Thursday, February 23, 2017

ICE raids reported in Ypsilanti

Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR) reported an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid yesterday in Ypsilanti. From the WICIR Facebook Page:
(Ingles abajo)
Eso es una ALERTA IMPORTANTE! Hoy en la manana immigracion tomo gente en Ypsilanti! Se ha reportado actividad de immigracion en las calles pricipales de Ypsilanti. Por favor si es posible no usan las calles principales y por favor pasan este mensaje a sus familiares y amigos. Gracias. Cuidado en las calles!

ALERT. This morning immigration agents arrested some folks in Ypsilanti. There have been a number of reports of immigration enforcement activity on the major Ypsi roads. Please avoid these areas if you can and pass the message to your families and friends.

If this is something that gets your goat, there is a training for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Rapid Response Team, a group aimed at protesting ICE actions as well as supporting ICE detainees and their families this Sunday at First Methodist Church in Ann Arbor.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How did a picture from Ann Arbor's 1998 anti-Klan protest become a logo for anti-racist punks in Germany?

The front page of the May 10, 1998 Detroit News and Free Press. Note Tom Pidgeon's photograph on the right. It shows 18 year old Ann Arbor resident, Harlon Jones, kicking an unnamed white supremacist. Photo courtesy AADL's Old News program. 
On May 9th, 1998, Jeffery Berry, founder and imperial wizard of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, led a rally at Ann Arbor City Hall. Berry brought 37 members of his DeKalb County, Indiana, KKK chapter to Ann Arbor with him. The 1998 visit was a fulfillment of Berry's promise after his 1996 rally, which had resulted in protesters clashing with police protecting the Klan: in his own words, Berry had vowed to return and return they did.
The 1996 rally saw anti-Klan protesters clashing with police and scuffling with Klan supporters. The most notable photograph of the day depicts 18-year-old Keshia Thomas, an African-American woman, using her body to protect a man with SS tattoos from an angry mob. As the time of the 1998 Klan rally neared, tensions were running high in Ann Arbor. The city erected barriers around City Hall, where Klan members would be speaking, and brought in reinforcements from other departments. There was also a volunteer Peace Team, who were there to protect the fence around City Hall. The anti-Klan protesters, headed by Anti-Racist Action, the Revolutionary Workers’ League, and the National Women’s Rights Organizing Committee,were also well organized.
Pidgeon's picture of Jones, enlarged an in color (left). The Good Night White Pride Logo (right), which originated in the German Hardcore and Oi! scenes.  


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

#A2Council preview: Feb. 21, 2017

Because of the yesterday's holiday, the Ann Arbor City Council is meeting tonight at 7:00 PM. The agenda is pretty light. There's the appointment of Alexandra Cacciari to the Public Market Advisory Commission. The Consent Agenda is mostly street closings, Fool Moon, FestiFools, Take Back the Night, SpringFest, Rock the District, and the Mayor's Green Fair. Other Consent items include a contract with SafeHouse for victim support services, an amendment to the City/DDA parking agreement, raises for school crossing guards, and a contract for slope monitoring at Barton Dam.

There are no public hearings scheduled tonight and no second readings of ordinances. There only firs ordinance reading is for 17-0257, which would add a chapter (120) to the city code dealing with the solicitation of immigration status by city employees.

After ordinances come motions and resolutions. There is a resolution, 17-0189, to withdraw objection to the renewal of liquor licenses for Old Carolina Barbeque Company and Nagomi Sushi and Noodles. Sounds like they have probably taken care of their back taxes and fees. There is also a resolution, 17-0258, to install Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons on Fuller Road at the crosswalk by the entrance to Huron and Gallup Park.

All in all a pretty light agenda. It will be interesting to see whether Ypsilanti's or Ann Arbor's city council meeting will finish first tonight. As always, you can follow the meeting on Twitter using the #a2council hashtag. You can also watch the live on CTN.

Ypsilanti City Council Meeting Preview: Feb. 21, 2017

The Ypsilanti City Council will be meeting at their regularly scheduled time tonight: 7:00 pm at City Hall. The agenda is pretty light tonight. There are two ordinance first readings, both of which deal with changes to the zoning code. The consent agenda items consist of two items: approval of the Jan. 10th meeting minutes and the appointment of Christopher Madigan, an urban planning student at EMU, to the Planning Commission. There are also two resolutions dealing with the Thompson Block. I will discuss these resolutions as well as the ordinances below.

