University alum William Leaf, a 2012 graduate, is challenging incumbent Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) for her 1st Ward City Council seat.

In anticipation of the upcoming Aug. 4 Democratic primary election, Briere and Leaf discussed their goals and oftentimes contrasting priorities.

The 1st Ward divides Central Campus in half. Extending from the Law Quad to beyond North Campus, it is exemplary of the thin lines that exist between city and campus. According to a study conducted by The Michigan Daily in February, 24.54 percent of students are registered in the 1st Ward, making it the second-highest student-registered ward after the 2nd Ward.

Briere, a University alum and an Ann Arbor resident since 1973, said that prior to getting involved with City Council she worked a number of jobs. Her last job was for a nonprofit organization which she lost due during the recession.

“Why do I run again? Part of that reason is that I think I am really effective in what I am doing. That feeling of effectiveness is remarkably rewarding,” she said.

Briere has retained her seat since her first appointment in November 2007. Briere characterizes herself as a City Council member who acts independently — a strategy she says she tried to maintain in what she found to be a divided City Council in the past.

“I don’t make decisions based on who else is supporting something, and I don’t make decisions based on personal loyalties,” she said. “I make decisions based, as much as I can, on the facts in front of me. Even when I don’t like the facts. They are still facts.”

Briere said one of her main strengths is being open to listening to people’s problems and listening to all sides of an issue.

Her main concerns are infrastructure changes that may be needed due to changing weather patterns, increasing pedestrian safety and reconsidering zoning rules, among others.

“Sometimes it’s about being able to see results,” she said. “But sometimes it’s about being able to see the big picture. Seeing the moving parts and seeing the consequences, both the anticipated ones and the unanticipated ones that no one was expecting to see.”

Briere is also on the city’s Planning Commission, the Environmental Commission, Housing and Human Services Advisory Board and the school-city committee, which she joined in December 2014.

Challenger Leaf said he is looking for his first break into political office. After graduating from the University in 2012, the 24-year-old launched Neutral Skin and Hair, a company that produces and sells mineral sunscreen.

This bid for candidacy is not Leaf’s first run-in with Ann Arbor politics. When he was 18, he wrote a proposed ordinance to limit the city’s installation of police surveillance cameras. In 2013 he was co-chair of the Mixed-Use Party, which ran University student candidates and focused on zoning reforms around the city.

“I’ve always been interested in politics and I hope to transition into being a politician,” Leaf said. “I like making policy, and to me that’s what’s interesting about politics. It’s the policy. It’s the power of legislation. And making rules and anticipating how they are going to affect people, and trying to make fair and good rules.”

Among Leaf’s priorities are increasing infrastructure, affordable housing, conserving forestry and making transportation easier for citizens of Ann Arbor. He also advocates for changing election dates, which he argues would allow more citizens to participate in elections, as many people are not in Ann Arbor in August when the Democratic primary happens.

Leaf acknowledged some of the disadvantages of running against an experienced candidate like Briere. He said he doesn’t know as many people and does not have the access to the city or media attention that Briere has.

However he believes he has a better-articulated platform and clearer goals, and overall feels confident about his chances.

“I don’t get angry very easily. I think that is important. I am very level headed, even-tempered I think. I am very determined, very tenacious,” he said. “I think I criticize myself and my own ideas and try to improve them that way. I analyze things to death and I think that is important on City Council right now.”

Briere said it’s easy for someone to have the kind of platform Leaf has when they do not know what it is like to be in government and found his approach to be much more black and white compared to her own nuanced style.

“Everybody has a personality trait,” she said. “I am extraordinarily realistic. I am not idealistic at all. I probably never have been. Someone asked me recently what I thought about Will and I said, ‘You know, even if Will and I were the same age we would disagree on the way to get anything done.’ ”

Leaf does not believe Briere’s “black and white” evaluation of him to be true and added that City Council often avoids making hard decisions.

“There is a big difference between seeing both sides of an issue and listening and getting lots of different perspectives, which is critical and really important, to not having convictions and not having an opinion,” he said. “To me, not taking action is itself an action.”

Leaf said he is aware that being elected would not garner him everyone’s support, but thinks that City Council members are able to frame discussions.

“I think it’s not just saying, like, ‘I’m going to be one vote on this pre-existing slate of issues.’ It’s that any individual on council is in a good position to frame the way the issues are,” he said.

An important point for both candidates is zoning reconsiderations.

“I would love to see that we were making changes to our zoning to really encourage more solar alternative power by setting our premiums so that someone is expected to put a green roof or a solar roof on any building above a certain height,” Briere said.

She also called on the city to rezone certain sites in accordance with the city’s master plan.

“The incentives were built into the zoning and now it’s time to reevaluate the incentives because they did not result in giving us the housing variety and other tangibles like greener buildings and more pedestrian amenities that we had wanted.”

For Leaf, zoning is an issue that will directly affect another significant concern for the city: affordable housing.

Affordable housing and fostering conditions for its development in Ann Arbor have been recurring themes in this year’s City Council meetings.

City Council adopted the Housing Affordability Equity and Analysis, which proposes the construction of 3,139 affordable homes in Ann Arbor and 4,178 new middles class homes in Ypsilanti by 2035.

Leaf found the report to be unrealistic because of the costs associated with implementing the proposals. He added that affordable housing will have to be facilitated through market mechanisms, which the government can help create through zoning reforms.

He believes current zoning rules restrict the supply of housing, which leads to continually high prices. He said removing or reducing minimum lot sizes and eliminating parking requirements and floor area requirements would allow for more houses and therefore prices to drop.

Leaf recognized potential resistance against proposed changes and supports two ways to make it an easy transition. The first is to establish performance zoning, a type of zoning based on the effects of the development.

“One is to carefully regulate physical effects of developments like the noise, odor, light shining into houses and thing like that, and to focus more on performance standards rather than zoning,” he said.

The second is changing the city’s Master Plan such that the planning commission could be able to allow property owners to opt in to mixed use neighborhoods. This could be done in concert with establishing effective buffer zones.

Briere also recognized the high levels of housing costs, including rising taxes and housing prices.

She said City Council is currently considering two options. One is to allow the creation of accessory dwelling units, which contain two units in a house, and the second is to decrease the frontage requirement to allow for the creation of duplex apartments that would have the option of renting.

Briere identifies the problem of affordable housing as being regional, as it includes Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, and thinks it should be addressed in that context.

“We talk about affordable housing in Ann Arbor,” she said. “But we really need to be addressing the income and race and opportunity and education divide between Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township.”

Both Briere and Leaf said they will begin door-to-door campaigning soon. The Democratic primary will be held Aug. 4, and the general election will be held Nov. 3.

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