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Now that Christmas is over, I thought that I would share some memories of the holiday season as we in the Miller-Barrett-Lilienfeld clan experienced it (what’s really amazing is that, in a clan of three adults and one child, we have three different last names).

For me, this will be remembered as the Christmas that I received a dutch oven from my mom.

Christmas preparations at our house.

This was the first year that I bought a real Christmas tree. But our revolving LED tree was broken, so it was moving in a more elliptical manner than I thought was safe or attractive. Plus, I covered the tree in multiple layers of tinsel and a revolving LED star on the top, so it was still in the realm of our traditions.

After we decorated the tree, I turned off the lights so we could experience its full glory.

“What do you think?” I asked Elliot.

“Yeah!” He shouted. “Take that, other people’s Christmas trees!”

Christmas morning at our house.

Elliot was at his dad’s house, so Joe and I exchanged gifts Christmas Eve. In the morning I woke up and was suddenly filled with remorse over one of the gifts that I had given him; an item that I had previously been really excited about.

“I just realized,” I said, “as a guy, are flannel sheets with snowflakes on them kind of … gay?”

Christmas dinner at our house.

Christmas dinner was attended by Elliot, me, my mom, and our friends Davy and Josh D, who may as well be family at this point. Davy was a last minute addition, and came bearing gifts of food that had obviously come from gift baskets given to him by people he doesn’t really know. And yet, Elliot was still talking yesterday about the fact that Davy gave him chocolate-covered graham crackers for Christmas.

The biggest hit of Christmas dinner was a side dish that I like to refer to as “angry biscuits.” Angry biscuits are the result of kneading and rolling when you’re really pissed off at your family.

Angry biscuits.

The main topic of conversation was the fact that my mom had given me a dutch oven for Christmas.

Josh D: “Yes! Dutch oven!”

Davy: “Hahahahaha! Wait. I kind of forgot what a dutch oven was, but I knew it was something funny.”

Elliot: “What’s a dutch oven?”

Me: “It’s that pot that grandma gave me for Christmas.”

Josh D: “Your grandma gave your mom a dutch oven for Christmas.”

Later…

Josh D: “I explained to your mom what a dutch oven is. Both kinds.”

Me: “There’s another kind of dutch oven?”

Josh D: “It’s when someone’s going down on you and you fart.”

Me: “You said ‘going down on’ to my mom? Gross! You can’t say that!”

Josh D: “I didn’t. I said, ‘When someone’s kissing you in your special place.'”

Me: “Ack! That’s even worse!”

After dinner, Elliot went upstairs to watch Christmas movies with my mom, and Davy, Geoff and I had Geoff’s outsourced Indian personal assistant call our friends, wish them a “Happy Christmas,” ask them how their families were doing, and report back to us via email.

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As a follow-up, here’s the email I received today from Mayor Hieft (note the form email that he was also sending out at the bottom, there info there as well.

Hi Jordan!

Hope you are well. The extended hours proposal was changed last night so that nothing was done for now but the DDA will come back with more details. They really want the turnover of spaces that the extended hours would accomplish. That may not work for all of downtown but we will take up the subject again in March. I have included below the information I sent out yesterday to people who wrote with concerns.

In regard to parking for downtown workers we talked about how the DDA and get downtown program could do more to educate people on what is available. Currently a downtown restaurant worker or retail worker can park in a structure from 3 PM on for $30 per month. There are also very inexpensive dial-a-rides that run very late.  Someone who wrote me yesterday said what about crime in a parking structure late at night?  I understand that the perception is that it would be more dangerous but when this was studied a few years ago the structures were to be found to as safe as or even safer than anywhere else downtown. And then it is usually possible to find someone to walk with you if you ask. It may be in the end that nothing changes or it does. We need to wait for the data.

Thanks for writing and have a great holiday.

John Hieftje

Hello:

The appearance of this issue on the agenda was a surprise to me even though it is something that has been talked about at the Downtown Development Authority for a few years.  I will not be voting for it.

Judging from casual conversations with a couple of council members I ran into over the weekend at a holiday party and at Caucus last night, you don’t need to worry about this passing. But, while I have you, please let me explain some of the background on this issue.

Parking meters first originated to promote turnover of street spaces and second, to generate revenue. As time went on revenue generation became prominent for cities but turnover remains an important consideration.  Ideally street spaces will serve the downtown patron who wants to dash in for an hour of shopping, enjoy lunch, coffee or a quick dinner. The parking structures and gated lots are intended to accommodate longer term parking. That’s a major reason why it costs more to park on the street.

The shortage of street parking downtown is one reason the DDA has discussed this issue with increased revenue to expand and maintain the parking system being the other. Every city in Michigan is struggling so the revenue side is easy to understand but turnover is needed too. In some parts of downtown there is more need for turnover of street spaces in the evening than during the day.

