Mayor Christopher Taylor: 2015 Year in Review
Friends,
 
With 2016 upon us, I’d like to check in with you to give an update on topics of community interest and my current thoughts on various issues. If I have left something off the list that you’d like to learn more about, please just let me know.
 
I have served as mayor for a little more than one year. Since taking office, it has been a great pleasure working with residents, staff, and colleagues to move the city forward on what I believe to be our core mission – to improve basic services and enhance quality of life for all residents. The work is not stress free, of course, but it is deeply gratifying. I am continually struck by how enthusiastic Ann Arborites are about their home, how committed they are to celebrating the many wonderful aspects of our community. Serving as mayor of a city that is so beloved by its residents is energizing and inspiring. Simply put, it’s a lot of fun. Thank you.
 
City Administrator
 
City Administrator Steve Powers has left to become City Manager in Salem, Oregon. His unfortunate departure affects everyday life in Ann Arbor. The professionalism, skill, and judgment of the City Administrator is vital to our City's success.
 
Ann Arbor has a "council-manager" form of government. Mayor and City Council make policy, the City Administrator and staff implement policy. It is similar to the governance of a large corporation, with a Board of Directors and a Chief Executive Officer. The City Administrator is something like Ann Arbor's CEO, the person to whom all staff (other than the City Attorney) report.
 
So, if the City Administrator hires and directs staff, who hires and directs the City Administrator? Mayor and City Council; it's one of our most important tasks. Over the next few weeks and months, the Council Administration Committee will act as a Search Committee and bring finalists to the attention of the full Council and the public. The finalists will visit Ann Arbor, speak with residents, Council, staff, and external stakeholders and, ultimately, Council will make an offer.
 
Though I'm just one vote out of eleven, I'm looking for our next administrator to provide, like Steve, can-do, no-drama, professional leadership. My ideal candidate will be energetic, optimistic, and will understand Ann Arbor's expectation that City Hall take meaningful, sustainable action to improve basic services and enhance quality of life for residents today and residents tomorrow.
 
Tom Crawford, Ann Arbor’s Chief Financial Officer, is serving as Interim City Administrator. He performed the same role back in 2011 before we hired Steve Powers. Crawford did a great job then; he’s doing a great job now. Thanks, Tom!
 
Finances
 
Ann Arbor’s finances remain solid, with a recently affirmed AA+/Stable bond rating from Standard & Poor’s. We ended FY15 with a $96,000 use of General Fund reserves, substantially less than anticipated. The General Fund’s unassigned fund balance was $17.2M or 21.8% of budgeted operating expenditures.
 
As many of you know, Ann Arbor approves a budget every year, but we operate on a two-year planning cycle. This upcoming budget will be Year 2 in that cycle and so our path is mostly laid out in the plan approved last May.
 
Staff and Council are in the midst of reviewing and refining last year’s plan in light of this year’s experience. The City Administrator (whether it’s Tom Crawford as Interim City Administrator or the new hire) will propose a FY2017 budget to Council in April and we will vote on the budget in May. As I did last year, when we get closer to a final budget, I’ll write with details.
 
Roads
 
As you probably know, we receive millions of dollars for our roads from the State, and Michigan has been 50th out of 50 in per capita road spending. The Legislature this fall has passed a package which, if fully implemented, will increase annual state road funding in Ann Arbor from around $7M, to, I believe, around $12M. This extra funding will be phased in over five years, but substantial portions of it are at the discretion of a legislature that continues to ignore past promises of funding to local government.
 
We are fortunate, however, that the County Board of Commissioners this Fall passed a second supplemental road millage to raise nearly $2.5M in Ann Arbor, for Ann Arbor roads. Last year, this funding enabled us to tackle several important projects – Packard & Ellsworth, to name a few. This year these County monies will allow us to repair approximately 4.2 miles of additional roads over and above Ann Arbor- and State-funded repairs that were already scheduled. Ann Arbor resurfaced 12.4 miles of streets in 2014 and addressed  approximately 29.2 miles of streets in 2015. Next year, Ann Arbor will again see a lot of extra road construction. Major arteries. Corridors. Locals. Crack Sealing. Chip Filling. Drivers will experience inconvenience, but road repair is not possible without some disruption. This one construction season won’t change all our roads at once, but come next fall, we all should again see some improvement.
 
