Editorial Cartoon 2/19/07

Thanks to Atom Smasher for the picture.

Editorial Cartoon 1/2/07

January 2, 2007 by  
Filed under Editorials & Opinions

YpsiNews.com is pleased to announce a new feature, editorial cartoons and pictures. To submit a cartoon or idea, contact YpsiNews.com.

Thanks to JJ Chandler for the picture.

City Council rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic

(November 14, 2006) This is the first city council meeting with the new mayor and council. Paul Schreiber and Brian Robb were newly sworn in as mayor and councilman from Ward 3. Unfortunately due to a production error, we missed the first 30 minutes of the meeting and the gavel hand-off. Lee Tooson was in rare form tonight as he welcomed the council and mayor.

Watch Video of Ypsilanti City Council, November 13, 2006

We join the meeting in progress as council is deliberating changes to audience participation. The good news is council added another three minutes at the end of the meeting for audience participation. The bad news is they moved the first audience participation until after all presentations and public hearings. So for the most part, audience participation won’t start until 8:30 or 9:00p.

Brian Robb brought up the issue of public notice in newspapers. Despite the fact that publishing notices in the Ann Arbor News is some three to four times more expensive than the Courier, the council voted to continue to use the Ann Arbor News as the paper of record.

At the end of the meeting, the new mayor brought up the seating arrangement asking Ward members to sit together. This was rejected by the council. The mayor then suggested they change the seating order and proposed that he sit on the end so that he doesn’t have to swivel his head back and forth to see the council members. All this discussion about the seating chart left some in the audience to wonder if this was like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Ypsi City Council “The Gang that couldn’t shoot straight”

(November 13, 2006) The Ann Arbor News is reporting that the newly chosen Ypsilanti City Clerk, Lisa Johnson, was arrested in 2005 for tampering with records. In a story published on Sunday, the Ann Arbor News has learned that Lisa Johnson was arrested last year (2005) in Ohio on charges of tampering with the financial records of a children’s football league. Charges were later dismissed when prosecutors failed to disclose evidence to defense attorneys. According to the Ann Arbor News, the case dismissal is on appeal.

This isn’t the first hiring that was bungled by the city in the past year. There was the sudden resignation of the interim DDA director after she was dumped from the interview process. There was the botched police chief interviews that resulted in the hiring of an outside consultant to address concerns raised by the community. Now the city clerk interview process and hiring has been thrown into turmoil. All three hirings were supervised by Assistant City Manager and Human Resources Director Bob Bruner.

It is not clear why someone that would be entrusted with voter records, hiring election workers, maintaining city records, and posting legal notices, would not have been asked during the interview process, “have you ever been arrested or charged with a crime?”

According to the Ann Arbor News, Bruner said that Ypsilanti conducts background checks only after a candidate is chosen for the job.

The city has spent thousands of dollars trying to hire a new city clerk. They have also expended enormous resources conducting interviews and then holding two public meetings with the entire city council to interview the six finalists.

Perhaps the city’s interview process needs to be changed.

Many organizations, before making the final hiring announcement, conduct a brief background check on the final two or three candidates. That way if a problem arises, the city can still move quickly to select the best candidate. By announcing publicly that the Council has made a final selection before doing background checks, it tells the rest of the candidates they are not wanted. It then puts the city at a disadvantage if the city comes back later to the second candidate and asks the candidate to reconsider.

The second candidate knows the city is now in trouble, needs to quickly get a hire, or risks having to redo the entire hiring process. So the candidate can extract a higher salary or other concessions. It also puts the candidate in a difficult position coming into the new job with everyone knowing they were the second or third choice.

In the Ann Arbor News article, Bruner said “You cannot judge a book by its cover. Just because you lost a job somewhere else, it does not mean that you cannot do a good job here.” Bruner is not saying that simply because someone was fired, they aren’t capable of doing a good job.

However, in this case, Lisa Johnson was not fired. Johnson resigned her current post in September. What has been called into question is her ethics and integrity. Johnson should have disclosed her current legal problems during the interview process and the city should have asked more questions and conducted a background check before making a public announcement on a new hire.

