Archive for May, 2011

Main Street

Himalayan Bazaar store’s opening day visited by many, chai and cookies, free meditation CD with every purchase.

Ann Arbor DDA Ratifies Parking Contract

At a special board meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, held at noon on May 27, 2011, the DDA board voted to give final ratification to a contract under which the DDA would continue to manage the city’s public parking system. The vote was unanimous among the 10 board members who attended. Absent were Gary Boren and Newcombe Clark.

At a special meeting held last week on May 20, the DDA board had initially ratified the contract, with a contingency that the city of Ann Arbor would provide an amendment that adequately underwrites DDA fund balances. Then at a Wednesday, May 25 meeting of two “mutually beneficial” committees – one from the city council and one from the … [Full Story]

Fifth & Huron

Two “Two Men & A Truck” trucks on Fifth, moving city of Ann Arbor office furniture and flotsam from the seventh floor of the City Center building back to the sixth floor of the renovated city hall. [photo]

Plymouth Road

Overnight update conveyed to The Chronicle by Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere: According to a Broadway Street neighbors group, last night (Thursday) the railroad had “road train” heavy trucks delivering 4-6-inch crushed rock into the hole. They’re trying to fill it up so that they can re-lay the track and reopen the rail line. This [photo] (by Sarah Byers) shows the cross section of the rail bed (where the railroad workers are standing), and how the uphill side could retain water.

Update from Briere after morning tour: [photo] of gravel being spread.

Column: A Season of Small-Stakes Softball

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

I went to Ann Arbor Huron High School, considered by every objective source to be the greatest high school in the history of the universe. And one of the things that made it so great when I was there was an intramural softball league.

Maybe your clearly inferior high school had one, too. But the IM softball league at Huron was created and run entirely by students – the burnouts, no less. That meant the adults, perhaps wisely, wanted nothing to do with it.

So the burnouts got the park permits – God bless ‘em – and every clique had a team, from the guys in auto shop to marching band. They gave their teams names like the Extra Burly Studs, the Master Batters and – yes – the ‘Nads. If you pause to think of their cheer, you’ll get the joke.

My buddies and I failed to get a team together our junior year, but our senior year, we found inspiration. Most of my friends weren’t playing spring sports, so we came home every day after school to catch “Leave It To Beaver” re-runs on Channel 20 – on something called UHF. (Kids, go ask Grandpa.)

Come softball season, we were moved to build a team around that very name: The Cleavers. But if we were going to face battle-tested squads like the All-Star Rogues and the Ghetto Tigers, we knew we’d need an edgier name. And that’s when we came up with – yes – the Almighty Cleavers. You know, to instill fear in our opponents.

You can imagine how well that worked. [Full Story]

Plymouth & Traver

More scenes from the washed out railroad tracks and mucked up Plymouth Road. A view of workers next to the collapsed tracks [photo]. A view from Plymouth Road – it’s hard to see, but just above the truck cab you can pick out the rusty brown tracks over the washout [photo]. A view of Plymouth Road covered with muck [photo].

How to Report Ann Arbor Sewer Backups

The city of Ann Arbor has issued a statement about its emergency reporting process for sanitary sewer backups and water main breaks, in light of recent rains. For basement flooding, call the 24-hour Water Utilities Customer Service Center at 734-794-6333 to report the issue. Maintenance requests can be filed online using the city’s Citizen Request System – in Step 2 (Service Request Type), choose “Sanitary Sewer Issues” or “Water System Issues.”

In some neighborhoods, the city has been issuing vouchers that can be used to cover cleanup costs related to flooded basements. More information about filing a claim with the city is available online.

A2: Business

Menlo Innovations, an Ann Arbor custom software firm, is featured in the June issue of Inc. magazine’s 2011 Top Small Company Workplaces. From the article: “If Menlo Innovations were a restaurant, extreme interviewing would be its signature dish. The practice distills the creators’ intent. One bite, and you know whether or not you want to eat there. The company prizes collaboration above all things, because that is what employees do all day, every day.” [Source]

Plymouth Rd btw Jones Drive & Broadway

Plymouth Road between Jones Drive and the west end of Broadway is closed in both directions, presumably due to flooding. Traffic heading into downtown is being shunted onto Jones Drive, traffic heading the other way is being shunted onto Broadway. [photo] [Ed. note: Credit on the photo goes to Sarah Byers.]