Moving forward we have adopted a Pavement Asset Management system to enable us to inventory, evaluate, track, repair, and maintain our 300 miles of major and local streets. With this process and these data we will be better able to assess road condition and target mid-life maintenance to extend road life and steadily improve the quality of Ann Arbor roads. The MDOT-adopted rating system pegs 52% of our roads at “good” or above. Council will this Spring have a conversation in which we will establish service level goals in light of anticipated future road funding.
 
Snow
 
This year, we’ve purchased approximately 5000 tons of salt to help keep our roads clear during freezes. Everything we dump on the road finds its way into the Huron River, so for years now we have used a 95% sand, 5% salt mixture to emphasize traction control over ice melt. During major snowfalls crews are out 24 hours a day, on 12-hour shifts. We address major roads first and continually, then corridors, and then locals, prioritized on the basis of the solid waste/recycling pickup schedule.
 
We have in the past not plowed unless the snowfall is projected to exceed 4 inches. This past year, we revisited that policy and began on a case-by-case basis to see some treatment during smaller storms. I expect this practice to continue.
 
When plows are out, parked cars are the largest obstacle to cleared streets. Last year, with the lighter than average snowfall, we did not have chronically blocked streets. Where blockages were threatened, we reached out to residents for neighborhood cooperation to remove cars to enable plows to do their work. This effort was generally successful. We will continue to evaluate how we can best clear snow from snug residential neighborhoods.
 
Finally, as you know, residents are responsible for sidewalk snow removal in front of their property. Most all residents understand this obligation and are conscientious in their approach. Where residents do not take this step, however, we have in the past operated exclusively on a report-driven system to address areas where sidewalks are not cleared after snow accumulations in excess of 1”. We of course respond to these reports, but due to residents’ increasing focus on pedestrian access, this past year we took proactive measures to remind residents of their obligation to clear sidewalks in priority areas such as routes to elementary schools. We saw improvement and this year will continue this practice. To further encourage compliance, we have changed the number of warnings residents receive if they do not clear their sidewalks – whereas residents previously received one warning per snowfall before receiving a ticket, residents who do not clear their sidewalks will now receive only one warning per season.
 
Storm Water
 
Our storm water system was designed and developed decades ago to meet the needs of a smaller, dryer city. Impervious surfaces -- any surface that does not readily absorb water and impedes the natural infiltration of water into the soil -- have increased over the decades as subdivisions replaced fields without best practices stormwater treatment. Precipitation too has increased markedly – more than 40% over the past fifty years.
 
The result of these decades-long trends is that we have a system that does not handle storm water in a manner that meets community expectations throughout Ann Arbor. To meet this need for improved storm water management, we are conducting a needs/rate analysis to determine what storm water investments and rates are necessary to develop a system that meets our service level expectations. I expect the results of this study to be complete by the end of 2016. The bottom line is that the long term sustainability of our storm water system will require higher rates. Affordability is always a concern, but in order to improve this basic, capital-intensive service, we must have the resources necessary to get the job done. I believe that the study will show that we can have present rates, or we can have an improved storm water system. We cannot have both.
 
For a sense of how we approach storm water planning and a list of potential, long-term projects to improve stormwater service throughout Ann Arbor, see http://tinyurl.com/A2StormwaterModel.
 
Despite our storm water challenges, Ann Arbor has received a favorable Community Assistance Visit from the FEMA Region V after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (MDEQ) National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Assistance Visit. After reviewing MDEQ’s findings and the documentation provided by the community, FEMA Region V concluded that the City of Ann Arbor is effective in enforcing flood prevention regulations, that Ann Arbor is in good standing with the NFIP, and that we are therefore eligible to join the NFIP Community Rating System (CRS) – a status that will enable us to obtain lower flood insurance premiums for our residents.
 
Trees
 
Ann Arbor’s trees beautify our city, clean our air, and provide substantial and sustained storm water benefits. We have approximately 54,000 street trees and park trees (in mowed areas). There are in addition, around 5,000 sites that are suitable for planting.
 
The Emerald Ash Borer crisis and the Great Recession combined to increase need and decrease resources for Ann Arbor’s urban forest. As a consequence, we have over the years fallen behind in tree maintenance and plantings. Now that our economy has turned the corner, it is important that we focus needed attention on this critical area.
 
