Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Stadium TC1 at Planning Commission tonight


A map showing the proposed TC1 rezoning along the Maple/Stadium corridor.

TC1 is the hot new zone that allows greater density and less parking along transit corridors. TC1 is awesome because it helps make the city more equitable, more sustainable, and safer. Rezoning more of Ann Arbor TC1 is critical to making sure the city meets its ambitious housing, climate, and vision zero goals. 

Tonight the Ann Arbor Planning Commission will have a public hearing on the proposed TC1 rezoning for the Maple/Stadium Corridor. It's really important for the commission to hear from folks who support this important project. If you support TC1 for this area and are able to, please call into the meeting tonight and let them know how you feel. You can read more about th project here.  

Tell Ypsi Twp you are opposed to constant surveillance today at 5 pm


Tonight at 5pm, The Charter Township of Ypsilanti, will be having a meeting to discuss adding license plate surveillance cameras to every entrance to the city. This is bad, and and if you have the time, you should tell the Township you are opposed to the cameras. If you are unable to make this meeting, you can also share your thoughts at the regular Board of Trustees Meeting tonight at 7pm. 

You can read more about Flock, the company Ypsilanti Township wants to use, here. And you can read more about the opposition to this surveillance proposal on What's Left Ypsi.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: August 15, 2022


It's #a2Council Night in Ann Arbor. Here's the agenda

The meeting kicks off with a moderate, 19-item consent agenda. I'm pretty stoked about CA-14 which is pavement marking and maintenance for several vision zero quick build contracts. You love to see it. 

There are two public hearings on the agenda tonight. PH-1/B-1 is on the second reading of some amendments to the Unified Development Code specifically around Cannabis licenses, trees in the right-of-way, and landscaping. PH-2/B-2 is probably the most exciting part of the night. This is the second reading of the ordinance to repeal parking minimums. This is very exciting as there is a ton of research that shows that parking minimums 1) increase housing costs, and 2) produce more parking than is needed. 

There is one ordinance first reading on the agenda today. C-1 is for a PUD at 340 Depot, which is located across from the Amtrak Station. This will be a 2 story building with commercial on the first floor and 4 residential units on the second floor. My only criticisms are 1) this is too short, build it taller! and 2) it's silly that something as simple as this needs a PUD. We really need to simplify our zoning code. 

Rendering of the proposed PUD at 340 Depot. 

On to the resolutions. DC-1 is to appoint Eric Farrell, a non-registered elector in Ann Arbor, to the Public Market Advisory Commission.  DC-2 is a resolution to authorize the city administrator to write a letter to MDOT in support of a noise abatement program along the M-14 corridor. DC-3 is a resolution to grant easements to DTE at Vets and Virginia Parks. DC-4 is a resolution to recommend a discussion of Right to Renew for renters. DS-1 and DS-2 are resolutions to have summary publications for the zoning changes in B-1 and B-2, respectively. 

 And that's all there is. Looks like it'll be a pretty short meeting. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: August 4, 2022


Gentle reader, tonight is a special Thursday edition of #a2Council. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with at modest, 11 item consent agenda. CA-1 and CA-2 are street closures for the Campus Fire Safety Awareness and UM Football games, respectively. 

There is one public hearing on the agenda tonight. PH-1/B-1 is the public hearing on the second reading of an ordinance reading that reduces the minimum lot size, rear setbacks, and minimum lot area per dwelling. This is good as it will allow more duplexes to be built. 

Further down the agenda we get to DC-1, a resolution to sell a city owned lot at 1146 S Maple to Avalon Housing to develop affordable housing. Nice. DC-2 is a resolution to disburse money from the Community Events Budget. DS-1 is a resolution publishing the ordinance changes from PH-1/B-1. 

And that's all there is. Looks like it'll be a pretty short meeting. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Deceptive Campaign Payments Uncovered


Hidden Payments

Two local political candidates - Anne Bannister for Mayor of Ann Arbor and Stephen Ranzini for Washtenaw County Commissioner, District 2 - have together spent more than $17,000 on consulting services from one anonymous entity with no address and no paper trail, bearing the name "Household Words." This morning, community members, collaborating on the twitter hashtag #a2council, discovered that the likely recipient of these thousands of dollars in campaign funds is Patricia Lesko, who runs the Ann Arbor Independent.

