Archive for February, 2012

Marijuana Board Requests: Pause Enforcement

Appearing on the Ann Arbor city council’s March 5, 2012 meeting agenda is a resolution that would direct the city attorney, Stephen Postema, to “delay all enforcement activities against medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities except for claims that they violate Section 5:50.1(3) of the City Code, until the Council amends or rejects amendments to the zoning and licensing ordinances for medical marijuana.”

The resolution reflects an ongoing tension between the city’s medical marijuana licensing board and the city attorney’s office. [Full Story]

A2: Business

The Wall Street Journal’s Venture Capital Dispatch highlights a $5 million investment, led by Google Ventures, in the Ann Arbor tech startup Duo Security. The column interviews founder and CEO Dug Song: “We leverage something most people already own – a cell phone – to protect pretty much anything that requires a login.” [Source]


The Michigan state house of representatives government oversight committee hearing just concluded with a party line 3-2 vote to approve SB 971 and to recommend passage by the full house.

AATA Financial Group: Let’s Continue

A Feb. 29 meeting of a financial advisory group – an entity that’s helping the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority as it seeks to expand its governance and funding structure – resulted in broad agreement on many recommendations made by a subcommittee of that group.

But the group as a whole is declining at this time to make a final funding recommendation. Instead, the financial advisory group is recommending that it continue to convene periodically, but for the time being that their efforts be put “on hold.”

Regarding initial recommendations and findings, the subcommittee calculated that there’s a roughly $32.9 million gap between existing funding and what would be needed to fund the first five years of expanded services. To cover that gap, the subcommittee calculated that a countywide millage of 0.5 mill would be needed – if the mechanism of funding were to be a countywide transit tax. But the subcommittee declined to identify a millage as the solution to that funding gap, in light of pending legislation at the state level that might make other mechanisms available. [.pdf of Feb. 29 report draft approved by whole group] [Full Story]

First & Washington

Heavy construction equipment parked at the bottom of the old parking structure.

Brabec, Conn Move on to May Election

Democrat Felicia Brabec and Republican Richard Conn will face each other in May, as expected, to vie for the District 7 seat on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Both ran unopposed in their respective primaries on Feb. 28.

Brabec received 303 votes in the Democratic primary. In the Republican primary, 1,386 people voted for Conn.

Brabec currently holds the District 7 seat, one of 11 on the county board. She was appointed to the seat by the board at its Oct. 19, 2011 meeting. The position was vacated after former commissioner Kristin Judge resigned earlier that month. Brabec had been encouraged by Judge to apply for the vacancy, and was one of two people interviewed for the position. [See Chronicle coverage: "County ... [Full Story]

Absent Ballots: Romney Strong in Ann Arbor

Based just on totals from absent voter count boards, it looks likely that Mitt Romney will a decisive majority of Ann Arbor votes in the Republican presidential primary. In absentee ballots counted for all five wards, Romney received 55% of the vote compared to Rick Santorum at 20%. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich each received 10% of the vote. President Barack Obama was uncontested in the Democratic primary.

In Ward 1, Romney won with 43% of the vote (42 absentee votes), compared to Santorum with 24% (24 absentee votes), Paul with 21% (21 absentee votes) and Gingrich with 8% (8 absentee votes). In the Democratic primary, 95 votes were cast for Obama in Ward 1.

In Ward 2, Romney took 61% of … [Full Story]

Buhr, Cobblestone Project OK’d

At its Feb. 28, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission unanimously recommended approval of a $865,190 contract for road, parking and other exterior renovations at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm. The contract, which requires approval by city council, would be awarded to Fonson Inc.