People often park at 6:00 and leave the car until 10:00, 11 or later. I’ve done this many times. From a parking expert’s point of view, the problem with this is that the space never turns over.  Kind of like sitting at a table in a restaurant for 4 hours.  Parking in a structure or gated surface lot means paying more but the street space might then be available for 3 or 4 shorter stops that night. That’s 3 or 4 more downtown customers served. But extending the meter times probably won’t work for all of downtown and of course we need to be fair to all.

Promoting turnover of street spaces may be the reason one of the four downtown business associations favors an extension of enforcement times but it could be a problem for Kerrytown where there is not an abundance of structures. As we can all see, this is not a simple issue. A one-size-fits-all policy may not work but then having different rules for different parts of downtown could create confusion. Not making changes is always an option too.

Our city’s lively downtown is truly a treasure and a major contributor to our award winning quality of life. For many of us it’s a major reason for living in Ann Arbor. It adds a lot to the city’s ability to attract new businesses and jobs. We need to carefully consider any changes and make sure we have a good understanding of the possible consequences before taking action.  I expect this to be a long term discussion and having this on the agenda has at least kicked off the conversation.

If you would ever like to discuss this or any other issue please call my office for an appointment during my weekly open office hours. Thanks for writing and please accept my best wishes for a happy holiday season.

John Hieftje

Here’s my response:

Hi John,

Thanks for writing back.

So it looks like this is an issue of public awareness more than anything.
I know this might sound self-aggrandizing, but I’m pretty well involved in the 25-40 townie set, and I think I could help.

If it’s true that the parking structures are safer, that information should be better publicized. Ditto for the $30 a month parking pass (I don’t know any downtown workers who know about this, and you certainly can’t leave it up to the owners, for the most part).

This story blew up entirely in the social media sphere. It was all over Facebook and Twitter. It was hardly even covered by AnnArbor.com.

If you or someone in your office would send me a link to that study, or the study itself, as well as info about that parking pass, I’ll do my best to spread it across the social media sphere (that’s also what I do for a living :]).

Let me know what you think.

Cheers,
Jordan Miller

About an hour ago I received an e-mail from Kerrytown Market and Shops manager Karen Farmer, who said she had just returned from a meeting with Sandi Smith (D-1st ward), the person responsible for bringing the parking meter resolution to the city council (and also a member of the DDA).

Here’s what Karen, who seemed none too pleased, had to say:

None of the city council members, nor did members of the DDA, ever bring this to the Kerrytown District Association’s attention, and there is little or no time to prepare and respond. In addition, it is in the height of our local independent business holiday season and to come out to a council meeting on such a negative subject really isn’t fair, without proper notice and information.

We feel our district isn’t affected by downtown workers taking up all of the parking spots, and feel that our clientele coming to dine at eve, or take in a concert at the Kerrytown Concert House, or coming to pick up groceries from Sparrow or the Food Co-op (open until 10pm) will be directly affected; in addition, we only have metered parking spots – not the convenience of an attended structure or an attended surface lot, where you can go park and not think about it  until the end of the evening.

She brings up a point that hasn’t even been mentioned. And I wonder how often Kerrytown gets slighted in these sorts of decisions; they don’t have the political might (and I use this term loosely, we ARE talking about the small business politics of a small city) of Main Street or State Street.

County Commissioner Leah Gunn, who is also a member of the DDA (anyone sensing a pattern, here?), made the following argument in the comments section of the Ann Arbor Chronicle:

Anyone can park at Liberty Square or Ann Ashley Parking structures after 3 PM for a $3.00 drive in fee. Exit is automatic. But, restaurant workers do not use this opportunity. The DDA has tried many programs to get employees into structures in the evening, but they have had little effect. The DDA funds the GoPass for employees to ride the buses, but they don’t run late enough. The DDA has also offered them a shuttle to take them to their homes, but that has not met with much success either. Do you have any ideas?

I was told by a restaurant owner (who shall remain anonymous) that the employees do not want to plan and therfore are not interested in using these offered services. I agree that they are part of the ambience and economic success of downtown, but after all, it is the customer who is actually spending money.

Allow me to respond.

Anyone can park at Liberty Square or Ann Ashley Parking structures after 3 PM for a $3.00 drive in fee. Exit is automatic. But, restaurant workers do not use this opportunity.

Many restaurant workers don’t get out of work until midnight or later. Are you telling me that you would be okay walking by yourself (or letting your daughter, if you have one, walk by herself) in one of these covered lots that late at night?

The DDA funds the GoPass for employees to ride the buses, but they don’t run late enough.

Yep.

The DDA has also offered them a shuttle to take them to their homes, but that has not met with much success either.