We have already taken steps in this direction. In 2014, we approved an Urban and Community Forest Management Plan and allocated a supplemental $1M to catch up on pruning and removals. Following through with this funding in 2015 we planted approximately 1,200 street and park trees; we look forward to planting the same in 2016, but it is not enough.
 
We will need to ensure that we have adequate funding to meet the goals of our long term Management Plan. For my part, I believe that Ann Arbor’s trees are such an important part of our community’s quality of life, that I am willing to consider new funding to meet this crucial need.
 
This funding will, I hope, come through our Storm Water utility. In addition to beautifying our neighborhoods, our thousands of street trees improve soil infiltration and directly withdraw and retain water. These storm water benefits are established facts. As we undertake our Stormwater Rate Study, we are including in that determination, the monies necessary to fully fund our Urban and Community Forest Management Plan. Better storm water management, better neighborhood trees. It’s a win-win.
 
Crime
 
Crime in Ann Arbor remains at historic lows, with 2014 being the lowest year on record. Although final figures for 2015 are not yet in, in comparison to 2014 our so-called Part A offenses will have increased approximately 8%. Part B offenses, including transgressions such as neighborhood code violations, disorderly conducts, and MIPs, have increased approximately 5%. The increase in Part A offenses is attributable almost exclusively to increased larceny from autos; the increase in Part B offenses is attributable largely to increased code violations and obstruction of justice.
 
To give these preliminary numbers some context, for the more serious Part A offenses, 2015 is shaping up to be the second lowest year on record, showing a more than 3% decrease from Part A offenses in 2013. Comparisons between 2015 and 2013 for Part B offenses show an increase of 15%, an increase entirely attributable to recent additional enforcement of nuisance code violations.
 
New Police Chief
 
Police Chief John Seto retired this past summer. His departure was a loss and we miss him. This Fall, City Administrator Powers and the Council offered the position to James White, an Assistant Chief from the City of Detroit. After an initial acceptance, he decided to remain in his current position.
 
We are fortunate here in Ann Arbor to have a disciplined and dedicated police force that has continued to thrive under the experienced and respected leadership of Interim Chief Jim Baird. We will move forward thoughtfully with the permanent Chief selection process and I look forward to working with AAPD as it continues to ably and honorably perform its core mission – to serve and protect everyone in our community.
 
Civilian-Police Board
 
As part of the national and conversation about law enforcement and equity, we continue to work to ensure that all residents have confidence in our police force.
 
AAPD purchased body cameras in the summer of 2015. Technical difficulties and supply issues have delayed full deployment, but they are in hand and used by officers on patrol. AAPD has also undertaken to enhance its existing diversity training and to obtain CALEA Accreditation to improve practices and service delivery.
 
Our Human Rights Commission has conducted a process to examine policing in Ann Arbor. As I read it, the Commission’s finalized report, “Recommendations for Strengthening Police-Community Relations in Ann Arbor”, comes to an ultimate conclusion: Ann Arbor has many reasons to be proud of its police department and vital rights must always be protected in pursuit of effective law enforcement.
 
I concur with this conclusion. Policing is difficult, rewarding work, and we have an outstanding police department that is staffed by officers who are highly trained and professional, dedicated to doing the job as it ought to be done. At the same time, appalling racial injustice and disparity continue to degrade American society. We live in a time, therefore, when it is appropriate for a City and police department that are both dedicated to equality to provide additional assurances that disenfranchised groups are being treated equitably. This is a goal that unifies us all.
 
One of the Human Rights Commission’s recommendations is to create a Civilian-Police Review Board. Although the proposed role of the body in my view needs to be refined, I believe that a Civilian-Police Review Board could be a useful forum for residents to learn more about police practices, communicate to police their needs and perspective, and offer feedback. It can be a place for conversation and truly constructive engagement, a place that will help AAPD and the community it serves better understand each other. This outreach and dialogue would strengthen our city.
 
Even as a civilian-police board serves this function, it is important to understand that its role will be advisory. It will not supervise or formally oversee AAPD; that function is already served by civilian leadership through the City Administrator and, ultimately, City Council. Further, we need to acknowledge that law enforcement is different from other city services. The transparency we expect in parks or planning is simply not appropriate for police. The efficacy of AAPD’s law enforcement depends, in part, upon its methods remaining opaque. We can do more, but extensive transparency is not good for officers, not good for victims, not good for suspects, all of whom are innocent until proven guilty.
 
