August Primary Ward Races

There used to be a cookie commercial on TV where a woman was trying to get her husband to try a new kind of chocolate chip cookie but he kept refusing, saying, “I like the old.” There is a contingent on City Council now that really likes the old, especially the old ideas. In the upcoming primary election on August 5, that contingent could grow, but it also could go back into its cocoon if enough people come out to vote.

First Ward:  (Incumbent) Sumi Kailasapathy vs. Don Adams

Kailasapathy wants to be re-elected to her second term based on what she calls common-sense fiscal decisions. I call them old ideas and this race also gives me the exciting opportunity to use the word “prissy.” Kailasapathy is extremely well-educated and works as a CPA. As I pointed out in my last post concerning Sally Petersen and her business skills, business skills and an understanding of government don’t always go hand-in-hand. If you hire a CPA, you probably want that person to have as a primary goal the objective of saving you money. But it’s a big mistake to think saving money is what governments ought to do. Government is there to spend money – for the public good. Wasting money is bad, and if Kailasapathy used her accounting skills to find areas of wasted funds, that would be helpful. Instead, she gets her prissy CPA on to constantly lecture everyone about spending too much money.

For example, Kailasapathy is absolutely against spending any money on art or economic development. She misleads the public by saying the Percent-for-Art program “diverted” money from sewer funds and her vote to de-fund art will cause more money to be used to prevent sewer overflows.  That is absolutely untrue. The Percent-for-Art program used 1% of money in the reserved portion of a particular public improvement project, so we could have working sewers plus artistic enrichment. Someone who is a CPA should know better. Kailasapathy probably does, but she can’t get beyond her penny-pinching. In a June council meeting where there was a discussion about closing Main Street for football games, she disdainfully stated that neither she nor any of her friends go to football games. Prissy.

Don Adams is a newcomer to city politics. Unlike Kailasapathy, he has a history of real public service and is a leader in the Arrowwood Community and the public schools. He does not have the anti-government outlook that Kailasapathy shows and knows government is more than just police and sewers. While Kailasapathy can be counted on to like the old, Adams is a fresh voice who is likely to be open to change. He is also much less likely to refuse to spend money on anything, even when it’s the federal government’s money. I’m referring to the very necessary new Amtrak station, which Kailasapathy is opposed to. Seems that, in addition to never going to football games, she and her friends never ride trains either, so she would turn down federal money to build a new train station. Adams does not take absolutist, “read-my-lips” views and will be a consensus-builder who is accepting of new ideas.

Inside Scoop on How this Race Intersects with the Mayor’s Race (ISHRIM)

The anti-government, horse-and-buggy types have formed a little coalition that shows up at parades and such to support each other and it’s interesting to see who has turned his or her back on whom. Although Kailasapathy and Sabra Briere both represent the 1st Ward, Kailasapathy is not supporting Briere for Mayor – she’s supporting Steve Kunselman. Jack Eaton and Mike Anglin, who do not have to run this year, are part of the coalition and they also support Kunselman. This group can be counted on to talk about the good old days, advocate referenda on almost every subject, and to bash Mayor John Hieftje, who never lost a single precinct in an election, whenever possible.

Second Ward:  Kirk Westphal vs. Nancy KaplanIMG_20140716_162037874

I am just way too excited because this race gives me another chance to use the word “prissy.” No one could be prissier than Nancy Kaplan. Her emergence into politics started because she was very upset at the thought of anyone interfering with her backyard, which is the Huron Hills Golf Course. Her friend and neighbor, Jane Lumm (who was not a councilmember at the time), started a rumor in the early part of this century that the mean old city council was going to turn the pristine Huron Hills over to some dastardly condo developer. This sounds melodramatic and that is because it was complete fiction. The city council had asked the planning department to come up with dozens of ideas about what the city could do if it was ever strapped for money and development of the rim of the golf course was one idea. No one ever considered it to be realistic and it was like a drawing on a paper napkin but that didn’t stop Lumm, Kaplan, business mogul Ted Annis and others from going ballistic and forming a group to “Save Huron Hills.”