Given the past problems with recruiting new employees to the city, it is hard to see how the current city administration is doing a good job.

Mayor Farmer, immediately following the vote to hire Lisa Johnson on October 31 said, “Now in the unlikely event that the background check turns up something outrageous that we heretofore missed… it sounds like we should look at second choices.”

Rebecca Bintz was the Council’s second choice according to their vote taken by council after interviewing all six candidates. Bintz was the first choice of Councilwoman Lois Richardson. Richardson was the only council member to vote against hiring Johnson.

Ypsi attack on Churches and Union Halls

Local resident Jim Fink has written a letter to the Mayor and City council questioning the city’s recent attempt to ban churches, union halls, and fraternal organizations in downtown Ypsilanti. As long time readers know, the city has gone to war with local resident and attorney Doug Winters over his rental of his building to a church on North Huron. The city, after getting slammed by the public, backed down and said that the church can stay. Now the city has launched a new attack that would not only ban any new churches, it would also ban fraternal orders, service clubs, union halls, and schools K-12.

The city incorrectly quotes state law that a church downtown will prevent a restaurant from getting a liquor license. Mr. Fink points out this is not true, but a reading of the minutes of the last planning commission shows that the city attorneys and staff continue to propagate bad information. (See Planning Packet — Warning file is 13MB in size)

Ypsilanti’s greatest strength is our heritage and yet our city government all too often forgets that. The Riverside Arts Center, a hallmark of our downtown revitalization and what Gov. Granholm calls the jewel of Ypsilanti was originally the Masonic lodge. That building and use would not have been allowed under this new zoning plan.

Cleary College, before it was a college, was as a school for children in what was later the Kresge building downtown. Yet it would have been banned under this ordinance. The Ladies Library, which also began in the Kresge Building, and is today our public library, would not have been allowed under this new zoning ordinance. The Moose lodge for years was in the building that is today Materials Unlimited. It would have been banned as well. One of the proposed uses for the vacant Smith Furniture building is a meeting hall and banquet facility. It too would be banned.

There is a real question on whether the NAACP would be allowed downtown if they again moved.

I recently drove around downtown Detroit and marveled at all the beautiful churches. Under this new zoning law, none of those churches would have been allowed to be built.

If the city continues with this zoning change, given the incorrect information presented to council and the planning commission, the ordinance would likely be overturned and will surely face a referendum vote.

The city is dealing with a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, Water Street continues to flounder with no developer and the senior city planner for Water Street having just resigned, and the parking lots downtown are still unfinished as the city and DDA prepares to tear up the parking lots again in the Spring.

We are facing serious problems in our community, churches in our downtown is not one of them. The planning commission and city council should stop this zoning text amendment and lets get back to working on the real problems in our community.

Thanks to EMU for Sponsoring the 2005 Heritage Festival

[Letter published in the Ypsilanti Courier, Aug 30, 2005]

I want to thank Eastern Michigan University for their title sponsorship of the this years Heritage Festival. It was a terrific event and it wouldn’t have been possible without EMU!

This weekend, as I walked through the festival grounds and saw how the Heritage Festival has improved and grown with the addition of new acts like the “Lah-De-Dahs baseball team,” I was filled with gratitude to live in Ypsilanti as well as with pride in my own local university.

Knowing that EMU was a major sponsor of the heritage festival led me to ponder how Ypsilanti’s “heritage” is inseparable from EMU’s and that the same is true for our futures. Seeing the City and the University partner and support each other in good times, like the Heritage Festival and also in hard times like the tough economic crunch we are struggling through together, gives me faith in the strength and potential that our partnership can have.

Again, thank you EMU for your sponsorship of the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival. As a resident of Ypsi and a neighbor to EMU, I truly appreciate it!


