen Postema. There may be a larger explanation at the council’s working session on May 9, he said. [Without ratifying a new contract, the city would receive about $2 million less in parking revenues than it has planned as part of its 2012 fiscal year budget. Chronicle coverage: "DDA Delays Parking Vote Amid TIF Questions"]

Comm/Comm: Park Advisory Commission – Budget

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reported on a conversation held at the most recent meeting of the parks advisory commission (PAC). Taylor is one of two ex-officio representatives of the city council to that body – the other is Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Taylor said that PAC had reviewed the FY 2012 budget and new fee schedule. PAC members had discussed cuts in the parks department, which are divided across two units – community services and public services. [Chronicle coverage: "Council to Get Reminder of Parks Promise"]

The cuts on the public services side are, as currently proposed, in excess of the cuts compared to other units. He said PAC had been told by Matt Warba, field services supervisor with the city, that the services to be provided will not be cut, but rather that the costs have gone down, because of greater efficiencies. The services will be consistent year over year, said Taylor. In addition to increased efficiencies, the proposed parks budget involves the shifting of cost burdens, for example, to money provided by the METRO Act. PAC passed a resolution exhorting city council to re-fund the public services budget.

Anglin added that PAC had discussed the gradual funding reduction to parks over the years. As the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage will again be before the voters for renewal in 2012, it’s important to have the policies for administration of that millage in place, he said.

Anglin said he doesn’t like to use the word “asset” in reference to parks, because it leads to treating the parks like a business. He reported that he’d talked to young people in their 30s, about how they’d taken advantage of some nice recent weather – they’d taken long bike rides and hung out in the parks. This is what we want to protect, Anglin said. He wants to look at policies for administration of the millage before it’s placed on the ballot next year and he wants to keep the parks whole, if possible.

During the budget public hearing, Julie Grand – chair of the city’s park advisory commission – told the council that she and Sam Offen, chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee, were there to talk about the two resolutions passed at PAC’s last meeting. The first one recommends that the council adopt the proposed budget, she said. The second one raises a couple of considerable concerns. The first concern is the cuts themselves and the second relates to the timing. The cuts would require change to the city’s administrative policy on parks funding allocations, she said. Given the fact that the millage will be up for renewal next year, the perception is that the millage will simply substitute for general fund support of parks.

Offen reiterated and supported the points made by Grand about park operations. The finance committee had talked with Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, about parks and recreation. The conversation had been well-planned, with plenty of notice and information. Offen commended Smith and Sumedh Bahhl, who heads all of community services, for their hard work, communication skills, and ability to provide a clear message to PAC. Offen said that the community is lucky to have people like that working for the city.

But Offen expressed concerned about the park operations side of the budget. PAC had had very little time to digest it. Offen said that PAC had significant questions about the lasting ability of state funds [like the METRO fund] to support it, and the fact that the proposed FY 2012 budget doesn’t adhere to the 2006 administrative policy on general fund support for parks. That policy had been a controversial issue at that time, Offen pointed out.

No one spoke during a public hearing on fee adjustments in the community services area, which included rate increases and new fees for new activities in the city park system. [.pdf of recommended fee increases]

Comm/Comm: Labor Negotiations – Fire-Related Deaths

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), noting the budget-related theme of some of the council communications, said it’s useful to remind people that the budget that former city administrator Roger Fraser had proposed before leaving the city ties a labor strategy to the budget: A certain number of planned layoffs in police and fire protection could be mitigated through union concessions.

If police officers adopted the same health care plan as non-union employees, then at least four full-time police officers would not need to be laid off. And if firefighters adopted the same health care plan as non-union workers, that would be sufficient to pay for more than two full-time firefighters, Rapundalo said. There is still time before deliberations at the council’s next meeting on May 16 to make those concessions. He said there’d been speculation that the council won’t follow though on plans to cut public safety workers. But Rapundalo said the budget is very challenging and there’s no place else to get those savings.

Mayor John Hieftje supported Rapundalo’s contention that the council was prepared to follow through on the cuts. A year ago, he said, Margie Teall (Ward 4) was able to make a statement that they had been able to find some additional funding, but there would not be that kind of comment this year. No year has been as tough as this one, Hieftje said – cities across the state have run out of strategies.

