City Council approves resolution on affordable housing, climate action, pedestrian safety

Monday, April 1, 2019 - 9:44pm

Ann Arbor City Mayor Christopher Taylor listens to a Michigan Student at a City Council meeting at City Hall Monday evening.

Ann Arbor City Mayor Christopher Taylor listens to a Michigan Student at a City Council meeting at City Hall Monday evening. Buy this photo
Claire Meingast/Daily

At Monday’s session of the Ann Arbor City Council, several student organizations, including the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, the Climate Action Movement and Roosevelt Institute, as well Ann Arbor residents, spoke to urge city councilmembers to support a resolution to direct funds to address affordable housing, climate action and pedestrian safety.

The county levied a new tax that started in December to provide for county mental health and county sheriff’s services. However, a quarter of the proceeds have been returned to several cities that fund their own police departments to be used at their discretion. Ann Arbor is set to receive $2.2 million from the partial rebate. This resolution would direct the returns from the countywide millage to address affordable housing, climate action and pedestrian safety.

The resolution was sponsored by Mayor Chris Taylor and Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, and passed 6-4, with Councilmembers Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, and Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, voting no. The resolution mirrors Taylor’s 40-40-20 policy, a plan that pledged 40 percent of funds for affordable housing, 40 percent for climate action and 20 percent for pedestrian safety.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Student Advisory Council presented their annual report, which made recommendations regarding several issues impacting the student community.

SAC advises local government and institutions on issues impacting all students of Ann Arbor. The SAC was formed in 2017 and consists of two undergraduate students appointed by the Central Student Government, two graduate students, two students from local high schools and a city councilmember liaison.

Though their report did not specifically address the millage allocation resolution, they touched on many similar themes. SAC Chair and Engineering junior Kenji Yeoh said the group focused on two key issues: campus safety and housing affordability. SAC urged councilmembers to continue to allocate funds for affordable housing and to create more affordable housing units.

“The student population continues to grow, putting a strain on the housing system in Ann Arbor,” Yeoh said. “There has not been enough progress on creating more affordable housing units.”

College Democrats Chair Ruby Schneider, LSA junior, later voiced her support during public comments for the resolution. Schneider said currently Ann Arbor is not addressing climate change and needs to make changes to do so.

“To date, the city has never devoted more than 0.2 percent of its budget to climate action — this must change,” Schneider said. “The 40-40-20 plan addresses issues that are critical to the future of Ann Arbor.”

LSA sophomore Devan O’Toole, a member of the Roosevelt Institute and the Climate Action Movement, spoke in support of the resolution. He emphasized the urgency for intergenerational partnerships to respond to climate change and affordable housing.

“We from the student community urge City Council to uphold the 40-40-20 tax revenue plan because we’re in this fight together to preserve an equitable and sustainable future for Ann Arbor,” O’Toole said.

Ramlawi then said though he supports actions to address affordable housing and climate action, he does not support the resolution. Ramlawi said the city recently received results from a resident survey that did not list affordable housing, climate action or pedestrian safety as top issues. Ramlawi said he was concerned the entire $2.2 million of the returns from the countywide millage would go toward issues that residents did not indicate as their top priorities.

“It doesn’t give us any money for any other issues,” Ramlawi said. “It spends all 2.2 million (from the county millage) without addressing any of our other priorities.”

Ramlawi also shared concerns the resolution would spend a huge portion of the funds. While Ramlawi commented on how he felt there’s no room in the budget for this resolution now, citizens in the audience objected, arguing climate change was happening now.

“I don’t see any money for this right now,” Ramlawi said. “We’re at a high watermark right now in our city’s budget. We’re in fortunate times, but I don’t think we’ll always be in this position, and we are setting some very high floors at a time when we’re at a high watermark in our budget.”

Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, spoke in support of the resolution.

“If we can’t get those basic services right, on time and every time, we have issues,” Ackerman said. “What we don’t fund is affordable action. We don’t fund climate action. We’re getting better at pedestrian safety, but it has a long way to go.”

While Taylor asserted the proposed resolution was separate from his 40-40-20 plan, Hayner criticized the resolution and suggested the policy, which was introduced in 2017, an election year for the mayor, was a political move.

“It’s basically 40-40-20 by a different name,” Hayner said.

Prior to the council comments on the resolution, , Ackerman read a statement addressing reports of his drunk driving arrest, which were released last week. After rear-ending another vehicle, Ackerman was arrested by officers of the Novi Police Department around 5:35 p.m. on Jan. 2 for driving under the influence.

Ackerman apologized to the “innocent driver” he rear-ended and all members of the Ann Arbor community. He stated though he regrets his decision to drive while impaired, the arrest helped him to seek treatment for alcohol dependency. Ackerman criticized some of his fellow councilmembers for making comments online accusing Ackerman of hiding his arrest. Ackerman claims his intention was not to hide his arrest and is currently seeking treatment for his alcohol dependency.

“I cannot tell you how terrifying it was to know that I could’ve directly hurt another individual,” Ackerman said. “Sitting here today, I can’t change my actions on January 2nd. However, I hope to set an example for others. I hope to set an example of how you can respond to addiction.”