A2 City Council to Discuss Commons

My friend Alan Haber wrote the following letter to his friends urging them to attend tonight’s City Council meeting. I just received it a few minutes ago. Below it is the letter he wrote to the Ann Arbor City Council and the mayor. I will not be able to attend the meeting but I support Alan and encourage anyone from Ann Arbor who can attend to do so. The issue concerns the future of what is known as the Ann Arbor Community Commons. Will it serve private interests or the good of the community? That is the question.

the Council accelerated the process and the Library Lot to the agenda of the meeting tonight, with a Resolution to stop the Valiant project, add a statement that the land be considered equivalent to a commercial property, and that the current proposal process be ended, which would also end consideration of the commons.

my letter to the Council is below. COME TO THE MEETING TONIGHT, if you can, in the City Hall, 2nd floor 7PM. call the Mayor and your Council members. I am proposing they Divide the resolution, Pass to stop the hotel, and wait to close the process until the Commons gets a fair hearing.

alan haber


Dear City Council and Mayor,

i hope you will adopt a resolution rejecting the proposal from the Library Lot Advisory Committee to enter into an exclusive relation with the Valiant group. The Valiant proposal was deeply flawed, economically, legally, aesthetically and process wise, as even its past proponents have seemed to come to realize.

However, do not add that last tea-party like, money-first “Resolved” paragraph at the end of the draft resolution, to privatize and commercialize the land. While there is talk of a “robust public process” in the future, while this Council prevails, only to be considered will be proposals and ideas that yield to the standard of a fair market, money-to-the-city measure. I hope not.

Being subservient to the market in dealing with public land and the public good is a bankrupt libertarian idea, dressed up in resolution language privileging money and capital over community and caring. There is a common good, It is priceless. This space of ours, the people’s, should be, and can be kept out of the calculations of market domination. Why not?

Please delete the last “Resolved.”

Also, your Resolution draft proposes to end the RFP 743. This is not right. The proposal for the Ann Arbor Community Commons has not been properly heard. The Advisory Committee did not do its job properly, or legally. They have left you ignorant of our proposal.

Why do i say you are ignorant? Because you have been usurped by the Advisory Committee. They were an “Advisory Committee.” They were not empowered to make decisions. Yet, they made the decision for you, whether to consider a non-commercial public purpose for the land, or not.

The Advisory Committee decided to not consider the proposals that had an open space public park character. They also changed the definition and weight of “economic benefit” as a factor in evaluation, from 10% to near 100% and from “it could be revenue neutral” which we were told at the beginning, to it must yield the highest money return.

They had no right to make any of those decisions. They are not a decision making body.

The biggest decision in Ann Arbor, for the last 3 years or more, since the $50 million plus of bonds was floated for the underground parking structure, has been, and still is: “What goes on top?” A big building (as many suspected was the back room plan all along)? or a public amenity, gathering place, open green, as many other people wanted?

When the RFP came out, there were 3, and then 2 qualifying “build proposals,” and 2 “green proposals.” The Advisory Committee should have worked with each option and reported to the Council, the best advice they could offer, regarding each option, and then letting the Council decide whether to go for Build, or for Green, or neither.

The Advisory Committee did not give the Commons proposers the opportunity to modify or specify, or even clarify our proposal in response to concerns being raised and erroneous judgements expressed. It did give that opportunity to its preferred projects, making a big building. The Committee was run with no opportunity for public comment. This was illegal, since in fact, they did act as a decision making body, and so were covered by the open meeting act, and obligated to allow public participation.

And so i say the Council is ignorant, because you have never actually heard the Commons proposal, nor has your Advisory Committee given you adequate advice, because the Commons proposers were treated in a biased, discriminatory way. The Council cannot decide not to explore a letter of intent with the Commons, because you have never heard the proposal for the Commons, in its latest iteration. It is not true to say “the Council decided to not select any of the proposals.” The Advisory Committee decided. The Council never heard the Commons proposal.

It is fine to be rid of Valiant; it has fallen of its own weight, with a lot of pushing.

It is not fine, though, to refuse to hear, with equal fullness afforded Valiant, “the other proposal,” for the Commons. It is unfair, undemocratic, disrespectful and dismissive of good work, energy, time and love put into producing developing and refining a proposal in behalf of the people of Ann Arbor.

After all this work, persistent since September 2009, with meetings with the Council, the Council Caucus, the Downtown Development Authority, the Library, the Library Lot Advisory Committee, the Downtown Residents Advisory Committee, and hundreds of individual conversations in the business and university and general citizenry, going through every bureaucratic hoop, and we don’t even get a fair hearing by the proper decision makers, in public, as promised.

And it was promised, all through this maze, that we would get our hearing.

Where now are the champions of those who would say “let the alternative be heard,” before the process is closed off? Think again. Maybe something worthwhile came out of all this work and meetings, Maybe it is something for which a “letter of intent” for further exploration with the Commons would be justified. Maybe if the Council heard, your minds could be awakened to ideas you hadn’t already thought before.

It makes me sad to consider that the allies in concern for “the public process” and citizen participation, when all is said and done, would so easily capitulate to the Advisory Committee’s illegal decision, to exclude from equal treatment the proposal for the Commons (in its latest iteration), and give the Commons proposal no place at all in the existing process properly to be heard.

Out of this flawed process, a gem indeed has been emerging, full of beauties. In your haste to be rid of a bad idea, I fear you will throw out gem with the tailings. Better, i think, let the gem be seen and heard, and see if such it be. At least the process would be better informed, by letting yourselves, and people generally see what in fact is on the table. Perhaps the presentation of the Commons proposal could be the beginning of the “robust public process,” which it is indeed intended to stimulate.

It seems to me better, and more legal, to offer now a proper consideration of the Commons proposal. Entertain the possibility, after hearing, that a “letter of intent” with the Commons group, might be appropriate, to see if the particular questions the Council has can be adequately answered. such as was seen as the purpose of such a letter for Valiant and the big build.

If after hearing it, the Council said “we don’t like it,” so be it, then you can go ahead at least with an informed decision to reject all proposals, under RFP 743 and close that process. But not until you have heard the Commons, as it has developed. You might love it. It is a beautiful idea, and possible.

So, all that said:

I urge you to DIVIDE your Resolution.

PASS the part “ending of consideration for Valiant.”

TABLE the rest of the resolution, including the part that ends the RFP 743 process, until a time specific, after you schedule and hold a full hearing of the Proposal for an Ann Arbor Community Commons (in its latest iteration) comparable to the working session given Valiant.

After hearing the Commons Proposal, Bring up again, the Tabled part of the Resolution, to close the RFP, and there will be then the opportunity for an informed alternative, a possible “letter of intent” to explore further the proposal for an Ann Arbor Community Commons.

You are the deciders here. You have the obligation to hear the proposal, properly submitted, for a public place, which we call the Commons, (a2central park, town square, library park, paradise, name to be determined.) You cannot delegate the decision to not consider the public use of the public land to an Advisory Committee that does not allow public comment.

It won’t hurt you. It’s only fair. You might like it after all. It’s not a 3-minute sound bite. You gotta hear it to believe it. It is not simple; it is sound. Don’t sell out to some imagined highest fair market bidder of the future. Listen to another possibility, we keep what we own and make it an attraction that people will come to discover downtown. Your obligation in the RFP is the best interest of Ann Arbor. You have yet to hear. Do your job. And let the people hear as well.

i hope i will be able to address you also in public comment time tonight.


alan haber