4A - Tuesday, September 7, 2010
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
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EDITOR IN CHIEF
RACHEL VAN GILDER
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
The economy is moving in a positive
direction. Jobs are being created. They're just not
being created as fast as they need to.
- President Barack Obama, discussing monthly unemployment numbers in the
United States, as reported last week by Time magazine.
JOSH BUOY AND STEPHANIE HAMEL|
Couch ban overlooks real problems
Unsigned editorials reflect the official position of the Daily's editorial board. All other signed articles
and illustrations represent solely the views of their authors.
Stop the vote
A2 City Council should delay vote on couch ban
tudents often ignore city politics. But the City Council's first
September meeting tonight shouldn't fly under students'
radar. After discussion during the summer, a vote on a pro-
posed ordinance to ban couches on porches has been scheduled for
tonight. Because students haven't been around en masse to raise
their objections, all sides of the issue haven't been given equal atten-
tion. City Council simply hasn't made any effort to give students a
chance to express their opinion on an ordinance that will primarily
affect them. City Council should delay voting on the ordinance until
students have a chance to voice their opinions.
The proposed ordinance to ban uphol-
stered furniture on porches was first intro-
duced to City Council in 2004 by the Ann
Arbor Fire Department. AAFD held that
porch couches were a fire hazard. Over the
years, City Council has reintroduced the
proposal several times, but it has always
been tabled indefinitely before it could
make it to a vote. In April, there were sev-
eral suspicious fires around the campus
area - one of which may have been started
with a porch couch and led to the death of
an' Eastern Michigan University student,
reinforcing the fire department's original
claims. The fires prompted City Council to
revisit the proposal.
The Daily reported in August that the vote
wouldn't take place until the Council's sec-
ond September meeting later in the month.
But according to Councilman Christopher
Taylor (D-Ward 3), the vote will actually
take place tonight - just a few days after'
most students arrived in Ann Arbor. And
students have been so busy settling in and
preparing for the beginning of the semes-
ter that they likely haven't been able to get
caught up on the City Council's recent activ-
ity. Because there isn't any student represen-
tation on City Council, students' opinions
haven't gotten any exposure.
The timing of the vote makes it seem that
City Council is trying to pass the ordinance
before students can express their views.
Many city residents support the ban -
when it was first introduced, many thought
porch couches were an eyesore, according
to Daily editorials from 2004 and 2005. But
absent students haven't been able to raise
their concerns about a ban that doesn't
address the core problem. The real con-
cern should be unsafe student houses that
aren't up to code and don't have proper fire
escapes and tenants who haven't been edu-
cated on fire safety. A blanket couch ban
won't solve that problem.
Since this ordinance will almost exclu-
sively affect students, it's unacceptable
that City Council hasn't given students
a chance to lobby for their interests. City
Council should wait until students are
established and have a chance to voice
objections before it holds a vote on such a
The relationships between the city, resi-
dents, students and the University have
always been tense. But there's no reason
for City Council to strong-arm an ordi-
nance into existence without consulting the
students that it will primarily affect. City
Council should delay the vote on the ordi-
nance until council members can hear both
sides of the debate.
As many remember from last year, disaster struck 928
State Street in April when an off-campus house caught fire,
leading to the unfortunate passing of one of its residents -
Renden LeMasters, a 22-year-old Eastern Michigan Univer-
sity student. Months after this tragic event, our thoughts
and condolences are still with the LeMasters family during
what certainly remains a difficult timein their lives. As both
a college campus and a part of the Ann Arbor community,
we must now reflect upon how to best prevent a similar trag-
edyfrom recurringin the nearfuture.
The Ann Arbor City Council has proposed an ordi-
nance change to the Ann Arbor City Code, which prohib-
its the "storage of furniture not intended or designed for
outdoor use on exterior balconies, porches, decks, land-
ings, or other areas exposed to the weather." The Coun-
cil's reasoning behind this potential ban derives from the
fact that furniture intended for indoor use is oftentimes
more flammable than its outdoor counterparts, and thus
can perpetuate a fire. When discussing a matter as critical
as student safety, however, it is essential that focus solely
remains on the well-being of the students and not drift
to other debates - like the aesthetics of the city - which
have often arisen within the non-student community
over this issue. With this in mind, we hope to convey to
City Council that the proposed'couch ban' - to which the
ordinance is regularly referred - is assuredly not the best
action to take to improve fire safety.
As the chair and vice-chair of the Michigan Student
Assembly Campus Safety Commission, it is our role to
provide the student body with safety information relating
to all areas of University life. In light of last spring's fires,
we looked into fire safety regulations for both on- and off-
campus housing, and we were startled by the relative void
of protocol and procedures within off-campus homes.
