Archive for August, 2012

Liberty & Ashley

Utility pole flyer depicting upside-down cow labeled “cow tipping” with a word of encouragement: “You Look Beautiful Today!” [photo]

Washington & Ashley

OH: “I have a way. It’s just not an awesome way.”

Column: How Many Daves of the Condor?

“I’m smarter than you.”

That’s an idea that defines the character of Ann Arbor better than anything you might read in a brochure, or see in a Pure Michigan video.

Likely a condor.

Photo by Ward 2 Ann Arbor councilmember Jane Lumm, taken in summer 2012. She reports that a ranger at the Grand Canyon identified the bird as a condor. The plausibility of this being a condor has also been checked by a guy I know who is way smarter about birds than I am.

If you didn’t already know that, well, I guess that makes me … an Ann Arbor resident.

Besides writing op-ed pieces adorned with footnotes [1], another way Ann Arbor residents prove they are smarter than you is to deploy extraordinary words you’ve never heard before, possibly from a dead language – with an ever-so-slightly aggressive nonchalance, calculated to elicit from their listeners some kind of concession like “I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with that term.” [Alternatively, super-long, syntacticky sentences.]

And then the conversation may continue along the lines of, “Oh, I’m sorry – I thought that expression was so common. But there I go again, just assuming that everyone is as … much a resident of Ann Arbor as I am.”

And those of us who observe these interactions, which depend on a carefully scripted casualness, wonder smugly to ourselves, “Does he not realize everyone can see exactly what he’s doing? I mean, it’s like he thinks he’s the only … person who lives in Ann Arbor!”

Many elected officials in Ann Arbor have a variant on this gambit, which involves not extraordinary bits of vocabulary, but perfectly regular words – to which some special technical sense is given, outside of any reasonable expectation. By way of example, the word “regular” itself has (apparently) a technical sense that can transform a special meeting of the city council into a “regular meeting.” That technical sense  of “regular meeting” can be paraphrased roughly as: Any meeting the city council chooses to label as “regular” by voting to label it as such in a formal resolution. [2]

Given that we all live here in Ann Arbor – i.e., we are all smarter than each other – local governance leads to arguments about the meaning of words, even those that are perfectly ordinary. By way of additional examples (beyond “regular” and “special”) these pairs might sound familiar to some readers: “sell” versus “lease”; “opinion” versus “memo” [3]; “committee” versus “work group” [4].

But at the most recent meeting of the city council, on Aug. 20, 2012, part of the argument at the council table depended crucially on the meaning of the word “many.” I’m not making that up. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) disputed a contention made by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) that began “Many Ann Arbor residents believe …” The nature of their disagreement can, I think, be analyzed in terms of a numerical understanding of “many” compared to a proportional one.

It’s actually a standard puzzle from the sub-field of linguistics called semantics, which I have studied at an institution of higher learning. Otherwise put, I live here in Ann Arbor even more than you do. And the standard example sentence used by semanticists to illustrate the meaning of “many” involves condors.

So let’s begin with a treatise on condors. The bird with the Latin name Gymnogyps californianus … Heh. I’m kidding.

By “kidding” I mean “not actually totally kidding.” See, you need to understand something about condors before you can understand the example. One thing you probably already know is that condors don’t live in Ann Arbor.  [Full Story]

Avalon Housing: Near North Won’t Work

In a letter sent to Ann Arbor councilmembers and other government officials, Avalon Housing‘s senior developer Michael Appel has announced that the Near North affordable housing project will not move forward. The development team has determined that the project, which was to include 39 new affordable housing units, 16 of them as supportive housing, is not feasible as planned. [.pdf of letter from Michael Appel]

A change to the FEMA flood maps is highlighted in Appel’s letter as a crucial factor in the inability of the project to move forward. The new maps, adopted in 2012, show an expanded floodway, which cuts across the corner of the parcel. That mean that federal funds – part of the project’s financing … [Full Story]

AAPS Admin Hosts Board Candidates

Both candidates running for the board of the Ann Arbor Public Schools met with top district administrators for an informal question-and-answer session held at the the Balas administration building on Aug. 28, 2012. This kind of information session is regularly hosted by the district before each school board election. This year, Dale Leslie and incumbent Deb Mexicotte will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

After brief introductions, Leslie and Mexicotte were given a chance to ask the administrators any questions they had about the district and its operations.

