Archive for August, 2011

Main & Liberty

Several Ann Arbor police cars, Michigan State trooper car, two unmarked cars – parked in middle of Main Street. Raid on marijuana business.

1818 Packard

Signs: Drug war is domestic terrorism / Stop arresting patients / Postema must go Drug war is domestic terrorism / Stop arresting patients / Postema must go

Work Planned at Ann Arbor’s Riverside Park

Five residents showed up to the Island Park shelter on Tuesday evening to give input on planned renovations at nearby Riverside Park, which has experienced flooding and other problems.

Eliana Moya-Raggio, Amy Kuras

Ann Arbor park planner Amy Kuras, right, shows maps of Riverside Park to neighbors who came to an information meeting on Tuesday evening at the nearby Island Park. Sitting next to her is Eliana Moya-Raggio, a resident of Wall Street. The smaller map is an overlay showing how a lot of the park, which is located next to the Huron River, is in a floodplain. (Photos by the writer.)

Park planner Amy Kuras described the park’s entrance off of Wall Street as “falling apart,” and talked through some of the proposed changes of the project. The two main changes involve relocating a parking lot and repaving Canal Street, a narrow lane that runs parallel to the park and leads to the back of the University of Michigan’s new Kellogg Eye Center building.

The project is one of many slated for fiscal year 2012 and outlined in the recently updated Parks & Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan.

Residents generally expressed support for the project, and gave suggestions for improvements. During the hour-long discussion they also raised other concerns not directly tied to the park, including increased traffic along Wall Street, additional parking lots planned by UM, and noise from delivery trucks traveling along Canal Street to Kellogg Eye Center. Similar concerns had been raised by some of these residents nearly three years ago, at a December 2008 meeting with university officials regarding planned parking along Wall Street.

Tuesday’s conversation also touched on topics that affect the surrounding area, including the need for better connections to the Border-to-Border trail system, and the status of changes planned at the Argo headrace. The city had expected to receive a state permit earlier in the day so that work could begin on the headrace, but Kuras reported that by late afternoon, it still hadn’t arrived. [Responding to a follow-up email from The Chronicle, parks & rec manager Colin Smith reported that the permit has now been received, and work on the headrace will begin on Thursday, Aug. 25. For details of that work, see Chronicle coverage: "Action on Argo Headrace, Trails Near Fuller" ]

The Riverside changes are among several slated for the city’s current fiscal year, paid for out of the parks millage and outlined in the PROS plan. Another forum is planned for Tuesday, Aug. 30 at Cobblestone Farm to talk about proposed improvements at Buhr Park. [Full Story]

Fifth Ave. & William

6:05 p.m. During Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting, tornado watch announced over intercom at Ann Arbor District Library. Signs posted at entrances, exits. [photo]

AATA OKs Release of Funding Report

At its Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized release of the ”Volume 3: Funding Options Report” of its transit master plan (TMP). The TMP is part of the AATA’s effort to fulfill a countywide transportation mission.

Volume 3 of the TMP was authorized for release to “a panel of financial and public funding experts to review, refine, and adjust the document.” The first two volumes were released to the public earlier this year. [.pdf of draft "Volume 1: A Transit Vision for Washtenaw County"] [.pdf of draft "Volume 2: Transit Master Plan Implementation Strategy"]

Co-chairing the panel will be Albert Berriz, CEO of McKinley Inc., and Bob Guenzel, retired Washtenaw County administrator.

Funding recommendations made by the panel of experts are to be forwarded to the constituted unincorporated Act 196 board (U196) for further consideration and action. The transition of transportation service from the AATA to an authority formed under Act 196 of 1986 is the most likely scenario under which transit funding would be established on a countywide basis.

At its July 19, 2011 meeting, the board authorized the board chair to appoint three of its members to the U196 board and authorized the AATA’s CEO to use AATA resources in support of the U196. Update: The AATA has now made the report available in digital form: [.pdf of Part 1 of the Vol. 3 Funding Report] [.pdf of Part 2 of the Vol. 3 Funding Report]

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AATA OKs Implementation of New Website

At its Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized the use of $140,000 in federal funds to implement the redesign of its website. The bid for the redesign had already been awarded to the Michigan firm Artemis Solutions Group Inc.

Among the improvements desired by the AATA is a way to update the website by staff who do not have programming skills. AATA also wants its new website to be a tool that staff can use to broadcast information to AATA riders (via email, text-messaging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Among the enhanced information the AATA wants available on its website is real-time bus location information that includes a way for third-party developers to create and distribute smart phone applications using AATA’s real-time data.