Fonson submitted the second lowest of 10 bids. The contract includes a $786,536 base bid plus a $78,654 (10%) contingency for possible change orders. Funding would come from the park maintenance and capital improvements millage, as well as the park rehabilitation and development millage. According to a staff memo, the lowest bid received was from Pranam Global Tech for $499,000. However, no paving subcontractors were listed and no testing fees were included, which were both requirements of … [Full Story]

Contract for Senior Center Restrooms OK’d

A $35,200 contract for restroom renovations at the Ann Arbor Senior Center was recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its Feb. 28, 2012 meeting. If approved by the city council, the contract would be awarded to L.C. Construction, which submitted the lowest of eight acceptable bids. The facility will be closed in May while the project is completed, and activities will be scheduled at other locations.

The $35,200 includes a $32,000 base bid and a $3,200 (10%) contingency fund to cover possible change orders. Funds would come from proceeds of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

According to a city staff memo, the restrooms don’t meet the state’s Barrier Free Code. The center’s two existing restrooms – each … [Full Story]

DTE Landscaping Buffer Gets Parks OK

At its Feb. 28, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission unanimously recommended approval of a 15-foot landscaping buffer in Riverside Park, next to a proposed new DTE substation that abuts the park. DTE also needs to secure a variance from the city’s zoning board of appeals and planning commission, as well as final approval by the city council.

DTE is seeking a variance of the city’s conflicting land use buffer. The buffer is required for any commercial site that’s adjacent to a park – without the variance, that buffer would be located on DTE property. According to a city staff memo, DTE is building the new Buckler substation in the utility company’s Ann Arbor service center at 984 Broadway, to … [Full Story]

In the Archives: From Cordwood to Caviar

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s In the Archives column for The Chronicle appears monthly. Look for it around the end of every month. Subsequent to the appearance of this article, Bien was interviewed by Interlochen Public Radio about Great Lakes sturgeon. Listen to the interview online via the Interlochen Public Radio website.

Twenty thousand dinosaurs live in the river system bordering Detroit. They’re rugged descendants of the few who survived one of Michigan’s worst ecological disasters, against which one University of Michigan  professor battled – in vain. His efforts were crushed by Michigan’s short-lived yet feverish caviar industry.

Lake Sturgeon

The snaggletooth scutes along the lake sturgeon are visible on this depiction of the lake sturgeon (public-domain image).

Among the most primitive of fish, sturgeon first appeared when the Earth had just one continent. Millenia later the lake sturgeon thickly populated the Great Lakes and was fished by native peoples.

A young adventurer of noble French birth described the fish in his 1703 bestseller whose English title is “New Voyages to North America.” Baron de Lahontan’s book detailed the experiences gleaned from a decade of travel in New France, the onetime colony that encompassed most of present-day eastern Canada and the U.S. He wrote of Lake Erie, “[I]t abounds with sturgeon and whitefish, but trout are very scarce in it as well as the other fish that we take in the Lakes of Hurons and [Michigan].” [Full Story]

Main & Washington

Giant 4-foot by 8-foot signs for Ron Paul. One indicates he’ll bring troops home. The other says, “Ron Paul will cut $1 trillion.” The signs are juxtaposed with the window display for The Gown Shop Ann Arbor. They’re not affiliated with the bridal boutique – Ron Paul’s Michigan campaign headquarters are inside the building. [photo] Presidential primary is today.

Fourth & William

Sidewalk message in front of Blake Transit Center: “God Intent 1. Quest 2. Response 3. Lovelife”  [photo]

Packard & Stadium

In another likely sign of global climate change, the DQ on Packard near Stadium opened today.

What’s the Future Role for Libraries?

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Feb. 20, 2012): A senior staff report on a conference in Australia prompted some discussion at the library board’s February meeting,

Eli Neiburger

Eli Neiburger, AADL associate director of IT and product development.

Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development, gave the closing plenary talk at an international conference earlier this month in Melbourne. It was hosted by VALA, an independent nonprofit that conducts tech education and support conferences. Neiburger is considered a leader in the field – he was named by Library Journal as one of its 2011 Movers & Shakers. His talk – “Access, schmaccess: libraries in the Age of Information Ubiquity” – looked at the role of libraries in an era when most digital content is free.