The first ordinance tonight, Ordinance No. 1283, would rezone the rental house a 311 Ballard from "Center" to "Core Neighborhood." The lot, located next to the Eagles Marker on Cross, was rezoned "Center" in 2015 as part of the Shape Ypsi update of the city's zoning code and master plan. The crux of the matter is that the "Center" designation is intended for downtown areas and does not contain "house" as a permitted use. 311 Ballard is, in fact, a house. This makes the current structure on the property non-conforming and that in turn makes it a big pain in the but for the current landowner. By changing the zoning from "Center" to "Core Neighborhood" the lots current use "house" will be a permitted use. This rezoning was approved by the planning commission. As such, it is likely to pass.

The second ordinance, Ordinance No. 1284, is a smattering of minor changes to the city's zoning ordinance. There are a smattering of changes throughout the zoning ordinance and I have insufficient time to detail them. This ordinance is the main reason the council packet is 812 pages for this meeting.

The two resolutions dealing with the Thompson Block, 2017-046 and 2017-047, involve dissolving various incentives for the properties old owners, Thompson Block Partners, LLC. This paves the way for the new owners, 2Mission, to receive OPRA (Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act) and Brownfield incentives at a later date, if the city and 2Mission decide they want to pursue these at some point in the future.

I'll be at the meeting tonight tweeting with the #YpsiCouncil hashtag. Please follow along and contribute.

More:

February 21, 2017 Ypsilanti City Council Meeting Agenda (2 pages)
February 21, 2017 Ypsilanti City Council Meeting Packet (812 pages)
Ypsilanti City Zoning Map (16 pages)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fresh Thyme, A review

Fresh Thyme is Washtenaw County's newest grocery store.

Last week, I somehow manged to end up shopping at the new Fresh Thyme grocery store 3 times. The store, which opened February 1st, is located on Washtenaw at Golfside in Ypsilanti Township which makes it the closest supermarket to Casa Damn Arbor. It's about the size of Lucky's Market--a little bigger than Trader Joe's, smaller than Kroger.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ann Arbor Stories: The Red Light District

Incase you missed Rich Retyi's presentation at Nerd Nite last night, you can hear all about Ann Arbor's Fourth Avenue Red Light of yesteryear over on Ann Arbor Stories. This episode of the podcast is decidedly NSFW. From Ann Arbor Stories:

There was a time in Ann Arbor’s not-so-distant past when a part of town was widely known as the red light district. Adult bookstores, topless massage parlors, prostitutes, hoodlums, and bums—all just blocks from City Hall and Ann Arbor police headquarters. Cops were raiding massage parlors every few months, rounding up a dozen massage workers at a time, but the arrests never made a dent. Crackdowns on prostitutes and the johns who solicited them didn’t make much impact either. The red light district regenerated. Persisted. Grew stronger.

How did Ann Arbor become home to this kind of brazen adult fare?

My favorite part of this story is how it all turns on local zoning.

Image via: Ann Arbor Stories Instagram

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bill to roll back MI income tax moves to House

Gentle readers, keep your eyes on HB 4001. The bill just moved from committee to House of Representatives. It would cut the income tax from 4.25% to 3.9% on Jan. 1, 2018, and by 0.1% in every subsequent year until is entirely eliminated 39 years in the future. In its first year of implementation, it would punch a $1.1 billion hole in the State's budget. Keep in mind Michigan's constitution requires a flat income tax. This means the someone earning an average income, $50,000, would save about $150 per year in their state taxes. Higher income earners though would save a great deal more. those earning more than $484,000 would get a tax benefit of $3,700 a year. So despite the fact that the folks who support this bill say it would benefit Michigan families, that's not entirely true. It would benefit benefit Michigan families in the top income brackets a great deal, while doing little for working and middle class families.

There is a faint sliver of hope. Our Governor has voiced his opposition to reducing the State's income tax, so as long as Snyder has is willing to standup to his party members in the House (and possibly Senate) we should be safe. Now might be a time to call Snyder's office and let him know how you feel about potential income tax cuts. His number is 517-335-7858. You can also find contact information for you state Senator and Representative at Michigan Votes.

More:

House panel approves gradual elimination of income tax - Freep
Can the governor rise to the occasion? - Jack Lessenberry
The truth about Michigan's proposed income tax cuts - Jack Lessenberry

Foster Art House show this weekend

Forster Art House is hosting another art show this Saturday, Feb. 18th. The space, located above The Getup Vintage (215 S State), is named for Foster's Art House an art store located at the same address from 1914 to 1941. The show is on Saturday from 6pm to 10pm. Seems like it would be a great thing to check out if you're downtown this weekend.