West Park

After all that rain I came across an open utility cover in the middle of the park. The grass around it was flattened in a circle around it. I was able to shove the cover back into place. If this is just one example, I would certainly advise parents to check parks tomorrow before young kids are let loose to wander! A very fast moving stream was visible from the opening, about 6-8 feet deep?

Northside Elementary Closed Thursday

At its regular meeting on Wednesday, May 25, the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees heard a report that during heavy storms earlier in the day, Northside Elementary School, located at 912 Barton Dr., had been struck by lightning, causing a chimney to crumble. No injuries were reported due to the strike. However, the school will be closed on Thursday, May 26, to deal with the damage to the building, the board was told.

Plymouth & Barton

Police seemingly blocking off south-bound Plymouth after Barton/Jones. Flooded perhaps?

A2: Flooding

Andrew Sardone has uploaded to his Flickr account some video footage of flooding from May 25, 2011 along Depot Street and Fourth Avenue – some automobile drivers appear to plow through the water unfazed, while others turn down a different street. From the audio: “This is, like, getting deeper really quickly!” [Source]

Lower Mulholland

Manhole cover tickled from underneath as the tributary to Allen Creek gushes through the pipe due to torrential rain. [photo] [photo] Also, for future reference, the trash/recycling carts can divert an amazing amount of water away from the storm drain grates if jammed against the curb. I gave one some breathing room. [photo] Background reading on sewers: [link]

Main & Liberty

Tree pits ensconced with chicken wire. Have Ann Arbor’s backyard chickens come to Main Street?? Actually, it’s likely just the base for the fake snow banks to be created for filming of “Five Year Engagement” tomorrow (Thurs. May 26). [photo]

Ashley & Liberty

Indications that the movie “Five Year Engagement” will be filming in the Liberty and Main Street areas on Thursday, May 26, with prep work being done today: (1) giant bank of lights sitting on street corner; (2) “art” bike hoop swathed in yellow caution tape; (3) on-street bike rack previously right in front of Old Town Tavern has been moved down the hill across Ashley. Filming at Old Town to be on May 31.

Workers installing Sonic Lunch banners, which might make it into a frame or two.

Loan Request Pulled for Packard Square

Washtenaw County board of commissioners chair’s briefing (May 24, 2011): Developers for the Packard Square project in Ann Arbor have decided not to apply for a state loan that had spurred debate among county commissioners. The board was told of the decision at a May 24 agenda briefing.

At their meeting last week on May 18, Washtenaw County commissioners had postponed action on a request to approve a $1 million loan application to the state Dept. of Environmental Quality for brownfield cleanup at the former Georgetown Mall site. Developers were asking to use the county’s full faith and credit as a guarantee for the loan – a request that caused concern over entering into a relationship with a private developer that might pose a financial risk for the county.

The board was expected to take up the request again at their June 1 meeting, along with consideration of a broader public-private investment policy they’re developing, which was also postponed from the May 18 meeting. But now that there’s no loan in play, commissioners seemed inclined to defer action on the policy as well, giving the county’s attorney more time to analyze the issue.

Other items previewed from the June 1 agenda include: (1) five drain projects in the city of Ann Arbor that require bonds backed by the county’s full faith and credit, totaling $6.54 million; (2) acceptance of $455,000 in federal stimulus funds for the county’s weatherization program, which has already received over $4 million in grants over the past three years, and (3) approval of a new public health medical director. The current director, Diana Torres-Burgos, recently announced her resignation – she’ll be leaving her job at the end of June. [Full Story]

Packard Square Proposal Moves Ahead

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 18, 2011): Two topics took up the bulk of time and attention during the most recent county board meeting: (1) proposals related to the Packard Square development in Ann Arbor; and (2) funding recommendations for nonprofits that provide human services to county residents.

Avalon Housing's symbolic paper cranes

Symbolic paper cranes were on display at the May 18, 2011 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The cranes represent the number of people in the county last year who used homeless support services. On screen in the photo’s background is Michael Appel of Avalon Housing, urging commissioners to support such services. (Photos by the writer.)

After much discussion, commissioners gave final approval to a brownfield plan for the Packard Square project, which will help fund environmental cleanup on the site of the former Georgetown Mall. The board also approved a $1 million grant application to the state Dept. of Environmental Quality for brownfield cleanup at the proposed $48 million development. Commissioner Wes Prater voted against the brownfield plan and the grant application.

The board postponed action until June 1 on a $1 million loan application to the MDEQ, as well as a request to authorize designation of the county’s full faith and credit as a guarantee for any loan that might be awarded, up to $1 million. They also discussed but ultimately postponed action on a broader public-private investment policy they’re developing, a policy spurred in large part by the request to back the MDEQ loan.