This is a ludicrous idea. How, logistically, would you manage to get a group of people, who get off of work at random times (restaurant workers do not have a set leaving time like other workers), to their homes all over the city and in Ypsilanti?

I was told by a restaurant owner (who shall remain anonymous) that the employees do not want to plan and therfore are not interested in using these offered services. I agree that they are part of the ambience and economic success of downtown, but after all, it is the customer who is actually spending money.

Wow. That’s a crappy thing to say. Ummm, is the restaurant owner willing to tell their employees that they will certainly be done at work exactly at ten to catch the shuttle? Is this restaurant owner willing to walk each and every female employee to her car, which is located six blocks away in a dimly-lit covered lot?

Do you have any ideas?

Yes! I do! Either allow these workers to continue to park on the street at night for free, or provide them with a SAFE option: a parking pass that they can use at ANY lot. Not just the covered ones where no one wants to park.

From a story in the Boston Globe, published last month, on the fight over extending parking meter times in San Francisco:

“Earlier this year, when Chicago, desperate for revenue, leased its parking meter system for 75 years to Morgan Stanley for $1.15 billion, parking meter hours were extended, rates were quadrupled, citation fees were raised, and Mayor Richard Daley’s approval ratings fell to their worst level, 35 percent.”

Last week, on Facebook, my friend Julie Bertoni posted that the Ann Arbor City Council would be voting on a resolution to extend parking meters to 10 p.m. I immediately sent the following email to Steve Kunselman (D-3rd ward), Carsten Hohnke (D-5th ward), and Mike Anglin (D-5th ward):

Hi Carsten! Hi Mike! Hi Steve!

This is Jordan Miller (from the Skatepark committee/Joe’s girlfriend, however you know me).

I try not to bug you guys too much about stuff, but I heard that you’re going to be voting for or against pushing the parking meter time limit to 10 pm.

I write this not as someone who often patronizes downtown restaurants and bars, but as someone who used to work in them. Parking in the lots downtown can cost a lot of money for people working for tips (or, worse, low kitchen wages). The after-six amnesty is a big help to people who just can’t afford tickets. And there’s no way that a busy waitress can leave in the middle of her shift to put money in the meter. I know that parking revenues are down because of the new machines, but there has to be another way. Many of the people who are going to get socked by this are people who make too much to qualify for social services and too little to pay for their own benefits. Take it from me; I was one of them for a long time.

In a perfect world I would offer an alternate solution, but I don’t have one. But I’ll keep thinking about it.

Jordan Miller
Ward 5 (and a voter!)

Then, at our Christmas dinner on Saturday night, I asked our friend Ray about it. Ray isn’t an elected official, but he might as well be. He knows everyone and he’s involved in everything. He said that he was aware of the proposal, and that he was planning on speaking to it on Monday (today) at the city council meeting. He also said that he supports the proposed resolution.

Ray’s argument is the same as that of the DDA, which is that the service industry workers are exactly the problem. They take up spaces, and there’s nowhere for customers and patrons to park. But he also said that a free or reduced-rate lot for downtown employees would be a part of the deal. Several of the other guests at the party are or have been downtown service workers, and everyone agreed that they would support that.

Yesterday I received this email from Carsten Hohnke (whose wife owns Vie Fitness, a downtown business), so far the only one of the three to respond:

Hi Jordan,

Thanks for the input.  I appreciate the point of view that you offer as someone who worked downtown.

The DDA has been talking about extending hours for quite a while in order to promote turnover at meters (many merchants are advocating for this, including all of the members of the State Street Area Association).  The feeling is that the parking structures are available to accommodate longer-term parking, and turnover at meters in certain areas makes sense for folks coming downtown for less than a couple of hours (and for the local businesses they patronize).

Nonetheless, I don’t recall a blanket extension to 10:00 PM ever being discussed and I’m not supportive of it.

I hope (and expect) that the resolution will be postponed so that we can discuss this with the DDA and the community at greater length.   Our vibrant downtown is a key factor in the quality of life in Ann Arbor, and I agree with you that we need to make sure that short-term gains don’t lead to negative long-term consequences.

Thanks again for taking the time to write.

— Carsten

I’m glad to hear that Carsten agrees. Although he didn’t mention anything about the parking lot for employees, and he says that he didn’t know anything about this (which I am inclined to believe; from my limited personal interactions with him, he seems like a stand-up guy).

I wrote back:

Hi Carsten!

Thanks for being the only person to respond to my email.

So, I was talking to Ray Detter on Saturday evening, and he said that there’s a possibility of some sort of free or reduced rate parking lot for downtown employees after 6 if the meters get extended? If that’s the case, I would be much more amenable to the proposal and I know that the other people who were at our dinner party that night, several of whom are downtown service industry workers, felt the same way.

