‘It will be a marathon and not a sprint’: City Council discusses city response to COVID-19, passes funding for carbon neutrality plan

Tuesday, April 21, 2020 - 12:00am

City councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, speaks at the virtual Ann Arbor council meeting Monday evening.

City councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, speaks at the virtual Ann Arbor council meeting Monday evening. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Barbara Collins

The Ann Arbor City Council met virtually Monday night to discuss the city’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 crisis and funding for a billion-dollar carbon neutrality plan

At the beginning of the meeting, councilmembers sat for a moment of silence for former Councilmember Graydon Krapohl, who passed away Wednesday at age 59 after a battle with cancer. He represented Ward 4 until 2018.

Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, spoke on Krapohl’s humility, selflessness and deep understanding of organizations and leadership. 

“There are so many things that you could say about his love for his family, service to our country, care that he took for his neighbors — so much so that one of his neighbors told me that there wasn’t a message that went out to the neighborhood association, initially, about his death because he was the one who did that for his neighbors,” Grand said. 

Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, said he served with Krapohl for many years and was sad to see someone so young pass. 

“I found him to be a true gentleman with a subtle sense of humor,” Eaton said. “He dedicated his life to public service, including the military and public office. He was a pleasure to serve with. He was a brave man who fought a terrible disease with dignity and grace. My sympathies go out to his daughter and his wife. We all share the grief of the loss of our former colleague.” 

The council also debated whether to pass funding for the carbon neutrality plan immediately or to wait and amend it. 

Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, suggested the council postpone passing A2Zero or amend it to integrate a full funding plan. She listed reasons she believed the plan was not ready to be implemented, including a likely new city tax to fund the initiative. 

“One, we do not have a funding plan for the city actions which are at least $140 million and upwards of $300 million if you consider Park and Ride and the landfill solar facility,” Lumm said. “Two, the strategies and actions have a wide disparity in their cost-benefit and we do not have a framework or mechanism to prioritize them. Three, the city and our citizens are facing uncertain economic and financial impacts from COVID-19. Four, we are simultaneously embarking on another multi-million dollar initiative: affordable housing.”

Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, said reducing carbon emissions by 2030 becomes increasingly expensive with every moment the council waits to take action. 

“Climate change does not give us the luxury of time. We cannot wait, even for a fortnight, to get moving with this effort,” Smith said. “We need to be using every second of the time afforded to us to plan how we function post-COVID-19 and to make sure carbon neutrality is the underlying tenet of everything we do.” 

The council voted to implement the plan and approved an amendment included by Lumm to clarify funding sources for the initiative.  

With the council set to approve funding for a resolution adopting the A2Zero carbon neutrality Plan, community members voiced both their support and concerns for the initiative. 

Mike Shriberg, Ann Arbor resident and Great Lakes regional executive director at National Wildlife Federation, urged the council to approve the funding for the carbon neutrality plan. He said the previous climate action plans suffered from lack of resources and focus, but the current plan is ambitious yet achievable. 

“We need to flatten the curve of climate change just as surely as we need to flatten the curve of COVID-19,” Shriberg said. 

Other speakers discussed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the community. Representatives from Ann Arbor’s public-private safety net Washtenaw Coordinated Funders presented updates and challenges for providing relief to community members and businesses throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The representatives said food bank donations have fallen by 40 percent while demand quadrupled, local businesses have requested $4.7 million in relief in relief from a fund of only $1.3 million and older adults have faced increased challenges with social isolation measures due to uneven access to broadband. 

Pam Smith, chief executive officer of United Way of Washtenaw County, said the crisis has revealed racial, geographic and socioeconomic disparities across Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. Smith and Teresa Gillotti, director of the Ann Arbor Office of Community and Economic Development, highlighted unique obstacles for immigrants whose second language is English. 

“Just imagine if you were trying to do any kind of paperwork online or any kind of internet form and English was your second language,” Smith said. “It’s so hard already, let alone having another hurdle in front of you.”

Neel Hajra, chief executive officer of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, said councilmembers must use data and keep inequities in mind when making difficult decisions that lie ahead.

“Now more than ever, we have laid bare the inequities in our community and specifically in the city of Ann Arbor as well as Washtenaw County,” Hajra said. “And so as you make hard decisions, and all of our decisions are hard these days in how to allocate resources, we all encourage you to keep equity in mind. Because the reality is, as the data shows, that some are affected much more than others.” 

Tom Crawford, interim city administrator and chief financial officer of the City of Ann Arbor presented projections for this year and next year’s budget, estimating tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue. He said if the University of Michigan’s football season is canceled or if University classes are moved online in the fall, the city’s budget will be even further impacted. 

“The recovery we will have from this, it will be a marathon and not a sprint,” Crawford said. “We will need to pace ourselves for these events.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Julia Rubin can be reached at julrubin@umich.edu