The policy discussion will likely be pushed back even further. At a May 24 briefing to review the June 1 agenda, commissioners learned from county staff that The Harbor Cos., developers of Packard Square, decided not to apply for the MDEQ loan. In light of that decision, the board is expected to take more time to flesh out details for its policy on public-private investment. And some commissioners – notably Leah Gunn – aren’t sure such a policy is even necessary. [Full Chronicle report on the May 24 briefing: "Loan Request Pulled for Packard Square"]

The other major item on the May 18 agenda related to funding for local human services nonprofits. The recommendations were made as part of a coordinated funding approach, combining support from the county, the city of Ann Arbor, the United Way of Washtenaw County, and the Washtenaw Urban County. More than 20 people spoke on the issue during public commentary, urging continued support for the county’s most vulnerable residents.

Commissioners were asked to give initial approval to $507,500 in human services funding for 2011. Additional funds for 2012 and 2013 were also approved, contingent on the board’s passing those budgets later this year – it’s possible that allocations will change, as the county works to eliminate a $17.5 million deficit. Commissioner Dan Smith voted against the allocations, citing an objection to one line item. He later clarified for The Chronicle that he objected to funding for Planned Parenthood.

The board acted on several other items during its May 18 meeting, including: (1) approval of a brownfield plan for LaFontaine Chevrolet in Dexter; (2) setting the 2011 rate for the county’s general operating millage; and (3) initial approval to hire Experis (formerly known as Jefferson Wells) to perform internal auditing services for the county.

The board also gave inital approval to apply for a federal Dept. of Justice grant worth nearly $500,000 to support the Washtenaw County Cyber Citizenship Coalition (WC4). Commissioner Kristin Judge, who spearheaded the WC4 initiative, reported that Gov. Rick Snyder has asked the coalition to host with him a statewide “cyber summit” later this year. [Full Story]

Another Special Meeting for Ann Arbor DDA

At a Wednesday, May 25, 2011 joint meeting of the “mutually beneficial” committees – one from the Ann Arbor city council and the other consisting of Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board members – committee members agreed on language that would serve to “underwrite” the DDA’s combined fund balances for the next five years. A special DDA board meeting has been set for Friday, May 27 to ratify the agreement.

The underwriting was a necessary condition of the DDA’s ratification of a new contract with the city, under which the DDA would continue to operate the city’s public parking system. At a special meeting last Friday, May 20, the full DDA board had approved a contract that would transfer 17% … [Full Story]

UM: Economic Diversity

The New York Times reports on the lack of economic diversity at the nation’s elite universities, including the University of Michigan: “For all of the other ways that top colleges had become diverse, their student bodies remained shockingly affluent. At the University of Michigan, more entering freshmen in 2003 came from families earning at least $200,000 a year than came from the entire bottom half of the income distribution.” [Source]


The left lane along the entire length of Beakes is blocked off.

Fifth & Huron

Cannot tell whether the Larcom building has been merely repainted “aluminum,” or has had aluminum siding added on to it. Does anyone know? [Ed. note: It's paint.]

Huron & Crest

Water balloon thrown at me while biking down Huron. Didn’t get wet, and then they drove away slowly so I could get their license. Brains!

Maynard & Liberty

Seen in the alley next to S’keep’s [photo] [Ed. note: Balloon-animal type balloons worn as complement to hairstyle?]

A2: History

A post on Gay Politics points out that a proclamation by California Gov. Jerry Brown, marking May 22 as ”Harvey Milk Day,” is historically inaccurate when it states that Milk in 1977 was the first openly gay man to be elected to U.S public office. The first openly gay or lesbian to be elected was Kathy Kozachenko, who won an Ann Arbor city council seat in 1974, as a member of the Human Rights Party. [Source]

Ann Arbor Council Defers Action Again

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 23, 2011 session of May 16 meeting): At a continued session from its May 16 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council was expected to wrap up outstanding issues related to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Those issues include: (1) ratification of a new contract under which the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority would continue to manage the city’s public parking system; and (2) acceptance of prior contributions by the DDA to city projects, as payment for excess tax increment finance (TIF) revenues that have been captured in the DDA’s TIF district since 2003.

Hohnke, Taylor, Teall, Higgins, Briere

Members of the city council's "mutually beneficial" committee, who are tasked with negotiating terms of a parking contract with the DDA (left to right): Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4). In the right of the frame are Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1). The five were conferring after the May 23 council session had recessed.

