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Thursday, December 26,2013

The year in review

LGBT rights, the war on drugs and more highlights from 2013’s news cycle

by Andy Balaskovitz
In 2013, the nation watched President Obama’s signature health-care law’s tumultuous beginnings, Republicans continued their attack against women and the poor and a National Security Agency contractor leaked the beans on Big Brother.

(What’s up with amnesty for Edward Snowden, Mr. President?) Similarly, greater Lansing saw its share of ups and downs and all-arounds in 2013. Here’s the City Pulse news desk’s year in review:

One Capital Region’s rights fight As we cope with bearded hunting salesmen and King Bigotry himself, Dave Agema, Greater Lansing can take comfort in the fact that local elected officials are fighting for equal protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.

With lobbying efforts led by an organization called One Capital Region, Delta, Delhi and Meridian Townships joined Lansing and East Lansing with ordinances barring discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual preference. The group tallies 30 Michigan municipalities with such policies.

The Okemos 7 and the Greens Another year, another batch of victims in the war on drugs. Over the summer, seven local men were handed prison sentences of varying lengths (the longest was four years) for their role in a collective medical marijuana grow operation in Okemos. The “Okemos 7” were busted by Drug Enforcement Administration agents even though the group went to great lengths for transparency, even telling local police what they were doing and filing a federal tax ID.

Then there was the story of an overzealous state Department of Human Services that attempted to remove a then-6-monthold girl from her Lansing home because her parents, Steve and Maria Green, were medical marijuana patients and caregivers. While their daughter, Bree, was removed from the home temporarily to live with Maria Green’s mother in Port Huron, the Greens scored a victory in the end with Ingham County

Probate Judge Richard Garcia’s decision to return Bree to her parents. The case raised the dubious issue: Does growing marijuana in a home inherently endanger a child?

Council chambers go quiet John Pollard and Darnell Oldham Sr. — the late Lansing City Council regulars with a knack for dramatic speeches — passed away this year after battles with cancer. The Council chambers grew noticeably quiet during the public-comment portion of meetings.

Those interviewed in City Pulse stories described the men as passionate about their city and that their attacking style at the podium was not indicative of their friendly demeanor outside of City Hall.

Michigan Flyer defeats airport alarmists After a contentious and highly political debate over Michigan Flyer’s expanding the number of its daily trips between East Lansing and Ann Arbor, the company was given approval by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission for a federal grant to do so.

By a 10-9 vote, the commission OK’d Michigan Flyer’s acceptance of the federal grant. But the debate expanded beyond the commission, as the business community tried to make the case that helping the Flyer means hurting the airport — and Lansing’s general economic viability. City Councilwoman Carol Wood and Mayor Virg Bernero made rare bedfellows by siding with the airport.

It remains to be seen whether the airport will feel any effect at all, but the immediate impact was giving travelers more transportation options.

Cristo Rey merger planned, held up, then canceled In fall 2012, members of Lansing’s Hispanic community drew attention to the Diocese of Lansing’s plans to merge Cristo Rey Community Center with St. Vincent’s Catholic Charities — a move they feared would strip the organization of its Hispanic identity.

To be sure, Cristo Rey has had its funding issues in recent years, largely due to the economic downturn, officials have said. After pressure from a citizens group, the Diocese called off merger plans in May. By September, Executive Director Joseph Garcia was brought on to help steer the ship after the merger was called off.

More attention to cold cases Following a March 13 City Pulse cover story about disorganization within the city’s Police Department related to unsolved homicides, Mayor Virg Bernero created a new police position in his fiscal year 2014 budget for a cold-case detective.

“We need to do more to get to the bottom of these cases and give the families hope,” Bernero said after the story was published.

To market to market
A pair of grocery-store announcements in East Lansing and Meridian Township has called into question the viability of at least three locally owned grocers.

In August, Whole Foods announced plans to open a new store in Meridian Township in 2015 near the East Lansing Food Co-op and Foods for Living. The township board approved plans for the development to move forward, and experts predict ELFCO and Foods for Living will experience at least a slight decrease in sales.

Meanwhile, in East Lansing, time appears to be running out for Goodrich’s Shop-Rite, which has had roots in the Lansing community for 76 years. Developer Kevin McGraw wants to redesign Trowbridge Plaza with mixed-use residential and retail spaces, though it appears Goodrich’s doesn’t have the resources to stay in a spot that requires higher rent. A “cutting edge, organic market” is waiting in the wings, he said.

BWL stakes claim in REO Town Five years after initial plans for a new Lansing Board of Water and Light power plant surfaced, 2013 marked the opening of a new co-generation natural-gas plant in the heart of REO Town. With the plant, the publicly owned utility cut its carbon dioxide emissions from the Eckert Plant in half.

As REO Town’s anchor tenant, in a sense, anticipation builds for the neighborhood’s renaissance since its early-20th century boom.

Niowave makes peace with neighbors In July 2012, Niowave Inc. broke ground on a new $10 million expansion in the middle of Lansing’s Walnut Neighborhood to much fanfare — though not much of it came from the neighborhood itself. That expansion — which resulted in the infamous blue and white pole barn — led to a 14-month-long battle between the company and neighbors over its appearance.

An agreement was reached in September to redesign the fašade, which the neighbors sought all along. Another result of the Niowave saga was a new citywide policy to prevent such unsightly mishaps in the future.

Bernero, looking at Lansing Township, pushes for consolidation Perhaps more so than at any other point in his eight-year tenure, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero was an outspoken supporter for a metro Lansing region, particularly consolidating Lansing Township with the city.

“How about dissolving all of Lansing Township? That’s my idea. Police, fire, you name it. Whatever it is, let’s absorb it,” Bernero said as recently as October.

Township officials, however, aren’t as enthused. Supervisor Shirley Rodgers stopped returning City Pulse’s phone calls seeking comment.

Outside of the township, support is growing for Bernero’s idea. However, most will say the plan would need to be executed diplomatically, an apparent criticism of the mayor.

“Eye Candy of the Week,” our look at some of the nicer properties in Lansing, returns next week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail eye@lansingcitypulse.com or call Andy Balaskovitz at 999-5064.

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