Steve Pierce
Ypsilanti, Michigan

Ypsilanti Cannot Afford A 50% Tax Increase

August 2, 2005 by  
Filed under Editorials & Opinions

(August 2, 2005) Mayor Farmer is fond of saying, “You can’t love services and hate taxes.” Yet there isn’t much to love about the proposed city income tax.

The income tax is a whopping 50% tax increase. Property taxes in 2006 will be $7 million, and the income tax will generate an additional $3.8 million — and a staggering $4.1 million by 2009.

When the Blue Ribbon Committee met over a year ago, city staff said the budget shortfall was $500,000.

Council is ignoring one BRC recommendation that said, “Substantial engagement of Ypsilanti residents is essential if City Council decides to move forward (with an income tax).”

Council is fast-tracking the ballot measure in 14 days by hastily calling two special meetings because they need to balance the budget. Council shouldn’t budget based upon a tax that may never pass and then make that budget the excuse for rushing the vote.

The BRC recommended a 5-year sunset clause and said the income tax is a stop-gap to meet projected shortfalls. Yet in 5 years, the cost of creating an entirely new city tax department and new accounting systems could total over $1 million. Thus, a large portion of new revenue will go to collecting taxes, not city services. Worse, over 60% of city residents won’t benefit from the proposed 2 mill roll back because they rent.

The tax study is flawed because it assumes population growth. In fact, Ypsilanti has seen a steady decline in population over the last 15 years, and SEMCOG is predicting a decline over the next 25.

Ypsilanti already pays the highest taxes of any community in Washtenaw County. With an income tax, Ypsilanti will shoot to the very top of the highest taxed communities in Michigan. This is a list where we shouldn’t be proud to be number one.

To survive, Ypsilanti must increase its population with a diverse mix of income groups. The income tax will be a psychological sledgehammer to anyone wanting to live or work in Ypsilanti. It discourages new jobs and businesses and will chase out residents that can afford to move to escape new taxes. Thus, an income tax will drive down property values making our fiscal problems even worse.

The problem lies in a flawed revenue sharing system and continued cuts by Lansing. City officials say the income tax will buy time for Lansing to fix the problem. Lansing has known about this problem for at least 10 years and has done absolutely nothing about it. It is impossible to imagine that, by our taxing ourselves even more, we will encourage Lansing to fix the system. In fact, the result will be the exact opposite.

It has been said that “A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” City Council, once it begins feeding from the income tax trough, will never vote it out of existence even if Lansing increases funding.

Of all the potential options to address the fact that Ypsilanti wants to spend more than it has in revenue, an income tax is the worst.

Steve Pierce, is a member of the Mayor appointed Blue Ribbon Committee on City Finances, the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Smartzone, and the Downtown Development Authority.

Comcast story in Ann Arbor News Jan 30, 2004 — numbers don’t make sense

Dear Ann Arbor News,

In the AP story about Comcast downloads that appeared in the business section of the Ann Arbor News on Jan 30, 2004, the story claims that some users are downloading a terabyte of data per month.

[The Ann Arbor News does not make available AP stories on-line so I have linked to an external source for this story.]

Most Comcast connections in the US are less then 1.5 megabits per second. Here in Ypsilanti Michigan, we get a faster connection. Comcast says the rate here in Ypsilanti is 3 Megabits per second, however this is speed is never realistically attained. But lets assume that a user could consistently get 3 megabits per second of bandwidth any where in the US. Three megabits per second is 986 gigabytes or 0.986 terabytes per month if you left your connection on and it was downloading full steam 24 hours a day for the entire month. That is no outages, no slow down, no running out of disk space, no computer crashes. Yet that number is less then 1 Terabyte and that assumes perfection on the connection. That never happens. Even here in Ypsilanti, there are slowdowns and outages every day on the Comcast network, that is the nature of the beast. And remember, the vast majority of Comcast users can’t get any thing faster then 1.5 megabits per second. So now you are talking less then half a terabyte per month.

For most Comcast subscribers, Comcast does cap upload and download rates. Yet the quote was that some users are consuming more then a terabyte per month. Unless Comcast doesn’t have any caps on download speed, there is just no way you can download a terabyte of data in a month on a 3 megabit per second or slower connection.

