As city elections approach, incumbent Robert Johnson and newcomers Rick Lax and Rob Haug from Ann Arbor’s 1st Ward are working to focus their campaigns on issues relevant to students.
The three contenders have voiced opinions on the main issue on the Nov. 4 ballot, Proposal B. Passage of this greenbelt proposal would extend an existing .5 mil property tax for 30 years and use the funds raised to protect open spaces from urban sprawl in and around the city.
But opponents of the initiative say prolonging the property tax could increase housing and rental costs, with possible harm to students.
Johnson, a Democrat, supports Proposal B. “I think we need to maintain the quality of life in Ann Arbor,” he said.
He added that he likes the Greenbelt proposal because the city would not be the sole purchaser of any land.
“Ann Arbor can establish precedent on this issue. Hopefully, other townships will follow us,” Johnson said. Both Lax and Haug expressed hesitation about Proposal B.
Lax, who is an independent, said, “Petitioning to get my name on the ballot, I got to walk all around the first voting ward, and I saw that urban sprawl has eaten our city up.”
Lax, an arts writer for The Michigan Daily on leave for the campaign, added that he is concerned the Greenbelt will drive up student rent prices.
Green Party member Haug said he supports the idea of the greenbelt proposal. “I think it is important to put controls on development and promote regional planning,” he said.
But Haug, a Rackham student, is worried about the effect Proposal B could have on housing. “I feel that the city isn’t doing much about affordable housing to begin with and would have to tackle this issue with or without a greenbelt,” Haug said.
The candidates have also expressed their views on other issues of concern to students, including housing and parking.
Johnson, who is also a biochemistry professor at Wayne State University, said he thinks the greenbelt proposal will have a minimal effect on affordable housing in the city.
Both Lax and Johnson said they do not believe high-rise buildings should be built in Ann Arbor because they would destroy the character of the city.
On the topic of density, Johnson only said, “Downtown needs to be protected, while Lax stressed that he does not want any more high-rise buildings on State and Main streets.
But Haug sees a need for more density in Ann Arbor and said he believes it can provide a solution to parking issues too.
“I think by building higher density, affordable housing in the downtown area, we will cut down on sprawl, improve downtown traffic conditions and parking and do much to support our downtown businesses,” said Haug.
He added that he sees a need for improvement in public transportation.
Lax said easier parking in downtown and central campus is a priority to him.
“I will encourage development and new buildings that add parking spaces, not take them away,” he said.
The candidates all had different opinions in regards to relations between students and the Ann Arbor Police Department.
Haug said he understands the police have to enforce the law.
He said, “I wish they would waste less of their time, money, and energy giving out MIPs (minor in possession of alcohol citations), except in situations where the offender is acting in a dangerous or threatening manner.”
He added that he sympathizes with Ann Arbor residents who are awakened by loud parties.
On the party issue, Lax said some parties are loud but he said he gets angry when parties that are not necessarily violating city ordinances are still broken up by the police.
Johnson said individual student complaints on the AAPD’s actions may not create change. “This issue should have some sort of student representation to Council,” he said.