Kaplan now counts as her main accomplishment that she “saved Huron Hills.” Stopping something that was never going to happen is indeed an accomplishment. Adding to her fantasy team of achievements is her leadership with the Allen Creek Greenway. The Greenway is a wonderful idea but may not happen for decades because a) Allen Creek is in an underground pipe and b) the plan is to use the railroad right-of-way, which is currently on tap to be used by a commuter train. To be fair, Kaplan did get elected to the board of the Ann Arbor District Library. It may say a lot about her performance there that none of her fellow board members are supporting her in the City Council race.

Kirk Westphal is a sharp contrast. Westphal lost to Jane Lumm, who was the incumbent, in last year’s election. He chairs the City Planning Commission and has a degree in urban planning. Unlike Kaplan, who is a retired physical therapist, Westphal has the credentials and experience to be valuable public servant. He is a consultant who advises cities on best practices and produces videos about issues such as efficient city management. While Westphal champions transit and insists that both developers and the city itself follow our zoning laws and master planning guidelines, Kaplan opposed the transit millage – because it cost money – and says she would have voted against an apartment building at 413 E. Huron, even though the building fit squarely within the city’s existing zoning. She is against everything, including a proposed development on Nixon Road that actually has less density than the Master Plan recommends. She thinks it is too dense.

There is a clear choice in the 2nd Ward:  Experience and thoughtful consideration versus fake activism and fear-mongering.

ISHRIM:

Kaplan is part of the Lumm-Anglin-Kailasapathy-Eaton, Pander-to-the-People coalition that is supporting Kunselman for Mayor. Similar to what is going on in the 1st Ward, Jane Lumm is not supporting her fellow councilmember Sally Petersen for Mayor. Petersen is not wedded to the old, so Lumm has jumped on the Kunselman bandwagon. Lummites may generally support Kaplan, but Petersen supporters may realize that her vision of the future is more closely matched with Westphal’s.

Third Ward: Julie Grand vs. Sam McMullen vs. Bob Dascola

There is no prissiness in the 3rd Ward, at least not among the candidates. Julie Grand is former chair of the Parks Advisory Commission, teaches at UM-Dearborn and has a PhD in public health. Sam McMullen is a UM undergraduate, and Bob Dascola is a long-time Ann Arbor barber. As I wrote in a previous post, Dascola caused some excitement when the city clerk turned down his petitions to run for office because he did not meet the city’s residency requirements, having registered to vote in the 3rd Ward only this past February. A federal judge found that Ann Arbor’s residency rules had been stricken in the 1970’s, so Dascola is back on the ballot. As fate would have it, the printer that the county uses to print up the ballots left Dascola’s name off of the ones first mailed out to absentee voters. This has been mostly fixed but there may be a dispute about a handful of incorrect ballots that were already sent in.

McMullen is energetic and sincere but needs a little more experience under his belt before he’s ready for public office. He doesn’t really have an understanding of urban government issues such as tax increment financing, used to fund the Downtown Development Authority and advocates multi-use zoning, which we already have but he just doesn’t know it. He wrongly believes we can increase density by building only buildings that are four stories or under. I will give him credit for the best answer in the League of Women Voters CTN TV debates when asked about Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s concept of “customer service.” McMullen disavowed it and Snyder.

As you drive around the 3rd Ward, you will see Dascola yard signs in the oddest of places, namely in the yards of a few North Burns Park Association homes, where one would think that an intellectual like Julie Grand might be more appealing to the faculty and retired faculty homeowners. But the NoBuPa folks have focused on the “No” aspect and have gone off the deep end regarding turning all vacant property in the city into a park. They went postal over the Landmark student high-rise on Forest Avenue and South University, and we all know how that has absolutely destroyed their quality of life, even though it is about half a mile away from them and has resulted in more neighborhood conversions of homes back to single families. They refuse to support Grand, who wisely led the Parks Commission, and instead will vote for anyone who likes the old enough to shut down development completely.

Would that be Dascola? It’s hard to tell. I have known and liked Bob Dascola for a long time and my men-folk are long time customers of Dascola Barbers. He definitely likes the old and will wax nostalgic over most issues that are brought up. The NoBuPa people have a real hatred for the DDA, though, it being devoted to urbanism and all, and Dascola has touted as one of his qualifications that he has attended many International Downtown Association conferences with the DDA members. He is compassionate and likes to listen to people but he has to be careful about filtering what he hears. In an article in the Ann Arbor News about the CTN debates, for instance, Ryan Stanton did some fact-checking and found that what Dascola said he was hearing about police staffing was just not correct.

