Monday, March 18, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: March 18th, 2018

Buckle up, gentle reader, tonight's #a2council meeting promises to be a spicy one. Here's the agenda.

The evening kicks off with a 16 item Consent Agenda. Highlights therein include 4 street closures for festivals as well as a Greenbelt purchase. In the past Greenbelt purchases have been pretty routine, but recently they have been somewhat more controversial. I would not be surprised if this item gets pulled from the consent agenda.

There are 4 public hearings on tonight's agenda. PH-1 and PH-2 deal with the Mallets Wood PUD which would rezone 3.77 acres at 3300 Cardinal Ave. from single family residential to Planned Unit Development (PUD). PH-3 is a township island annexation. I have not been following either of these proposals very diligently. I know there has been some recent opposition to annexation by people who live in township islands. Still I wouldn't be surprised if there are not a ton of speakers during these public hearings.

PH-4 is tonight's spiciest chili. This public hearing is for the Lockwood of Ann Arbor PUD. This project is located at 3365 Jackson Road. It would rezone 3.52 acres from single family residential to PUD in order to build a 95 unit senior independent living facility. 40% of the units would be affordable units for a period of 99 years. Supporters and detractors of this rezoning are expected to turn out lots of folks for this public hearing so make sure you have your popcorn ready. I expect this will be a long public hearing and that council's discussion of the ordinance (C-2) will also be pretty long and heated.

There are a couple of other interesting items on the agenda tonight. C-2 and C-3 are downzonings, which we haven't seen come before council in a long time. C-2 rezones 0.6 acres from C2B (Business Service District) to R2A (Two-Family Dwelling District) in the 600 block of South Ashley. Planning commission has unanimously recommended denial of this ordinance. C-3 rezones 58 lots from R4C (Multiple-Family Dwelling District) to R1D (Single Family Dwelling District) and 4 Lots from R4C (Multiple-Family Dwelling District) to R1E (Single Family Dwelling District) in the West Hoover/West Davis area. Planning Commission recommended denial of this rezoning 5 to 3. It will be interesting to see how the council factions debate these downzonings.

Elsewhere in the agenda, CM Ackerman is introducing 3 resolutions aimed at provisioning affordable housing: DC-4, DC-5, and DC-6. There is also a resolution to study the regulation of short-term rentals: DC-7.

Gentle reader, what are you most looking forward to at tonight's #a2council meeting? Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Guest Article: Revisiting Water Rates in Ann Arbor

Ed: form time to time, we publish Guest Articles. This piece is by Erich Z., who has been diligently following the debate in Ann Arbor about the changes in the structure of water rates.

A sink in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Last week, the city received a second consultant’s opinion on Ann Arbor’s water rates. Arcadis Consulting’s report’s findings are largely consistent with conclusions reached by Stantec Consulting Services in 2017. This report suggested Ann Arbor introduce a tiered rate system where residential customers who use large amounts of water would pay a higher rate per 100 cubic foot (CCF) of water. The city adopted its current rate and tier structure in 2018. The new rates have been a hot topic, with resident confusion and anger helping to fuel a new balance of power in the wake of city elections late last year. The new council majority has contracted with both Stantec and Arcadis for a reappraisal of the water datagathered by Stantec.

A Gallon is a Gallon, right?

Reviewing the 2018 report by Stantec Consulting, the justification for a tiered rate system is that water rates should be tied to the actual cost of service. In 1998, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that fees must be proportionate to the costs of providing a service, otherwise they are considered taxes, and can violate the Headlee Amendment. The cost of a water system is mostly determined by its peak usage, so users whose needs do not fluctuate throughout the year do not cost nearly as much to serve as those those usage spikes. Peak use occurs in July for Ann Arbor, mostly due to a relatively small number of residential customers watering lawns and irrigating gardens. The presentation showed residential meters paid 12% less than the cost of service, while multi-family meters were paying about 30% more than their cost of service. In a move to make rates more fair and equitable, the council voted to change the water rates, most controversially to a four-tier system for single-family residential customers.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Biology on Tap tomorrow night at Corner Brewery

Gentle readers, a former colleague of mine, Dan Katz, is giving a talk on pollen heterogeneity in urban areas tomorrow night at Corner Brewery. If you or someone you know suffer from pollen allergies, this Dan's presentation will answer the question: "Can I avoid pollen hotspots during allergy season." You won't want to miss it. There will also be presentations by Emily Grman on prairie restoration and Lauren Schmitt on coffee agro-ecosystems.