In that context, he said, the library’s role in the future involves offering unique content, experiences and events. He indicated that the AADL, with its robust programming, is well-positioned for these changes.

In its main action item of the evening, board members unanimously approved a website terms-of-use policy that had been discussed at their Jan. 18, 2012 meeting. The five-page document covers a range of topics, including guidelines for AADL and user-generated content, and how copyright complaints will be handled.

The board also approved its annual committee assignments, which are unchanged from last year. Board president Margaret Leary indicated that continuity would be important for the coming year. That was an allusion to major decisions that the board is expected to make regarding its downtown building on South Fifth Avenue. In November 2011, the board voted to provide $45,000 in funding for consultants to help resume the process of possibly redeveloping that downtown building, which is located south of the city’s new underground parking structure. [Full Story]

UM: GOP Primary

The Boston Globe reports on last-minute campaigning by Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney as he attempts to hold off Rick Santorum in the Feb. 28 Michigan primary. The article quotes Michael Heaney, a University of Michigan political science professor: “If Romney doesn’t win the state of his birth then people will look seriously at whether he is viable at all. Even people within the Republican establishment are going to start rethinking their support, and money could start moving toward Santorum.” [Source]

North Main

At a retreat of the Ann Arbor public art commission, students from Skyline High – here for a class assignment – almost outnumber commissioners. The view from the second floor of the NEW Center, overlooking the Huron River on a sunny afternoon, is lovely.

Washtenaw: Farming

Writing on the Hand Sown Farm blog, Megan DeLeeuw describes a recent tour she took of organic farms in Washtenaw County, including Community Farm of Ann Arbor, Sunseed Farm and the Tilian Farm Development Center. DeLeeuw writes: ”For the first time since we started our farm I felt like a part of something larger after taking the time to look around. I am committed to visiting more farms and also finding ways that we might all work cooperatively to create a strong sustainable food system.” [Source]

Ann Arbor Council: Land, Water, Buildings

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 21, 2012): Land use was one common theme that trickled through the city council’s relatively short meeting.

Amtrak Station

The Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps at its Feb. 21 meeting. The council briefly touched on the topic of the current location of the Amtrak train station, which is in the floodplain (green area). The dark red is a building (Gandy Dancer) that was previously not analyzed as within the floodplain, but now is analyzed as such – similarly for parcels colored bright red. (Image links to higher resolution file with legend.)

The council denied a rezoning request from the owners of Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky, located on South State Street near the Produce Station, that would have allowed them to use the property for a retail operation larger than what currently exists. But the council did give initial approval to a rezoning request from the Society of Les Voyageurs that will allow the group to make an addition to their house, which is located near the Argo Dam.

At the other end of the spectrum from development, the council also took action that will allow the city to move quickly to demolish buildings that are derelict, posing a safety risk to the community. The council authorized the allocation of $250,000 from the general fund to pay upfront costs for the demolition of such structures. The city expects to be able to replenish the money out of a lawsuit settlement it won previously against the owner of the former Michigan Inn. The city will also eventually be able to recover its costs from property owners whose buildings require demolition.

Also related to possible future construction on land throughout the city, as well as the insurance for existing buildings, was the council’s initial approval of new federal flood maps. The most recent maps date from 1992. The new maps being considered for approval by the city were created out of a process begun by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Throughout the city, 452 structures are no longer analyzed as lying within a floodplain, while 88 buildings are newly analyzed as in a floodplain, according to the new maps.

Floods are one of the natural disasters that the city’s new emergency management director, Rick Norman, will be responsible for preparing the city to handle. The council formally authorized Norman’s appointment at their meeting.

In resolutions that required expenditures of funds, the council authorized additional outside accounting and legal expenses, as well as the painting and repair of equipment at the city’s water treatment plant.

In other business, the council passed a resolution in support of a clean air campaign, and authorized the closing of city streets for eight different upcoming events.

