Council Capsule: January 19, 2016

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Thursday, January 21, 2016, 12:49 am
Michael Teager

All members present: Mayor Mark Meadows, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier, Councilmembers Erik Altmann, Shanna Draheim, and Susan Woods. (Woods left after the consent agenda.)

Chesterfield Hills permit parking follow-up: Public comment was devoted to further discussion of the permit-only parking plan that was approved 3-2 on January 5. Two Chesterfield Hills residents, Jack Roberts and Kenneth Schwartz, asked Council to revisit the matter. Roberts, a leading voice of opposition to the permit-only plan who previously submitted his own parking studies to both the Transportation Commission and City Council, submitted updated data from his study through January 18. Roberts asked Council to reconsider its “unitary adoption” of the amendment, claiming that the full procedure leading to said adoption was not followed. He also submitted photographs of the affected areas taken by neighbor Pennie Foster-Fishman, who was unable to attend the meeting in time to speak. Schwartz echoed Roberts’ comments and request for reconsideration, emphasizing that the parking had previously been affected by construction on MSU’s Brody Hall, but that it’s no longer an issue.

Mayor Meadows and Mayor Pro Tem Beier – two of the three “yes” votes to enact the permit-only parking, along with Councilmember Altmann – both responded to the comments. Beier said that she would read through the new information, but that she’s “not optimistic” about a reconsideration. However, she had asked that City Manager Lahanas look into potential issues with permit-only parking (e.g., for those who work out of their home and meet with clients) and to work on solutions. Meadows said that he had recently discussed this with Roberts via phone, and that he’d like to meet with other neighbors as well as work with the Transportation Commission to improve the twenty-year-old parking ordinance that lays out how permit-only parking requests are rejected or approved.

Lansing Board of Water & Light (BWL) update (special presentation): Bob Nelson, East Lansing’s Non-Voting Advisory Member (Commissioner) of BWL’s Board of Commissioners came before Council to update them on proposed items before the BWL Board. Nelson has represented East Lansing since July 2015. 

Nelson opened with discussion of BWL’s integrated resource planning project. The Eckert power station is “due to be retired in 2020,” and the Board is looking both at options to replace the energy source as well as the overall energy portfolio (including renewable sources, natural gas, etc.) for BWL more broadly.

Nelson also discussed the franchising arrangement that BWL engages with related communities. East Lansing is the only adjoining community that does not participate in this structure with BWL. In general, the franchise mechanism has two components:

  1. Communities that engage in a franchise arrangement with BWL pay a fee for the amount of energy they want to franchise (e.g., 5% of energy use). 
  2. BWL would then reserve the right to pass the cost along to the franchising community’s residents in their energy bills (i.e., the aforementioned 5% would be added to each customer’s bill). This creates a revenue stream for the community. 


Nelson estimated that if East Lansing were to engage in a 5% franchise fee structure, it could raise approximately $1.2 million per year for the City. Alternative to the franchise agreement is a payment in lieu of taxes by BWL to the City. He also pointed out a provision in Meridian Township’s franchise agreement that prohibits sale or transfer of BWL service or facilities in the township without Meridian Township’s consent.

Discussion of the franchise fee occurred among Altmann, Meadows, Beier, and Draheim. Upon Altmann’s asking, Meadows explained that BWL opts for a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement with East Lansing because of a 1908 law stating that a franchise mechanism isn’t required for service to East Lansing.  (Said law exempts BWL from a franchise fee, which was outlined in the 1963 Michigan constitution.) 

Nelson also discussed the low-income energy assistance program. Created in 2013, it provides that all utilities must make an option every July whether they will charge their customers up to $1/month to fund the low-income assistance fund, a fund which is then disbursed to area agencies to help poorer customers. For those that do not participate in the program – BWL does not, although it could raise approximately $1 million annually – they must agree to “not discontinue service to residential customers during the heating season.” Because BWL has not participated in the program, customers are ineligible to receive up to $850 each in emergency funding from the Department of Health and Human Services. The BWL Board will consider in March whether to opt in this year.

