Friday, July 23, 2010

Are the council and DDA turning a deaf ear to noise problems?

The long-running conflict between residents living near downtown Ferndale, the city council, and business owners seems to be coming to a head.
  • A petition is being circulated by W. Troy residents to put a new noise ordinance on the November ballot.
  • Last night, the DDA's Board of Directors held a special meeting, "..  to discuss residential and business concerns relating to the City of Ferndale's current noise ordinance and proposed changes to it."
  • At the last city council meeting, council woman Melanie Piana confessed that while on a late-nite bike-ride with her husband she experienced, first-hand, how loud the music is on residential streets, and asked the city's administration to give the matter some attention.
  • Earlier this month, the city of Mt. Clemens passed an ordinance banning sound that can be heard more than 500 feet from its source.
These are just some of the stories that have been in the news lately.  In Ferndale, city-leaders' dedication to reinvigorating its downtown by turning it into a night-club and entertainment district has proceeded despite regular complaints from residents living near downtown about loud music disturbing their sleep as well as the attendant parking problems, public urination, disorderly persons on residential streets, and drug paraphernalia and discarded rubbers found on homeowner's front lawns.

At the DDA's special meeting Thursday night at Rosie O'Grady's approximately 30 people including one acoustic engineer, the Chief of Police, two city councilpersons, members of the DDA board, its executive director and other staff, and residents gathered to discuss the noise ordinance.

Here are just a few of my impressions.  I invite everyone to leave comments with their own, or share their own opinions as they will.
  •  Craig Covey suggested the problem may have become worse recently with more of the nightclubs opening patios and having outside entertainment.  Though there is certainly more outside music than before (both live and recorded) it doesn't explain residents complaints before outside music became popular.  Additionally, it shouldn't matter where the music's source is--if it's too loud inside a resident's home it's too loud regardless whether it came from the club's patio, bar, or a bathroom.
  • One of the board members reported that in addition to the $75-500 fine they may owe the city, the Liquor Control Commission (LCC) may add additional fines up to $5000.
  • Brian Kramer gets the "Best Comment" award for when he said (paraphrasing), "I want to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.  I don't like having this problem and I don't like having these meetings."
  • Kramer also said his original site plan included 15' walls and a tree barrier around Rosie's, but those features designed to limit noise leakage into the neighborhood were eliminated by the the city's Appearance Review Committee.
  • I forget who mentioned it, but the idea to make W. Troy a one-way street was re-introduced, as was the idea to remove the sidewalk leading from W. Nine Mile into the neighborhood, to discourage late-night revelers from stumbling in the direction of the nearby homes.
  • One resident suggested the public urination problem may be due to the lack of accessible restrooms to folks on Rosie's patio.  In a conversation afterward another resident pointed out that Como's has restrooms accessible directly from their patio, and suggested that had Rosie's site-plan included outside-accessible restrooms the Appearance Review Committee would likely have eliminated those as well.
  • Rather than trying to tell people what 75.0 DB(A)s sounds like it would have been much better to bring a device that makes a 75.0 DB(a) sound, use the police's sound meter to check it, then see how far away the meter must move before the sound level falls to 0.0 DB(A)s.
I'm unconvinced an ordinance listing allowable decibels (on any scale--A or B) is the best approach for Ferndale's noise problem. I admire the simplicity of Mt. Clemens's approach.  If you're 500' away and can still here it, then the noise is too loud.  Unfortunately, Ferndale homes are, in many cases, less than 100' away.  It's hard to imagine any night-time music, ambient or not, would dissipate to nothing before traveling a mere 100'.

I'm thinking that some kind of barrier may be required, as well as a possible resurfacing of W. Nine Mile, Planavon, Allen, and perhaps Withington and W. Troy with a material designed to absorb noise--along with a healthy growth of trees.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In the Democratic Primary: Vote Covey for 25th District Commissioner

The only scheduled debate between candidates for the 25th district County Commissioner seat was Monday, July 19.  Both Comcast and WideOpenWest will broadcast it multiple times.  You may also watch it on your computer by visiting Ferndale Cable's video of the debate.
If you plan on voting in the Democratic Primary Tuesday, August 3rd, Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey deserves your vote for County Commissioner in the 25th district (Ferndale, Hazel Park, Royal Oak).

The other candidates on the Democratic ticket are Ruel McPherson, former county commissioner, and Tomiko Gumbleton, former Ferndale Councilwoman.  A fourth candidate, Richard Parisi, is unopposed on the Republican side of the ballot and did not attend.