The Ann Arbor Independent bills itself as "an award-winning digital newspaper committed to excellence in community journalism," and no disclosures of these direct payments by the campaigns were found on the site at the time of this article's publication.

A Trail of Half-Disclosures

In this year's disclosures, Ranzini and Bannister both list Household Words under campaign expenditures, to the tune of $15,500 and $2,125 respectively. However, unlike every other disclosure, neither campaign lists a full address for this entity, just a city and zip code. The two candidates list "campaign consulting" and "postcard design services" as the services rendered. The trail from here appears to run cold, as Household Words is not registered as a corporate entity with Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).

One of multiple payments from Stephen Ranzini's campaign to Household Words,
totaling more than  $15,000

Anne Bannister's disclosure, paying Household Words $2,125

This doesn't appear to satisfy the reporting requirements for campaign finance laws in Michigan, which states candidates must disclose "the full name and street address of each person to whom expenditures or other disbursements totaling more than $50.00 were made." Note, in this context "person" can mean a business, individual, proprietorship, LLC, firm, etc. Given this substandard finance reporting, we appear to be at a dead end, with no further clues for who is behind "Household Words," a lucrative local entity receiving thousands of dollars in campaign funds.

However, in 2018, Jack Eaton ran for Mayor of Ann Arbor, and his campaign also paid "Household Words" $100 for design services. Unlike the current candidates, Eaton previously disclosed a PO box, 130117, for this entity.

Jack Eaton's 2018 Mayoral campaign, showing the P.O. Box of Household Words

A quick search for this PO box reveals it is shared with Adjunct Nation and the Ann Arbor Independent, both of which are online properties of PD Lesko, or Patricia Lesko, a self-described local "independent journalist."

Ann Arbor Independent: PO Box 130117, shared with Household Words

When details of the "Household Words" expense came to light, Vivienne Armentrout, who served as Jack Eaton's campaign treasurer in 2018, had the following to say on Twitter, confirming the expenditures were indeed to a consulting firm owned by "local journalist" Patricia Lesko.

Mixing Journalism and Campaign Consulting?

Through the Ann Arbor Independent, Lesko has published many election 2022 pieces, some of which target Bannister's opponent, incumbent mayor Christopher Taylor. She has also written more positive articles about Anne Bannister, whose campaign appears to have paid Lesko through the shadow entity "Household Words." No recent articles have been published regarding Stephen Ranzini, though one recent article portrayed his opponent, Crystal Lyte, as one of Taylor's "carpet runners." 

These journalistic pieces come during the same election in which Household Words was paid for campaign consulting and design work. Further, these payments were carefully and methodically hidden from public scrutiny, with the 2022 disclosures providing no info other than city and zip code for "Household Words," the only such disclosure with this attempted level of anonymity. 

This piece promoting Anne Bannister appeared on the Ann Arbor Independent
one month after Bannister paid Household Words $2,125.

Journalists and newspapers have a long history of selling ad space to local candidates, but direct payments for services and consulting have been taboo, and for good reason. Payments like these, which can appear to be from a political candidate to a journalist, certainly calls any claims of "independence" into question. The Society of Professional Journalists has this advice about mixing journalism and politics: "The simplest answer is 'No.' Don't do it. Don't get involved. Don't contribute money, don't work in a campaign, don't lobby." And when that cannot be avoided, the journalist should first and foremost err on the side of disclosure. Again, no such disclosures could be found on the Ann Arbor Independent website at time of publication. 

We reached out to both Bannister and Ranzini campaigns for comment, but neither had responded at press time. This article will be updated if/when we hear from them. 

Disclosure: Neither Damn Arbor, nor any entities associated with Damn Arbor, have been paid by any candidates seeking political office in Washtenaw County in 2022.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Art Fair Bingo, an updated retrospective

Art Fair Bingo has a history that stretches back over two decades. Let's take a look at the bingo cards over the years. 

Art Fair Bingo 2020 by MillerYear

Reddit user MillerYear posted this early pandemic bingo card to the Ann Arbor subreddit.