Matt Schroeder firefighters union

Matt Schroeder, president of Ann Arbor's Local 693 of the International Association of Firefighters, waits with others for his turn to speak during the budget public hearing.

During the public hearing on the budget, Matt Schroeder, president of Ann Arbor Local 693 of the International Association of Firefighters, addressed the council. He told the council that top city administrators had contended recently that the fire department’s initial response times probably won’t be affected by more cuts. In the last decade, he said, the city has eliminated 37 firefighter positions, closed one station and eliminated two trucks – average response time has risen, he said. The situation continues to worsen with rotating closures of stations, he warned. Fires are 2-3 times faster and hotter today, he said.

Schroeder said it’d been suggested that Huron Valley Ambulance (HVA) could handle the medical runs, and that the only reason the fire department responds is due to union protocols. In fact, Schroeder said, firefighters respond to medical runs because they’re trained for that and licensed by the state of Michigan. Citizens are not benefited by police officers going to those calls, he said, who are not licensed. The city and HVA determine together which calls firefighters go on – lives can be saved with firefighters responding to EMS runs. In just the last week, there were two occasions when firefighters had arrived well before HVA, and they were able to use basic life support skills to render assistance to two citizens, he said.

Schroeder then turned to statistics on deaths due to fire in Ann Arbor. From 1991-2005, he said, three people were killed in fires – that’s an average of 0.2 lives per year. Since 2006, 12 people have been killed in fires – 2 lives per year. That’s a 1,000% increase in lives lost during a period where there was a 29% staff reduction.

It’s been stated that the city is “comfortable” with more cuts, Schroeder said. He wondered if the city was comfortable with the fact that citizens needed to jump from balconies and roofs while they waited for enough firefighters [4] to arrive on the scene to enter a building to extract victims.

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) study currently commissioned by the city targets first-arriving fire department companies only, Schroeder said. It does not look at second, third, and fourth arriving companies. He said that firefighters are being vilified – they’re doing more with less. The local union does believe it can work together with the city, he said. Schroeder drew a round of applause from the audience when he concluded his remarks.

Susan McGarry, who addressed the council in support of human services funding during the same public hearing, noted that she was in a car accident and had been very well served by the fire department on that occasion.

Comm/Comm: Elections

Larry Kestenbaum told the council he was pleased to see them. He introduced himself as the Washtenaw County clerk, noting that he is also co-chair of the Michigan Association of County Clerk’s legislative committee. He noted that the next day was election day. In Ann Arbor, there was just one issue on the ballot: the WISD special education millage renewal.

Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum glances through his notes before addressing the council on the subject of elections.

Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum glances through his notes before addressing the council on the subject of elections.

Because it’s a single-issue stand-alone election with one item on the ballot and the city no longer has a daily paper, it’s pretty much a given that there’ll be low turnout, Kestenbaum said. Back in 2005 the number of elections started to be consolidated with a limit of four elections per year – in February, May, August and November. Since then, a lot of elections have been pushed to November, Kestenbaum said. [For example, the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees election shifted from May to November, and the Ann Arbor District Library had to follow suit. Chronicle coverage: "School Election Change Would Affect Library" and "Ann Arbor Library Board Moves Elections"].

The state legislature is now considering a bill to force all school board elections to take place in November, Kestenbaum said. [.pdf of legislative analysis of House Bills 4005 and 4006 introduced by Kurt Heise, District 20]

He said there is also a proposal to change to just two elections per year – in May and November. That means that primarie would be in May, when more people have the opportunity to participate, not in the middle of the summer, in August. For most cities, the primary is the election, Kestenbaum said, so the increased opportunity for participation in the primary is important.

Thomas Partridge announced that he was there to speak on very important issues in the history of America. It was the eve of an important special education millage renewal. It’s vitally important that people show up at the polls, he said. He encouraged people to find their polling places – sometimes they’re assigned alternate locations.

Partridge also said it was important for everyone to take cognizance of the effort to recall Gov. Rick Snyder. He noted that the petition language had been the subject of a clarity hearing on April 29, and the election board had voted to find that the language was clear. The recall effort criticizes Gov. Snyder for turning his back on the most vulnerable residents like seniors and disabled people, public employees including school teachers, he said.

