The proposed 2004 citywide ban on upholstered porch furniture is back. This time, it’s coming from assistant Ann Arbor Fire Chief Chris Brenner who in a recent interview predicted a fire would soon claim the life of a student if the city failed to immediately enact a complete ban. A similar measure was narrowly avoided in the summer of 2004 when a group of students, including some Michigan Student Assembly members, mobilized at the last minute to lobby against it. They were unable to force the Ann Arbor City Council to defeat the proposal outright, but they succeeded in getting the motion tabled indefinitely. Now, the Council has agreed to revisit the issue at Brenner’s request. Once again, it must not pass.
Proponents of the couch ban are once again hiding their real agenda behind a veil of concern for public safety. In a move reminiscent of last year, they are engaging in hysterical scare tactics in an attempt to push through a ban on the porch couches they consider to be aesthetically displeasing. Curiously, the residents pushing for the ban are not also pushing for genuine measures to suppress fires in the student ghetto. There is little concern that many student rental houses do not meet basic fire code standards, for example. Anxiety over these couches has little to do with student safety and much more to do with the fact that many permanent Ann Arbor residents consider them to be an eyesore. Also, those who live in close proximity to students are often worried about a loss of property value due to this “blight.” Viewed independently from the over-the-top rhetoric surrounding the issue, however, it is clear that the safety risk associated with these couches, if any, does not justify a categorical prohibition. The decision regarding whether or not to place a couch on the front porch should rest with the residents of the house.
The first time this issue was contemplated, students had little opportunity for input on the matter. As with most city policy that is in conflict with student interests, the ban was to be decided during the summer, when most students are out of town, by Council members from wards purposely drawn to disenfranchise students. If not for the 11th-hour mobilization by a small group of dedicated students, the couch ban would probably already be in place.
This time around things are different. At least in theory, students now have an avenue to air their concerns with the City Council. The new MSA-City Council Student Relations Committee was formed to give students a voice within city government on matters such as this, and it appears that this committee is living up to its charge. When asked for comment on the proposed couch ban, City Councilman Leigh Greden (D-Ward 3) said that the matter was being directly turned over to the new student relations committee.
The student relations committee must now prove its relevance and act in accordance with the will of its constituents by hastily killing this measure before it once again becomes a threat. It must extinguish Brenner’s spark before it lands on a couch and starts a fire, and it must remain vigilant as an outspoken force for students in the future.