You can read Patti Smith's review of last weekends show, Niceland, over on Pulp.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Learn all about Ann Arbor's seedy past at this week's Nerd Nite


Damn Arbor alum and co-host of the Ann Arbor Stories podcast, Rich Retyi, will be giving a presentation about Ann Arbor's former red light district around Fourth Avenue at this Thursday's Nerd Nite. Rich and his co-host, Brian Peters, have been researching the heyday of Ann Arbor's red light district the 70s and 80s. A time when Fourth Avenue was not known for being the home of the Food Co-op and Fourth Avenue Birkenstock, but instead the infamous Danish News Bookstore. I asked Rich what he found most interesting in researching for his presentation. Here's what he said:
It's crazy how big a role the state of Michigan played in the history of porn. One of the biggest pioneers of pornography operated right near Flint, and at least one of the entrepreneurs he spawned set up shop right here in Ann Arbor, fighting the city and its businessmen for nearly a decade, while operating bookstores, theaters and massage parlors in the state. Ann Arbor had a real and true bad side of town. Anecdotes from citizens and businesspeople who operated on and near South Fourth Avenue talk about prostitutes lounging in doorways, hoodlums roaming the street and cars cruising slowly down the block looking at the merchandise. All two blocks from City Hall and Ann Arbor Police Headquarters.
Sounds like it will an entertaining and educational lecture. There will also be presentations by Romance novelist Celia Mulder, who will cover romance novel subgenres from "time-traveling Vikings to firefighting cowboys to shapeshifting were-creatures;" and from physicist Brian Worthmann, who will be talking about the color pink from a physics perspective.

Nerd Nite is this Thursday, February 18th at LIVE. Doors are at 6:30 and presentations are at 7.
There is no cover thanks to the AADL.

Monday, February 13, 2017

ANNthology on NiemanLab

Well gentle readers, we're a couple of weeks into the ANNthology morning newsletter and I've got to say, I am very happy with it. It was nice to see ANNthology written up on NiemanLab today. From the article:
“It’s good to promote our work and have it showcased in a different light,” said Emma Kinery, Michigan Daily editor-in-chief. “When you come on our website, we’re immediately seen as a student publication. But the newsletter highlights us as a newspaper, not necessarily a student newspaper.”

Organizations such as the Ann Arbor District Library and the Ann Arbor Art Center have started blogs covering arts and culture in the city. When that content is included in the newsletter, it helps raise awareness for topics undercovered by other news organizations, said Luisa Puentes, Ann Arbor Art Center director of marketing.

“We felt the void of information about art in the community,” she said.

I think Emma Kinery's statement really captures one of the great things about ANNthology from our point of view: the newsletter is a great way for us to get our articles out to a wider audience. As a reader, I really like ANNthology because it does a great job delivering important local stories I might not otherwise find on my own.

So gentle readers, have you signed up for ANNthology? If you have, what do you think about it? If you haven't signed up yet, you can right here.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Teen Vogue goes to Hamtramck

Teen Vogue has a great little article about life in the first majority-Muslim city in the country, Hamtramk, MI. Contributor, Liana Aghajanian, paints a nice picture of life and diversity in Hamtramk.
Its demographic shifts have been cyclical, changing along with the world. While large numbers of Polish immigrants initially came over a century ago to work at the Dodge brothers’ automotive plant, Hamtramck also served as a transitional landing pad for Albanian, Bosnian, Ukrainian, Armenian, and Lebanese families escaping war, violence, and political persecution. As many found success and left Hamtramck for other parts of metro Detroit, Yemeni immigrants began arriving in the 1970s, while Bengali immigrants came in the '80s and ‘90s. Immigrants from both countries are still trickling into the city today. Thanks to economic conditions and ongoing conflict, their numbers, and the thriving businesses they’ve established, have continued to grow.
The article is definitely worth a read. I especially like how the article closes: "This isn’t necessarily America’s melting pot, this is America’s all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s a place offering the sort of variety that coexists in ways that need to be valued, instead of vilified, at a time when fear and hate aren’t contained in comment sections but are seeping into our lives as law."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

FOIA reform coming to Michigan?

According to a 2015 ranking complied by the Center for Public Integrity, Michigan is the least transparent state in the union. This is largely because our legislature and executive branches of government are exempt from the state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In response to last year's Flint Water Crisis and the Courser-Gamrat Scandal there was a bipartisan effort to reform the state's FOIA law by removing the aforementioned exemptions. Though the bill passed the House, it died in the Senate where Majority Leader, Arlan Meekhof (R-Ottawa County), never let the bill come up for a floor vote.

