Ann Arbor City Council discussed the implications of a ballot measure requiring the creation of a public park in downtown Ann Arbor as well as the regulation of Bird scooters at its meeting Thursday night.
Alan Haber, a community activist and vocal proponent of Proposal A, spoke during public comment about the creation of a public park on the land next to the Ann Arbor District Library following the ballot measure passage on Tuesday night.
Proposal A, which requires the city to hold onto the parcel of land next to the library in perpetuity and develop a public park, passed with 53 percent of the vote on Nov. 6, despite opposition from Mayor Christopher Taylor. The mayor said in an email to constituents prior to Tuesday’s elections that the ballot measure was “unfunded and unwise.”
Haber said he envisioned turning what is now a parking lot into a public commons for the people of Ann Arbor.
“The notion of the commons is that it is for everyone,” Haber said. “A majority did say they wanted it, also a significant minority said they didn’t want, or wanted something else, and the task of the creation of the commons, is that while we invite ourselves to this, we invite everyone. And this is now the opportunity of the community that we are doing this commons to put your best vision, ideas (on) how to make a beautiful place in the center of the city that will be a destination for all around.”
Proposal A derails a Chicago developer’s plans to build a 17-story high-rise on the lot. The proposal is in direct conflict with City Council’s decision in April 2017 to sell the Library Lot to Core Spaces and its later approval of a $10 million purchase agreement in June 2018 to allow the company to build a complex that would include a hotel, apartments, office and retail space. Half of the proceeds from the sale — which amounts to $5 million — was allocated to providing affordable housing in the city.
City Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski, D-Ward 5, said the implementation of Proposal A would be a challenge for the next City Council, warning that the ballot measure’s passage will be a challenge for the new council members to wrestle with — and one that could result in legal complications.
“I was grateful and intrigued to hear Mr. Haber talk about his vision of the commons as a place that nobody is excluded from,” Warpehoski said. “Certainly the challenge that Mr. Haber left us with at the end of how do we include people who are experiencing homelessness in not just this space but our broader community is a big challenge (because) the loss of the $5 million from the sale of the price will impair our ability to be an inclusive community.”
Following Haber’s comments, Assistant City Administrator John Fournier discussed a resolution to approve an interim agreement with electric scooter operator Bird regulating the use of the scooters in the city. The agreement would last for 90 days, but could be extended for up to one year. Fournier said to his knowledge there had only been one scooter-related accident reported to law enforcement since they were introduced earlier in the year.
“What we have is a record of the scooters operating in the city rather safely, but still, even with that knowledge, the agreement gives the city quite a bit of leeway with the operator,” Fournier said. “The operator has to provide educational material to users that the city can approve. The agreement requires that the operator take financial responsibility when scooters are used inappropriately or parked inappropriately.”
Fournier said the city had been active in seizing scooters when they were parked inappropriately, charging $150 per scooter impounded. In the first 10 days of the scooters’ introduction, 30 were seized, but Fournier said since then only 10 have been seized. He noted that compliance with city ordinances had “increased substantially.”
City Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, criticized Bird for launching their scooters in Ann Arbor without warning city officials.
“It’s hard for me to get past the fact that I think it’s irresponsible for Bird rides just to show up in Ann Arbor unannounced and drop off their scooters, forcing the city and the University to jump through hoops,” Lumm said. “I mean, that to me demonstrated zero concern for safety.”
Additionally, City Council unanimously approved amended bylaws to a citizen-led police oversight commission, clarifying that city council liaisons will appoint members to the oversight commission among other procedural details. Taylor noted the contentious path surrounding the drafting of the commission, including a competing proposal from a citizen task force convened by the city’s Human Rights Commission.
“This brings the prelude of the commission to a close,” Taylor said. “It’s been a long process. It’s been a difficult process, but I think the substance of what we have, the substance of the ordinance, the substance of the commission is going to be, I believe, good for everyone.”
While he said he did not plan to address the ordinance’s preamble during the meeting, Taylor mentioned he had heard from law enforcement officers that they found some of the implications about racism in policing to be hurtful, especially to officers of color.
“I’m going to look to us to how we can address this problem going forward,” Taylor said.
The council also unanimously passed a resolution requesting immigration authorities stay the deportation of a man from Guinea who has taken refuge in a Quaker house of worship. Mohamed Soumah, who works as a custodian at the University, is residing in the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting House to avoid deportation. Soumah has a genetic kidney disease that requires frequent dialysis, and says he will die if deported because he will no longer have access to adequate medical equipment.
Soumah came to the United States in 2002 and has regularly applied for and received U.S. work visas. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement declared him a fugitive alien for overstaying his allotted term.
Warpehoski said ICE had a policy against apprehending people in sensitive places, such as houses of worship or medical facilities.
“This resolution is a show of support for him by the council … Because his doctors and other medical professionals who have reviewed his case do believe that for him to be deported would be a death sentence,” Warpehoski said.