Two significant appointments were discussed at the meeting. The first was a mayoral nomination on which the council will be asked to take action at its next meeting – appointing Sue Gott, planner for the University of Michigan, to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The other was an appointment that has already been made by Gov. Rick Snyder – Joe Burke as judge to the 15th District Court. Burke was on hand to be introduced to the council. [Full Story]

Lack of Quorum Stymies Planning Meeting

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Feb. 23, 2012): The planning commission did not achieve a quorum of members on Thursday evening and therefore could not conduct its full meeting.

Ann Arbor planning commissioners

Ann Arbor planning commissioners and staff talk to high school students in city council chambers on Feb. 23. From left: Wendy Woods, Bonnie Bona, city planner Alexis DiLeo, and Kirk Westphal. (Photos by the writer.)

Five of the nine commissioners are needed for a quorum to conduct business, and only four attended. In addition to those four, about 10 people showed up for the two main action items on the agenda, and several high school students were attending as part of a class assignment.

After waiting about 30 minutes, vice chair Kirk Westphal and Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, conferred and decided to hear public commentary. One person spoke. John Chamberlain, an attorney representing the Automobile Club of Michigan, came to the podium only to say that he and his team would return for the commission’s next meeting, on March 6.

The club wants to tear down its existing AAA branch near Michigan Stadium and build a new one, and was requesting approval for a site plan. The other main action item on Thursday’s agenda was site plan approval to build a new Noodles restaurant on West Stadium Boulevard, at the location of the former Sze-Chuan West. Both projects will be considered at the planning commission’s March 6 meeting. [Full Story]

A2: Local Business

HLN – formerly CNN Headline News – published a feature on the cash mob phenomenon, and included an interview with Paul Hickman, the main organizer of the Ann Arbor Cash Mob. Hickman describes the two main goals for the local cash mob: “To give a little shot in the arm so to speak to local owned and independently operated businesses that are struggling against the chains and on line stores. We hope to help raise the awareness of where you’re spending your money and how it impacts your community. And two, many of the locals still have never been to some of these areas so this is a way to get them to see what’s out there. And it’s … [Full Story]

Column: When Ward, Ford Played Ball for UM

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The University of Michigan can boast 19 highly ranked schools and colleges, a couple dozen nationally recognized teams and countless famous graduates. And on matters of social justice, Michigan has often led the nation, not followed it.

But one Saturday, 78 years ago, Michigan took a sad step backward.

When Ann Arbor’s own George Jewett – who has a street named after him in his home town – earned his third varsity letter on Michigan’s football team in 1892, he could not have imagined it would take four decades for another African-American player to follow him.

The biggest reason was Michigan’s head coach from 1901 to 1926, Fielding H. Yost. He invented the no-huddle offense and the position of linebacker and popularized the forward pass. He built Yost Fieldhouse, the Intramural Building and the Big House. He had boundless energy, ambition and ego, and six national titles to back it all up.

You could argue that most of Yost’s faults were benign flaws, maybe even necessary evils. But one of Yost’s blind spots had no redeeming qualities: He was a racist. [Full Story]

William & Main

Antique VW Bus being driven by a young man with curly shoulder length black hair and a huge mustache. I’m still smiling.

Regents Take Action on Security Investigation

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Feb. 16, 2012): In the wake of a mishandled incident involving child pornography allegedly viewed on a UM health system computer, regents voted last week to start an external investigation into the matter.

Student groups at UM regents meeting

Members of student groups at the Feb. 16 UM regents meeting stood in support of a speaker during public commentary who was advocating for tuition equality for students who are undocumented immigrants. (Photos by the writer.)

