Monday, November 21, 2022

Guest article: New Council, Who Dis? A Policy Wishlist

Ann Arbor City Hall via Google Maps

Editor's note: This is a guest opinion by Jessica A.S. Letaw. If you're interested in sharing an opinion, reach out to or drop us a DM on twitter.


Shortly after getting involved in local politics, I started writing up a policy wishlist every two years after the City Council primaries. It was a way of casting a vision for what I hoped would happen in the next two years; as time has gone on, it’s also become a way for me to celebrate what’s been completed or is under way, as well as the chance to lay to rest ideas whose moment has passed. This year, for the first time, I’ve decided to share this wishlist publicly; thanks, Ben and Damn Arbor, for the opportunity and the platform. 

What follows is mostly a housing mini-manifesto, because that’s my area of interest and expertise. I care about expanding community accessibility through housing affordability, so that’s what I spend the most time on. I’m talking mostly about policy, although there are some areas of community process managed by staff that I’ll note. I finish up with some extras at the end to help round out the cities I live in - Ann Arbor now, and the Ann Arbor I hope to live in someday: affordable and accessible, deeply integrated with its student and renter neighbors, holding an expansive collective understanding of safety and belonging.

While this wishlist represents my opinions alone (and none of the organizations and groups with which I am affiliated), I work hard to listen to groups and people all over our community, especially those who struggle to get the attention of folks with power and influence and experience barriers to accessing the resources they need. What I hope to see in our city is, in other words, a collage of hopes I’ve heard.


I don’t need to spend any time explaining why we need to talk about housing, right? We all know already about that whole 8th most economically segregated community in the country thing? We know that since that 2015 report recommended the City of Ann Arbor add 2800 affordable housing units over the next 20 years, we’ve barely been able to add 100? We know that even though no formal redlining map exists for the city of Ann Arbor the private sector found ways to enforce neighborhood racial segregation well into the second half of the 20th century? We know about our high local incomes ($118,000), high median home prices ($484,000), low rental home availability (less than 3%), and that all this makes our community economically gated and segregated?

We can just work on our problems and not debate whether we have them, right?


The goal of this entire section is asking us to find ways, via policy, to increase affordability and expand access to housing in the city of Ann Arbor. Its structure follows the one in Jenny Schuetz’s Fixer-Upper, a housing-policy book she describes as “practical ideas to provide affordable housing to more Americans.”  What I really appreciate about Fixer-Upper as a playbook is that it considers how federal, state, and local policy systems interlock to create some really detrimental housing outcomes in terms of affordability and accessibility, which is necessary because of the complexity of how American housing is governed and funded.  We only have control over certain aspects of that policy here at the city level; but as our city administrator has put state and federal lobbying on the table for our community, I’m going to lift up some of those fixes as well for our lobbyists to consider as they move Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County’s interests forward.  

1. We need to know more about why we have the problems we do

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: November 21, 2022


Gentle readers, tonight is the first #a2Council meeting of the new council. Let's check out the agenda

The evening kicks off with a short, 9-item consent agenda. CA-8, a resolution approving a contract with the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County for a warming center. 

There are two public hearings on the docket tonight. PH-1/B-1 is a the second reading of the sidewalk ordinance from last meeting. PH-2/DS-1 is on a resolution to authorize commercial access to the city's fiber optic network. 

On to the resolutions! DC-1 establishes the order of succession for the new council. CM Radina will be Mayor Pro Tem, who will run meetings in the event that Taylor is unavailable. DC-2 is a resolution asking the federal government to explore better uses for the Federal Building site at 200 E. Liberty. DC-3 is a resolution approving a lease of a hangar at KARB (the municipal airport). DC-4 is a resolution authorizing staff to apply for a Great Lakes Energy High Water Infrastructure Grant Program. DS-2 is a resolution to approve an agreement between the city and the DDA for sidewalk repairs. 

And that's all there is. Looks like a pretty modest agenda. 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, November 10, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: November 10, 2022

Gentle readers, tonight is a special Thursday edition of #a2Council. Tonight's meeting is also notable in that it's the last council before the new councilmembers are sworn in. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with a modest, 10-item consent agenda. Of note, CA-3, elimination of parking on a portion of S. Seventh St. The elimination of parking along this section of S. Seventh will allow for the creation of a protected bike lane to help students bike safely to Lawton Elementary. 

There are two public hearings on the agenda this evening. PH-1/B-1 is on the second reading of the TC1 rezoning for the Maple-Stadium corridor.  TC1 is a really important tool in helping the city achieve its important climate, housing equity, and Vision Zero goals. I am hearing that this might have to be delayed until the new council is sworn in. 

PH-2/DB-1 is on the annexation of land (1855 North Maple Road, 1875 North Maple Road, and 1921 Calvin Street) for the North Maple Apartments PUD. 

There is one ordinance first reading on the docket tonight. C-1 makes some changes to the sidewalk code, updating the dates "during which the City and Downtown Development Authority (“DDA”) can enter into a contract that relieves the owners of taxable property within the Downtown Development District from the responsibility for sidewalk repairs for one or more fiscal years during the life of the millage if the DDA agrees to return the City an amount equal to the share of 0.125 mill of the 2.215 Streets, Bridges, and Sidewalks Millage, as adjusted, that the DDA receives."

