More on ICE and snow

I agree this has been a very snowy winter and problems of snow removal have been exacerbated not only by existing piles of snow but by piles of debris from the ice storm.

The city continues to treat this as a law enforcement problem, when it is not a law enforcement problem, although we need a strong ordinance to allow for law enforcement, provided it is done even-handedly with common sense. We are trying to find out if commercial properties and abandoned development projects have ever been given tickets, and an attempt is being made to shame city hall over the failure to remove snow on the sidewalk in front of the city's Evergreen properties (allegedly owned by the DDA).

Snow plows throwing hard packed detritus onto already (or soon to be) shoveled sidewalks is only one of many problems. On my block, we have people who park on the street at times plows come through, meaning a car width gets left with packed snow for long stretches. Plows pile up snow at sidewalks at intersections, where rarely is there any good neighbor with a shovel (like with my immediate neighbors where whomever gets there first digs out several driveways after the trucks come through).

But the biggest problem remains, as it has been for years and years, ICE not snow, and city hall refuses to admit this is the real problem, because the only way this can be dealt with is community-based problem solving, and despite getting rid of Staton, government is still totally city-hall-centric.

Yesterday evening I chose to walk about a mile from my house to the library for the ELCC forum, walking gingerly and carrying a big stick. Whether I walked on street or sidewalk, the ice was horrific -- I probably should have worn my yak-tracks, but I don't need to do that on campus, so I prefer a stick to get me from my neighborhood to campus.

I won't dwell on sidewalks in the neighborhoods, which needs to be part of the comprehensive solution being worked on by the ELCC task force (since the city is incapable of its own task force and will have to be guided by us). What is worse this year is icy conditions walking on the streets. I'm not a big fan of salt, but there has clearly been less salting and less plowing relative to the amount of snow. Yes, there has been more snow, but there is also less money, which we haven't noticed so much during light winters.

The main street sidewalks have been a disaster zone for years and years and continuing complaints about the need for the city to take charge not just of running a sidewalk plow through after deep snows (packing down a thick layer) but actually keeping the sidewalks safe, instead of insisting this is somehow the responsibility of property owners, who don't do it (with rare exceptions), has been met with deaf ears and probably will be until there is a huge lawsuit against the city for gross negligence, because there is ample evidence they know this is a problem and actively choose to ignore it.

All winter, I have been walking in the bike and bus lane on Michigan Ave. because the sidewalk has been impassable. On Grand River, the bike lane from Harrison to the confluence with Michigan has been too full of snow and the sidewalk frightening even with a stick for someone comfortable hiking mountain passes in grizzly country. When I walked past Hannah yesterday, I chose the icy street, although I had mostly been choosing the sidewalk through East Glencairn.

The one time this winter I tried walking along Grand River from Bogue to Red Cedar cafe, it was nothing but slush and puddles (I'm sure ice most of the time). A woman was hit by a bus yesterday, reportedly crossing Grand River in that area, but my immediate thought was to wonder if she was actually walking in the street, not crossing it, because the sidewalk was impassable.

Remember that time earlier this winter when the city had not even done the main downtown and was saying it only did that usually as a courtesy, even though that is part of downtown maintenance that is supposed to be paid for by the DDA millage, except the DDA is so in debt the general fund had to subsidize by more than $60,000 in last year's DDA budget (of course not a deterrence for spending non-exist DDA money on discretionary public works projects).

What we are really dealing with here is two fundamental problems:

1) There is a lack of leadership in city hall that precludes identification of problems and seeking pragmatic solutions, with the help of the community -- Ruth Beier has become go to person on Council (in the past Loomis and Power were) and since Marie Wicks got sidelined from assistant city manager to clerk, there is really no one in central office staff who is community-centered (Marie still sometimes helps and the city manager's assistant is very helpful, but not officially in a power position, although those of us old enough to still use the term "secretary" know secretaries, usually of the female persuasion, have always been the ones who make the world turn, not their, usually male, bosses).

2) There isn't enough money for public services, and the matter will be getting worse according to the 5-year projection recently released, yet the fiscal and ideological priority in city hall remains putting up new buildings with tax subsidies in an already glutted real estate market and fantasizing about East Lansing in 2030, when if it doesn't focus on public services and public safety and, in the immediate time frame, cleaning up after the ice storm (which has barely begun) and dealing with disintegrating streets, there won't be an East Lansing in 2030.

I want to offer this quote from state zoning law with regards to review standards: "The standards shall be consistent with and promote the intent and purpose of the zoning ordinance and shall insure that the land use or activity authorized shall be compatible with adjacent uses of land, the natural environment, and the capacities of public services and facilities affected by the land use. The standards shall also insure that the land use or activity is consistent with the public health, safety, and welfare of the local unit of government."

Asking the city and its citizens to pick of the tab for new development projects (through brownfield tax diversion) and discretionary projects under the guise of the DDA, when it is paying for public safety at 1991 levels and is more than $60,000 short in downtown maintenance) is clearly in violation of state law, and we are going to demand that review of any new projects, especially those seeking brownfield tax breaks, include a full and credible (meaning not done by the planning department) estimate of public service/public safety costs, which in the past has been completely ignored.

Eliot Singer
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