The new website will also allow the AATA to provide a “performance scorecard” to display metrics that include finances, operations, ridership, environmental impact, maintenance and safety performance. The website is supposed to allow AATA to comply with section 508 ADA standards, and provide translation into multiple languages.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AATA Reduces Charge for go!pass Rides

At its Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized a change to the price it charges for rides taken under the go!pass program. The go!pass can be purchased by downtown Ann Arbor employers for their employees at a cost of $5 per pass annually.

The change authorized by the board might go unnoticed for holders of the passes, who do not pay fares to board the bus, but will include an increase from $5 to $10 for the annual fee paid by employers. That’s an increase that will be implemented by the getDowntown program, which administers the go!pass program. However, in the action taken on Aug. 24, the AATA is actually lowering the price per go!pass ride.

Here’s why. Holders of the go!pass card can board the bus without paying a fare, and there are no limits on the number of rides that can be taken with the card. The cost of such rides is funded in small part by the $5/card fee paid by employers, but in largest part by revenues from the city’s public parking system provided through the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. At its June 2, 2010 meeting, the DDA authorized three years worth of funding for the go!pass program. For the second two fiscal years of that funding, approval amounted to $438,565 (FY 2012) and  $475,571 (FY 2013).

The number of rides taken using the go!pass has increased each year for the last decade, but has jumped significantly during the last year. [.jpg graph of go!pass ridership] In the past, the AATA has priced go!pass rides in a way that matches the revenue per go!pass ride to the amount that bus riders would pay if they paid the full fare under a regular 30-day pass – the cheapest full-fare option. So, as go!pass ridership has increased, the total amount charged by the AATA for the rides has also increased.

In the past, the DDA has increased its level of support to match what the AATA has charged. As the DDA is under increasing financial pressure due to the new public parking system management contract recently signed with the city of Ann Arbor, as well as a possible need to return excess tax increment finance (TIF) that was collected, it’s not anticipated that the DDA will be able to increase the amount it contributes to the go!pass program.

Given the levels of funding now pledged by the DDA, the price that employers would need to be charged per go!pass per year would be $26 – if the same policy is maintained of charging for go!pass rides so that their cost matches what the cheapest full-fare option would be.

In recent presentations to the DDA, Nancy Shore, the director of the getDowntown program, has recommended an increase from $5 to $10, not to $26. The advisory board of getDowntown has approved the increase to $10.

The action taken by the AATA board on Aug. 24 essentially sets the charge for go!pass rides at a flat rate – equal to the DDA’s current level of pledged support, plus an estimate that the total employer contribution (at $10/pass/year) would be $71,000 per year, based on the roughly 7,100 go!passes sold to employers so far this year. That is, the price charged for go!pass rides for the next two fiscal years will be $509,565 and $546,571, respectively – independently of the number of rides taken by go!pass holders.

The board’s action translates to a decision to accept a $16/pass/year shortfall in revenues from go!pass rides, compared to what the previous pricing policy has been, or roughly $113,600 (16*7,100).

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AATA Amends Capital Plan

At its Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board approved a revision to its capital and categorical grant program to accommodate three projects: the Blake Transit Center (BTC) reconstruction in downtown Ann Arbor, the bus storage facility expansion, and the bus maintenance facility upgrade.

The scope of the BTC has expanded, with a total estimated cost of $5.5 million. The estimate is based on a schematic design that is not yet complete. Already secured is $4.195 million in grant funds, which leaves a balance of $1.044 million.

The bus storage expansion was AATA’s final project approved for federal stimulus funds – $1.01 million in stimulus funds were allocated to the project. With a current cost estimate of $2.404 million, there is a balance of $1.394 million.

The bus maintenance facility upgrade includes the addition of a urea filling station. Already approved in grants for that work is $0.598 million. The total cost will be $1.244 million, leaving a balance of $0.647 million.

The board’s action on Aug. 24 revised the AATA’s capital and categorical grant program to provide a total of $2,676,678 for the three projects from the AATA’s federal formula funds.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Taxi Increases Lead AATA to Tweak A-Ride Deal

At its Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized an increase in its contract with Select Ride, to provide service for the AATA’s A-Ride service – an on-demand program offered to those with disabilities preventing them from riding the regularly scheduled AATA fixed route service. The increase in the contract authorized by the board is 2.9% – from $2,793,481 to $2,873,481.

The increase reflects the recent increases in taxicab rates, authorized by the Ann Arbor city council at its May 16, 2011 meeting. The increase authorized by the council was from $2.25/mile to $2.50/mile, which had been requested by several taxicab companies in light of rising fuel prices.