Martin Taylor, who introduced the resolution at the start of the meeting, described the situation as “one that is unacceptable to the regents and that we, the regents, feel we must do everything within our power to ensure that it is not repeated.” There had been a six-month lag between the time the incident was initially reported in May of 2011, and action taken by university officials to investigate. A former medical resident, Stephen Jenson, was arrested in mid-December. [.pdf of Taylor's statement]

The university administration had issued its own report on an internal audit earlier this month, with recommendations to improve security and communications. [.pdf of UM report] But regents felt more needed to be done, and have asked UM president Mary Sue Coleman to work with board chair Denise Ilitch to make recommendations for outside consultants who could be hired to carry out an additional investigation.

During public commentary at the meeting, Coleman was sharply criticized for her handling of the situation. One speaker accused her of a repeated pattern of attacking whistleblowers. The remarks prompted some regents to come to Coleman’s defense, calling the accusations unfair.

The ongoing debate about whether to allow graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) to unionize also emerged during the Feb. 16 meeting, when three students spoke about the topic during public commentary. The same issue was the focus of an unusual special meeting that regents held the following week, on Feb. 21. At that meeting – which included heated debate among regents over whether the meeting had been called in conformity with the state’s Open Meetings Act – the board voted 6-2 to oppose Michigan senate bill 197. The bill would prohibit GSRAs from collective bargaining. It was subsequently passed by the Republican-controlled state senate on a 26-12 party-line vote.

Regents acted on a range of other issues during their Feb. 16 meeting. There was no mention of the Feb. 8 special meeting that had been called to approve the use of Michigan Stadium for the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic, scheduled for Jan. 1, 2013. However, one item on the Feb. 16 agenda did relate to UM athletics: a vote to rename the basketball player development center at Crisler in honor of William Davidson, who died in 2009. His family, via the William Davidson Foundation, recently donated $7.5 million to the University of Michigan athletics department.

Another renaming was also approved – for the Computer Science and Engineering Building, in honor of Bob and Betty Beyster. Bob Beyster, who received multiple degrees from UM and founded Science Applications International Corp., recently gave a $15 million gift to the College of Engineering.

In other business, regents voted to revise the board’s bylaws, including a change that eliminated a previous requirement that executives retire after their 70th birthday. Coleman will be 70 when her current contract expires in 2014, but regent Martin Taylor said the change wasn’t being made to accommodate her – it’s to comply with the law, he said. Regents also authorized the appointment of six Thurnau professorships, and took votes that moved forward several previously approved projects, including major renovations at East Quad and the residences in the Lawyers’ Club.

Two presentations were given during the meeting – by Martin Philbert, dean of the School of Public Health, and Doug Engel, chair and professor of cell and developmental biology. Engel’s presentation highlighted recent news that the U.S. National Institutes of Health has authorized an embryonic stem cell line developed by UM researchers to be eligible for federally funded research.

The meeting concluded with public commentary on a variety of issues, including (1) better access to a childcare subsidy available to parents who are UM students; (2) equity for students who are charged out-of-state tuition because they are undocumented immigrants; and (3) criticism of the university’s relationship with China. [Full Story]

AAPS Update: Climate, Bullying, Guidance

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education Committee-of-the-Whole meeting (Feb. 15, 2012): At its Feb. 15 committee-of-the-whole meeting, the AAPS school board discussed three related issues — combating bullying, assessing and improving school climate, and restructuring the school guidance and counseling program.

Riot Youth

Members of the LGBTQ student group Riot Youth addressed the Ann Arbor Public Schools board at its meeting of the committee-of-the-whole on Feb. 15. (Photo by the writer.)

Trustee Glenn Nelson noted that these interwoven topics had been a high priority for the board since a 2009 study session at which the board reviewed how AAPS was functioning in these areas compared to best practices in the field of education. “[T]his is not a topic of the evening,” Nelson said. “This was a deliberate and high-priority commitment where we really want to make progress.”

Also at the Feb. 15 committee meeting, the board members discussed an administrative recommendation to implement all-day kindergarten district-wide, which they approved at a special meeting on Feb. 18, 2012. The Chronicle previously reported on that meeting and the committee discussion.  [Full Story]