Students often ignore city politics. But the City Council’s first September meeting tonight shouldn’t fly under students’ radar. After discussion during the summer, a vote on a proposed ordinance to ban couches on porches has been scheduled for tonight. Because students haven’t been around en masse to raise their objections, all sides of the issue haven’t been given equal attention. City Council simply hasn’t made any effort to give students a chance to express their opinion on an ordinance that will primarily affect them. City Council should delay voting on the ordinance until students have a chance to voice their opinions.
The proposed ordinance to ban upholstered furniture on porches was first introduced to City Council in 2004 by the Ann Arbor Fire Department. AAFD held that porch couches were a fire hazard. Over the years, City Council has reintroduced the proposal several times, but it has always been tabled indefinitely before it could make it to a vote. In April, there were several suspicious fires around the campus area — one of which may have been started with a porch couch and led to the death of an Eastern Michigan University student, reinforcing the fire department’s original claims. The fires prompted City Council to revisit the proposal.
The Daily reported in August that the vote wouldn’t take place until the Council’s second September meeting later in the month. But according to Councilman Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3), the vote will actually take place tonight — just a few days after most students arrived in Ann Arbor. And students have been so busy settling in and preparing for the beginning of the semester that they likely haven’t been able to get caught up on the City Council’s recent activity. Because there isn’t any student representation on City Council, students’ opinions haven’t gotten any exposure.
The timing of the vote makes it seem that City Council is trying to pass the ordinance before students can express their views. Many city residents support the ban — when it was first introduced, many thought porch couches were an eyesore, according to Daily editorials from 2004 and 2005. But absent students haven’t been able to raise their concerns about a ban that doesn’t address the core problem. The real concern should be unsafe student houses that aren’t up to code and don’t have proper fire escapes and tenants who haven’t been educated on fire safety. A blanket couch ban won’t solve that problem.
Since this ordinance will almost exclusively affect students, it’s unacceptable that City Council hasn’t given students a chance to lobby for their interests. City Council should wait until students are established and have a chance to voice objections before it holds a vote on such a contentious proposal.
The relationships between the city, residents, students and the University have always been tense. But there’s no reason for City Council to strong-arm an ordinance into existence without consulting the students that it will primarily affect. City Council should hold the vote on the ordinance until council members can hear both sides of the debate.