Comm/Comm: Economic Development

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), as chair of the local development finance authority (LDFA), introduced Paul Krutko as the new CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK. He’d been selected after a national search. Krutko told councilmembers that he will give them a report on SPARK at their work session on May 9. Standing before the council, he said, is like being at home. Having spent 30 years working in economic development in cities like Cleveland, Jacksonville and San Jose, he is familiar with the city-manager form of government, he said.

Paul Krutko Ann Arbor SPARK

Paul Krutko, CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, approaches the podium to address the city council.

Krutko characterized Ann Arbor as a great community with great potential on the national and world stage. He said he can attest that companies can start in an incubator and become a major player on the world stage.

He said there is an excellent team at SPARK, which is a blessing and curse. When Michael Finney was tapped to lead the Michigan Economic Development Corp. by newly-elected Gov. Rick Snyder, he had taken key staffers with him to the state, Krutko said. So there are a number of key positions to fill at SPARK. That day was his 11th day on the job, he said. He concluded by thanking the councilmembers for the opportunity to appear before them.

Comm/Comm: Planning Commission Retreat

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) is the city council’s representative to the city planning commission. He reported on the commission’s retreat on April 26, which had a theme of a regional approach to planning. The idea is to coordinate with other communities. At the retreat, the commission had focused on Washtenaw Avenue, the area’s busiest corridor. Commissioners had done a “community crawl” using an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus for the afternoon.

The bus stopped along the way at various points: across from Whole Foods; Arborland; and Glencoe Hills. At Glencoe Hills, the commission visited with Albert Berriz, CEO of McKinley, which owns that property. They also heard from Mandy Grewal, supervisor of Pittsfield Township, and Ypsilanti Township supervisor Brenda Stumbo, and a city of Ypsilanti planner. Derezinski called the corridor a good possibility for urban collaboration. The planning commission took a positive step in hearing what other communities thought, he concluded.

Comm/Comm: Wet Meadow – Buhr Park

Jeannine Palms was on hand to receive a mayoral proclamation honoring her work and those of several other volunteers in connection with the Buhr Park Wet Meadow Project. In her remarks, Palms traced the effort to establish the three wet meadows back to 1996. The plantings help protect Mallets Creek. She noted the educational aspect of the project.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Yousef Rabhi chat before the start of the meeting.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and county commissioner Yousef Rabhi chat before the start of the meeting.

Andy Brush, the webmaster for Washtenaw County, said he’d been volunteering with the project since he met Jeannine when a bulldozer was out working to sculpt the wet meadow. He thanked several people, including Amy Kuras (city parks planner), Jeff Dehring (former city parks planner who’s now with the county), Jason Frenzel (former Ann Arbor natural areas preservation volunteer coordinator, who’s now with the Huron River Watershed Council); Janis Bobrin (the county water resources commissioner), and all the members of the community who volunteered for the project.

Brush’s daughter Clare also addressed the council, telling them that she’d started volunteering with the wet meadow when she was three years old, still in preschool. Sophia Werthmann also dated her involvement to the age of three.

Also tracing his history with the project to his youth was current Washtenaw County commissioner Yousef Rabhi. The project meant a lot to him on a personal level, he said – it had shaped his University of Michigan degree. It had inspired him to run for public office. He took the opportunity to make a “shameless plug” for people to show up to the May 15 planting day – it goes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Buhr Park.

Comm/Comm: Wet Sanitary Sewer

Interim city administrator Tom Crawford, who is the city’s chief financial officer, spoke about the city’s sanitary sewer system. Due to the wet spring, local soils are now saturated, so any additional rain that falls becomes runoff. During the last week of April, from 7 a.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday, he said, two inches of rain fell, and that runoff flowed into the Huron River.

During a three-hour period on April 28, the river peaked above flood stage, he said. [USGS flow rates for Huron River]. That morning, many trunk sewers were surcharged, running “more than full.” The system stands a risk of overflowing with additional rain. A few weeks of little or no rain will be required to dry the system out.

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Next council meeting: May 16, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

One Comment

  1. May 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm | permalink

    I wonder whether officials in the State of Michigan are following recent Federal hints that they might enforce the marijuana laws. Dispensaries are particularly mentioned in this article from the New York Times: [link]