Police staffing is a big issue with the coalition that is supporting Dascola, Kailasapathy, and Kaplan. They want more police no matter what, even though crime is not a problem in Ann Arbor. Twenty-first century thinkers like Westphal, Adams, and Grand are more likely to side with the excellent 5th Ward representative, Chuck Warpehoski, in wanting to evaluate issues like police staffing according to data and comparisons with state and national practices rather than anecdotes. The folksy approach of Anglin, Eaton, and Dascola makes for good door-to-door jawboning, but we have a city to run.

ISHRIM

Watch the sign war to see what’s happening. Some NoBuPa people are supporting Sabra Briere but many of them have turned on her and it is common to see Dascola and Kunselman signs together. I really don’t know what that is all about except that Briere is not dogmatic and probably has not been willing to promise the all-parks-no-buildings contingent that she would vote down every building over three stories. Christopher Taylor and Julie Grand have similar visions for city government and Taylor has represented the 3rd Ward well, so his signs are prevalent in Ward 3 and it is common to see Taylor and Grand signs side-by-side.

There is no opposition to Graydon Krapohl in the 4th Ward race or Chuck Warpehoski in the 5th Ward, although another candidate in Ward 5 left the race too late for his name to be yanked from the ballot.

Think Intangibly

When my doctor husband first mentioned the trendy phrase “evidence-based medicine,” I asked, “What was it before – guess-based medicine?” It’s popular in this age of Big Data (information from everywhere about everyone) to call almost anything evidence-based, which sounds pretty scientific. Scientific is good, isn’t it?

We are so used to reading charts and statistics that we think all subjects can be quantified. It’s science! Will your child be successful in school? Test scores will tell you, right? Can you find true love? Match.com and e-Harmony have a formula. Should government provide mass transit to people who either don’t own cars or prefer to use them sparingly? Let’s crunch the numbers and see.

In the old Ann Arbor News, I always enjoyed how the football writers would evaluate wins and losses and then add up the “intangibles” in predicting the outcome of Michigan football games. Intangibles were things such as the coach’s dislike for the other coach, the need to win on home field, and decades of historical factoids. If you’re trying to get a bunch of teenagers to win a football game or if you’re trying to figure out public policy, those intangibles can be very important.

Last week I visited a friend who is taking some courses at MIT on Public Sector Dispute Resolution. I attended class with her and had the good fortune to meet one of the gurus in this area. Lawrence Susskind applies consensus-building techniques to issues such as urban planning and international water disputes. His blog contains a fascinating discussion of Participatory Action Research (PAR) as a counterpoint to the usual “scientific” statistical methods. Simply put, he advises social scientists to get down and dirty with specific community projects rather than relying solely on numbers and surveys that lead to incorrect generalizations about social change.

Charts and statistics are just a jumping-off point. They can’t necessarily predict future activity and they certainly can’t measure community benefit. My favorite example is the non-motorized path the city built on the north side of Washtenaw Avenue. During the public meetings about it, numerous residents came out to complain that there was no evidence that anyone would use it. Of course there was no evidence – there was no sidewalk! Now that it exists, hundreds of people walk and bike there and more people are willing to take the bus because the stops on that side of the road are accessible. The intangible is that the city made a statement in favor of non-motorized transportation, regardless of “evidence.”

In the coming weeks we will hear a lot of blather from the “we hate everything” group that now has been formed to oppose the proposed AAATA millage in May. The millage will support more efficient bus routes and less waiting time for bus riders, but expect the naysayers to drag out all kinds of statistics showing each penny each resident pays for each hubcap on each tire on each bus. Here are some of the intangibles:  1) As a relatively wealthy community, we owe it to those who aren’t so wealthy to provide reliable transportation; 2) It’s not all about “me” –you might not take the bus but someone else you depend on probably does; and 3) Improved transit provides incentives for employment and for retail opportunities.

