Saturday, September 24, 2022

Ypsi Fall River Day is tomorrow in Frog Island Park




Gentle reader, tomorrow is Ypsi Fall River Day. The event takes place in Frog Island Park from noon - 3. There will be lots of family friendly events but the highlight is definitely free kayak rentals from the Frog Island boat launch to Ford Lake. This is a great opportunity to get to know this cool section of the Huron River. If you want to paddle, I’d recommend getting there early because a line for kayaks forms pretty quickly. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: September 19, 2022


 Gentle readers, it's #a2Council Night in Ann Arbor. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with a respectable, 15-item consent agenda. Of note. CA-6, a resolution to remove parking on Division between Hoover and Packard. The removal of parking will allow for extension of the protected bike lane on Division. You love to see it. While we are on the topic of road safety, let's talk about CA-8. This is a resolution to study jurisdiction of the MDOT roads to the city. MDOT currently "owns" some major roads in Ann Arbor: Jackson Road, Huron Street, Washtenaw Avenue, and North Main Street. MDOT tends to prioritize moving vehicles quickly over pedestrian safety and livability. Needless to say, I'm in favor of Ann Arbor taking control of these roads so that the city can continue with its vision zero goals. 

There are two public hearings on the docket tonight, both are for the PUD at 340 Depot. 

Rendering of the proposed PUD at 340 Depot. 

PH-1/B-1 is for the PUD Zoning. PH-2/DB-1 is the site plan for the project. This project 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. I only have two critiques of this project. First, it is too short. Why not build this 6 stories. Secondly, it's silly that something as simple as this needs a PUD. We really need to simplify our zoning code. 

There is one ordinance first reading on the agenda tonight. C-1 is the first reading of the right to renew ordinance.  This is an exciting new ordinance that would require landlords to renew rental agreements unless there is good cause not to. 

Rounding out the agenda we come to the resolutions. DC-1 is a resolution to appoint Claire McKenna to the energy Commission. DC-2 is a resolution to accept an easement to Leslie Park and reimburse Dhu Varren on the Park Condominium Association $47k for it. DC-3 is a resolution to accept a grand for a reconnaissance level survey update for the Old Fourth Ward Historic District. DC-4 is very exciting. It's a resolution to prevent right turn on red in the downtown area. When I looked at the crash data a few years ago, ~40% of pedestrians who were hit by drivers were hit by drivers turning right on red. This is a great way to make our city safer. And finally we get to DC-5, a resolution to require masks at City Council Meetings when COVID transmissions are at a level that warrants it. I think this makes a lot of sense.

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.




Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: September 6, 2022

 


Gentle readers, it's time for the first #a2Council meeting September. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with a modest, 12-item consent agenda. Of note: street closings for the Shriner's Parade, Ann Arbor Marathon, and Turkey Trot. CA-7 is authorizing the city to apply for a USDOT Safe Streets grant. 

There are no public hearings on the agenda, but there is an ordinance first reading. C-1 is the first reading of the new Right to Renew ordinance. This is an exciting new ordinance that would require landlords to renew rental agreements unless there is good cause not to. 

Further down the docket, we arrive at two resolutions. DC-1 is a resolution to support Michigan Senate Bill 58 and House Bill 4314 - Holding Polluters Accountable. DS-1 is pretty exciting. It's a resolution agreeing to a contract for a consultant to study the feasibility of a municipal utility and as well as a sustainable energy utility (SEU). It will be really interesting to get more information about these two options for Ann Arbor and how they will impact the city's climate goals. 

 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.

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.