Civilian-police engagement remains, however, an area were we can take additional steps to keep Ann Arbor at the forefront. AAPD performs outstanding work, and it benefits all to provide a place where residents can learn more about what it does and why it does it, as well as a place where residents can express their aspirations for law enforcement and play a role in guiding the manner in which AAPD protects and serves our community. 
 
Fire-Medical
 
In Ann Arbor, our outstanding fire safety professionals provide both fire and medical functions.
 
During the period of time from January 1, 2015 thru November 30, 2015, AAFD responded to an average of 574 incidents per month. The busiest month was October with 734 incidents. AAFD responded to an average of (10) structure fires, (3) Vehicle fires, (98) good intent calls, (27) motor vehicle accidents and (302) medical calls which included (5) cardiac arrests, (28) intoxicated persons and (8) overdoses. Once the final stats are in, I believe that AAFD will have responded to more incidents in 2015 than 2014.
 
This past year saw the arrival of a new Fire Chief, Larry Collins. Under his leadership we will upgrade generators in a number of fire stations and are undertaking an accreditation effort through the Center for Public Safety Excellence to promote continuous quality improvement by utilizing a well-defined, internationally-recognized benchmark system to measure the quality of Ann Arbor’s fire and emergency services. I look forward to continue to work with him and the dedicated men and women of the AAFD to ensure that our fire-medical response system continues to keep Ann Arbor safe.
 
Retiree Benefits
 
Nothing much has changed in this area since last year. The short story is that we have long term debts and a system that is still recovering from the Great Recession. We’ve changed policies for future hires to save money, and are paying extra into the system now so that we can get the system back to full funding in the mid 2020s.
 
The longer story is as follows: In 2008 our Pension System was fully funded. This meant that the City only needed to pay in the “Normal Cost” – the cost each year that is necessary to set aside to pay for future benefits earned by employees for working that year. After the market collapse of 2009, the Pension system became underfunded, down to a low of 74%. Today, we stand at approximately 88%. To meet this gap, we have established a policy that pegs future pension funding to the higher of (i) the Normal Cost plus the amortized unfunded liability; or (ii) the existing level adjusted for future changes in the City's General Fund revenue. By basically indexing future contributions to General Fund revenue, the City chips away at the unfunded liability and mitigates future cost increases. We expect these policies to result in the system being fully funded in the 2020s. This is a long horizon, but meeting pension obligations is a long-term operation and the Great Recession was devastating.
 
Our retiree health care obligation is approximately 48% funded. Although this compares very favorably to many other jurisdictions, which do not have any advance funding, we still need to and will continue to make additional contributions in order to improve. We have taken important steps to sharply reduce retiree health care obligations with respect to future employees; this will be a substantial benefit over time.
 
Ann Arbor Train Station
 
Expanded rail service is vitally important to the future of Ann Arbor. A multi-state consortium of state transportation agencies projects Amtrak ridership through Ann Arbor to increase from 150K/year to 1M+/year over the upcoming decades. East-west commuter rail service (trains already purchased by the State) would provide substantial traffic-mitigation and be an environmental-economic game changer. Our current station cannot handle a material increase from either Amtrak or new commuter service.
 
We have submitted to the Federal Rail Administration (“FRA”) a draft of our report to assess the station location that best meets federal standards – either on Depot Street, on the site of the current station, or to the south of Fuller Road, on the site used by the University of Michigan as a parking lot since 1993.
 
We initially thought that FRA would finish its review in the Summer, then the Fall, and now hopefully before the Spring. I am quite frustrated by the lack of movement here, but the time table is out of our hands. Once the FRA-approved report is released, there will be a series of public meetings for the public to review and engage the report.
 
I have previously stated my belief that the Fuller Road location would likely work best – it has more space for necessary parking, better access for the mass transit that will be necessary to move commuters from the station to other areas of the City, and it is right next to the highest employment center and most visited location in the County, the UM Health System.
 