Leslie took advantage of the occasion to talk about his campaign. He said he is familiar with the district, and made several criticisms – about the quality of instructional materials, the elimination of police liaisons in the high schools, and board’s goal setting.

Mexicotte responded to Leslie’s critique of the board by contrasting the goals that the board had set for itself internally with those it set for the district as a whole. Mexicotte had no informational questions of the administrators. She was first elected to the board in 2003 and currently serves as president of the board. Most recently, she was re-elected in 2010.

This year, the board seat that Leslie and Mexicotte are seeking will be for a four-year term ending in December 2016. The other six members of the AAPS board, whose terms continue at least through 2014, are Susan Baskett, Andy Thomas, Simone Lightfoot, Christine Stead, Glenn Nelson, and Irene Patalan. [Full Story]

A2: State Legislature

State Rep. Jeff Irwin, the Ann Arbor Democrat who represents District 53, was a guest on “Off the Record,” a talk show hosted by Tim Skubick that focuses on state government. Irwin’s segment starts about halfway through the 30-minute show. He is interviewed by panelists about leadership issues, state ballot proposals, and Democratic efforts to take back control of the legislature. Irwin is co-chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee. [Source]

UM: Football

In the context of five new colleges being added to the Football Bowl Subdivision this season, the Associated Press looks at the influence and impact that football programs can have on higher education. The article quotes former University of Michigan president Jim Duderstadt, who likened major college football programs to risky, little-understood credit-default swaps. ”Do you really want to put not only your institutions but yourself at risk for something that you’ll have so little control over, that you really will not understand?” [Source]

In the Archives: Diary of a Farm Girl

Soaring over Washtenaw County’s Superior Township on Google Maps gives the illusion of eagle-eyed omniscience. The plat map book lying open next to the computer shows that the meticulously-drawn maps of 19th-century farms correspond in good measure to the present-day brown and green patches on the screen.

This group of 19th-century schoolchildren from Morgan School may give a general idea of Mamie's Fowler School class size.

This group of 19th-century schoolchildren from Morgan School may give a general idea of Mamie Vought’s Fowler School class size.

Look – there are the outlines of the old Philip Vought farm on Ridge Road in eastern Superior Township. A fleeting sense of connection dissolves with the realization that the outline is only that – the chance to understand the lives of onetime residents is gone.

Would I have enjoyed growing up on the Vought farm?

What did a typical day involve?

How foreign and slow would a childhood be – measured not in miles per gallon but in wagon rides and footsteps?

Thirteen-year-old Mamie Vought left us her 1886 diary to let us know. [Full Story]

Washington & Third

Shiny new “Y” sign above front door. Staff handing out snow cones in celebration of its installation.

UM: Google Earth

The University Record reports that Google Earth is on the University of Michigan campus using a 360-degree camera mounted on a tricycle to photograph street-level views. The tricycle is traveling along paths and sidewalks. [Source]

Thayer & Washington

Students in matching T-shirts ready to help North Quad residents move in.

Date Set for Former Greek Church Demolition

In an email sent to news outlets on the evening of Aug. 29, 2012, Washtenaw County treasurer Catherine McClary has indicated that a tentative demolition date for the former St. Nicholas Church on North Main Street in Ann Arbor has been set: Sept. 10. The abatement of asbestos has been completed on the property, located near Beakes Street at 414 N. Main St.

The demolition will be done by Blue Star Inc. The company will install temporary chain link fencing starting Sept. 6 – the same day that the property will be put up for public auction, after going through foreclosure.