Whether it’s the transportation millage, a new building, or crosswalk improvements, be wary of those who rely solely on statistics. It takes social conscience to figure some of these things out. Read up on all the facts and figures, but then feel the love.

Coming Soon, To a Railroad Station Near You

This has turned out to be a week of trains and transit, so here is a guest column from David R. Busse,  a TV journalist, railroad fan, avid user of public transportation and registered independent voter. Dave is extremely knowledgeable about all things train, and notes another good reason for the Ann Arbor City Council to make sure federal money for a new train station doesn’t slip away because of short-sighted thinking.  — JL 

 

With all the focus in Washington on problems with the rollout of Obamacare, it might be a good time to remind people in the Midwest of an old phrase kicked around in the first term of the Obama administration.

Remember “stimulus money?”

One project that came to fruition with this and other federal funding will be arriving on Ann Arbor’s doorstep next year. It was not exactly “shovel ready” when proposed. Thanks to some unusual and very practical cooperation between transportation planners in California and several Midwestern states, the tired passenger cars on the Chicago-to-Detroit Amtrak corridor will be retired in favor of brand-new cars, designed specifically for “corridors” of passenger train growth in those states. California – a leader in such undertakings, if you can believe it – led the consortium of states in designing and bidding on the cars. This will be the third group Caltrans has procured for three different routes in the Golden State, and they are currently under construction at a railcar plant in Rochelle, Illinois. A big group of those cars will be dedicated to Chicago-Detroit service – the trains that serve Ann Arbor.Railcar

A big design improvement in these cars will be the use of platform-level automatic exit and entry doors. Your current Amtrak service uses cars with narrow entry way and manual doors, allowing passengers to use them only when a crew member is available to open the doors and assist passengers up the steep vestibule stairs. Regular Amtrak passengers know the drill and it can be excruciating on holidays and weekends, especially when snow and ice have clogged the stairs. Train pulls into station, crew member attempts to clear snow and ice from steps, passengers get off, embarking passengers line up next to one of the few open doors and wait…waiting for detraining passengers to get off, then wait for their fellow passengers to climb the narrow vestibule stairs, with luggage, kids, etc., and get on. Handicapped passengers find it even more of a tedious challenge. When the outgoing passengers board and the train starts moving again, the delay causes a late departure. What should have taken three or four minutes sometime takes ten or fifteen…or longer. Go thru that same scenario at six more stations westbound and you have trains arriving in Chicago substantially late, with mostly unhappy passengers.

Despite your state’s enlightened investment in rail infrastructure including state-of-the-art track and signaling systems for higher train speeds and increased track capacity, these long “dwell times” at stations – the time spent loading and unloading passengers enroute – is a huge impediment to faster schedules and consistent timekeeping. The new Amtrak cars you’ll see by this time next year will have wide doors with floors just a few inches higher than platform level. All doors on one side of the train will open for passenger loading and unloading at each stop, and passengers with hand luggage will be able to simultaneously get on or off the train. Handicapped access will be via easy low-tech ramps and their seats will be reserved close to the doorway – no steps to worry about. Station dwell times? Using the California experience as an example, expect average time savings of 70 percent…or more! Think of that if you use Amtrak’s Michigan corridor service over the upcoming holidays, and if you really want to have some fun, put a watch to the “dwell times” on your ride. Then compare after the new cars arrive.

If the California experience on the popular San Diego-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara run is any indication, the presence of these new cars will draw more travelers…especially in college towns, like Fullerton, where the Orange County city’s restored railway station serves Amtrak local and long-distance trains and Metrolink commuter trains as well as serving as the downtown transit hub. Along with the dramatic increase in train service frequency and numbers of passengers, a vibrant downtown of shops and restaurants exists just steps away. Same story in Solano Beach, Old Town San Diego and Oceanside, and a world-class station is under construction in Anaheim. I’ll bet Ann Arbor residents might visit any of these places and say, weather conditions notwithstanding, “we need to have something like this.”

The new cars are supposed to be coming late next year, and like it or not, they will highlight – in dramatic fashion – which cities along the route are ready for the new business.

What will it be like to arrive in Ann Arbor on one of the new trains next year and beyond? Will arriving passengers, getting off their WiFi-equipped trains see a modern facility meshing with other forms of public transport, e-kiosks connecting with hotels, car rental, ride-share, car-share, bike-share and whatever other new transport technology tends to crop up in cutting-edge college towns?

