Roundup: Police reform, COVID-19, MLBEs, cannabis & more

Published on July 08, 2020

City Commission Roundup image via remote cameras

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids City Commission held its bimonthly meetings online Tuesday and heard updates on police reform efforts, COVID-19 economic recovery and the equitable Grand River restoration initiative. It also took action on cannabis, micro-local business enterprises, community-based programs and housing developments and set five public hearings, among other topics. Here’s a recap:

Police reform

City Manager Mark Washington and Police Chief Eric Payne provided an update on police reform efforts and recommended additional action steps. The new initiatives follow a series of operational changes to improve policing in Grand Rapids announced last month.

The following action steps were proposed during the morning Committee of the Whole meeting and approved by the City Commission during its evening meeting:

  • Create a civilian chief of staff position to assist the police chief in administration, strategic direction and innovation
  • Create a civilian public information officer in the police chief’s office
  • Create a position in the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability

The commission did not vote on a motion to decrease the police department’s budget to 32% of the City’s general operating budget as expected. The proposed budget amendment was not brought forward due to legal concerns.

The police department also plans to launch an online police reform metric dashboard Aug. 11. Initial metrics will include:

  • Number of police beats covered 24/7 365 days a year
  • Percentage of residents who feel safe
  • Number of community events the police department participates in and the number of sworn and non-sworn personnel who participate
  • Crime statistics
  • Officer and non-sworn staffing numbers
  • Demographics for existing police personnel, new hires and turnover 

Read more HERE.

COVID-19 recovery

Fire Chief John Lehman provided an update on the City’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). The team has:

  • Paired a police officer and a firefighter to cover 7 days a week 
  • Built trust with individuals experiencing homelessness and shelter organizations
  • Worked collaboratively with shelter organizations and individuals experiencing homelessness on COVID-19-related issues
  • Worked with the larger community on homeless matters

Lehman said HOT’s future needs include determining a permanent funding stream and the addition of a community social worker and mental health specialist.

Mobile GR and Parking Services Director Josh Naramore outlined the City’s economic recovery efforts related to parking. The City has:

  • Provided Motu parking validations to local businesses for customers and staff
  • Extended the free curbside pickup and drop-off program through July 31
  • Ended the three-month break on enforcement of metered parking

Read more HERE.

Lou Canfield, the City’s acting assistant director of design, development and community engagement, outlined the City’s economic recovery efforts around outdoor activation. So far, the city has four social zones, two in-process applications and at least two more applications expected.

The active social zones are:

  • Center City (Monroe Center)
  • Monroe North (various locations)
  • Heartside (Ionia and Fulton to Oakes)
  • Bridge Street (Summer to Winter)

The in-process applications are:

  • Leonard/Quarry
  • Bridge/Stocking

Canfield said City staff were working to minimize traffic and access impacts while maximizing outdoor space and coordinating adjacent social zones and restaurant-specific areas.

He also said social districts – “common areas” where customers of district permittees can mix and signed into law by the governor July 1 – will require City Commission action to designate the districts and sign off on permit applications. This is expected to be on the City Commission agenda July 21.

The commission also heard a presentation on economic recovery efforts related to community activation. City staff are partnering with community organizations on a five-week series of events and activities in September/October dubbed “The Bridge.” Events would be built around art and film, music and performance, culture and community, with an intentional focus on community expression and conversations on race, opportunity and the future of Grand Rapids.

The series would feature “pop-up” scheduled and unscheduled activities throughout Grand Rapids and focus on outdoor spaces, parks and social zones.

The commission also heard an update on GRow1000 – a youth employment program aimed at providing jobs for 1,000 young people. The initial applicants are 82% youth of color and most are younger than 17.

More than 430 applicants are scheduled to complete pre-employment training and finalize employment documents ahead of the July 13 start date. A total of 65 businesses, community organizations and individuals are sponsoring job placements or providing jobs. Job placements will continue and expand into the fall. 


The commission approved new measures meant to give more Grand Rapidians an opportunity to open and/or become employed by cannabis businesses in the city and improve social equity outcomes. The measures – part of the City of Grand Rapids Cannabis Justice Work Group’s social equity policy – also fast-track approval of medical and recreational cannabis businesses.

The social equity policy calls for:

  • Voluntary incentives to assign priority for zoning and licensing consideration of applicants deemed “equity” or “advancing equity” 
  • Establishment of a nonprofit by the City to extend social equity work. The nonprofit will incentivize equity-enhancing practices beyond the scope of what the City can do directly, including investing in the community and collaboration with cannabis stakeholders. 

Applications that do not voluntarily participate with a social equity plan will be processed after applications that include a social equity plan. 

Under the new rules, equity applicants are eligible for discounted cannabis license fees.

The licensing ordinance and zoning ordinance amendments fast-track the application process for cannabis facilities. These changes allow medical cannabis facilities and recreational cannabis retailers, growers, processors, secure transporters and safety compliance facilities – subject to certain limitations – to begin applying for local licenses starting July 20.

Read more HERE.

Micro-local business enterprise support

The commission approved up to four agreements with community business agencies to help increase the number of micro-local business enterprises (MLBEs) registered with the City in relation to equitable Grand River restoration initiative efforts. Two agreements are with Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) and West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (WMHCC), with up to two additional community partners not yet identified. Each agreement is not to exceed $15,000.