More detailed Chronicle coverage of background: “Rezoning for N. Main Site on Agenda.”

Fifth & Liberty

Seen on the front porch of a house on the Old West Side: An Etch a Sketch, with this note: “Victory Station! Ask Mitt a question – any question, any subject.” [photo]

Fourth & Washington

Huge crowd at parking structure, waiting in line to use new payment system.

N. Maple & Jackson

A car actually waits for the light to turn before turning right across pedestrian walk. Beeped at more than once by cars behind it.

Fourth & Washington

Parking attendant booths are gone at the Fourth & Washington parking structure. Attendants are on hand telling drivers as they enter about the new automated payment system. Everyone seems to be taking it in stride. [According to the press release from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority issued today, similar equipment is also being installed at the Liberty Square parking structure. Patrons will pull a ticket, take it with them, pay at an automated pay station, then use their paid ticket to exit the structure. The equipment is being paid for by Republic Parking under a $1.3 million lending arrangement with the DDA.]

Art Commission Strategizes as Millage Looms

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Aug. 22, 2012): Two days after the Ann Arbor city council voted to put a millage on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund art in public places, several leaders of the arts community attended the public art commission’s regular monthly meeting to offer support for a millage campaign.

Jim Fackert, Bob Miller, John Kotarski

In front of Ann Arbor city hall, from left: electrician Jim Fackert, and Ann Arbor public art commissioners Bob Miller and John Kotarski. Fackert was again working on the system that operates the Dreiseitl water sculpture, which includes water pumps and flashing blue lights. Miller and Kotarski were headed into the Aug. 22 meeting of the public art commission. (Photos by the writer.)

Dealing with the millage wasn’t the commission’s main agenda item, but they did spend some time talking about the need for a separate campaign committee. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin stressed that the commission itself can’t advocate for the millage, ”but we can educate out the wazoo.”

As individuals, though, commissioners will likely be very active – Chamberlin will be among those organizing the campaign, along with Arts Alliance president Deb Polich, who attended AAPAC’s Aug. 22 session. Mark Tucker of FestiFools was there too, and told commissioners that he and others were brainstorming on free or inexpensive ways to support the millage – including a “surprise” that involves football Saturdays and is “FestiFoolian in nature” to attract media coverage.

Ken Clein also volunteered to help. He was on hand to update commissioners on the status of the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture in front of city hall, as a follow-up to concerns raised in June about the installation. Clein is a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, the Ann Arbor firm that handled the design of the new Justice Center and oversaw its construction. Though delayed, the Dreiseitl installation is nearly completed and will be handed off to the city soon, along with a two-year maintenance warranty.

The sculpture is the largest and most expensive project coordinated by the commission, and the first one approved under the Percent for Art program. The two newest public art projects were added to the pipeline at the Aug. 22 meeting, on unanimous votes. They’ll eventually be located at: (1) Forest Avenue Plaza, next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University; and (2) a future roundabout at Ellsworth and South State.

In a written report, commissioners were given an update on available funds in the Percent for Art budget. Of the $1.668 million balance, $856,997 is earmarked for projects already approved by AAPAC, including $400,000 for artwork at the East Stadium bridges and $150,000 for Argo Cascades – but aspects of those projects are still under review by the city’s legal staff. That leaves $810,276 in unallocated funds. The largest amounts are in revenues from sewer projects ($451,955) and street millage projects ($241,951).

The commission also finalized its four-year strategic plan, and moved ahead on a new effort to involve residents in planning for public art in each of four quadrants in Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

Ellsworth & Platt

Pile of old Ann Arbor Transportation Ride Guides in the drop-off station dumpster. [photo]

Park Commission Focuses on Downtown, Dogs

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Aug. 21, 2012): Several items at the August monthly PAC meeting related to parks and green space in downtown Ann Arbor – improving what the city already owns, and possibly adding more to it.

