By Jan Worth-Nelson
Editor’s note: this story has been corrected to reflect that the meeting at City Hall about the parkway trees is set for 5 p.m. Thursday, March 23.
Residents of the College Cultural Neighborhood Association (CCNA) heard news on a potpourri of local issues at their March meeting, including progress on a campaign to manage the neighborhood’s parkway trees. updates on the real estate market, bids on potential municipal water pipe replacement, objections to Flint Journal “litter,” and statements from two candidates for Seventh Ward city council.
Tree campaign continues
Most of the meeting’s discussion centered on an ongoing issue of trees in the parkways — the strip of lawn between the street and sidewalks owned by the city. CCNA leaders and residents have been voicing concerns about removal of 180 trees from the parkways since last summer, and have met several times with city officials and staff of the Genesee Conservation District, which manages the city’s trees through a partnership with the city.
To a group of several dozen meeting in the Mott Community College RTC auditorium, CCNA president Mike Keeler summarized that he and others have questioned how decisions are being made for cutting down versus trimming the canopy trees — one of the features of the neighborhood most prized by many residents. Keeler, himself a trained wildlife biologist and Sierra Club activist, along with others, has called for greater transparency and better communication between the conservation district employees and city residents, and has advocated an approach more focused on trimming than cutting.
GCD staff, for their part, have asserted they are implementing an urban forestry plan produced in 2015 — after a tree-by-tree inventory of the city’s 30,000 street trees — which aims to correct years of neglect. They have adopted a six-year tree assessment strategy which predicts which trees will survive for the next six years — and opts for cutting down those which appear cracked or aged. CCNA residents contend the life span of many of those trees could extended another 20 or 30 years with judicious maintenance.
A group of CCNA neighbors have crafted a list of nine “requirements” — Councilwoman Monica Galloway said they should rightly be called “recommendations” — regarding the trees which they hope will be implemented by a certified arborist free of conflict of interest. One GCD arborist resigned recently after it was pointed out her family owns one of the contracting businesses used by the GCD.
Among the recommendations are:
— re-evaluating all trees on the critical and immediate removal list to see if any can be saved.
— ceasing all tree removals except those determined to be dead in the 2015 survey.
— continuing critical tree limb removals and developing a better plan to trim trees.
— discussing reasons for removal with all homeowners who have a tree slated for removal.
— discontinuing the controversial “six year evaluation cost/benefit analysis” unless all environmental benefits are taken into consideration including energy savings, reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide, improved air quality, storm water run-off reduction, aesthetics, and social and economic benefits.
— ensuring that 40 percent of program funding be allocated for tree replanting to ensure the city’s parkways have healthy middle-aged trees as the urban forest ages.
Tree replacement is one of the challenging sticking points, with few resources available — enough for only about 100 replacements a year for the whole city, GCD administrator Angela Warren has said. CCNA members launched a fund-raising campaign at the meeting, inviting donations from residents. Keeler estimated the cost at about $100 per tree.
According to the city’s plan, one out of five existing parkway trees — about 6,500 altogether — are slated for removal, Keeler stated, emphasizing at the current replacement rate it would take decades to replenish the arboreal stock.
Among the replacement trees Keeler recommended to the group were the Kentucky coffee tree, tulip, black gum, sycamore, horse chestnut, bald cypress, river birch, and sassafras — all of which would provide vivid fall colors, he said, and offer diversity in place of the neighborhood’s current proliferation of about 70 percent maple — many of which are at the end of their lifespan.
CCNA representatives have appeared at two GCD board meetings and also plan to attend a 5 p.m. Thursday, March 23 meeting to again put forward their proposals at the Flint City Council’s government operations committee meeting in council chambers on the third floor of City Hall. Keeler urged residents to attend; it is a public meeting.
Count of homes for sale lowest in two years
Realtor Mark Fisher said 8 homes have sold in the CCNA in the last two months, with prices ranging from $50.44 to $12.47 per square foot, for an average of $34 per square foot, down from $40 in January. He said the drop in the price per square foot could be attributed to the sale of several of “the roughest homes” — bad news for realtors trying to make money, he quipped, but good news for the neighborhood as a whole.
Overall, the inventory of current active homes for sale, 23 out of about 1400 in the neighborhood, is the lowest in two years, Fisher stated. He said 10 sales are currently pending. Average days on the market was 167 the last two months, up from 42 days in his January report. He said the longer time is mostly due to seasonal variations and the sale of some of those “rough” homes, and asserted that while realtors know water in the wake of the ongoing crisis still is an issue city-wide, it does not seem to be hurting sales in the CCN.