There are 5 resolutions rounding out the agenda this evening. DC-1 is a resolution to appoint Brandon Bond to the Human Rights Commission. DC-2 amends council rules adding more time for public comment reserved time before meetings as well as giving councilmembers an additional minute of time to speak before the agenda. It also eliminates council communications at the end of the meeting. DC-3 is a resolution to explore public restrooms downtown. These are sorely needed. DC-4 is a resolution to explore food trucks at the Library Lot. DC-5 is a resolution to investigate the creation of the office of an ombudsperson. 

And that's all there is. Looks like a pretty modest agenda. 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.

Guest Opinion: Desolate and Uninviting—The Failure of 2018’s Proposal A and the Future of the Library Lot

Editor's note: This is a guest opinion by Daniel Adams. If you're interested in sharing an opinion, reach out to or drop us a DM on twitter.

2022 Peace Day Celebration on the Library Lot, Sept. 21. Photo Via @violinmonster

The Library Lot is a small city-owned surface parking lot just north of the Ann Arbor District Library. It sits atop an underground parking deck. The deck was specifically designed and reinforced, at significant taxpayer expense, to support the addition of a mixed-use building on top of it; it was not designed to support, and perhaps cannot reasonably be made to support, large amounts of dirt, mature trees, and vegetation. The Library Lot is less than a block away from Liberty Plaza, a pocket park in need of city attention and investment, and about a half mile from West Park, a sprawling public space next to downtown with a famous band shell that needs relocation and/or repair. It is hemmed in on three sides by other structures.

The Library Lot, in other words, is neither an obvious location for a center-city park nor the most worthy recipient of a significant city-funded capital investment. But in November 2018, Ann Arbor voters narrowly passed a ballot initiative–Proposal A–that amended the city’s Charter to preserve the Library Lot “in perpetuity” as an “urban park and civic center commons, known as the ‘Center of the City.’” While the ballot language itself was silent on who would pay for this venture, its organizers assured the public that the fundraising effort would be privately led, privately backed, and completed in time to have the park ready to dedicate by the city’s bicentennial in 2024.

Almost four years later and two years from the bicentennial, the Library Lot remains what it was in 2018: a parking lot. There are no shovel-ready designs to turn it into a park, and the money raised so far by Proposal A’s backers is not enough to properly support the creation of such designs. The task ahead–converting the Library Lot to inviting, green public space–requires the investment of many millions of dollars that the city does not have to invest and that the private sector has not volunteered to contribute.

Few have taken notice. The Council of the Commons (CotC), the city’s planning group, still meets. $40,000 in city money still sits earmarked to support design work that may never begin. Proposal A supporters, from time to time, make a special point of arranging inorganic gatherings on the Library Lot to performatively spread mulch into planterserect decadomes, and compete for shade resources next to concrete staircase enclosures.

Were it not largely hidden from public view, the price we are paying to continue to indulge in this otherwise pleasant fiction would be a scandal: millions in lost annual tax revenue; tens of millions more in lost matching affordable housing grants; hundreds of unbuilt downtown housing units; $15 million spent reinforcing a parking deck to support a building that will never be built; an inestimable amount of wasted city staff time and other public resources; and–ironically–an inviting public plaza that would likely exist on the site today, paid for and maintained at developer expense, absent the intervening event of Proposal A’s passage. The indirect human costs of waste at this scale are incalculable.

Whether evaluated against the promises of its proponents or the warnings of its detractors, Proposal A has failed–as obviously and completely as something like it can fail. It is past time to reckon with that failure; account for the damage; and make plans to change course. Changing course means repealing or amending Proposal A.

The Uncontentious History of Ann Arbor’s Most Contentious Parking Lot

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Election day musings


Ypsilanti's Ward Map


If you are eligible, please vote in your local races. They are really important. 

Election Results

First of all, here is the link to the page where election results for Washtenaw County will be posted. The first results should start rolling in a little past 8 pm. I will be smashing refreshing on this page frantically starting at 8. 

Local Races I'm Watching

The local races that are most interesting are where an independent is challenging the winner of the Democratic primary. In several of these races, the challenger has done a pretty good job campaigning (Ann Arbor Mayor, Ypsi Mayor, Ypsi Council Wards 1 and 3). It'll be interesting to see how much traction these candidates get. Here are the local races with independents challenging the winner of the Democratic Primary:

Ann Arbor Mayor: Christopher Taylor, the Democratic incumbent is being challenged by independent Eric Lipson. Dylan Manna is also mounting quixotic write-in campaign for Ann Arbor's Mayor.

Ann Arbor City Council Ward 5: Jenn Cornell, who won the Democratic primary is running against by independent Jonathan Hoard.

Ypsilanti Mayor: Nicole Brown, who won the Democratic primary is being challenged by independent Amber Fellows, who has been canvassing really hard. Mark Alan King, a Libertarian candidate is also running. 

Ypsilanti City Council Ward 1: Democratic primary winner Ma'Chelle King is the only candidate on the ballot, but she is facing a write-in challenge from current Ypsi Council Brian Jones-Chance.

Ypsilanti City Council Ward 3: Desirae Simmons, who won the Democratic primary is being challenged by independent Ashanti Allona Harris. 

 I'm also keeping an eye on local school board elections. In addition to Ann Arbor Public Schools and Ypsilanti Community Schools, I'm also curious about the results of the Chelsea School District election thanks to @48118Watcher

Gentle reader, what local elections are you most interested in? 

Ann Arbor's 5 pie-shaped wards