Colin Smith, Bob Galardi

From right: Bob Galardi, the newest member of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, talks with parks & recreation manager Colin Smith before the start of the Aug. 21, 2012 PAC meeting. Because the PAC meeting in July was cancelled, this was the first regular session for Galardi since his appointment by city council. (Photos by the writer.)

In their main action item, commissioners voted to direct PAC’s dog park subcommittee to develop recommendations that could lead to additional off-leash dog parks, to be located in central Ann Arbor. Those recommendations will likely be presented at PAC’s Sept. 18 meeting.

The commissioner who’s been spearheading this effort for more than a year, John Lawter, didn’t attend the meeting. That disappointed one member of the public, Steve Thorp, who advocated for West Park to be considered as a potential site for a dog park. He dubbed Lawter “Citizen Canine” and said the ballfield at West Park could be a spot for a temporary dog park during certain hours of the day or times of the year.

Commissioners also heard from mayor John Hieftje, who asked PAC to help prioritize action on downtown parks. He highlighted possible improvements at Liberty Plaza and a process for moving that work forward. [.pdf of Liberty Plaza staff memo] But he also listed several other city-owned properties that he’d like to see as part of a greenway – including the 721 N. Main and 415 W. Washington sites – as well as the DTE/MichCon property that’s being cleaned up along the Huron River.

Commissioner Tim Berla asked how the Library Lane site – atop the new underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue – fits into the mayor’s vision for downtown parks. Hieftje said he’d attended a picnic there this summer hosted by the Library Green advocates. He felt it was a little disingenuous of them to show images of a possible future park with large, mature trees – because there’s only three inches of soil, he said, so if you’re looking for greenery and shade, that’s not the best place. There’s room for a plaza, Hieftje added, but the question is how large it should be.

The Library Lane site is one of five city-owned properties that are being evaluated as part of the Connecting William Street effort, which aims to coordinate planning and possible development on those properties. At the Aug. 21 meeting commissioners were briefed about that project, led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The DDA was seeking feedback from PAC on three development scenarios that, generally speaking, represent low density, moderate density and high density development.

Several commissioners expressed disappointment that the scenarios did not include more green space. Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, urged PAC to give specific feedback about where they’d like to see more green space and how they envision it being used, in the context of other downtown parks. She said the city needs to find a “sweet spot” between parks and the population density needed to support those parks.

Also on the agenda was an update from the nonprofit Community Action Network. CAN operates Bryant Community Center and Northside Community Center under contract with the city, which owns those properties. [Full Story]

UM: Denard Robinson

Previewing the college football season, the New York Times profiles University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, and describes how the death of his older brother Timothy, who died when they were both children, has driven him to succeed. From the article: “The second and third youngest of seven children, Denard and Timothy had dreamed ‘just to make it, make it somehow’ out of their hardscrabble neighborhood in Deerfield Beach, Fla., Robinson said. That way they could provide for their family. When Timothy died, Denard promised he would make it for both of them. ‘I was young when I said that, but to this day, I still think about him,’ Robinson said. ‘I took everything more seriously after that.’” [Source]

A2: Gender Equality

In a guest column published by the Detroit Free Press, Rebekah Warren – a Democratic state senator from Ann Arbor – reflects on Women’s Equality Day in the context of the upcoming Nov. 6 elections. Warren writes: “There is no doubt that the disproportionate number of men holding elected office in this country creates an unbalanced debate on women’s issues. For example, if Missouri re-elects Sen. Claire McCaskill instead of Rep. Todd Akin for U.S. Senate, we will have one fewer voice in the discussion throwing around words like ‘legitimate rape’ without concrete understanding of their consequences. Female elected officials make up just 20.9% of the Michigan Legislature and 16.8% of Congress, which is a statistic that must change.” [... [Full Story]

State & William

609 E. William. A final message from White Market: “Stick a fork in it, we’re done. :-(” with sketch of steak and fork. [photo]

Council Puts Art on Ballot; Lets Land Leaven

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Aug. 20, 2012): City council actions finalized the set of ballot questions for Ann Arbor voters on Nov. 6: A public art millage will join the Ann Arbor District Library’s bond proposal and the city of Ann Arbor’s parks maintenance and capital improvements millage on the ballot.