The Biology on Tap event is tomorrow, March 12th, and starts at 7:30. There is no cover.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Paczki Guide 2019

Workers at Copernicus Deli load Paczki into boxes, Fat Tuesday, 2012. Unfortunately, Copernicus is no longer open.

It's Fat Tuesday. That means you need to eat a paczek. Of course, if you want the real experience, you should already be in line at the New Martha Washington Bakery in Hamtramck. If you are looking for paczki a little closer to home here are some suggestions:

Dom Bakeries - Everyone in Ypsi is getting their paczki at Doms.

Dimos - On Stadium in Ann Arbor. Dimos is a popular donut shop with lots of loyal fans.

The Lunch Room - If you want vegan paczki, you will have to wait until next year. The Lunch Room sold out of preorders yesterday.

Zingerman's Bakehouse - They expect to run out, so show up early.

Argus Farm Stop - I have it on good authority they are stocking my favorite flavor, prune, form Crust Bakery in Fenton.

Gentle reader, are you indulging in paczki today? Where are you procuring yours from?

Monday, March 4, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: March 4th, 2019

For those of you just turning in, this season of #a2council is great. It's full of emotional highs and lows and tons of plot twists. You should really be watching. Tonight's meeting could be a great place to start watching. The meeting (agenda here) starts out with a pretty light consent agenda with only 8 items. Highlights include a street closing for Take Back the night on April 3rd.

There are two spicy items on the agenda tonight. The first is PH-1/B-1. This would amend the rules for membership in the Independent Police Oversight Taskforce. Specifically it would add the bolded text below:

Persons who are current employees of the City or who have been employed by the City, including active or former police officers, within 5 years of nomination shall not be eligible for appointment. The requirements in the preceding sentence may be waived by a resolution approved by at least 7 members of City Council for current and former employees who are or were classified as temporary employees and who received fewer than seven pay checks in any year from the City.
This is the night's only Public Hearing. Police oversight is an issue that many people are very passionate about so I imagine that there could be some heated audience participation here.

The night's second hot pepper emoji is the first only reading of DC-3, a Resolution Regarding the City of Ann Arbor’s Spending of Proceeds from the 2017 Washtenaw County Mental Health and Public Safety Millage. By way of background, here's what I wrote about the Washtenaw County Mental Health and Public Safety Millage in January:

My tl:dr is as follows: under the Mental Health and Public Safety Millage, communities that have their own police force (e.g. Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti City, Pittsfield Twp., etc.) get a portion of the money from the mileage back as a rebate. Previously council passed a ordinance/resolution saying that if the millage passed, they would use the rebate for pedestrian safety, affordable housing, and climate change (I think). The new majority on the council does not necessarily like this plan...
You can expect some sparks to fly between the councilmembers tonight during the discussion of DC-3.

Gentle reader, what are you most looking forward to at tonight's #a2council meeting? Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

EDIT: I made some minor edits reflecting that DC-3 is a first and only reading of the resolution. Also, I updated the quote text to reflect the fact that the previous council passed a resolution, not an ordinance, to dictate how to spend the millage proceeds.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Shameless Promotion: Try my Sister's Wine Tomorrow at Spencer

Hello gentle readers, my lovely sister, Colleen, has been working at a cute little winery on the Niagara Escarpment called Liten Buffel. Over Christmas, she and her partner, winery owner Patrick Vaughn, did a pouring at Spencer. Now Spencer is carrying a limited selection of Liten Buffel's awesome wine. If you want to give the wine a try, there is a tasting tomorrow afternoon at the restaurant from 5-7 pm. There is a small fee for the tasting, but it's waived if you buy a bottle. One of the wines available is the 2015 riesling, which is one of my favorites. If you like dry, complex rieslings, you will love this wine.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: January 7th, 2019

Gentle reader, tonight is the first #a2council meeting of 2019. It's all very exciting. The meeting agenda doesn't look too long. There are only 4 items on the consent agenda, 2 of which are road closures for races.