There is good news on the FOIA-front, though. There is a new bi-partisan effort to reform Michigan's open records laws this legislative session. Unfortunately, Meekhof believes nobody but journalists cares about having a transparent legislature. Speaking to a group of journalists in early January, Meekhof said "You guys are the only people who care about this." Gentle reader, I don't know how you feel, but I certainly would like a more transparent state government. It's embarrassing that Michigan is dead last in terms of transparency. If you agree, now may be a good time let your Senator and Representative know. Also, it couldn't hurt to give Senate Majority Leader Meekhof a ring too, and let him know that you support increased transparency for our elected officials. His office phone number is: (517) 373-6920.

Links:

Democracy, dying behind closed records
These lawmakers are pushing for more open records in Michigan
Subject Michigan Legislature to FOIA? Meekhof says MYOB
Contact Senate Majority Arlan Meekhof

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Niceland art show this weekend

Niceland is a special three day art show featuring local artists Helen Gotlib, Dylan Strzynski, and Lavinia Hanachiuc. The show is in the Tiny Buddha Space above Totoro at 213 S. State Street. There's an opening reception Friday February 10th from 6-9pm and the show continues Saturday (1pm-9pm) and Sunday (1pm-4pm). This special midwinter art show is the result of a confluence of fortunate events, according to Helen, "Dylan and I are on the road showing our work all over the country for several months a year so when we get back to the studio we normally don't have much time to have an exhibition locally... Having this space available at the right time for us to show together with Lavinia."

It looks like it'll be a great show. Helen and Dylan both make wonderfully unique paintings and I absolutely love the image on Lavinia's ceramics. If you are looking to see some lovely local art and support local artists you wont want to miss this show.

"Night" (Mullen), by Helen Gotlib. Used with permission. 
Links:
Niceland on Facebook
Helen Gotlib
Dylan Strzynski
Lavinia Hanachiuc

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Once more with feeling: Ypsi group seeks to place Water Street Debt Millage on Ballot

The Water Street Properties.
A group calling itself Citizens Supporting Ypsi is working to place a millage that would retire Ypsilanti's Water Street Debt on August 8th, 2017 Ballot. If you'll recall, in 2016 the Ypsilanti City Council proposed a debt retirement millage for the Water Street properties on the August 2nd primary election. That proposal was defeated by just 40 votes (1.5%). Mark Maynard has good coverage of the aftermath of the defeat of the Water Street Proposal on his site. A lot of folks who supported the millage suggested poor organization on the part of the Say YES to Ypsilanti Committee was to blame for the defeat of the millage. Indeed, few people knew there was even an organized group supporting the millage. Washtenaw County campaign finance records show the anti-proposal group, Stop City Increasing Taxes (SCIT), raised about 10 times more money than the Say YES to Ypsilanti Committee. This could indicate SCIT had a broader base of support and/or that they were better organized.

The failure of the millage in August 2016 left the city in a tight financial situation and led to a municipal hiring freeze. Citizens Supporting Ypsi is proposing a 2.30 mills ($2.30 per $1,000 of taxable value) millage that would raise $7,840,000 payable through 2031. All of this money would be required to be directed towards the Water Street Debt. They estimate it would free up about $700,000 from the city's general fund annually. To place the initiative on the ballot the group needs to collect at least 848 signatures from citizens registered to vote in the city of Ypsilanti by April 13th.

If you'd like to learn more, there is a campaign kick off meeting February 25th from 4-6pm at The Ypsilanti Freighthouse Cafe.

Links:

Citizens for Ypsi
Citizens for Ypsi on Facebook
Stop City Increasing Taxes campaign finance documents
Say YES to Ypsilanti Committee campaign finance documents

Monday, February 6, 2017

#A2Council Viewing Party tonight

Gentle readers, no need to watch tonight's Ann Arbor City Council meeting alone tonight (see above). The agenda is pretty light. The only public hearing tonight is on the proposed Closed Captioning ordinance. Still, you can expect come public comments regarding the ongoing deer cull. Also, given the President's recent EO's on immigration and borders, there may also be some members of the public advocating for Ann Arbor to become a full sanctuary city. Also on the agenda is a resolution to accept the recommendations of the Ann Arbor Liquor Control Commission, which Ed covered last week.

The viewing party starts at 6:45 at Workantile and is BYOB and BYO snack. As always, if you cannot make the viewing party, you can follow the meeting with the #A2council hashtag.