It’s pretty amazing how quickly this is moving through the social media sphere, because it’s something that would directly affect the 20- and 30- something crowd. And a lot of these people are die-hard townie-types. Just a heads-up that you guys might want to do some due diligence to make sure people have all of their facts straight (and you also might want to take advantage of the opportunity to reach out to a demographic that doesn’t normally get all that fired up about local politics.

Thanks again, and cheers to you!

But AnnArbor.com published an article on Saturday about the resolution with the headline “Ann Arbor City Council to vote on extending downtown parking meters until 10 p.m.” This was published a day before the e-mail from Carsten. Hopefully he was on some sort of holiday vacation, because it would be slightly ridiculous for a city council member to not have heard anything about an upcoming vote on such a contentious issue, especially when it has been covered in the local media.

In that article there is again no mention of Ray’s mysterious parking lot for downtown employees.

From the A2.com story:

City Council member Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward, who is sponsoring the resolution, sees it as a way to help potential customers.

She says that it will open up short-term parking that is often taken up by employees of the downtown businesses. “They might park there at five or six o’clock at night, put in a little money, and then stay until two in the morning,” she said.

According to the resolution, 100 % of on-street meters were filled during evening hours versus 68 % during daytime hours, “demonstrating the need for evening parking enforcement as a tool to encourage parking turnover.”

That story also mentions the following:

The resolution also includes a provision for net revenues from parking at the former Y site on East William to be directed to the city’s budget instead of the Downtown Development Authority’s budget.

The DDA’s parking system is budgeted to generate $18.2 million in revenue in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Parking expenses are forecast at $7 million.

Which naturally begs the question, which should have been asked by AnnArbor.com: How much of a parking revenue increase is projected for the DDA if this resolution is passed?

So today I sent the following email to Mayor Hieftje. There has not been adequate time for him to respond but, if he does, I will post that, too:

Hi Mayor Hieftje,

This is Jordan Miller, your co-spokesmodel.

I just wanted to weigh-in on the vote slated for this evening on the resolution to extend downtown parking to 10 p.m.

This vote comes completely on the backs of downtown service workers; I know, I was one for many years. These are the people who keep downtown running, who make too much to get government benefits and too little to afford benefits on their own. These are also people who frequent downtown businesses (ask any downtown bartender, the other service industry workers are the biggest spenders and best tippers). And this is even worse for people working in the kitchens (imagine, if you make $9 an hour, the impact of a $10 parking ticket).

Ray Detter told me on Saturday that there is the possibility of a free or reduced-rate parking lot for these workers if this resolution is passed. Is that true? Because I can’t get any other confirmation of it.

Also, I think it should be made public exactly how much of a revenue increase the DDA stands to gain from the extended meter time.

Thank you for reading this, and I’m looking forward to your response.

Regards,
Jordan Miller
Ward 5 voter and friend to many waitresses.

So here are the next steps:
1. City council should postpone the vote for more community weigh-in.
2. The DDA should make public their forecasted revenue gain from this resolution.
3. AnnArbor.com should realize that they have a BIG STORY here, and they should cover it right.
4. The city council should realize that they actually have the potential to connect with a whole new demographic with this issue.


I’ll keep you updated.

I liked getting seeing the email subject: “Geoff Lilienfeld has accepted your meeting request.”

It made me feel like I had really accomplished something.

Let me try to reproduce the phone call I just received.

Me: This is Jordan.

Indian-accented woman who is clearly located in a large room full of other people on headsets: Yes, hello, is this Jordan Miller?

Me: Yes. Who’s calling?

IAW: This is (name I didn’t catch). I am calling on behalf of Geoff Lilienfeld.

Me: My brother?

IAW: Yes. He would like to know what you are purchasing for your mother for Christmas.

Me: I’m sorry? Is this a joke?

IAW: No, it is not a joke. Your brother would like to know what you are purchasing for your mother for Christmas.

Me: Did he hire you to call me and ask me this?

IAW: Geoff has hired my company to handle his personal business. So I am sort of like a personal assistant.

Me: You’re my brother’s personal assistant. (My brother is 24 years old and his Facebook picture is of himself eating a giant piece of pizza, most likely at 4 a.m.)

IAW: It’s like that, yes ma’am.

Me: Ummm. Okay. Hold on, let me walk to another part of my office. … Okay. You can tell him that our mom and I decided that the adults wouldn’t give presents this year, that we would just do stocking stuffers.

IAW: Your brother would like to know what he should purchase for your mother.

Me: If he wants I can just get her stocking stuff and he can chip in. I’m guessing it’ll be around 75 bucks total. Maybe a little more. If he can’t chip in that’s okay, I’ll still put his name on it.

IAW: Okay.

Me: Okay. …

IAW: Thank you.

Me: Thank you too. Bye.

IAW: Goodbye.