Some have objected to the Fuller Road site on the grounds that it is within the boundaries of Fuller Park. Although I understand this concern, I am not persuaded by it. The proposed station would sit on the current footprint of the U-M Parking Lot to the south of Fuller Road, land that has been used as a parking lot since 1993; it would not replace or remove from service any green-field parkland. Furthermore, Ann Arbor needs a train station that works well now and for years to come. If the Fuller Road site is the optimum transit location according to the federal criteria, then that’s where I’d want to place the station; if the federal criteria give the nod to the Depot Street site, then that’s where I’d want to place the station. Time – hopefully not much more of it – will tell.
 
Organic Solid Waste
 
We have, for several years, enjoyed 8-month curbside compost pickup. In our FY 2016 budget, City Council authorized $100,000 to assist staff in developing a comprehensive organics management plan to determine whether we could expand this function to remove more organics from the waste stream.
 
Our first effort to obtain an external consultant to assist was not successful, so we have issued a second Request for Proposal. This follow-on proposal includes: (i) Substantial Community Engagement (Residential and commercial); (ii) Specific, clear and distinct tasks to “Identify and Evaluate Opportunities and Needs” for yard waste, food waste, and urban wood/forestry waste, including food rescue potential and fats, oils and greases (FOG) from commercial and institutional sources; (iii) Specific, clear and distinct task to “Evaluate Logistics and Resource Needs” for a comprehensive program to manage recoverable organic waste, including staffing, equipment, access for the services in the downtown, and permit/regulation requirements; and (iv) Develop an Implementation Strategy to include recommendations on which aspects of the program(s) should be City managed vs. contracted, identification of aspects of City Code that would need to be modified to implement the program(s), and recommended phasing of the program(s).
 
We expect to have a contractor selected in February 2016 and I hope a report issued in time for budget season 2017.
 
Pall-Gelman Plume
 
The chemical 1,4 dioxane from the Pall-Gelman Plume has never been detected in Ann Arbor’s drinking water. We need to do absolutely everything we can to keep it that way.
 
Right now the state standard of 85/ppb is far weaker than what the federal government says is safe. We continue to push the Department of Environmental Quality to adopt the Federal standard of 3.5/ppb.
 
When I wrote to you last year, I had recently spoken with the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality. He assured me during our conversation, and I reported to you, that the State’s review of the 1,4 dioxane standard would be released for public comment in Spring of 2015. It has not yet arrived.
 
In a follow-on conversation, the Director expressed regret for the delay and provided his further assurance that the new state standard would be released for public comment in late Winter 2016. I have recently been assured by the DEQ that the new standard will be released in this timeframe. I expect that the new standard will be substantially more restrictive than the present standard, but do not know whether it will be as strict as the federal standard.  
 
Once we have that new standard in hand we will be able to re-incentivize the polluter to accelerate and extend cleanup.
 
Climate Action
 
To state the obvious, we will not stop climate change here in Ann Arbor. We can, however prepare ourselves for its effects and do our part to reduce our community use of greenhouse gases. We are already altering the mix of our new street trees in anticipation of a warmer climate, and our storm water system will need to evolve to accommodate even greater precipitation.
 
We adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2012. City operations accounts for less than 2% of Ann Arbor’s GHG emissions. Our residential, business, and transportation sectors each account for around 25%, with the balance being generated by the University of Michigan. To achieve our CAP goals, we must reduce emissions in  these larger sectors. To this end, Councilmember Briere and I again proposed a successful budget amendment to devote $125,000 to fund climate action programs to help residents and businesses in the community reduce GHG usage (generally through money saving energy efficiencies) and to (i) promote the City's Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program; (ii) support Energy Star benchmarking for commercial/multi-family energy efficiency programs; (iii) develop a model to support community solar initiatives; and (iv) educate the public about the climate changes measured to date and the practical steps available to both mitigate and adapt to expected changes.
 
One substantial disappointment on this front was the unsuccessful effort to site a 13-acre, 1MW+ solar field at the Ann Arbor Airport. This was an incredibly exciting project, but the Ann Arbor Airport is not in the City of Ann Arbor; it is in Pittsfield Township. The Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees approved a resolution in opposition to the project and it did not move forward.
 
Homelessness
 
We have outstanding services to assist the homeless in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, whether offered by the City, County, faith-based or private organizations. That said, the problem is greater than can be fully addressed by our combined resources, but we strive.
 
Last winter Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor cooperated to fund a new winter shelter program. This successful and needed service was utilized by 502 individuals. This coordinated response will improve this year and again be funded, half by Washtenaw County, half by the City of Ann Arbor.
 
