I have quite a few updates for you this month. First, however, I wanted to extend an invitation to Coffee Hour on Wednesday, Nov. 9 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. at York. Join me if you can to discuss important issues in our community. RSVP here. DTE equipment upgrades Last year, a few residents of the eastern Dicken neighborhood asked if I could do anything about the all-too-frequent loss of power in their neighborhood. Having lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, I, too, am painfully familiar with the issue. I had several meetings with DTE over the course of last fall and winter, pressing them on the unacceptably frequent power outages in the area. In response, they took the following actions:
Patrolled the circuit looking for any equipment that needed immediate attention (none found).
Looked into putting the lines on Marian underground. This was deemed not feasible due to the detached garages and lot sizes.
Investigated tying the area into a different circuit that has had better performance over the past few years. They performed a detailed load study that took 3-4 months to complete.
Patrolled the existing circuit to perform analysis for permanent upgrades.
Ultimately, they decided that the equipment upgrades was the best option for this circuit, and the work was completed a few months ago. [See map below for coverage area.] Following up with both DTE and residents after the summer storm season, I learned that no power outages were experienced in the area since the circuit improvements. Of course, if you live in that area and had a difference experience, please let me know!
Scio Church reconstruction As you may have noticed, the Scio Church reconstruction project has been delayed and will not happen this year. According to city staff, the issues stemmed from obtaining the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) clearance and plan review by MDOT. These steps were necessary because of the use of Federal Aid on the project, and the process was slower than the city had previously experienced. If this had been a local project (i.e. without Federal Aid and MDOT oversight), we could have built it this year. Because of these delays, if the project were to begin this fall, it would need to be spread over two construction seasons. That as well as supply chain issues caused the bids to come in at 193% higher than the city’s estimate. City engineering staff believe that significant savings can be realized if we rebid the project this year and make it a one season effort, in 2023, for the following reasons:
Contractors will have adequate time to schedule and plan the work
Eliminate the need for temporary pavement and remobilization effort
More time for the contractor to react to supply chain issues
You can stay updated on the project on the project website. On nonpartisan elections At the last meeting, a council member brought forth a resolution to put a charter amendment on the ballot asking voters to make Ann Arbor City Council elections nonpartisan. I strongly oppose this idea, and Council voted it down. Here's why. Champions of nonpartisan municipal elections like to say: There is no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole.” It’s a catchy slogan, but it’s utterly false. The Democratic way to fill a pothole is to employ full-time, unionized workers who are paid prevailing wages with healthcare and retirement benefits. The Republican way is to outsource the job to the lowest bidder, who usually pays minimum wage with no benefits. The differences aren’t limited to basic services. Democrats and Republicans have vastly different values and policy positions on a range of municipal issues, including:
Land use and zoning and more
For example, President Biden has proposed a $10 billion state and local grant program to incentivize local municipalities to eliminate exclusionary zoning. Trump strongly opposes eliminating exclusionary zoning and often uses racist dog whistles and fear tactics to stir up opposition. So it’s clear there are important partisan divisions on city matters. Therefore, party labels provide a crucial piece of information to voters, signaling a candidate’s values and policy positions. Why would we take that information away? Some suggest that because everyone runs as a Democrat here, the information is irrelevant. While Democrats have dominated in recent Ann Arbor history, that wasn’t always the case, and we can’t assume the tides could never turn again – even though it’s hard to imagine right now. When we consider charter changes, we must think of the range of possible situations, not just the one facing us at this exact moment in time. I don’t want to deprive future voters of important information in a competitive two-party race. As I was researching the issue, I came across this great graphic from a study at Brigham Young University. It’s titled “Oh no! I’ve elected a Republican!” and it presents the study’s conclusion: “Using data from over 15,300 U.S. cities, they found that non-partisan elections allow minority party candidates to “sneak” into office in cities where their party is unpopular.” Some argue that we should make council elections nonpartisan because turnout in November is greater than the August primaries. However, while overall turnout is greater in November, that does not extend to the nonpartisan section. For example, in 2020, more than 80% of voters who cast ballots in every A2 ward participated in their Council races. But in the city-wide non-partisan judicial race, fewer than 55% of voters who cast ballots participated in that election. In other words, the turnout for the nonpartisan section was about the same as the turnout for the August primary. This is backed up by national studies, which show that nonpartisanship actually depresses turnout because many voters skip the nonpartisan section. There are better ways to increase voter participation. Moving council races to even years, and no-reason absentee voting have provided a big boost. And we passed a charter amendment for ranked choice voting – with party labels – so we are ready if and when that is allowed. That will ultimately be the best avenue for increasing participation without causing collateral damage to the process. Unarmed crisis response survey In 2021, we directed the city administrator to develop an unarmed crisis response program. Such a program would utilize existing partnerships with social and human services agencies to structure a new crisis response program that would take charge of a portion of non-criminal calls for service that have historically been dispatched by police officers. Now, the city is collecting input from residents about the best ways to further public safety using unarmed social and human services professionals. Please take a moment to fill out the survey. Recent council actions: TC1 Zoning Council is moving forward with a plan to implement TC1 zoning for the Stadium and Maple area. This will allow for more dense housing to be built along that transit corridor. This concept has been thoroughly vetted by the community over the years, and is part of seven different elements of our city’s comprehensive planning documents. When I campaigned in 2020, I consistently heard wide agreement from residents on the idea of allowing new housing to be built along our transit corridors, and I’m pleased to see this zoning change come to fruition! Learn more here. Right to renew At our last meeting, council passed a resolution ensuring Ann Arbor renters have a right to renew their leases. This groundbreaking protection — the first-in-the-state — will help to balance the scales of power in our rental market, and provides tenants with some much-needed housing and financial security. No right on red downtown At our last meeting, we also took another step to protect pedestrians in the downtown area when we voted to ban right turns on red. According to the Federal Highway Administration: “Prohibiting right turns on red is a simple, low-cost measure. Together with a leading pedestrian interval, the signal changes can benefit pedestrians with minimal impacts on traffic. They should be done in locations with substantial pedestrian volume and places where children cross.” This ban applies to 50 signalized intersections in a zone bordered by First Street to the west, State Street by the University of Michigan campus to the east, Kingsley Street to the north and Hoover Avenue to the south. Council voting chart for Oct. 3 It's an honor to serve our city on Council. As always, if you have questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out!