At the debate Monday night, the candidates were given a minute to respond to 13 questions submitted by audience members.  Some impressions about the candidates is below.

Ruel McPherson

If any candidate can be said to have knocked one out of the park, it was Ruel McPherson.  

When asked what one of the first things he would do as county commissioner he went right to cost-cutting.  It's hard to imagine a county run as tightly as Oakland and with as high a bond rating as it has might have low-hanging-fruit, but McPherson sees a big one.  He sees little reason the road, parks, and drain departments couldn't be managed under a single roof, sharing all their facilities, equipment, contracts, and personnel to more efficiently manage what is mostly common between them.  I hope that whomever wins the November election takes this great idea to their first commissioners meeting.

McPherson also mentioned tax-base sharing several times.  Even after reading about it, it's unclear how this idea compares with how property taxes are already distributed--unevenly and inequitably--throughout the county.

Tomiko Gumbleton

Tomiko has been an active member of the community for years; as a volunteer, as a city councilwoman, and as a member of Ferndale's Democratic Club.  Tomiko's commitment to all things Democrat probably make her a great asset to Senator Debbie Stabenow, but that same dedication and single-mindedness makes her a poor candidate for the Board of Commissioners.

With the recent death of Republican commissioner Jeff Potter, the board is now evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.  No one knows what the new mix will be after November, but it is certain that both the 25th District and the county will be poorly served by rabid partisanship.

Gumbleton repeated multiple times that she prefers to make decisions based on data and facts rather than gut instinct.  From her votes on Ferndale's city council it would appear her appetite for facts is inversely proportional to her predisposition (euphemism for prejudice).  In other words, if her gut doesn't like an idea it needs data.  If she likes an idea the data doesn't matter.

In 2007 she sat through a presentation from Ferndale's DDA asking for a special tax on downtown businesses.  The presentation was rife with misinformation, bad comparisons to Royal Oak, Birmingham, and Rochester, generalizations, and no ideas what the DDA would do with the increased revenue.  That was all fine with Tomiko.  Data didn't matter because she was already in the DDA's pocket.

In 2009, in a city bleeding from foreclosures, falling property values and taxes, and staring down the throat of a $3 million budget deficit,  Gumbleton repeatedly voted for more money spent on consultants ($110,000-worth) to consider building a new municipal complex with price tags ranging up to $8 million.

In a recent Observer & Eccentric article, Tomiko defended her spending on consultants for the municipal project by saying, "No one knew 2 1/2 years ago where we would be now."  Apparently, Gumbleton didn't pay attention to the 2006 gubernatorial election and how important Michigan's plummeting economy was four years ago.  Nor did she listen in 2008 when the DDA changed its mind about the tax increase (helped by a petition signed by over 400 voters) saying that due to the economy, raising taxes was probably a bad idea for downtown businesses.  And she didn't listen in 2009 when resident after resident pleaded with city council to abandon its pursuit of an expensive and unnecessary building project and stop wasting money on consultants.  Apparently, 2 1/2 years ago, Gumbleton was one of only a few council persons who didn't know "... where we would be now."

Those are not the credentials of good policy making.  Those are not the credentials of someone that claims to be interested in data.  Those are not the credentials of someone that can help Oakland (or anyone else) through the upcoming budget crunches.  Those are not the credentials of someone the 25th district needs representing them on the board of commissioners.

Craig Covey

Many Ferndaler's biggest problem with Craig's campaign for county commissioner isn't his leaving his post as Ferndale's mayor as much as it is the fact councilwoman Kate Baker will replace him.  As legitimate as that disappointment may be it does not excuse electing a less qualified candidate August 3rd.  If Ferndaler's don't like Kate as their mayor they can fix that next November.

In bad budget times, like the next several years promise to be, fiscal responsibility and the ability to work with folks on the "other" side of the aisle will be important traits of the elected officials we need in Oakland, and other places throughout the state and in Lansing.

Craig's "government isn't always the solution" comments during the debate appeal to a broader spectrum of voters than do candidates claiming they can solve all our problems with more federal grant money.  His ideas on sprawl, land use, and the conservation of existing infrastructure are also more appealing than the oft-parroted land-bank sound bites from other candidates.

Craig isn't the perfect candidate, but he's the best for District 25 in the Democratic Primary.

No matter who you're voting for, be sure to vote Tuesday, August 3.