Additionally, we are participating with Housing Access for Washtenaw County and many other community partners in the Zero: 2016 effort to end veteran and chronic homelessness in our community by December 2016. The goal of Zero: 2016 is to end homelessness by reaching a “functional zero” count. Functional zero is reached when, at any point in time, the number of people (veterans or chronic) experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness will be no greater than the current monthly housing placement rate for that population (veterans or chronic).  We have made substantial progress on each front, but there’s still more to do if we are to reach our goal by the end of 2016. See http://tinyurl.com/Zero2016Washtenaw.
 
Affordable Housing
 
The simple fact of supply and demand makes housing in Ann Arbor difficult for many people who work in Ann Arbor. No matter your income, the lack of affordable housing hurts your quality of life. It reduces economic growth in a community, impedes diversity, and increases traffic congestion
 
Our Affordable Housing Needs Assessment indicates that we need 2700+ additional units of affordable housing in Ann Arbor over the next 20 years to meet demand. To meet this need, we will need to substantially increase affordable units for working people and families who earn at or below the 80% area median income level – these are our preschool teachers, retail employees, cashiers, food service workers, clerks, research assistants, and so on. Right now, these folks are largely priced out of Ann Arbor.
 
If we want these women and men to be able to live in Ann Arbor – which we do – we must be open to development to increase supply of affordable units. This change will be disruptive and will involve trade-offs. The fact of the matter is that we will not meet even modest affordability goals if we do not explore and experiment.
 
Last year, I mentioned the Washtenaw County-owned Platt Road parcel – the site of the former Juvenile Justice Center. This location is well suited for 60% – 80% AMI affordable housing – it’s near public transit, employment centers, and beautiful green open space. The County continues to explore its options, but I hope that we can find a plan for this location that meets the community’s substantial affordable housing need without adverse neighborhood impact.
 
I have served since May on a committee to clarify the operational and financial relationship between the Ann Arbor Housing Commission and the City of Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor’s public housing has undergone substantial improvements this year due to our reorganization in a manner that encourages private investment in Housing Commission properties in exchange for federal tax credits. The committee recommends continued support of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission from the General Fund for another year or two until the full effect of the reorganization can be determined.
 
Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety
 
If we are to enhance quality of life in Ann Arbor, we simply must improve the ability of residents to safely utilize non-motorized transportation – to walk or bicycle around town.
 
This Fall, City Council received and adopted the Pedestrian Safety & Access Task Force Report, which provides a series of recommendations regarding crosswalks, sidewalks, snow-removal, Complete Streets implementation, education, and enforcement. If you’re interested in reading this outstanding work, see http://tinyurl.com/PedestrianSafetyReport. The implementation of these proposals will take time and resources.
 
We have seen a number of bicycle fatalities this year. Every traffic death is a tragedy and we must do all we can to avoid them. Whenever possible, Ann Arbor continues to establish bike lanes to provide cyclists a safer path in which to ride. Drivers must become more and more aware of cyclists; cyclists must invest in safety equipment; and all obey traffic laws. In the wake of the two most recent nighttime accidents, the City of Ann Arbor and the Get Downtown Program announced a limited bike light and reflective gear giveaway program. This doesn’t solve the problem, of course, but it does raise awareness.
 
Some have advocated for buffered bike lanes, and I’d be delighted to see them implemented. We have difficulty deploying this strategy on a systemic basis, however, due to narrow right-of-ways and limited ability to clear snow in the narrower, confined space. Where we are redesigning roads, however, I’d be excited about exploring this option.
 
Library Lot
 
The surface of the underground parking structure next to the library, across from the Blake Transit Center and the Federal Building is an underutilized transition zone between Main Street and State Street.
 
A substantial and successful building and public open space on this lot would activate the location and give that mid-town area a real and sustainable boost.
 
Some have suggested that a park alone on that location would be optimal. Our current urban park, Liberty Plaza, does not meet our community aspirations. The Parks Advisory Commission took a long and careful look at urban parks and concluded that the Library Lot lacks most of the attributes necessary to make an urban park successful – generally speaking, eyes on the park with present and independent, active uses facing the park on at least three sides. See http://tinyurl.com/DowntownParkReport. The Library Lot has none.
 