Someone should have questioned AP and Comcast on these facts.

And that 986 gigabytes is download bandwidth. Comcast severely limits upload speeds. Comcast claims in the article that people are running web servers and sharing music and that is consuming bandwidth. A web server for the most part only uploads data, not downloads. It is the upload or the delivery of the page to the requestor that consumes bandwidth.

Here again, somebody at the newspaper should have checked the math and how Comcast regulates their service.

In Ypsilanti the uploads speeds are a maximum of 256 kilobits per second. So if you setup a web server, which by the way is a violation of the Comcast terms of service agreement, but say you setup an illegal web server and you were uploading files flat out 24 hours a day, that would be 84 gigabytes of total bandwidth per month. Again that assumes perfection. But Comcast severely restricts upload. So it is impossible to consume a terabyte of data in a month because Comcast significantly limits the upload for any one customer.

It should also be noted that a large number of current Comcast subscribers across the country are limited to 128 kilobits per second of upload. So for them, the max upload in a month is 48 gigabytes.

Given this data, the numbers quoted in the article just don’t make sense. The anonymous Comcast employee said letters were triggered at 100 Gigabytes per month. Yet the most a Comcast subscriber could upload in a month is 84 gigabytes.

Even if you had a web server running 24-hours a day, you can never reach that limit so no one that is running a web server should ever trigger a letter.

Yes, it is true that you can add the upload and download speeds to get total bandwidth, but any computer geek will tell you that when you are uploading data on a cable modem circuit, you don’t get your max download speed. But assuming perfect conditions you just barely get a terabyte of data per month, at 1.07. But again, your theoretical maximum upload would be 84 gigabytes per month, there is no way you can exceed that limit if Comcast is limiting you to 256 kilobytes per second of upload bandwidth.

And all these numbers are theoretical based on the maximums that Comcast says is possible, not what is reality when it comes to uploads and downloads.

In Ypsilanti, the best download speeds are between 2.5 and 2.6 Megabits per second. Uploads run from 88 to 240 kilobits per second for most connections. Given real world numbers, the facts and figures quoted in your article just don’t make sense. As my daddy used to say, “that dog don’t hunt.”

In the article it also says that 30 minutes of high quality video can consume a gigabyte of data. Well how much bandwidth is that per second? It is 4.4 megabits per second. That is almost 1.5 times greater then the maximum speed mentioned in the article. So it isn’t possible to watch a high quality video in a real time video stream. There isn’t enough bandwidth.

It is definitely possible to exceed 100 gigabytes of total upload and download bandwidth in a month, but it is impossible to reach a terabyte and, if you are solely running a web server, it is almost impossible to exceed 100 megabytes in any one month.

Again why didn’t someone try confirm the facts you got from AP and Comcast?

Moreover, what is the actual source for the Britannica quote that the encyclopedia is 1 gigabyte worth of data? It is often quoted but how is that data derived?

So just how big is the encyclopedia? Well that depends, are you talking the CD-ROM version or the print? Are you talking words only or words and pictures? The article doesn’t say? So this number is rather pointless because there is no clarity on what you really mean. This is like saying the size of a volcano on Mars is twice the size of Delaware. That is nice info, it may even be true. But it isn’t very useful data, most people, including most reporters can’t tell you the size of Delaware. [Delaware is 1,954 sq mi]

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the printed version is 32 Volumes and 44 million words. Does that equal a gigabyte? There isn’t any way to tell. The story quotes an anonymous source at Comcast and apparently there was no verification with Encyclopedia Britannica or anyone else to confirm the numbers quoted about the size of an encyclopedia.

Then the story says that not having enough capacity could affect Comcast’s profit margin. How?

