After four new Councilmembers were sworn into office Monday night, Ann Arbor City Council unanimously passed a resolution to appropriate $250,000 in funds for the Office of Sustainability and Innovation to use for a variety of programs, including “net zero energy” affordable housing, three electric vehicle charging stations, and climate “resilience hubs.” The resolution stood as a replacement for another supported by City Councilmembers Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 4, Chip Smith, D-Ward 5 and Mayor Christopher Taylor, which included $65,000 in additional funds and ultimately failed to pass.
The failed resolution was first postponed during the Oct. 15 meeting in which councilmembers could not come to a general consensus on the issue.
Rackham students Jennifer Carman and Samantha Basile are both involved with climate change action both in their studies and participation in environmental groups both on campus and within Ann Arbor. Both Carman and Basile are residents of Ward 1. Basile said passing the resolution would have further committed the city to its climate action policies.
“I think it will be following through with their stance,” Basile said. “Right now, people assume that because Ann Arbor is progressive in so many other ways that we assume their sustainability goals and their climate action programs, but they actually haven’t done much in terms of implementing their goals.”
The resolution has been controversial because of how the money was acquired. In November 2017, Ann Arbor residents voted to in favor of a millage that allocated funds towards mental health facilities and public safety, though Council has reconsidered millage funds to go toward things like affordable housing and climate action which were not initially included in the ballot proposal passed by voters. The passed resolution, sponsored by Councilmembers Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, and Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, appropriated funding from the City’s general fund rather than millage funds.
Carman said she understands the controversy but feels climate action is already underfunded in the city.
“On the one hand, I recognize that it’s complicated,” Carman said. “The source of the controversy is not that money is being taken away from mental health. It’s that there’s people who believe there should be additional funding for mental health. My feeling is that it’s not being taken away from mental health. It’s adding money that can go to something else.”
Ann Arbor Resident Ryan Hughes, who was defeated by City Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1 during the 2018 election, questioned how the city will fund climate action, affordable housing and pedestrian safety without the revenues to do so.
“If millage money isn’t how we think these things should be funded, then well how do you intend to (fund these)?” Hughes said.
Bannister’s and Eaton’s proposal originally only funded net zero energy affordable housing and the three EV charging stations, but Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, successfully proposed an amendment to include funding for resilience hubs and implementation research for solar installations on city properties.
Regarding the Office of Sustainability and Innovation’s budget, Eaton said climate action should not be addressed by creating new government entities.
“I really believe that we have as our core value the desire to address climate change and that it should not be accomplished through setting up a new bureaucracy and pouring money into a new department,” Eaton said.
Ackerman said the resolution does not create new bureaucracy in the city, but rather shares the city’s values with city employees.
“This isn’t establishing another bureaucracy because it’s as simple as making sure every single department at this city hall share our values and live those values at their 9-5 every single day,” Ackerman said.
Basile believes Bannister and Eaton want to address climate action in specific ways rather than holistically.
“The responses from Eaton and Bannister (seem like) ‘We like the plan but we don’t like where the funding is coming from,” Basile said. “Now, they’re saying ‘We like the plan but we’re gonna decide what parts to fund instead of taking it as a whole way to address these promises that we made.’”
Smith said the time to take action is critical due to the time period humans have to address climate change before damage is irreversible.
“I understand where Councilmember Eaton is coming from by saying it’s not critical,” Smith said. “I look at the United Nations’ International Climate Change Organization paper that came out that we have 12 years to turn this around. That seems pretty damn critical to me.”
Ann Arbor Resident Brian Chambers supported both amendments to the budget, specifically due to natural disasters throughout the nation that could cause migration north.
“We’ve got a good climate generally,” Chambers said. “Now it’s like ‘everyone knows’ and they’re gonna move here. Our challenge to sustainability as it ties to affordable housing is that they’re tied together.”
Council also voted to purchase four automated side loading refuse trucks and postponed a vote to authorize a lower town area mobility study and appropriate street funding.
Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, quoted a previous Michigan Daily article regarding a blind student’s experience using the crosswalk at the intersection of E. Madison and State Street. Commenting on the mobility study, Griswold critiqued the Council for what she says is inadequate use of data and public guidelines.
“We don’t use the data we have,” Griswold said. “We don’t follow federal and state guidelines and it troubles me that we would do yet another plan when we do not have crosswalk design guidelines and we do not have safe crosswalks.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article was published with the headline, “City Council votes down appropriation of funds toward climate action”. The headline has been changed and additional information has been added to the story for accuracy.