High-Speed Internet, Park Naming, and Costly Garage Repairs Discussed at Council

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016, 7:16 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: "No Name Park," likely to soon be named.

Last week’s East Lansing City Council meeting on May 17 was a discussion-only meeting, but it lasted almost three hours and covered a lot of territory. We will be bringing you a number of break-out reports on some of these stories, but in the meantime, here is your weekly Council Capsule, a service only ELi brings. Want our service to continue? Do your part to help us keep it going.

Technology and innovation: Council is going to be convening a Citizen Innovation and Technology Panel at the recommendation of the City’s Information Technology Manager Tom Crane. Crane said he sees himself working with the group and providing a view from City government. This week Council will vote to establish the panel, the members of which will be approved by Council. There will be up to seven members.  

During public comments, citizen Doug Couto, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Digital Government, noted that in the early 2000s he had chaired the City’s Cable and Technology Commission, and he spoke in favor of the new Panel. He noted the City has a diverse set of initiatives and programs under the heading of “innovation and technology,” including 3-D printers obtained by the Library and “Tech Wednesdays” at Beggars Banquet. Couto said there were many knowledgeable and talented people in the community who could be tapped for service. Councilmember Shanna Draheim said later in the meeting that he would make a good chair for the group.

Fiber-optic internet: In response to a request from Mayor Mark Meadows to look into Google Fiber, a system by which cities can be connected to the internet via ultra-high-speed lines, the City’s Information Technology Manager, Tom Crane, spoke to Council. Crane said he called Google and asked, if the City did everything Google said it should to be considered for Google Fiber, whether it would then receive the service. According to Crane, Google told him “there’s no guarantee we would come after you do these steps. Corporate makes the decision to look at a city and then Corporate works with city officials.” So, Crane said, it seems unlikely Google Fiber would be coming to East Lansing anytime soon, even if the City were to pursue the relationship.

City Manager George Lahanas pointed out that LightSpeed, a local company, currently provides high-speed fiber optic internet connections to many residents of East Lansing. Lahanas said he wanted to make sure the city is “nurturing” high-speed internet connectability. Councilmembers Susan Woods and Shanna Draheim said they use LightSpeed, and Crane said he had tried to get it to his home (which is not in the City). Crane named Spartan Net and ACD as other options for residents. Beier said she uses Comcast and had reduced her monthly bill by 40% simply by calling them and requesting a better deal.

Parking garage under Marriott hotel to be rebuilt: ELi previously reported that the City is facing millions of dollars in costs to reconstruct the City-owned parking garage under University Place, the downtown complex that includes the Marriott Hotel at the northeast corner of M.A.C. and Albert Street. According to City staff, “This parking garage was constructed in 1986 and from the beginning did not have ideal drainage slopes. In addition, uncoated steel rebar was also used in the construction. These factors have led to increased corrosion and concrete spalling [breaking] from the intrusion of water and chlorides into the concrete slab.”

The City is legally obligated to operate this garage, known as Lot 12, as part of its University Place agreement, so there is no way out of the approximately $4 million cost. The previous City Council opted to divert taxes that would otherwise have gone into the City’s general fund to pay for this problem. Last week, City Planning Director Tim Dempsey told Council the plan is to start repairs with the lower level and then move to the upper level.

This was a discussion-only meeting, so the vote to approve the contract will officially occur on the consent agenda at this week’s Council.

Naming of “no name” park: As ELi reported, “no name park” at the corner of Albert Street and Abbot Road has officially become a park as a complicated aside to the Bailey Community Center’s conversion to a new use. At this Council meeting, Mayor Mark Meadows said he wants the park named after Bill Sharp. (You can read Ken Palmer’s and Dawn Parker’s remembrance of Sharp in the Lansing State Journal.)

The process requires that the Mayor be asked to name an ad hoc committee to make a recommendation to Council on the naming of a park. Council will vote on a resolution to give the Mayor that job this week. Councilmember Susan Woods asked Meadows whether they could sell off the naming rights to parks as a way to raise money. He explained that is not what the City’s park-naming system calls for.

Parks and Rec financial challenges: The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, represented by Vice Chair Michael Townley, asked City Council to consider putting a bond on the November ballot to fund the maintenance and upgrades the Commission and the Parks & Rec Department say are needed. Council did not move to put the bond on the ballot. We have a separate report on this story.

Sidewalk program continues: City engineer Bob Scheuerman and Director of Public Works Scott House presented the challenges, costs, and needs with regard to sidewalks in the City. We’ll have a separate report on this story.

PACE enforcement discussion: Parking and Code Enforcement (PACE) Supervisor Eldon Evans and East Lansing Police Chief Jeff Murphy spoke with Council regarding PACE’s enforcement of local ordinances. The discussion centered on what to do about citizens complaining about tickets from PACE. We’ll have a separate report on this.

Fire Department seeks to explore collaborative and financial opportunities:  East Lansing Fire Chief Randy Talifarro spoke with Council about what the Fire Department might do to pursue additional collaboration opportunities with other fire service units in the region. Council recommended that an external consultant be engaged to look into possible opportunities for collaboration and cost-savings. We’ll have a separate report on this.

Commission on the Environment strategizes: Councilmember Shanna Draheim had the only councilmember report. She briefly noted that the Commission on the Environment was meeting this week for a strategic planning session at Michigan Energy Options.

 

Reminder: Members of the public can speak to Council at its meetings during the section dedicated to “communications from the audience” and can also write to Council if they wish to comment on any issue before the City.

Council Capsule is a service only ELi brings. Want our service to continue? Do your part to help us keep it going.

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