The contract with Select Ride is structured so that the company is paid based upon the distance that passengers are transported together with the fare structure for the taxicab rides. The contract increase reflects a compromise under which the AATA is shouldering only part of the increased cost due to the taxicab fare increase.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AATA OKs MDOT Master Agreement

At its Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized standard terms and conditions for a five-year master agreement with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation. The master agreement will facilitate future contracts with MDOT for state funding, as well as to pass through federal funding to the AATA. The standard terms and conditions are established as part of a master agreement so that they don’t have to be spelled out in every future contract individually.

The current five-year master agreement expires on Sept. 30, 2011 and the board’s action authorized a new agreement that reflected only minor changes from the current one: third-party contracting procedures are updated, and reference to a regional program was eliminated because it no longer exists.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AATA OKs Voter/Rider Survey Contract

At its Aug. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized a three-year contract with with CJI Research Corporation to conduct survey research. The contract has two additional one-year options.

Of the three respondents to the AATA’s RFP, the one from CJI was the top-rated proposal with respect the criteria: price, experience, and technical approach. CJI was the firm that conducted the AATA’s most recent on-board and telephone surveys in 2009.

CJI has experience with polling for ballot initiatives. That experience is significant, because at some point it’s expected that a proposal will be put before voters across Washtenaw County that would levy a transit tax. The draft fiscal year 2012 budget for AATA includes $75,000 for an on-board survey of riders and a telephone survey of Washtenaw County voters.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Main & Washington

Busker struggling to keep his cardboard sign upright against strong gusts of wind.

UM: Football & Food

MGoBlog provides an extensive guide for University of Michigan football fans looking for food before and after the game. A photo accompanying the piece features a burger from Angelo’s with cheese in the shape of a Block M. There’s also a handy abbreviated version of the recommendations: “If you need something to eat after you hit town and want quick takeout for tailgating, go to Frita Batidos or Satchel’s. If you want to watch football go to Bar Louie. If you want to drink, go to Ashley’s. Dinner is harder. Right now I’d say The Ravens Club is the most versatile.” [Source]

A2: Book Review

The Los Angeles Times reviews “Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All,” a new book by Oran B. Hesterman, founder of the Ann Arbor nonprofit Fair Food Network. From the review: ”Hesterman’s work follows a library’s worth of books and movies that have questioned the wisdom of enormous corn and soybean farms, the morals of food advertising, the dangers of fast food diets, the health of confined animal feeding operations and more. But while Hesterman argues that the status quo is not working, he hopes to inspire readers to do more than plant tomatoes in their yards. He wants a food system that values “equity, diversity, ecological integrity and economic viability,” and much of the book is … [Full Story]

Liberty & Main

South side of Liberty between Main and Ashley, sidewalk chalk drawing of green creature flying a pig. [photo]

Packard & Fifth Ave.

Community standards officer ticketing un-containerized trash set out by the curb, next to trash and recycling carts. [photo]

A2: Earthquake

USGS website shows a 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia took place at 1:51 p.m. local Ann Arbor time. Reports across southeast Michigan of people feeling it. [Source]

UM: Solar Panels

Detroit News columnist writes about The Ecology Center’s petition drive to get solar panels installed in Michigan Stadium: ”…policy specialist Monica Patel concedes that ‘Michigan Stadium probably isn’t the most ideal solar location in town.’ Simply floating the notion, though, promotes solar energy and the 121 businesses in the Michigan solar energy supply chain, so the Ecology Center figures it’ll score a few points even if the project never gets off the bench.” [Source]

Column: Video Replay Review for City Council

When the University of Michigan Wolverines play Big Ten opponents in football, the video record of some plays can be reviewed by game officials – under conditions set forth by the conference. One kind of reviewable play is the completion of a forward pass: Did that player actually receive the ball from the quarterback in a way that, under the rules of American football, constitutes a completed pass than can be carried forward on the field of play?

city council audio tape

Audio tape recording of the Feb. 17, 2009 Ann Arbor city council meeting – even though the Community Television Network video has gone missing, it's still possible to review what was said at the meeting. The Ann Arbor city clerk's office makes audio recordings of council meetings to ensure the accuracy of minutes. (Photo illustration by The Chronicle.)

For its proceedings, the Ann Arbor city council does not have a video replay rule.

But if it did, here’s the kind of play that might be reviewable: Did a city council-appointed board receive advice from the city’s financial quarterback in a way that, under ordinary rules of plain American English discourse, constitutes a recommendation that should be carried forward in a future board policy?