2004 Art Fair Bingo via https://osric.com/bingo/

According to osric.com/bingo, the authoritative source of Art Fair Bingo history, the game goes back to at least 1999. That said, some folks online have a distinct memory of Art Fair Bingo in 1998. The 1999 version is credited to the Tanya of the Blast-Off Girls, a WCBN show. The earliest digital versions I have been able to find are 2004 (above) and 2005 (below).

The most recent true version of Art Fair Bingo that I have been able to find is the 2017 edition by Umich grad, RJ Cron.

We also have an undated Art Fair Bingo card that appears to be from the late aughts:

If anybody has other Art Fair Bingo Cards, please share them. There are digital traces of a 2007 edition I would love to see. And of course, if someone has a copy of the 1999 or 1998 cards, that would be awesome.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: July 18, 2022


Gentle readers, tonight is the final #a2Council meeting before the August Primary. Let's dive in. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with a modest, 11-item consent agenda. Items 1 through 5 are street closures. CA-11 is really exciting: prohibition of on-street parking on Barton. This will allow more space for protected bike lanes, which we know make all road users safer. 

There are no public hearings on the docket tonight but there are two ordinance first readings. C-1 is several amendments to the Unified Development Code (UDC). Specifically for marijuana licenses, trees in the right-of-way, and landscape modifications. These look pretty minor. C-2 is pretty huge. It's an ordinance to remove parking minimums from the UDC. Parking minimums are bad for equity and bad for the climate. They make developers over build parking and increase the cost of housing while increasing automobile dependence. I am really excited for this. It's coming with unanimous recommendation from the Transportation and Planning Commissions but I expect this to be contentious nonetheless. 

Closing out the evening, we've got two resolutions. DC-1 is a resolution directing the administrator to expand compliance evaluations with regard to the city's prevailing wage requirements. Finally we come to DC-2, "Resolution to Organize a Joint Meeting of Interested Individuals from the Environmental Commission, Transportation Commission, Energy Commission, A2ZERO Ambassadors, and other Community Stakeholders to Identify Opportunities for Greater Coordination around Transportation, Pedestrian Safety, and Sustainability Initiatives Related to Sidewalk Expansion and Maintenance." Not only is this a mouthful, but it also looks like a meeting about a meeting. 

And that's all there is. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Vote August 2nd, for a Progressive Future

 Vote August 2nd, for a Progressive Future

Ann Arbor is essentially a one-political-party city these days, so the local election is always decided in the Democratic primary, this year on August 2nd. Any-reason absentee voting has already begun, click here to find out how you can vote locally. This year, the city's voters have a choice, and despite the party labels being the same, the candidates could not be more different in some of the major ways city life is shaped. The progressive slate is Mayor Chris Taylor, Cynthia Harrison, Chris Watson, Ayesha Ghazi Edwin, Dharma Akmon, and Jenn Cornell. These candidates offer a positive forward-looking vision of our city, in which we rise to meet the challenges facing our city including the dual crises of climate change and housing. 

The "small-c" conservative slate running this year is comprised of mayoral candidate Anne Bannister, council candidates Ali Ramlawi, Elizabeth Nelson, and Angeline Smith. In the case of incumbents Ramlawi and Nelson, and former councilmember Bannister, the public has a clear enough voting record to establish some common patterns. These candidates are consistently anti-housing, anti-safe streets, and anti-change in general, and thus have a poor record on substantive climate-change actions. Additionally — and concerningly — Ramlawi, Nelson, and Bannister have all repeatedly defended their council ally Jeffrey Hayner over his use of slurs. And they have used their power of office to politicize the day-to-day administration of our city, often governing by spite and engaging in conspiracy theories. Ward 1 newcomer Angeline Smith has no public record of votes to judge, but it is important to recognize that the supporters and volunteers guiding her are the same as those behind the scenes of the other candidates on the conservative slate.  

Anti-housing positions and votes

In our race to meet the climate and housing crises head-on, land use is a significant tool in our arsenal. And yet, the conservative slate consistently votes against housing, even when significant portions are set aside to be affordable. Here are a few examples of these votes:

  • March 2019, Bannister, Nelson, and Ramlawi voted against Lockwood, a development that would have provided badly needed affordable senior housing facilities for 99 years.