If we do not activate the site with a building, any park we create there will I believe replicate the failures of Liberty Plaza on a much larger scale. We already do not have the resources necessary to successfully program Liberty Plaza; the plain truth is that we would have to make substantial cuts to existing parks programs / activities if we were to bring anywhere near the resources that would be necessary to program a stand alone park on the Library Lot.
 
Further, the shallow soil and geometry of the site prohibits shade trees or substantial contiguous green space. The image of a grand park or commons at that location is lovely, and it would be have been great if our streets were first laid out with that in mind. They were not. The alley to the north, the Blake Transit Center and the Federal Building to the West, the Library facing Fifth Avenue to the South and the large lot, small footprint buildings to the East make such a proposal, regrettably, not reality-based.
 
Finally, the Library has consistently expressed caution about the use of the library lot as a park, citing concerns about usage and security. 
 
In 2014, City Council asked the City Administrator to solicit proposals for the development of the air rights over the Library Lane underground parking structure. These development proposals were required to include, per Council directive, 12,000 square feet of public open space. The responses have been narrowed to two, which will be finalized and come before Council shortly. You can review them at: http://tinyurl.com/LibraryLot. I have yet to conclude for myself whether either proposal meets our needs, and if so, which is preferred. Let me know what you think.
 
Deer
 
No issue in recent memory has created such an outpouring of resident feedback as Ann Arbor’s deer cull; I have received hundreds of emails from residents on the subject.
 
After a long public process, the City Council voted 10 - 1 to implement a cull designed to take 100 deer. I voted “No”. To effect the cull safely, we have contracted with USDA and obtained a permit from the Michigan DNR. The cull will occur in designated city parks between January 1 and February 29. These parks will be closed Monday through Friday (4 pm - 7 am). No shooting will occur within 450 feet of occupied structures without resident approval. To learn more about the deer management program, see http://tinyurl.com/a2DeerManagement.
 
No one could listen in earnest to the concerns of residents who experience frequent deer conflict and not be sympathetic; I did, and certainly am. I understand many residents’ concern about deer’s impact on property and natural areas.  Also, to be fair to my colleagues, non-lethal population control methods are not plainly and obviously ready for immediate deployment.

Nevertheless I believe that the killing of deer in the parks, the sanctioned discharge of firearms in our parks, the closure of our parks for extended periods of time – all these, I believe, are inconsistent with the ethos of our community and contrary to our fundamental values. Even if this view is not shared by all, it is plain and obvious that we lack community consensus on the cull.  Shooting in the parks, even under controlled and person-safe conditions, will alter and degrade too many residents' conception of their city and their home. That's a fact. The cull will cost – has cost – our community spirit greatly. Reasonable people can differ on the cull, but in my view the cure is worse than the disease.
 
I do not now have, nor have I ever had, the authority to prevent the cull. Council resolutions are subject to mayoral veto within 72 hours of the vote, but vetoes can be overridden by a vote of 8 council members. In August and again in November, 10 Councilmembers supported the cull, rendering a veto futile.  Since November, the extent and duration of the park closures are more fully understood. A vote to suspend the cull requires 6 votes. With the additional information, I believe a vote on a cull would today be closer, but the result would be the same. This is all to say, this year we will have a cull; next year, we’ll see.
 
Resident Satisfaction
 
The City commissioned a statistically valid (representative sample, n=785) resident satisfaction survey this Fall, performed by the Boulder, Colorado-based National Research Center and the Washington, D.C.-based International City/County Management Association. This survey is administered throughout the country and provides jurisdictions information about resident opinions and comparisons against benchmark communities.
 
Approximately 94% of residents report Ann Arbor as an excellent (59%) or good (34%) community in which to live. At least 90% of residents report feeling safe in Ann Arbor, its neighborhoods and the downtown. In addition, about 4 out of 5 residents gave an "excellent" or "good" rating to the overall quality of services provided by the City of Ann Arbor. Survey participants also were especially pleased with drinking water, natural area preservation, city parks, recreation programs, health services and public libraries; all of these services were rated higher than the national benchmarks.
 
There’s lots still to do; areas where residents identify room for improvement are affordable housing, public parking, cost of living, streets, and traffic.
 
Closing
 
Thanks for reading and letting me know what you think about these topics and any I missed. I look forward to hearing from you!
 
Best,
 
Christopher




Try Email Marketing with VerticalResponse!