If you don’t have enough capacity then the network slows down but that doesn’t directly affect profits. I guess it could be argued that with not enough capacity to meet demand, subscriber counts would decrease. But I have checked news reports for the past year. I don’t see any stories about Comcast customers switching en masse to other providers because of capacity problems. In fact, Comcast has said their subscriber numbers are up and they have recorded record profits in the past year. That being the case, the conclusion that could be drawn is that Comcast has enough capacity to meet existing demand and since Comcast has been reporting record profits for the past year, high bandwidth users do not seem to be affecting Comcast profits. So this paragraph about Comcast profit margin doesn’t make sense given other facts in the story and other publicly accessible records.

It took me less then 10 minutes of fact checking to see that something is squirrelly with the numbers used in this article. Someone at the Ann Arbor News and AP could have and should have confirmed the data supplied by the anonymous source at Comcast before the article went to press. At a minimum someone at the newspaper should have confirmed the other numbers and facts quoted to make sure they made sense and were correct before going to press.


– Steve

Ann Arbor News Gets Facts Wrong About Ozone House

Dear Christine Uthoff, Ann Arbor News

Your article (Needed: Creativity from city, January 19, 2004) misses the point and sadly contains a number of errors. I wish you would have worked harder to get the story right and check your facts before you went to press.

You wrote that a county judge said that Ozone House could keep doing what it is already doing.

That is not true; Judge Morris made no ruling on what Ozone House is currently doing in the building. The ruling was about a proposed new use where Ozone House was going to convert two existing apartments to a new use which are apartments that are age restricted for permanent supportive housing for disabled homeless youth ages 18 to 20. There was no ruling on existing Ozone House activities as you said in your article. That was never in dispute. In fact, I don’t even think the court has issued an order, have you seen one? You made it appear that the suit was about whether Ozone House could continue to operate the drop in center. That wasn’t what the suit was about at all.

You wrote that there was a conflict between Ozone House and city officials. I know of no conflict between city officials and Ozone House. The city was simply enforcing their master plan and reflecting the Hyett-Palma study that was paid for by the citizens of Ypsi which recommended that social services in the downtown area should be reduced. I was recently told that this plan, from some 13 years ago, was even supported by the Ann Arbor News in an editorial where they said that the Hyett-Palma study and the planning work that went in afterwards were positive step towards rebuilding the downtown. But this all happened long before I moved to Ypsilanti in 1999.

You stated that the housing was for ages 18 to 21. That is also not correct. Ozone House in their HUD application said ages 17-20 and Ozone House has indicated in previous testimony, since these apartments would require a lease, the tenants must be of age and they indicated the housing was for young adults, 18 to 20.

You wrote that Ozone House wants to buy a 36,000 square foot building. That is stunning if that is true. According to the Ann Arbor News, the new Ann Arbor homeless shelter is 23,000sf. If what you are reporting is true, the Ozone House proposal would be 50% larger than the Ann Arbor Homeless Shelter and this would be right in the heart of our downtown in a building larger than our own city hall. This would be a disaster for our downtown of just 10 blocks to locate such a massive social services facility right in the middle of the community. If this is just a typo, someone should have checked before this went to press because I have already received calls from concerned citizens worried about the size of this project.

What Ozone House told the city was far different from what you reported. They told the city they wanted to buy a 3,400 square foot building on North Huron.

You said in your article that the city should be adopting regulations that make it easy to fill empty buildings. If you have suggestions on regulations that should be fixed or adopted or any existing regulations that are preventing people from filling empty buildings, let me know what they should be. I am just one person but if there are rules that should be changed, let’s work together and change them. But I haven’t heard from you or anyone at the News make suggestions on changing regulations to make it easier to build downtown. Don’t be shy, speak up.

No one is saying that the Ozone House Drop-In Center had to leave. Yet what Ozone House was proposing was to expand their services in the downtown and begin offering permanent housing for disabled homeless youth. This is a new use for the building and a new service not currently offered downtown by Ozone House or any other agency. The restrictions that Ozone House is proposing may violate the Fair Housing Act and the City’s anti-discrimination ordinance. That means their proposed use is different from the existing use as the current owner may not discriminate based on age, mental health, or income.

These permanent housing apartments are a new service that Ozone House has never before offered in Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor. Ozone House has also never rehabbed any downtown buildings and has no experience of working in a registered historic district. Moreover, this new use would take property off the tax roles, something we can ill afford at this point.

All I ever said is that I agree with what the citizens of Ypsilanti said in their master plan and in the Hyett-Palma study, that is we don’t need more social services expanding or offering new social services in the downtown district. There is plenty of room for expanded services elsewhere in the city and surrounding area. Ypsilanti by percentage of available space has more social services in our downtown than any other community in the county. Ypsilanti also has more social service agencies in the city than any other community in the county. Yet we don’t have the majority of the problems. Historically Ypsilanti has been the dumping ground because land was cheap and code enforcement was weak. Well that has changed and that has been a change for the better.

You talked in the past about the need for balance and diversity in the community, I agree. There has to be a balance between non-profits and other uses. Right now there are too many social services and that imbalance is causing other would be residents and taxpayers to leave the community. Look at all the other non-profits that are just within the one block of Ozone House. No one is saying that they need to leave, all we are saying is as a community we do not want more. That is our right as a community. We should be able to say where business and services can be located and the courts have ruled that communities have the right to have zoning plans as long as they make attempts to provide locations for everyone.

There are numerous locations in the community that are within easy walking distance of major transportation and many of these places would be cheaper to buy and refurbish. So why is it that Ozone House can force an incompatible use in our downtown and not be sensitive, and in fact ignore, the needs and the long term plans of the community. Show me where Ozone House has tried to work with the community. They haven’t. All they have done is kick and yell and scream about how unfair it is in Ypsilanti, but they haven’t even been willing to sit down and talk about alternatives. For Ozone House, there are no alternatives. They have told the community, it must be downtown and there can be no other option and if you don’t like it, we will sue.

I simply suggested that there might be better locations for the NEW services that Ozone House was proposing and I even offered to show them several properties that are inside the City that Ozone House could use. The way Ozone House reacted; you would have thought I sprouted horns on my head. I bet Ozone House didn’t tell you that they had been offered another location that would be cheaper, is ready now, is no farther way from the bus routes than the location downtown and is in a neighborhood, not the middle of the downtown business district. I doubt anyone from Ozone House ever told you that the community had tried to talk to them about other alternatives.

Ozone House, to whip up support said that nameless city officials were trying to bar Ozone House and kick out the Drop in Center. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, yet here is a surprise, no one from the News ever contacted me or other people from the community to ask what was said. The News only listened to what Ozone House was saying and never confirmed what Ozone House reported. You assumed the worst of the community and didn’t get your facts straight. Khalil did the same thing a month ago when he reported on Ozone House and he failed to talk to anyone but the Ozone House folks. Not once was anyone from the News ever at any of the public meetings, business meetings or neighborhood meetings to talk about this issue.

What all started this was when I asked this very simple question. What is a best location to locate a home for disabled homeless youth that with has little to no direct or daily supervision? Ozone House has said that these tenants will have serious and significant mental, drug and or alcohol problems. They are youth that have never lived on their own except out on the street. So what is the best place for this type of housing?

Should it be located in a neighborhood where the youth live in a home and the tenants get involved in the community? Should it be in a home where you can’t possess drugs or alcohol? Where you cannot have parties or overnight guests? A home environment which says the tenants must attend several neighborhood meetings each year and participate in neighborhood events like Ypsi Pride. A home where to be a tenant you must sweep the leaves in the fall and shovel the snow during the winter. Should these youth be required to seek and maintain employment or lacking employment volunteer in the community?

Apparently not.

Instead the professionals at Ozone House want to have two unsupervised apartments for homeless disabled youth ages 18-20 located in the heart of a downtown district that is also a registered historic district. Instead of locating these youth in a safe residential neighborhood, Ozone House wants to locate them in a busy downtown, just blocks away from liquor stores, numerous bars and night clubs, a block from the largest strip club in the county, and in the middle of many other distractions such as negative influence peers, drug abuse, alcohol, crime and prostitution.

That doesn’t make sense. I have talked to homeless and housing professionals from all over the country. They have universally said that given a choice, downtown apartment or residential neighborhood apartment, you have a better chance of success with an apartment located in a residential neighborhood. But no one at Ozone House wants to talk about what is best for the kids. Instead they want to talk about how the community is picking on them and have said that I was ‘mean’ to them.

Ozone House flat out rejected any consideration of adopting a policy of one strike for alcohol or drug possession even though both activities would be illegal for young adults 18 to 20. Ozone House would not even consider a “no alcohol” policy for their tenants. Ozone House would not bar overnight guests or parties. Ozone House would not consider a requirement that they don’t house past violent offenders or sexual predators. Ozone House staff even told the community during a public meeting that if there were problems with parties that we should call the police. So Ozone House’s solution to out of control parties and tenants is to have the Ypsilanti police baby sit Ozone House tenants.

I heard from homeless professionals in Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco, if there is a choice it is always better to locate in a neighborhood than a downtown business district. I bet Ozone House didn’t tell you this either. There are a lot of things Ozone House is not telling you.

I spoke to Jeannette Harris with the Detroit office of Housing and Urban Development, the group that is funding Ozone House for this project, and she agrees with the professionals from around the country. A homeless disabled youth has a better chance of success living in a neighborhood environment, rather than in a downtown business district that is so close to the problems these kids are trying to get away from. She said she didn’t know that there were other alternatives for housing in Ypsilanti and in fact admitted it had been years since she was last in Ypsilanti.

You said that the community must be creative. What the community proposed to Ozone House was creative. It gave Ozone House the ability to locate their services in the community and it provides a better location for their young adults, and it helped us continue our positive steps of transforming our downtown. It was creative and it was inclusive. But Ozone House didn’t want to listen and instead felt it was easier to demonize Ypsilanti residents and business owners and refused on several occasions to even discuss alternatives.

I have been told by staffers at other non-profits in the community, that by creating an ‘evil bad guy’ as Ozone House has when talking about Ypsilanti, that it galvanizes the true believers, the hardcore Ozone House supporters into contributing more money. In fact some non-profits routinely use this strategy to increase donations. I have privately been told that donations to Ozone House have increased since they began their lawsuit against the city of Ypsilanti. So it makes sense what Ozone House is doing, but it does nothing to address the needs of the Ypsilanti community.

What the community proposed to Ozone House was creative and it meant that Ozone House could do what they want if they would try to work with the community. But Ozone House didn’t want to listen or work with the community. Heck they even refused to meet with community members to work out a plan and review budgets. I am sure Ozone House didn’t tell you that they were offered other options. I am sure that Ozone House ‘forgot’ to tell you that they rejected numerous offers to meet with community members, and they conveniently failed to mention that some of the options proposed were cheaper than their proposed solution for renovating a historic building in downtown Ypsilanti.

How crazy is this, Ozone House is going to buy a building in the middle of a Historic District and they propose to renovate the building for $39,000. That is what is budgeted in the HUD grant, only $39,000 to rehab the entire building. I used to own the Kresge building; I was getting quotes of upwards of $2,500 per window to replace the windows with windows that met both building codes and historic requirements. They will spend $10,000 just on the heating system and easily twice that on electrical. Talk to developers and ask, what are the costs to rehab a building in downtown Ypsi or Ann Arbor? They will tell you that you should budget at a minimum a $100 per square foot. That means Ozone House should be budgeting $350,000 for rehabbing the building and that doesn’t include the acquisition costs.

Go ask any reputable developer that has rehabbed historic properties in Ann Arbor and let me know what they tell you it should cost. Most projects in the Ypsilanti historic district run from $85 to $225 per square foot depending on the level of finish.

Ozone House simply does not have enough money to rehab a building that even they admit is in very bad shape.

Then take a look at the overall budget for this project. Ozone House has asked for and received from HUD, Washtenaw County and MSHDA over $500,000 for a three year program. This is money to house two kids for three years and to also provide other support unrelated to supporting these kids. It is in the HUD application; you can come by and read it any time you want. That is over $7,000 per kid per month. For that kind of money you could put them up at the Campus Inn and still have some $80,000 left over after three years. How come no one is talking about $200-a-night housing for homeless kids? Even if you remove all the fluff for the ‘other’ support services, and just look a the lease dollars in only the HUD grant, Ozone House is still spending $3,600 a month to house two people in two apartments. That is $1,800 a month for a single apartment.

You said we need open minds; this sort of budget is just mind blowing. I wish I could live in a $1,800 a month apartment. Part of the problem with the numbers is Ozone House has never been truthful about they were actually going to do. They told the city one thing, they told the county a very different story. Ozone House told HUD they want to house up to four residents, the Ozone House lawyer in court and in front of city boards said there were just two residents. Ozone House told HUD they want to buy the building to provide permanent housing. Ozone House on the Washtenaw Housing Alliance website says they are purchasing the building so as to secure a permanent location for the drop in center. Ozone House said that these units were like any other apartment in the community and there would be no daily supervision. In the HUD grant, Ozone House said that these tenants would need extensive assistance including being walked to the bus stop each day. Ozone House told the city that leases would be 1-year terms consistent with the current leases. But Ozone House told county officials that there would be open ended month to month leases and they would also not require a damage deposit. The story seems to always change depending on what Ozone House thinks you want to hear. It has caused some in the community to become distrustful of what Ozone House is saying because they have never been open and honest with the community from the first day.

You said we need creativity from the city. We are creative, we are open, and we do listen. But what we need are creative non-profits that are willing to listen to the community and realize that they have to be just as committed to their host community as they are to the individuals they serve. As I told the Ozone House director, we want a group that is willing to work with the community and develop a plan that meets the needs of the community. I have called Ozone House numerous times and left messages and tried to invite them to lunch or dinner, they won’t even return my calls. I even gave my card to Ozone House’s attorney, who is also a board member, after a city meeting and said that we should get together and talk. We can work out a solution that we can take together to the community that can meet the needs of the young adults Ozone House says they want to support and still value the host community. I am still waiting for that call.

Christine, it is too bad you didn’t research your story better. It is too bad that you just took what Ozone House said, and didn’t get input from others in Ypsilanti. It is too bad you got so many of the facts wrong in the story. These errors distract the reader from the real point you were trying to make.

You can’t be creative if people aren’t willing to talk and listen. Ozone House is not interested in doing either. So I make the same offer to you as I made to Ozone House, come over, we will have lunch here at the house and we can talk.

Ann Arbor News Should Lead by Example

Sunday, August 3, 2003
Legislature should act on drivers’ phone use
Another study links crashes to motorists who won’t hang up

Dear Ann Arbor News:

Regarding the Ann Arbor News recent editorial calling on the legislature to impose regulations on motorists using cell phones while driving, perhaps the News should look at their own policies on cell phone use by Ann Arbor News employees and contractors before advocating new laws banning cell phone use.

In your editorial, you say “For Michigan lawmakers to do nothing … seems dangerous to us.” If that is the case, then the use of cell phones by Ann Arbor News employees while driving is putting the employee and the community at risk. If the legislature should implement a ban on cell phone use, should not cell phone use by Ann Arbor News employees while driving be stopped immediately?

The Ann Arbor News should implement a ban on the use of a cell phone use by all Ann Arbor News managers, employees, reporters, and contract carriers while driving a personal or company vehicle during work.

The Ann Arbor News could implement this new policy next week without having to wait for Michigan legislator’s to pass a new law. It seems to me that if someone is calling on the community to change behavior, the best way to do that is to lead by example and implement your own company wide ban on cell phone use by employees while driving.

Then the Ann Arbor News will better understand the issues and impacts of banning cell phone use while driving when calling on the legislature for new laws banning cell phone use.

– Steve

« Previous PageNext Page »