At issue is whether two seasons ago, back in February 2009, city of Ann Arbor CFO Tom Crawford recommended to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority that the DDA have a policy to maintain a minimum fund balance as a reserve, and specifically, whether a minimum reserve amount was specified.

The question was important over the last two years in the course of negotiations between the DDA and the city about the contract under which the DDA manages Ann Arbor’s public parking system.

The remarks made by Crawford – which everyone seems to recall (albeit differently) – took place in plain view on the public field of play, at the Feb. 17, 2009 city council meeting.

What made the public conversation remarkable in the waning stages of contract negotiations, was that it was based on what the different players (including Crawford) recalled Crawford saying. Why not just take an approach familiar to the Big Ten college football conference, and review the tape to find out exactly what Crawford said? [Full Story]

CTN: What’s The Vision for Local Television?

Editor’s note: In April 2011, The Chronicle sought to verify statements about Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority finances made by city staff at the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 17, 2009 meeting. We learned that the recording of the meeting was no longer available from Community Television Network (CTN), which is part of the city of Ann Arbor’s communications unit. The DVD of the meeting was missing and the online content had been deleted.

CTN Control Room

Chronicle file photo from September 2010 of the control room adjoining the CTN television studio, located on South Industrial Highway. On the screens are images from a local League of Women Voters city council candidate forum.

The Chronicle subsequently obtained an audio cassette recording of the Feb. 17 meeting made by the city clerk.

In relevant part, we report the contents of that city council cassette tape in a separate article. For this article, we take a view of CTN as an organization that’s broader than a missing DVD. But we still begin with a city council meeting.

In May 2009, former cable communications commissioner Paul Bancel addressed the city council during the time allotted for public commentary. He suggested that when councilmembers looked at the city budget, they’d see a $1.5 million allocation to community television. “It’s up to you to make it relevant,” he said.

Is it relevant? For 38 years, Community Television Network has served Ann Arbor. “There will always be cable providers or video providers,” said CTN manager Ralph Salmeron in a recent Chronicle interview.

But how does CTN fit within that media and communications landscape? [Full Story]

Felch Street

A “Not on our Library Lot” yard sign placed tastefully amongst flowers and vegetables on a small front yard garden.  Charming.

Fifth & Huron

3:45 p.m. Outbound, detoured around Sheesh fire scene. AAFD wrapping up. Collected wave from Fire Chief Hubbard on detour route. Inbound, noted T-1 nestled in its garage bay with door open as I passed, headed south on Fifth Avenue. Two seconds later, T-1 rumbled to life and out the door, with lights, sirens and horn. Turned east (left) on Huron. [photo] Wonder if it was possibly in response to fire alarm on University of Michigan north campus, Computer Science and Engineering. [photo]

A2: Missing Person

The city of Ann Arbor issued a missing person alert on Monday afternoon, Aug. 22: ”Please be on the lookout for an 81-year-old, white male with Alzheimers. He is wearing a tan jacket and was last seen at 11:15 a.m. today walking a small black and white dog on Heather Way, between Devonshire and Geddes. If you see him call 911 or 734-994-2911 immediately.” Update: By 4:30 p.m. the man has been found and is safe.

AAPS to Float February Tech Millage

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (August 10, 2011): AAPS board of education trustees approved a resolution at their Aug. 10 meeting to ask voters to fund $45.8 million in technology improvements across the district.


Trustee Andy Thomas uses a magnifying glass to review the amortization table presented as part of the bond proposal during an Aug. 9 special meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

The request to the voters will take the form of a tax to be paid by property owners over the next 13 years at an average rate of around .51 mills to support the sale of bonds. The rate will vary because the bonds will be issued in series in order to ensure that the equipment purchased with the bonds has a useful life longer than it takes to pay off the bonds used to purchase it. [A rate of .51 mills is $0.51 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value.]

Trustees plan to place the measure on the Feb. 28, 2012 ballot – the fourth Tuesday of the month. Previously, the board had discussed the possibility of placing it on the Nov. 8, 2011 ballot.

If approved, the millage would pay for a bond that would fund upgrades to equipment previously purchased with a 2004 bond, including student, teacher, and administrative computers, as well as upgrade infrastructure such as switches, servers, and the district’s wireless “backbone.”

The new bond would also include support for new classroom technologies and administrative software.

The Aug. 10 decision to place the technology millage on the February 2012 ballot came after discussion at a special board meeting on Aug. 9, which was called to allow for trustees to share feedback they had received from the community since directing administration to prepare for a tech bond at a study session on July 13.

The Aug. 10 meeting also included trustees’ unanimous vote supporting a new DVD recommended by the district’s Sexual Health Education Advisory Committee (SHEAC). [Full Story]