Mayor Pro Tem Beier asked Nelson about BWL’s emergency preparedness should another ice storm like the one in December 2013 occur now. He said that, while the new emergency system hasn’t yet been fully implemented, other countermeasures are in place, including: additional staff, mutual aid agreements with other utility companies, and installing their own “czar of emergencies.”

Councilmember Altmann asked about BWL’s vegetation management program. Nelson replied that, should BWL win its pending lawsuit against a private citizen in summary judgment, BWL intends to proceed with more extensive tree trimming than before. If the company wins the lawsuit and proceeds, Nelson said that BWL would notify customers of trimming far in advance and try to limit the amount of cutting.

Mayor Meadows said he wanted Nelson to provide an update to Council a couple times each year in order to keep the public informed of the Board’s proceedings.

Consent agenda: The following items were unanimously passed via consent agenda, meaning there was no additional discussion:

  • Set a public hearing for February 16, 2016 for Ordinance No. 1367 regarding post-construction storm water management; see memo and ordinance.
  • Approval for the City Manger to sign the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs Assurances form for the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival; see the letter and form.
  • Approval of downtown street closures for the Community Relations Coalition’s 2016 Taste of East Lansing on Saturday, April 23, 2016; see memo and letter and map
  • Introduction and referral of Ordinance 1357 for solar carports to the Planning Commission; see memo and ordinance.


Bailey/Capital Area Housing Partnership (CAHP) update: In his Councilmember report, Meadows announced that the CAHP’s grant application to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) for renovations to the former Bailey Community Center had been approved in full. CAHP could possibly break ground in May or June, with the renovated facility “up and running” by 2017. Read our separate report here.

Crystal Awards: In her report, Councilmember Woods reminded the public that the City is seeking nominations for its annual Crystal Awards. Wood said that she was honored to be a recipient in 2011, and that residents should think about their neighbors and submit nominations for those who have “helped and dedicated their lives to improving” East Lansing. Nominations may be submitted online and are due February 19.

Falcon Pointe application deferral: The Business Agenda’s only item was the Falcon Pointe cluster plan. With residents and the developers present, Meadows moved to once again defer the matter to a later meeting, with Beier seconding. (A final vote on the plan had already been deferred at Council’s January 5 meeting.) The motion to defer passed unanimously (4-0, with Woods absent by that point in the meeting). Meadows expressed concern over “language issues” in the contract, and said there was a need for a “traffic statement.”

I followed up with Mayor Meadows today for clarification. He responded that the current materials “do not contain language relating to renting the units or limitations on the use of the streets for parking. [Council] wanted those issues addressed before moving forward.”

University Student Commission to include Community Relations Coalition member: Council unanimously approved Ordinance No. 1365, which requires adding a member of the Community Relations Coalition (CRC) to the University Student Commission. Meadows called the ordinance “an excellent idea,” expressing his appreciation for both the University Student Commission and the Community Relations Coalition.

Police Chief Jeff Murphy special presentation: City Manager George Lahanas presented newly-sworn-in East Lansing Police Department (ELPD) Chief Jeff Murphy to Council. You can read our full report on Chief Murphy here. Murphy offered a few comments, noting that, “to the person, everybody [in ELPD] comes to work and does the job,” which “makes [his] job a whole lot easier.” Beier said she looks forward to his service, remarking that despite East Lansing’s “big city issues,” ELPD “responds to us like we’re a small town.” 

East Lansing Fire Department special presentation: East Lansing Fire Department (ELFD) Chief Randy Talifarro presented five new hires: Lauren Gauthier, Robert “Bobby” Voisinet, Michael Kueppers, Paolo Perna, and Tara Higgins. They were joined by family members and fellow firefighters.

Talifarro followed up by saying that he anticipates another eight retirements by July, and that he would be back to present additional hires and retirees. Councilmember Woods thanked the firefighters’ families for “putting up with strange hours” and for their “[dedication] to the fire department and East Lansing.”

Public comment: Speakers were limited to the Chesterfield Hills parking discussion, as noted above. Written comments may be read here and here.

Executive session: Council adjourned to executive session after the public portion of the meeting to discuss attorney-client privileged communications with the City Attorney.


To view a recording of the meeting, click here.

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