  • Early 2019, Bannister, Nelson, and Ramlawi voted to reject proposed changes in ADU restrictions in residential zones. ADUs, or "granny flats," are one small way to help citizens age in place and develop more affordable housing. 

  • In 2021, Nelson and Ramlawi again voted against relaxing restrictions on ADUs.

  • In 2019, Nelson, Ramlawi, and Bannister joined the other conservatives on council to reject Brightdawn apartments, a full 1/4 of which were designated to be affordable housing.

  • 2020, Nelson and Bannister voted to implement a moratorium of any new development in C1A or C1A/R zoning districts, ostensibly as a backlash to the new campus-adjacent development Beekman on Broadway.

  • June 2021, Ramlawi and Nelson voted against Valhalla, a 454 unit housing complex near Stadium. Valhalla is fully electrified — in keeping with Ann Arbor's A2zero climate initiative and located adjacent to a grocery store and along public transit routes.

Anti-Safe Streets votes

Opportunities Lost: safe routes to school

One of Ann Arbor's climate initiatives calls for a decrease in vehicle miles traveled, and Vision Zero calls to dramatically reduce deaths on our roads, but we won't get there by making roads less safe for all users. Instead of backing evidence-based interventions proven to reduce road deaths by 40%, Bannister, Nelson, and Ramlawi all voted consistently against staff-recommended road reconfigurations from the very beginning of their tenures on city council. 

  • In 2019, sidewalks were on the table. Bannister, Nelson, and Ramlawi voted to defeat a Northside STEAM K-8 school "Safe Routes to School" grant - despite warnings that rejecting the grant could compromise the city's ability to win future SRTS grants - which would have provided more than $400,000 in funding to help build sidewalks in the surrounding neighborhood, on Traver and other streets.

  • The conservatives on council voted to force staff-initiated road reconfigurations to come before council. This action effectively served to block city staff from implementing safety improvements in road design without council approval, which they often denied. 

  • Bannister, Nelson and Ramlawi voted against a road reconfiguration on Earhart road which would have included improved safety infrastructure for all users drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

  • At the same meeting, Bannister, Nelson, and Ramlawi also voted down a staff-requested reconfiguration of Green Road that offered improved safety for all road users at the Plymouth/Green intersection.

  • At that meeting, Bannister also opposed reconfiguration of the minor street Traverwood on the city's northeast side. 

  • Nelson and Ramlawi voted against accelerating long-deferred safety improvements to Nixon Road in 2020.

A committed defense of Jeffrey Hayner’s bigotry

After their colleague and ally Jeffrey Hayner was found to be using homophobic slurs online in a rant against his treatment by the media, the LGBTQ community rose up and called for his resignation, and called upon council to rebuke him formally. In response to the outrage, Nelson and Ramlawi voted against even the symbolic step of asking Hayner to resign. Anne Bannister, who was voted off council in 2020, nevertheless emailed privately and called publicly to defend Hayner, espousing a conspiracy theory that rebuking Hayner was actually "about pursuing 'overly permissive housing policy' with a new super majority."

When Hayner doubled down on his behavioral issues and used the N-word in an interview with an MLive journalist, his allies again rushed to his defense. Nelson wrote a screed defending his language, saying that he wasn't really using slurs but rather "phonetic sounds without euphemism." Nelson, Ramlawi, and Bannister repeatedly attempted to defend and excuse his behavior and language, which calls into question their commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. 

Politicizing the Oversight of City Administration

Under Nelson and Ramlawi's tenure, Ann Arbor has had 3 city administrators. The first administrator, Howard Lazarus, was fired by Bannister, Nelson, and Ramlawi and their allies shortly after gaining power. This unpopular sacking, about which much has been written, led to the ouster of many of their council allies, including CM Bannister herself, in the last election by overwhelming margins. Lazarus was given a large severance package, and released "without cause." 

At the time Nelson described this process as "routine," that cities part with administrators all the time for many reasons. Despite signing a non-disparagement clause, Nelson and Ramlawi continued to hurl unsubstantiated accusations at Lazarus, prompting a cease and desist letter from Lazarus’ lawyers. 

