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.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: June 06, 2022

It's council night in Ann Arbor. Here's the agenda.

The evening kicks off with a deep, 30-item consent agenda. Only one sreet closure on the agenda: CA-2, for Festifall. It will be interesting to see if anything gets pulled tonight.

There is also an ordinace first reading for a routine township island annexation (C-1). I normally don't normally comment on these, but this rezoning would make this parcel R1A. Single family zoning is terrible, but R1A is particularly obscene. It mandates a nearly half acre lot size. Ann Arbor should not have single family zoning, but this exurban zoning has no place in Ann Arbor.

Further down the agenda, we get to the night's only resolution. DC-1 is a resolution to recommend approval of new liquor licenses.

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.

Friday, June 3, 2022

NPNA Yard Sale is tomorrow

After a COVID hiatus, the Normal Park Neighborhood Association Yard Sale is back. This year, over 70 homes will be hosting sales. If you've never checked out Ypsilanti's premier multi-home yeard sale, you won't want to miss it. The sale is officially from 9-4. See you there.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

iFFY Starts Tonight


Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti is back.  The festival runs thought through Saturday with screenings at 7pm and 9pm at the Riverside Arts Center. Masking is required, due to high COVID levels in the county.

iFFY features independently-made films including animation and documentary. I am particularly excited about tonight's showings: the 7pm showing features Michigan-made films and the 9pm showing is a documentary about Hamtramck.

I asked one of the festival programmer, Hafsah Mijinyawa, what she was most excited about this year. Here's what she had to say:

This will technically be our first *official* in-person presentation of the festival's programming and I think I can speak for the whole IFFY team when I say that I'm mostly excited to finally be able to share a stellar crop of films with our community live and in the flesh! Our programming speaks for itself, it's been curated with a ton of intention and passion from our small but mighty team, and it does a great job of offering a bit of a sampler of genres, vibes, and moods. Part of our intention is to elevate local voices as much as possible, and showcase the amazing creative talent we have among us. And in addition, we look to bring smart, evocative perspectives from a truly diverse range of communities, both social and global. I think everyone will find something they enjoy and hopefully something new that they didn't expect to love. All in all, I hope that the festival introduces folks to something that gets them thinking and maybe even inspires them.
iFFY runs tonight through Saturday, June 4th. Tickets are $10 at the door and $8 in advance. The festival organizers suggest buying tickets in advancce because space is limited.

Check out the festival trailer below: