Staff Proposal to Eliminate Citizen Participation Meetings

Jan 20, 2024 | City Council

This was part of my January 20, 2024 newsletter:
https://a2elnel.com/post/ann-arbor-city-council-newsletter-january-20-2024/

Communications this week include a report of “recommendations” as requested by resolution in June 2023.

Resolution Directing City Administrator to Identify Incentives that Would Support Voluntary Efforts to Increase Emissions Reductions
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=6235225&GUID=DF7BB50E-8D7E-4F5A-AAAF-9B0CA712430A

That resolution asked the City Administrator to consult with City staff to “identify incentives that would support voluntary efforts by residents and businesses to increase emissions reductions.” Additionally, the resolution asked for strategies to achieve these goals through the development review process. 

Incentives to Electrification – Response to R-23-192
https://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=12594824&GUID=5CE2F5BA-6590-4925-8E5D-90876EE7525C

The report in AC-2 telegraphs a plan to eliminate transparency and accountability to the public; it will not be voted on this week, but is listed on this week’s agenda among “Communications.”

The short report (slightly over two pages) recommends that “high energy efficient” developments with limited natural gas hookups — apart from commercial kitchens and backup power — should be relieved of current requirements to host a citizens engagement meeting. Staff recommends that such developments could also be exempted from review and approval by the City’s Planning Commission and could, instead, be approved by City staff. Specific fees for site plan review/entitlements could be waived. Staff suggests that proceeds from the Sustainability Millage could potentially support electrification and “any anticipated improvement costs that would be borne by the project.” 

These recommendations would wholly eliminate notification/information for near neighbors (within 1000 feet) that currently happens via citizens participation meetings. Also eliminated: transparency to the whole of our community that currently happens via public hearing/approval at the City’s Planning Commission. After removing every opportunity for the public to learn about and offer feedback/input re: a new development, staff suggests that the public could then pay to subsidize and support those new developments via the Sustainability Millage.

In the past, elected representatives have recognized community residents as both constituents and stakeholders. The Unified Development Code (UDC) explains the purpose of Citizens Participation meetings:

5.28.4. Citizen Participation Requirements
A. Purpose
Ensure that Applicants seeking approval of certain applications that require public hearings pursue early and effective citizen participation in conjunction with their proposed Developments, giving citizens an early opportunity to learn about, understand and comment upon proposals, and providing an opportunity for citizens to be involved in the Development of their neighborhood and community. 
Provide clear expectations and formal guidance for Applicants to gather citizen comments regarding their proposals so that they may respond and attempt to mitigate any real or perceived impacts their proposed Development may have on the community. 
Facilitate ongoing communications between Applicants and interested or potentially affected citizens throughout the application review process.

The policy ideas in AC-2 would be consistent with the current Council’s efforts to reduce public transparency and accountability to residents, while approving financial benefits and advantages to profit interests and campaign donors. For details on that, see:
https://a2elnel.com/post/one-full-year-of-unanimous-government/

If the recommendations in AC-2 move forward for consideration and a vote of City Council, they are likely to be approved unanimously.