Settling those issues, which were crystallized at a special meeting of the DDA board on Friday, May 20, would allow the council to make final decisions on the fiscal year 2012 budget. While the fiscal year starts on July 1, the council is required by the city charter to adopt the budget, with any amendments, no later than its second meeting in May. If the council fails to act by then, the budget proposed by the city administrator in April is considered to be adopted. That budget currently calls for eliminating a total of 20 positions in the police and fire departments. Several firefighters attended Monday’s meeting.

After a few introductory remarks from mayor John Hieftje, instead of settling the outstanding DDA issues, the council voted immediately to recess the meeting – again – to be continued on May 31 at 7 p.m. The twice-paused meeting counts as the same meeting that began on May 16.

Hieftje’s introductory comments alluded in part to some remarks made at the council’s May 16 session about a “rainy day fund,” which had prompted the mayor to ask the city attorney’s office to draft a response. As part of his introductory comments, Hieftje also explained that he and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) had worked on drafting language that would provide some assurance to the DDA that the city would “backstop” the DDA’s fund balances, but said they were not ready to offer a resolution to the council that evening.

The immediate vote to recess the meeting again prevented Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) from introducing a resolution that calls for moving responsibility for the public parking system back to the city of Ann Arbor from the DDA, and reducing the number of DDA staff from four to two.  The resolution would almost certainly not have passed as drafted – but there could be some interest on the council, as well as on the DDA board, for establishing an oversight body for the parking system that would not be the DDA.

Following city council’s inaction, a joint meeting of the two “mutually beneficial” committees – one from the DDA board, another from council – has been scheduled for Wednesday, May 25 at 7:30 a.m. at the DDA’s offices at 150 S. Fifth Ave. The committees have been negotiating the parking contract for more than a year. [Full Story]

UM Grad Researchers Get Right to Unionize

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (May 19, 2011): This month’s regents meeting, held at the Dearborn campus, began with rare public discord between a majority of board members and UM president Mary Sue Coleman – and an even rarer public debate between regents.

Mary Sue Coleman

University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman before the start of the May 19, 2011 regents meeting, which was held at the Fairlane Center on UM's Dearborn campus. (Photos by the writer.)

The issue was a resolution introduced at the start of Thursday’s meeting – an item not originally on the agenda – to support the rights of graduate student research assistants to decide whether to organize and be represented by a labor union. Before the vote, Coleman spoke out against the move, describing the relationship between graduate researchers and faculty as a special one that was fundamentally different than an employee-employer relationship. Changing the nature of that interaction could affect the university in significant ways, which she said caused her deep concern. The board’s two Republican regents – Andrew Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman – also objected to the resolution, both criticizing the fact that it had been introduced at the last minute without time for adequate discussion.

The resolution passed on a 6-2 vote, with Richner and Newman dissenting. It was notable in part because, with the exception of votes regarding tuition increases, nearly all votes by the board are unanimous, and in accord with the administration’s recommendations.

The meeting also included a variety of other action items, but none that spurred commentary by regents. They voted to increase room and board rates for 2011-12 by 3%, approved the schematic design for a $52 million expansion of Crisler Arena, and authorized the tenure or promotion of 169 faculty members on the Ann Arbor campus.

Regents also authorized creation of the Institute for Health Care Policy & Innovation, a new venture to be housed at renovated space in the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) – a $13.7 million renovation project that regents also authorized at the meeting. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs, said the institute will be the largest co-located group of health care researchers anywhere in the world.

In other action related to the NCRC, regents approved agreements – among a collection of 17 conflict-of-interest disclosures – with six start-ups that will lease space in the former Pfizer site, as part of the university’s Venture Accelerator program.

And in another item added to the agenda during the meeting, regents voted to approve the hiring of Lisa Rudgers as UM’s new vice president for global communications and strategic initiatives, effective June 1 with a salary of $270,000.

The board also got an update from Sue Scarnecchia, UM’s vice president and general counsel, on the Compliance Resource Center – a new website that coordinates various compliance efforts at the university.

At the end of the meeting, philosophy professor Carl Cohen spoke during public commentary, passionately urging regents to intercede in the renovation of East Quad in order to prevent the Residential College from being pushed into smaller, inadequate space. The RC is a living-learning program that Cohen helped start in the 1960s, and that’s housed at East Quad. If regents did nothing, he said, “your Residential College will atrophy and fade away.” [Full Story]