Contrast that with the next administrator, Tom Crawford, who was found by an independent investigation to have acted improperly with serious lapses in judgment. Nelson disregarded the findings of the investigator, instead pushing an improbable conspiracy theory that assistant administrator Fournier was plotting to overthrow the ousted Crawford.

This rhetoric obviously doesn't square with her previous thoughts about the sacking of Lazarus, who was fired with no official investigation, without cause. These two reactions differ so wildly that it only makes sense if Nelson was trying to avoid political consequences in firing Lazarus, and score political points when Crawford was fired.

CM Nelson: on firing Lazarus

CM Nelson: on firing Crawford

Later, another investigation was launched over accusations against Ann Arbor's assistant city administrator John Fournier. Sitting Councilmembers Nelson and Ramlawi inappropriately met in private with the complainant during an ongoing independent investigation. Ramlawi was later found to have leaked the internal (and confidential) HR complaint to a local partisan political blogger. The investigation found the complaint against the assistant city admin without merit, while formally rebuking Ramlawi and Nelson for their reckless breach of confidentiality.

At one point, Ramlawi was so upset about the fact that he and his slate were not getting their way, despite losing badly in 2020, that he suggested Governor Whitmer step in and appoint an emergency manager.

This conservative slate as a whole is unserious, in both their style and substance of governance. They govern by grievance and espouse conspiracies, and more often than not get in the way of progress in our small yet vibrant city. Luckily we have better options available, in the form of a progressive slate of candidates who are willing to address the city’s biggest challenges. Move Ann Arbor forward. Vote Taylor, Harrison, Watson, Ghazi Edwin, Akmon, and Cornell.

(n.b.  Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani is also running in the 4th ward. We wrote about her in 2020, and believe what we wrote then still applies.)

-The Damn Arbor Editorial Board

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: June 21, 2022


Gentle readers, please join us tonight for a special Solstice edition of #a2Council. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks of with a moderately deep, 23-item consent agenda. Of note, CA-1 and CA-2, street closures for the 4th of July Parade and the Firefighter Spray Park, respectively. CA-7 is on a contract for the re-surfacing of Platt Road. As we approach routine street resurfacing projects I think that it's really important to make sure that every street, especially major ones like Platt, has protected bike infrastructure. The data on this is clear, it makes the road safer for all road users, and gets more people biking. Biking is the most efficient way of transporting people, and we need to make sure that biking is easy and safe as we build for the future. 

There is one public hearing on the agenda this evening. PH-1/DB-1 is a public hearing on the annexation of a 5.74 acre parcel of associated with a somewhat confusingly named development, The Village of Ann Arbor, at 2600 Pontiac Trail. 

Further down the docket, we come to the resolutions. DC-1 is a resolution to appoint non-registered electors to a boards and commissions. DC-2 authorizes a settlement in Mark Jonker and Pasithorn Suwanabol v. City of Ann Arbor and Cadillac Asphalt, L.L.C.. The city will spend $10,000 in settling a lawsuit stemming from a flooding incident. DC-3 is a contract for installing solar on city property. 

And that's all there is. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Fruit Forecast: mulberries, juneberries, and cherries, oh my

It's mid June and fruit trees are beginning to ripen. This forecast focuses primarily on urban Washtenaw County. If you live in the northwest of the county, things spring might be a week or two behind. If you live closer to Detroit, fruits might be ripening a bit faster. Keep an eye out for hungry birds, they can strip a tree of ripe berries quickly. On to the forecast. 


Mulberries, with some berries approaching peak ripeness

The most frequent mulberry you are going to find is Morus alba, the Eurasian white mulberry. The fruit, when ripe, ranges from deep purple to white. These berries (actually a multiple of drupes) are just a few days away from peak. With the heat and rain this week. I'd expect them to be perfect by the weekend.


A few of these Juneberries are becoming edible

Whether you call them juneberries, saskatoon berries, servicesberries, or shadberries, there's one question on everyone's mind: when will these petit purple pomes peak? In my neighborhood at least, there were a few berries just becoming palatable this morning. I'd expect most juneberries to peak early next week. Keep your eyes on your favorite juneberry bushes.