Ann Arbor City Council convened virtually Monday evening to discuss the development of an unarmed safety response team, support for the University of Michigan’s President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, an amendment to the housing rental period and a resolution to condemn anti-Asian hate crimes.
The council discussed DC-3, a resolution that would task the city administrator with investigating different pathways for developing an unarmed first responder program for mental health crises within the Ann Arbor community. According to the proposal, police officers are currently responding in situations that would be better handled by trained mental health, public health and human services professionals.
“We ask our police to do too much in our community that they are called upon to do things where they do not have expertise,” Mayor Christopher Taylor said. “And yet, there are subject matter experts among us — that is to say there are mental health experts and staff among us, there are human services experts among us, public health experts among us.”
Ann Arbor resident Paul Fleming spoke in support of the resolution, saying it is a decision supported by evidence and is a step in the right direction toward supporting those going through mental health crises.
“Rethinking how we approach public safety so we don’t rely on police is in-line with evidence based public health best practices,” Fleming said. “Current policing practices have spillover effects on entire communities, particularly communities of color, making people who live in areas that are aggressively policed more likely to suffer mental health issues and have physical health ailments.”
Many other councilmembers also expressed their enthusiasm for the resolution, citing examples around the country where unarmed first responders could have prevented a deadly outcome and instances of police brutality.
“This program is far overdue and it has serious needs and consequences,” Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said. “A call to the police should not be the last call you make when you’re calling for help. And unfortunately, for a lot of people it is—with mental illness or struggling with something they could easily be helped with.”
The council also noted specifics not addressed within the resolution, including lack of knowledge about where funding would come from. At a March 16 meeting, City Council had voted to use revenue from recreational marijuana excise taxes to fund social equity programs that support individuals impacted by the “War on Drugs.”
Leading up to Monday’s vote, many community members, including the Washtenaw County-based advocacy group Liberate Don’t Incarcerate, expressed concerns that the program could be tied to the police department despite the fact that it would serve as an alternative to policing and had asked for the resolution to be delayed.
City Administrator Tom Crawford said the process of exploring options would entail a more thorough investigation into where to get funding. Councilmembers also stressed to Crawford the importance of community engagement in this process.
“I think this is a huge effort that we’re undertaking and we need to be thinking about what those costs are right now, and that there should be something in our budget that we’re adopting if we’re serious about this,” Councilmember Erica Briggs, D-Ward 5, said.
One of Liberate Don’t Incarcerate’s reasons for wanting the resolution tabled was that they felt there had not been “meaningful participation” with community-led groups.
The council unanimously voted to pass the DC-3 resolution.
The council also discussed another resolution, DC-2, that supports the PCCN’s recommendations to reach carbon neutrality for direct emissions across all three campuses by 2025, though with the controversial use of carbon offsets.
In 2019, University President Mark Schlissel announced the creation of the PCCN with the goal of reducing carbon emissions put out by the University and ultimately achieving carbon neutrality. The announcement came in response to sustained community activism that put pressure on the University to commit to achieving carbon neutrality. After the PCCN was created, student activists continued to protest for greater transparency, leading 10 students to be arrested for trespassing.
In December 2020, the PCCN proposed a series of actions and recommendations for public review and commentary. This public review concluded in February 2021 when the commission finalized their recommendations and submitted it to Schlissel and the Board of Regents for approval. At a March 25 Board of Regents meeting, the University voted to disinvest in fossil fuel companies and committed to a net-zero investment portfolio by 2050, again after years of activism from campus groups.
According to Melissa Stults, Ann Arbor’s sustainability and innovations manager as well as a PCCN member, the city’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 uses carbon offsets and indirect carbon emissions because Ann Arbor does not have the resources to make a complete change in infrastructure.
“The city doesn’t have all of the levers in our disposal to be able to do things like, remove all gas stations or all natural gas connections that exist within homes or within businesses,” Stults said. “And so offsets became part of the conversation from a more rational interpreting role.”
Stults said the city is attempting to achieve as close to carbon neutrality as possible, but offsets will still be part of the equation.
Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D Ward-1, raised concerns about how supporting the PCCN’s proposals correlates with Ann Arbor’s goals as a city. Hayner said members of Washtenaw350, an environmental organization, have reached out asking for the council to not support this bill in protest, saying the PCCN’s proposal is not enough to truly address climate change.
“(Washtenaw350) folks have been reaching out to me saying, ‘Please don’t say yes to this because we don’t feel it’s strong enough, and we don’t know enough about their solutions,’” Hayner said.
However, Hayner also said he is concerned the University will look negatively at a decision not to pass the resolution and use the City Council’s disapproval against them. According to Hayner, residents are also concerned about the future of the University’s recently-built power plant and what role this will play in the University’s ability to reach its carbon neutrality goal, a controversial addition to campus in the last few years.
Stults said the PCCN considered the power plant in the creation of this proposal but noted that they were told closing the power plant and reallocating energy sources was not possible.
“It was explicitly stated that the commission was not to take on the issue of divestment, or was not to take on the issue of closing the central power station power plant,” Stults said. “We (PCCN) believe that both of those things need to be identified in a world-class institution tackling climate change, but that was about as far as we could go, and the call not to take on the power plant investment came directly from the president at our group. So that was sort of considered off the table.”
DC-2 in support of the PCCN’s proposal for carbon neutrality was passed unanimously by City Council.
The council then moved on to discussing the C-1 ordinance to extend the period of time landlords must wait before starting to show apartments to potential tenants. Currently, landlords are only required to wait 70 days before they are able to show the property to prospective tenants. The ordinance would increase the wait time to 240 days.
Students have long criticized the 70-day requirement and lack of affordable housing options, with many saying they are forced to search for housing before they know exactly what their plans for the next year will be or who they will still be friends with. This practice became particularly problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic, when students were required to sign leases without knowing whether classes will resume in-person next fall.
But during the public comment section, multiple landlords spoke against the resolution, claiming that the extended period will add more stress to students. Natalie Forshee, director of property management at Cabrio Properties, said this ordinance will negatively impact the housing market.
“It is my understanding that graduate students in the Graduate Employees’ Organization proposed this extension, but it could ultimately disenfranchise a larger student body of undergraduates who need to seek housing early in the leasing cycle,” Forshee said. “While I truly understand the desire to protect privacy and livelihood, this proposed extension will negatively impact the very people you are trying to protect.”
Prior to Monday’s meeting, Prime Student Housing sent an email out to tenants, obtained by The Daily, with a list of claims on why the proposed ordinance would adversely affect undergraduate students. Prime Student Housing also sent out template emails to tenants “if (they were) inclined to share (their) opinions with the mayor, city council and the city attorney.”
“We believe (the proposed ordinance) adversely impacts you and the preferences you have demonstrated over the years,” the email reads. “Agree or disagree, we thought you should know.”
The ordinance — which was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, and Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, — was born out of frustrations from GEO regarding the unfair housing timeline.
“This (current 70-day ordinance) forces tenants to make a commitment that is very difficult to get out of, and it puts a lot of pressure on people who really do not know where they’re going to be that far in advance, and it forces people to make difficult decisions that they’re really not prepared to make at that time,” GEO Secretary and Rackham student Amir Fleischmann told The Daily previously. “As this current ordinance stands, it gives landlords legal license to bully tenants into resigning their lease before they’re ready.”
City Council unanimously decided to postpone this resolution until the first week of June, stating that the meetings in May have too many proposals to allocate enough time to discuss this proposal.
The council also discussed DC-4, a resolution condemning the increase in hate crimes against the Asian and Asian American communities in the last year. The resolution notes that since the pandemic, more than 30% of Asian Americans across the country have reported being subjected to discrimination, with 68% of reports coming from women.
“I’m glad we live in a progressive community that understands what progressive language looks like, but action is different,” Councilmember Linh Song, D-Ward 2, said. “This is action. This is not even a budgeted item. It’s supposed to give comfort to a community that calls me with legitimate concerns and fears.”
The resolution passed unanimously.