Pipe replacement bids process debated
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Kate Fields, who often attends the CCNA meetings, offered residents an update on bids for lead pipe replacement. The conversation led to a dustup between her and Laura Sullivan, a Kettering University engineering professor and water activist attending the meeting, about whether the behavior of city officials was above board, and suggesting parallels with the Rizzo Environmental/Republic Services trash imbroglio between the city and the council last summer.
Fields said a recent bid for lead pipe replacements — a $25-30 million portion of the project — has come in — with the lowest from Goyette Mechanical Plumbing and Heating of Flint. She said Goyette priced out their bid based on both linear foot and per household, the latter being $4,200-$4,500 per house, including the price of an inspection company because, she said, the city inspectors can’t keep up. Nobody else came close, according to Fields. But, she said, the city administration told council they were going to rebid for the work because the Goyette bid didn’t meet the state guidelines, which Fields said was not true.
She said the city now wants to divide up the 10 “replacement zones” laid out by the city for the project among four competing contractors: one zone to Lane Construction, 4.5 zones to W.T. Stevens Construction, 3.5 to Goyette and one zone to Waldorf Plumbing. She stated to her it is a dilemma — considering what she called the Rizzo /Republic “corrupted bid” trash process of last summer because, she said, the city “didn’t like the low bidder.” In that 2016 controversy city council and the mayor got into a protracted quarrel that ultimately ended up in court mediation, with the end result that the city accepted a bid from Republic, the original provider.
Sullivan took strong issue with the implications of Fields’ claims that the city administration process was questionable, stating Fields’ claims were unethical because she didn’t have all the relevant information. She said the proper spokesperson for the situation is retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel, appointed by the mayor to run the city’s “Flint Action and Sustainability Team” — known as the FAST Start program — to replace the city’s corroded lead pipes.
“I’m concerned about statements that haven’t been checked out,” Sullivan said.
Fields replied, “I’m sticking to my principles here. I’m not going to approve any other contracts because that makes it seem like we approve of what they’re doing — if it doesn’t go through to who they want they’ll rebid it.”
Sullivan said the Goyette bids were incomplete based on the state changing its requirements after the fact — adding many people are unhappy with the state’s inconsistencies. Galloway also expressed frustration with the state giving out incomplete information.
Legal services for seniors
Fields reminded residents that through funding from the county’s senior millage, legal services are available free of charge to anyone 60 or older, wills, deeds, power of attorney — not income-based — provided by Legal Services by Eastern Michigan.
Efforts to stop Flint Journal “litter” continue
Fields said she has been attempting to stop unwanted delivery of Flint Journal “freebies” — drop-offs that “they sling everywhere,” including to abandoned houses and to residents who don’t want it. She said the drop-offs are “just blight” and said she has made several calls to Flint Journal customer service, without success, and said she has been getting a runaround. She was told they could discontinue delivery to one house, but not to a whole neighborhood.
She said she has spoken to a supervisor and requested a written response, which she hasn’t received. Galloway said she too has attempted to investigate “opt out” choices, noting “why should we have to opt out when we didn’t opt in?” but so far neither Galloway nor Fields have results. “Doing it property by property is ridiculous,” Fields said. Fields and Galloway both said they have put in an inquiry to the City of Flint legal department to see if a litter ordinance might cover the deliveries. Resident Tony Palladeno suggested disgruntled residents contact M-Live publisher Dan Gaydou directly.
Galloway suggested both contacting Angela Wheeler, legal advisor for the City of Flint, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or 800-804-5788.
Two city council candidates speak
Incumbent Seventh Ward councilwoman Monica Galloway and longtime community activist Tony Palladeno were the only two candidates of 22 seeking the job so far to make their case to the CCNA for council election. Petitions are due April 25 to run in the Aug. 8 primary — when all nine council seats are up for grabs for four-year terms.
Galloway said, “I believe my record speaks of integrity — I don’t side with anything except what I believe is best for the community.”
Palladeno asserted he is running because “I have been seeing things I just don’t like, and I’m going to expose some things.” He said “I’m nothing more than a resident that can get dirty down in the pits,” adding that he would like to see more youth get involved in the city’s efforts to improve.
The next CCNA meeting will be 7-9 p.m. Thursday, May 18 at the Mott Community College RTC auditorium.
EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.