The goal is to increase the number of MLBEs registered to do work with the City with a specific focus on the following four construction areas:

  • Trucking
  • Excavation
  • Concrete
  • Landscaping

The commission also heard a presentation on the City’s new initiative to help MLBEs access dozens of upcoming river restoration contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The program’s primary goals are:

  • Ensure future restoration of the Grand River embeds racial and economic equity principles in the water and along the riverbanks
  • Decrease systemic barriers and register 30 to 40 small, minority- or woman-owned firms on the City’s MLBE list
  • Encourage local jobs and wealth creation
  • Create opportunities for capacity building within City partner agencies GRABB and WMHCC

Kent County-based small, minority- and woman-owned businesses that register will be eligible to bid on a host of river construction opportunities this fall and winter. The MLBE registration program goes through Oct. 31. Read more HERE.

Youth support

The commission approved a one-year $84,000 contract extension with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth for general administrative and managerial activities. The funding comes from the police department’s budget as in years past. It is part of the department’s commitment to promote the character and general welfare of youth through the establishment of recreational centers and similar projects to reduce juvenile crime and delinquency.

The commission also approved the police department’s continued support of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Kent County by authorizing a one-year $60,000 contract with the nonprofit organization. This

allows the department’s Family Services Unit to continue its longtime partnership with the center and provide ongoing expert multidisciplinary investigations of complaints regarding sexual abuse of children.

SAFE Task Force funding

The commission approved a $20,128 grant to Realism Is Loyalty and a $24,999.43 grant to Family Outreach Center to help facilitate growth in family units. The funding comes from the Safe Alliances For Everyone (SAFE) Task Force, which fosters meaningful partnerships with community organizations, businesses, public institutions, nonprofits and grassroots groups to help limit violence in the community. Prevention strategies are multi-faceted in scope and aimed to counteract risk factors that lead to delinquency and violence.

Realism is Loyalty will use the funding to provide therapeutic interventions to address unresolved trauma, grief and loss that often accompanies delinquent patterns of behavior, including but not limited to:

  • Assist the family in developing an awareness of how childhood issues have affected the family unit and understand patterns of interactions that often are repeated over generations
  • Assist the youth in resolving past childhood trauma or family issues, leading to less fear, anger and greater confidence and self-esteem
  • Assist the family in working through the grieving process and the letting-go process and reach the point of emotionally reconnecting as a family unit
  • Long-term treatment goals or therapeutic interventions for resolving parent-youth conflict in healthy ways
  • Resolve conflicting feelings the parent and youth may have that are associated with childhood traumas and assist the family in appropriate coping strategies to resolve these feelings

Twelve high-risk families over a six-month period are expected to be served through the grant. Read more HERE.

Family Outreach Center will use the funding to provide its trauma-informed parenting curriculum. Grand Rapids residents will learn and acquire skills, approaches and tools that will assist them in meeting the needs of youth who have experienced trauma and are at risk for delinquent or other negative behaviors. Services will focus on clinical needs and unmet social determinants of health.

The expected outcomes include:

  • Increased parental understanding of signs and symptoms of trauma
  • Improved parental ability to understand a child’s needs and behaviors
  • Increased healthy conflict resolution skills and strengthened positive interactions between parents and their child to facilitate resilience in youth

The peer support in this program will connect and educate families on services throughout Kent County to assist with food, shelter, clothing, transportation and medical providers, among others.

Family Outreach Center will offer eight four-week sessions with a goal of serving 48 parents. Read more HERE.

The SAFE Task Force understands the need to educate the public on practical living tools and mental health resources for parents and youth ages 15 to 24. Parents are critical in the lives of youth and set the foundation for values and behaviors. When families struggle with the many stressors of daily life and for some, past abuses, healthy family relationships often are compromised.

Tourism support

The commission approved a one-year $150,000 contract with Experience Grand Rapids for its marketing of Grand Rapids as a destination city. The organization’s efforts provide significant economic impact for the community.

Transitional housing

The commission approved the sale of 333 Brown St. SE and 632 Crescent St. NE to Next Step of West Michigan for short-term transitional housing in partnership with Mel Trotter Ministries. Next Step will pay $19,446 for the tax-foreclosed properties. 

The City acquired the properties from the Kent County treasurer and partnered with local nonprofit housing developers on possible rehabilitation for affordable housing. Several organizations conducted evaluations of the properties and determined the rehabilitation costs would be too high. Read more HERE.

Multi-family housing development

The commission set a July 21 vote on an amendment to a planned redevelopment district at 3059 Lake Michigan Drive NW. If approved, the amendment would allow for the construction of a multi-family housing development of roughly 240 units instead of the approved site plan of 24 single-family home sites on the Maynard Avenue-fronting portion of 3059 Lake Michigan Drive.

Public hearings

The commission set the following public hearings to take place during its 7 p.m. July 21 meeting:

  • Noise variance request by the Michigan Department of Transportation in connection with the I-196 bridge over the Grand River deck replacement and I-196 reconstruction between Fuller and Maryland avenues – details HERE
  • Brownfield plan amendment for a development project at 470 Market Ave. SW – details HERE
  • Obsolete property rehabilitation district at 470 Market Ave. SW – details HERE
  • Obsolete property rehabilitation exemption certificate at 470 Market Ave. SW – details HERE
  • Revised brownfield plan amendment at 10 Ionia Ave. NW – details HERE

For a complete look at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting agendas, CLICK HERE.

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