The item I am most excited about is C-2, which updates the city's heinous Flag and Seal Ordinance. It essentially strikes all the previous text and replaces it with:

The city seal or city flag may be used in any other way that is constitutionally- or otherwise legally-protected. ...

Except as otherwise expressly allowed in this chapter, no person may knowingly:

(1) Display the city flag or city seal in, or in connection with, any advertisement, poster, circular, book, pamphlet, website, web application, or other publication, public meeting, play, motion picture, telecast, or other production, or on any building, monument, or stationery, for the purpose of obtaining anything of value by confusing, deceiving or misleading anyone into a false impression of city action, support, approval, official sanction, sponsorship, or endorsement; or
(2) Sell, or purchase for resale, any article that displays the city seal or city flag in a manner that gives the false impression of city action, support, approval, official sanction, sponsorship, or endorsement.

I think this is good. Under the previous iteration of this ordinance, I would have had to ask Mayor Taylor for permission to use the image of the flag and seal on this article.

Other interesting items include DC-2, which would settle the Library Lot lawsuit. Also, by the look of DC-1, Argus Farm Stop may be getting a liquor license.

Gentle reader, what are you most looking forward to at tonight's #a2council meeting? Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Documentary: The Brush Monkeys of Ann Arbor

Have you ever wondered who paints the wonderful holiday murals on local store fronts? If you have, you will want to check out 7 Cylinders Studio's short documentary Brush Monkeys. It's a brief look at the people who make all the wonderful seasonal murals around town.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: December 17, 2018

Gentle reader, tonight is the last #a2council meeting of 2019. Potentially the most exciting and consequential action will happen at the 6pm special closed session do discuss pending litigation. Oh to be a fly on that wall. There will be public commentary at this meeting, so if you can share your thoughts with council if you like.

The main meeting has quite a full schedule. One thing I am interested in is DS-1, which deals with sidewalk gaps around Northside School. This resolution would fill sidewalk gaps leading to Northside School as part of the Safe Routes to School program. One of the largest gaps is along Traver road near the intersection with Broadway (see above). My hot take on this: Ann Arbor should fill all sidewalk gaps post haste. But, the current way we pay for this, assessing property owners based on the amount of sidewalk being built in their front yards, is pretty bogus. Residents on Traver are being assessed at $43/ft which comes to anywhere from $1,290 to $8,686. Sidewalks are an essential public good. Not only do they allow for children walking to school safely, they allow for improved mobility for people with some disabilities. The city should pay to fill the sidewalk gaps.

One of the spiciest items on the agenda may be DC-3, which would provide council with guidance on a survey to determine how to use the rebate from the County Mental Health and Public Safety Millage. The controversy around this issue probably deserves its own article, or perhaps someone in the comments will elaborate. My tl:dr is as follows: under the Mental Health and Public Safety Millage, communities that have their own police force (e.g. Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti City, Pittsfield Twp., etc.) get a portion of the money from the mileage back as a rebate. Previously council passed a ordinance/resolution saying that if the millage passed, they would use the rebate for pedestrian safety, affordable housing, and climate change (I think). The new majority on the council does not necessarily like this plan and they would like to conduct a survey and they are proposing to survey people in Ann Arbor to see how to spend the money. In general, I am skeptical about governing by SurveyMonkey.

There are some other interesting items on tonight's agenda:

DC-2: Resolution to Address Crosswalk Improvements and Maintenance
DC-4: Resolution Directing the City Administrator to Develop and Present to Council by February 28, 2019 a List of Feasible Alternatives to Revise the Recently-Adopted Water Rate Re-structuring Ordinance to Mitigate the Adverse Impacts of the Ordinance on Single-Family Residential Customers
DC-7: Resolution to Add "The Center of the City" to the list of Available Public Park Rental Facilities
DS-3: Resolution to Direct the City Attorney Regarding the 319 S. Fifth Avenue a/k/a/ the “Library Lot”
Gentle reader, what are you most looking forward to at tonight's #a2council meeting? Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream and follow the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Working People Podcast on the GM layoffs

Maximillian Alvarez is an essayist and dual Ph.D. candidate in comp lit and history at U of M. If you don't follow him, you should. He is a great writer and I am excited to see how his ideas shape our future.