Previously:

#A2Council Viewing Party: Monday, Feb. 6
Ann Arbor Liquor License Reviews, 2017

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Ann Arbor Voters will consider a replacement AAPS millage at May election

The City has published details for the May 2 special election, in which voters will consider replacing a millage for Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Registration and Voting
  • The last day to register to vote in this election is Monday, April 3.
  • The Clerk's Office will be open Saturday April 29, 8am - 2pm for absentee ballot requests.
  • The Special Election is Tuesday, May 2, 2017.
  • City polling places will be open from 7am until 8pm.
Verify your registration and find your polling location at the Michigan Voter Information Center, and review the Secretary of State's Voting FAQs.

The Clerk's webpage notes that “Due to recent flooding damage and ongoing renovation work at Allen Elementary School, voters assigned to Precincts 3-4 (Ward 3, Precinct 4) and 3-7 (Ward 3, Precinct 7), will be assigned to a temporary polling place at Pattengill Elementary, 2100 Crestland Drive … 3-4 and 3-7 voters are scheduled to return to Allen School for the May 2, 2017 Special Election.”

You can also email or call the City Clerk for more information or to check the status of your voter registration in Ann Arbor.

On the Ballot

The ballot proposal is a 2.5-mill replacement for the current 1-mill AAPS sinking fund millage. It would replace the current (2015-2019) millage with a ten-year millage, from 2017-2026, and would cost $250 annually for every $100,000 of a home’s taxable value (which in Michigan is typically near 50% of a home’s market value; often less if the home hasn’t been sold in many years1). For comparison, the current (1-mill) sinking fund millage costs $100 annually for the same home.

AAPS has published an executive summary of this proposal, which opens:
In the Ann Arbor Public Schools, we are responsible for more than 3.4 million square feet in 34 school buildings and properties, located in the City of Ann Arbor and surrounding townships.

Sinking Fund is the millage levied in Michigan to support the repair and construction of school buildings. Sinking Fund dollars protect critical General Fund dollars that must be preserved for instruction, programs, salaries and other essential district operating costs. Under state law, sinking fund proceeds may not be used to pay teacher or administrator salaries.

The AAPS has an aging infrastructure that has not had additional investment, beyond the 1 mill Sinking Fund, in more than a decade (2004). The current reality is that the 1 mill Sinking Fund is not adequate to cover the needs to repair district infrastructure.

We have a wonderfully successful AAPS school district: our teachers and students, parents and programs are second to none. The AAPS is among the top-achieving districts in the state and across the country. In the Ann Arbor community, we are the proud beneficiaries of 32 beautiful school buildings, and it is our responsibility to restore and prepare them for the next generation of children. The current reality is that our school buildings are aging and require significant renewal and restoration.

Increasing the Sinking Fund provides a critical opportunity to provide much-needed improvements to each of our 32 school buildings. The breakdown of this 2017 Sinking Fund proposal is that approximately 65% is slated for repairs, approximately 15% to expansion in a few strategic areas of the city to meet the demands of new housing development, and approximately 20% to continue the 2015 Bond work that is currently in progress across the District.
The report notes that the school district has fallen behind on building upkeep since the economic downturn over the past decade forced deferral of routine maintenance, and says “it is important to responsibly attend to pressing physical property needs.”

It also contains a breakdown estimating how the funds from the millage would be spent.

If you don’t have the time to read the full executive report, consider reading this report on the millage from the AAPS news site:
The district currently has a one-mill sinking fund millage that is set to expire in 2019, but if voters approve the 2.5 mill sinking fund, it would replace the existing millage. The current millage raises eight million dollars but School Board President Christine Stead says it isn’t providing enough money to maintain Ann Arbor’s schools which on average are more than 60 years old. “It is not anywhere near enough to even handle one major roofing project at one of our big high schools,” Stead says. “So if we were to divert all of those funds to one thing it still wouldn’t be enough to get us there in a year.”
The AAPS website has a history of the sinking fund millage.

This article has been updated to clarify the millage cost estimate and explain how property taxes are assessed in Michigan.

1: A home’s assessed value, in Michigan, is 50% of the home’s market value. Taxable value is based on the assessed value but is capped — increases are limited to the change in the Consumer Price Index, or 5%, whichever is lower — until the home is sold. For additional information, see the City’s page on Assessment-State Equalized Value (SEV). The AAPS report linked in this article, which says the new millage would cost $125 for every $100,000 of a home’s value, appears to be talking about the home’s market, not taxable, value.