Ann Arbor City Council declares state of emergency in response to COVID-19

Monday, March 16, 2020 - 7:48pm

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City Council discussed initiatives to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus at Monday night's meeting.

Minutes before the March 16 Ann Arbor City Council meeting, Mayor Christopher Taylor declared a local state of emergency regarding the current COVID-19 situation. 

Beginning March 17, all city of Ann Arbor buildings and non-critical services will be closed until April 5. 

According to Taylor, trash and recycling pickup, drinking water, waste water, police and fire services will be continued. Taylor said he strongly encourages all city services to be conducted online.

“I understand that these measures will impact the way the city delivers these services, but this action is necessary to protect our employees and those we serve in our communities, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to this virus,” Taylor said. 

The announcement followed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order signed earlier in the day. The order urged all Michigan restaurants, bars and entertainment venues to close doors to the general public by 3 p.m. However, delivery and takeout options are still viable. 

Prior to the signing of the executive order, some students disregarded Centers for Disease Control warnings of practicing social distancing. Taylor said he hopes the executive order will be taken seriously.

“I am urging everyone to heed this executive order and follow CDC social distancing recommendations,” Taylor said. “This is not a snow day, and school is not out for summer. Everyone, the young, the old and everyone in between … should take religious preventative measures … Your diligent actions (will) save lives.” 

At the start of the council meeting, Interim City Administrator Tom Crawford said in light City Hall closing, he will be moving all council directives given to him back 60 days. Crawford also noted developing the city budget will be more difficult with the unpredictability of the virus.

“This is a very unclear time, very volatile time, so it’s not clear whether the events we’re going to are going to have a short-term, a year, or a long-term impact,” Crawford said. “That volatility makes developing a budget challenging.”

Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, raised concerns about the council planning large events. She said she noticed events being frequently canceled amidst the virus concerns. 

In regards to a resolution to approve street closings for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, Lumm said the council must exert caution when planning the event.

“April 22 is not that far off,” Lumm said. “I don’t think the city should be sponsoring or planning any group gatherings at this point. I recognize that the 50th anniversary of Earth Day is a significant occasion, but I am concerned that we could be spending time and money planning an event when there’s a good chance we may need to cancel it.”

Crawford recognized the concerns; however, he viewed planning the 50th anniversary celebration in a positive light during the COVID-19 concerns.

“One of the benefits that we thought of continuing with the planning at this stage is that, when things do open back up, having a celebration downtown would be beneficial (for morale),” Crawford said.

The council approved the resolution to close streets for the Earth Day anniversary.

The council’s discussion shifted to the Center of the City Task Force as Committee Chair Meghan Musolff and Vice Chair Miles Klapthor presented their final report. The task force was created in 2018 to develop recommendations regarding city-owned land bounded by Fifth Avenue and William, Division and Liberty Streets.  

Musolff highlighted the vision the task force had for the space. According to the report, they hoped to create an area that was inclusive, safe, easy to navigate and sustainable.

To achieve the vision, Musolff said the task force placed a strong emphasis on community engagement and input. They set up Ideapods at the Ann Arbor District Library parking lot and in Liberty Plaza to gather ideas. They also sent targeted mail and hosted open houses.

“One of the things that (was) really important to the group … was we want to make sure we invited the entire community into the process, making sure that we heard diverse perspectives,” Musolff said.

The report outlines six recommendations for the public spaces to be developed into a central park and civic center commons. 

Klapthor noted these recommendations were not concrete plans of actions, but more of a push towards the right direction. 

“In our report, we don’t have any designs or anything of that nature,” Klapthor said. “Instead, this is a step forward in a process that is going to be longer, but is also going to be very much community-focused and community-driven.” 

Musolff closed the report by providing additional considerations outside of the initial scope of the taskforce. The report highlights the need for affordable housing and importance of diverse perspectives. 

“The Task Force recognizes the urgent need for additional affordable housing in our community, but at this time, because of the wording of the Charter Amendment, creating housing on the Center of the City block is not an option,” the report said. “The Task Force strongly encourages City Council to continue to work to address the affordable housing shortage.” 

Reporter Francesca Duong can be reached at fduong@umich.edu