Mural at Allmendinger Park

A section of a partially complete mural at Allmendinger Park, funded through Ann Arbor’s existing Percent for Art program. (Photos by the writer.)

The public art millage would be levied at a rate of 0.1 mill, which would raise around $450,000 from Ann Arbor taxpayers annually. Passage of the public art millage would, according to the corresponding charter amendment, suspend the city’s public art funding mechanism embedded in the Percent for Art ordinance – but only for the duration of the four-year millage.

A selling point of the millage, compared to the current Percent for Art program, is that millage money could be used more flexibly than money set aside under the Percent for Art program. The Percent for Art ordinance requires that 1% of all city capital projects be set aside for art. But this funding mechanism carries with it a legal requirement that art paid for through the program be in some sense “monumental” art that is permanent. Performance art or temporary installations would not qualify under the current program.

Even though a millage offers more flexibility, leaders in the arts community are concerned about a possible perception that it would be completely flexible – which led the council to change the ballot language and charter amendment from “public art” to “art in public places.”

A proposal from Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to begin the process of revising the Percent for Art ordinance in advance of the millage vote got little traction from the council. Lumm indicated that she wanted to offer voters a clear choice – that unless the millage were approved, public funding for art would disappear. But her resolution was voted down, with additional support only from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

The majority of councilmembers felt that such a move was “premature.” Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he was open to a scenario in which the millage passed, the tax was levied for four years (which would generate roughly $1.8 million in money that could be spent flexibly), but then was not offered to voters for renewal after four years, which would mean an automatic reversion to the current Percent for Art program.

In other business, the council declined to take action on two pieces of land at opposite ends of the downtown – 414 N. Main St. (site of the old St. Nicholas Church), and 350 S. Fifth Ave. (the former YMCA lot). The council rejected a proposal to begin the rezoning process for the St. Nicholas Church property – in advance of a public auction of the land starting Sept. 6. The council also declined to support a directive to the city administrator to prepare for disposition of the old Y lot, citing an ongoing planning process for the area of downtown Ann Arbor that includes the city-owned parcel. That process – Connecting William Street – is being led by the Ann Arbor DDA under direction from the city council.

The council transacted a mixed bag of other business, including approval of a collaborative effort with Washtenaw County to handle towing. The council also approved the final grant contract necessary for completing an environmental study in connection with a runway extension at the Ann Arbor municipal airport.

The council rejected a proposal from Comcast for a new franchise agreement, opting instead to allow the current arrangement to stay in place at least through the end of its term in 2017.

The meeting ended around midnight with jostling among councilmembers on the issue of mayoral appointments. Prompting the discussion was the reappointment of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) to the board of the Ann Arbor DDA. Kunselman and Lumm voted against the reappointment, objecting to Smith’s dual service on the city council and the DDA board. Smith was originally appointed to the board before her election to the council in 2008 and is not seeking re-election this term. Other councilmembers defended Smith’s selection.

Less controversial was the appointment of Michael Benson to the taxicab board. That body had been unable to meet because it had only two voting members out of five, and could not achieve a quorum. If all three members show up now, that body can hold its meeting. [Full Story]

A2: Newshawks

The Ann Arbor Newshawks are back with their August 2012 report. Highlights include a unique suggestion for screening debris at the Dreiseitl water sculpture, a review of the “Elder Tats” tattoo parlor, and the game show “You Can’t Get There From Here,” which gives contestants 20 seconds to navigate between two locations – like Washtenaw Dairy to Knight’s Restaurant – without hitting construction blocks. Enjoy! [Source]

West Park

Great view of uncapped swirl concentrators in West Park – sounds like you can hear water gurgling. [photo]