With such a large and varied network of landlords
and homeowners, safety regulations and suggestions
are at times erratically maintained in off-campus hous-
ing, as home inspections are currently mandated only
once every 30 months by the city. Additionally, there is
no active, city-regulated community of landlords and ten-
ants to encourage and ensure that fire safety and personal
security are maintained in student homes, thus bringing
about increasingly unsafe residences. Therefore, the best
way to combat safety-ignorance at the student level is for
the city to collaborate with the University to implement a
series of standards and provide resources regarding fire
safety to all students. By simply banning sofas on front
porches, City Council is, in effect, combating against stu-
dents instead of working with them to promote genuine
Further, while it can't be denied that keeping indoor
furniture outside puts residents at risk in the case of a
fire, there are many other risks that are equally - if not
more - crucial to ensuring the safety of a home. Setting
up a grill, leaving out bags of garbage, owning whicker or
wood furniture, and disposing of cigarette butts on front
porches are hazardous behaviors that can cause or accel-
erate a fire, yet these practices would not be addressed
under the new ordinance. Also, smoke detectors in off-
campus homes are irregularly monitored and are some-
times intentionally tampered with, but these life-saving
devices are not included in any increased regulations.
Perhaps most notably, some off-campus homes do not
include emergency or alternative exits, and - as was the
case in last April's fire - the only way out remains the
front-porch entrance. Again, at least as of now, nothing
looks to be in the works to resolve this matter.
While well intentioned, we see the proposed outdoor
couch ban as merely a knee-jerk reaction to a much big-
ger issue. If this ordinance is passed, it is our fear that
the community-at-large will think that great measures
have been taken to improve student safety, yet in real-
ity, little will have actually been accomplished. On Sept.
21 at 4:30 p.m. in MSA Chambers, we will be hosting a
Campus Neighbors meeting to bring together off-and-on-
campus residents in order to improve communication and
share pertinent safety information, and we hope that City
Council will join us in this effort. Instead of requiring by
law that students adhere to one specific faction-of safety
advice (when so many more exist), City Council should
be willing and excited to step up, reach out and create
meaningful, widespread change. They should work with
the student body, discover its needs and collaborate with
the University to make an actual difference - instead of
banning couches and calling ita day.
Josh Buoy and Stephanie Hamel are the chair and
vice-chair of the MSA Campus Safety Commission.
Engaging with the Daily
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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR v
Couch ban protects students
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Editor in Chief
After a month-long process, the Ann Arbor City Coun-
cil will consider whether or not to pass an ordinance
to ban porch couches tonight. This vote was originally
scheduled for the middle of August, but City Council pur-
posefully delayed the vote to ensure that students would
have the opportunity to weigh in on and learn about a
measure that is important to them.
The goal of the porch couch ban ordinance is to reduce
the risk of exterior fires and to thereby create a safer
environment for residents and our housing stock. The
ordinance achieves this goal by prohibiting the outdoor
storage of upholstered furniture designed for indoor use.
This prohibition furthers our goal of reducing risk to per-
sons and property not because couches are inherently
dangerous, but because they are a large source of fuel for
fires. Storing large flammable objects on porches is inher-
So why is a piece of furniture that is safe indoors haz-
ardous when stored out doors?
Fire requires fuel, oxygen and heat to burn. These
three elements, plus time, allow a fire to grow. Indoors,
a couch is benign because the oxygen element is limited
and there is greater likelihood of detection - via smoke
alarms, fire alarms, occupants and/or fire suppression
systems. Outdoors, a couch is a latent hazard because the
oxygen element is unlimited and detection depends upon
bystander observation. Based on this information from
fire safety experts it is irrefutable that a porch couch is at
least a theoretical hazard. It is therefore reasonable to ask
whether it is a hazard in the real world.
According to records provided by Ann Arbor Fire Mar-
shal Kathleen Chamberlain, since 2000, there have been
three indoor fires in the city of Ann Arbor the origin of
which has been attributed to upholstered furniture. Over
that same period, there have been 93 outdoor fires in
Ann Arbor that are attributable to upholstered furniture.
Porch couch fires are not some minor risk that prompts
a knee-jerk, nanny-state solution. They are a real-world
problem that requires action.
Couch porch fires in Ann Arbor have resulted in mil-
lions of dollars in damages, many injuries and, tragically,
one fatality. As most of you :know, there was a house fire
in April on State Street and a man died. He was a student
much like you. His name was Renden Lemasters. The
exact circumstances of this fire are still under investi-
gation, but there are some certainties: The massive fire
started on the porch and there was a couch on the porch.
I was once a student here at the University. I know that
many of a student's best memories and strongest relation-
ships are forged with friends, idling away the hours on a
porch couch, talking politics, relationships, sports, class-
es, etc. I know that these times are an important part of
the college experience.
This proposed ordinance will not change any of that.
What it will do is ensure that tenants, occupants, man-
agement companies and property owners all are required
to keep upholstered indoor furniture indoors.
So pool your resources, hit up your parents, find some
outdoor furniture, then sit on your porch and enjoy your-
selves. Be a college student and live and learn. We are
delighted that you are here and hope that you enjoy your
time in Ann Arbor - in fact, we hope you'll decide to stay
after graduation. But whether you are here for a semes-
ter or, like me, decide to make Ann Arbor your home, it is
our obligation on Council to ensure that everyone in the
city is safe from reasonably preventable and non-obvious
hazards. That's why I hope that Ann Arbor will join cities
such as Kalamazoo, Boulder, Madison, West Fayette and,
yes, Columbus, in taking this moderate step to prevent
unnecessary and tragic loss, injury and death.
Christopher Taylor is a City Council
member representing the Third Ward.
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