Maximillian has recently made a foray into podcasting launching Working People. The podcast features working people, talking about their lives, their work, and their struggles. You can read more about the podcast in Maximillian's article in the most recent Current Affairs. Since GM's layoff announcement in late November, Working People has been focusing on the stories of GM workers at the factories that are being shuttered. The first special episode covered workers from the Lordstown Plant in Ohio. The most recent episode covers workers in Michigan plants including Hamtramck and Pontiac. You should listen to all the podcasts, especially the episodes covering the GM layoffs. I think it is really important to hear these stories, and not to just think of these workers as numbers. So often blue collar workers are portrayed as unintelligent and ill informed--people who can't be trusted to make important decisions for their communities. What these interviews show is the depth of knowledge and understanding within blue collar workers and within the union tradition.

Maximillian graciously agreed to answer some questions for me over the weekend. I asked him what he hopes people take from the podcast, this was his response:

You know, working on this urgent, multi-episode series on the GM layoffs has taken a lot out of me. I’ve been working overtime these past two weeks to put it together, talking to dozens and dozens of people, making contacts, following up on leads, researching and editing late every night, interviewing dozens more folks. But, to be honest, the hardest thing about it has been the emotional drain—I feel so depleted and angry and just … heartbroken. Every day, for two weeks straight, I’ve been talking to other working folks about the situation they’re facing, about the bleak and impossibly heavy reality that their lives are about to be turned completely upside-down … the reality that the very beating hearts of their communities are about to be ripped out. And we’ve been talking about how these layoffs lay bare the dire situation facing the working class writ large.

It’s impossible not to feel drained after all that. And I know I’m asking a lot of people out there when I urge them to sit and listen carefully to these interviews. Because they’re going to stir up a lot of emotions. But that is necessary, for all of us—it reminds us that this is real. These emotions bring to the surface those trembling, vulnerable, human connections we have with our brothers and sisters. The pain and fury of listening, I think, comes from that raw, beating sense of duty we have to one another … to empathize with our fellow workers, to find solidarity in our shared struggle, to help shoulder their burden, because it’s our burden too—to stand with them and fight, together, against the forces that command and destroy and darken our world.

That’s a big part of why I started this podcast in the first place. In however small a way, I hope the podcast can help to build a sense of class consciousness, a sense of common struggle, and a sense of solidarity among workers all around the country—people coming from all walks of life, working all sorts of jobs. And I believe that we cannot do that unless we actually do the tender, loving, patient work of listening to each other—like, really listening—and talking to each other in a way that affirms our shared humanity. Because, in doing that work, we will come to remember (or see for the first time) that life under capitalism is an unlivable, never-ending process of dehumanization, a process that reduces us and our neighbors, and our relations to one another, to the commodity form.

And you can see this in the mainstream coverage of these layoffs, and pretty much any story having to do with the lives and struggles of workers. We are reduced to little soundbites and flat archetypes that can be deployed for the self-serving ends of people who do not have our best interests in mind. Our voices are either silenced or contorted to fit the narratives that buttress the very power structures that are grinding us into human mulch.

And that is the other main reason I started this podcast. If workers are going to claw our way out of this endless cycle of exploitation and despair, then we’re not going to find the answers we need from the people and institutions that serve and benefit from the existing, horribly unequal arrangement of power in our society. We’re going to have to work things out among ourselves. And we can’t do that if we’re not actually talking to each other. If you listen to these episodes, especially those in the series on the GM layoffs, you’ll realize very quickly that these aren’t just sad, infuriating stories. These workers, who come from all over the ideological spectrum—they know the score. They know that little concessions and political band aids aren’t going to keep our communities alive. They have so much to say about the unsustainability of our political economy and what we need to do, collectively, to fight back. These are the conversations we need to be having with our fellow workers. And that’s what Working People is all about.

Please, take a listen to this podcast, it's very good.