That is why the discussion of transit hubs and Amtrak stations among government leaders and citizens in Ann Arbor is so critical right now. You need a new train station, whether you like it or not, tied in to all forms of local commerce and transport, and unless the ball gets rolling right now, a train passenger’s first view of your vibrant city may be less than stellar. Does your city’s current station project an image that may encourage people to ditch their cars and try the train?

Federal and state taxpayers are providing Michigan with a modern fleet of cars and smoother track. Now the local cities along the Chicago-Detroit corridor need to get rolling on train stations to match.

David Busse
Diamond Bar, Calif.
DRBusse@roadrunner.com

 

Time to Get On Board

We are conditioned to think and obsess about the unemployment rate, but when economists look at revitalizing urban areas, they now talk about prosperity rather than unemployment. Michigan doesn’t do too well in either unemployment or per capita income, but if we start focusing more on smaller, regional improvements, it looks like we have the raw materials to succeed.

In a presentation last week to the Ann Arbor-Ypsi Chamber of Commerce, economist Lou Glazer outlined what it takes to make Ann Arbor a destination for new businesses and, most importantly, young professionals who will run and staff those businesses. The old idea that a high-tech company can “do business anywhere” is no longer true. Knowledge-industry companies – those in high-tech, healthcare, media, entertainment – want to be where the new college graduates are, and that turns out to be in the center of big cities.

Seventy-five percent of recent college graduates choose to live in big cities. The most popular are New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, in that order. Ann Arbor should be in the running, but one problem, according to Glazer, is that the University of Michigan sucks up a lot of the talent pool. Young professionals have to want to stay here, and if they do stay here, the businesses will follow. Chicago has a mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who has promised that Chicago will be the city of choice for Big 10 graduates. Will Ann Arbor’s next mayor throw down the gantlet?

Quality of place matters to these adorable millennials. Music, art, design, cool food and shops are all big draws. But what do they love most? Get ready for it, because it’s a surprise – transit. At the Chamber of Commerce program, a panel of young business owners talked about what attracts them. They want walkable communities. They don’t want to own cars. They want to be able to live in funky Ypsilanti (which Glazer describes as Ann Arbor’s Brooklyn), hop on a train to Ann Arbor, hop back on to go to Depot Town, then take a ride to the DIA.1lrt0625

Brendan Cavendar, a young UM graduate who is one of the brokers working on the sale of the city’s old YMCA lot, says availability of Zipcars, short-term car rentals, and the go!Pass, free bus rides for downtown employees, has been crucial in attracting businesses to downtown.

Several huge transit initiatives are bubbling in Ann Arbor and what happens in the next couple of years could decide whether Rahm Emanuel gets all the college grads or whether Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti get to share some of them. First is the AAATA “Moving You Forward” 5-year transit improvement plan. The AAATA will likely go to the voters for a millage increase to allow better bus service in this region. Hopefully they will not be stymied by the very parochial Ann Arbor City Council. Councilmembers Jane Lumm, Sally Petersen, Sumi Kailasapathy, Steve Kunselman, and Mike Anglin have already needlessly delayed the appointment of Ypsilanti Township representatives to the AAATA board. They are, in a short-sighted way, afraid that Ann Arbor residents will be subsidizing riders from Ypsi and Ypsi Township. But even though township residents don’t currently pay an AAATA millage, the township does buy into bus service, so these residents are paying their way.

Councilmembers perseverating about fixing potholes could also deny us the opportunity for state-of-the-art train service. They finally capitulated and allowed a city match for federal money to study the best place for a new Amtrak train station, but whether they will actually listen to the results of that study remains to be seen.

Finally, The Connector, a collaborative study about high-capacity transit through Ann Arbor, has just finished more public workshops to help determine routes and select the modes of transit that will best suit this population. Again, city councilmembers have been less than enthusiastic and Kunselman even gave as one of his reasons for wanting to cap Downtown Development Authority funding that the DDA might want to spend money on trains. Of course the DDA should cooperate with The Connector. It is a shame, though, that some of the councilmembers value their reputations as obstacles to progress.