Friday, June 19, 2020

Juneteenth Rally at Noon Today

Today is Juneteenth. At noon there will be a rally on the Diag. It will feature speakers including Eli Savit, Solomon Rajput, Debbie Dingell, Trische Duckworth and Sha’teina Grady El. If you go, make sure you bring a mask and water because it's a going to be a scorcher.

There is another great Juneteenth event tomorrow. From 9am to noon, the Ann Arbor Chapter of the NAACP is hosting a walk at Fuller Park. Click here for more details.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: June 15, 2020

It's #a2council night. Here's the agenda.

The evening kicks off with a 22 item consent agenda. Here are some of the items that stand out to me. CA-9 is an update to the city's tree inventory. This is always fun. At last night's Council Caucus meeting CM Ramlawi indicated he was interested in pulling CA-2, CA-5, and CA-10 from the consent agenda. CA-2 is allocation for human services non-profits. CA-5 is the SPARK contract. CA-10 is an employment extension agreement with Cresson Slotten. We will see if those or other items get pulled off the agenda.

There is one public hearing tonight. PH-1/DS-1 would fill the sidewalk gap between Parklake and Wagner on Jackson Road near Weber's.

Moving down the agenda, there are a ton more items, and I will probably leave off some important ones. Nevertheless, here we go. C-1 is the first reading of an ordinance to rezone 3621 Plymouth Road from PUD (Planned Unit Development) to C3 (Fringe Commercial district). There is a plan here for a 5 story hotel. This seems pretty reasonable.

DC-2 is a resolution to override the Mayor's veto of Lumm's budget ammendment that would have taken a funding gaurentee away from affordable housing, climate change, and pedestrian safety. To quote Cabinet Battle #1, "You don't have the votes." This is a pretty pointless waste of time in a meeting with a pretty stacked agenda. It will allow for CMs upset with the mayor's veto to bloviate and it will ultimately fail.

DC-3 is a resolution to support more substantial civilian review of the AAPD. I have not read this but the title sounds good. DC-5 is to support shelter expansion in light of COVID-19. Seems like the humane thing to do. DC-6 is a resolution to allow outdoor alcohol sales. DC-7 is a motion to waive council rules and reconsider an item from May 4th, the Nixon and Traver sidewalk special assessment district. This is from CM Bannister and it seems like she would like to maybe kill these sidewalk projects. DC-9 is a resolution directing evaluation of Ann Arbor's pedestrian and cycling infrastructure by a "Professional Engineer with Vision Zero Experience." It will be interesting to see what "Vision Zero Experience" means and whether our city's engineers meet that standard. DC-15 is interesting. It would create a pilot program that would allow businesses to occupy adjacent parking spaces. I like this I think. DC-16 is a request for the Independent Police Oversight Commission to lead a review of public safety services the city provides.

Gentle reader, what agenda items are you most looking forward to seeing. I am guessing that tonight will be another late night around the virtual council table. Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2council hashtag.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Ward 2 #a2council candidates debate tonight

Tonight at 7 pm the Ann Arbor Democratic Party is hosting an online debate between Jane Lumm and Linh Song, the candidates running in Democratic Primary to represent Ward 2 on Ann Arbor City Council. Incumbent Lumm is a former Republican, and current independent who is now running as a Democrat for the first time. Song is a former social worker who is just finishing a 4 year term on the AADL Board. The debate will be streamed on the Ann Arbor Democratic Party Facebook Page.

Election 2020 is in full swing. Last night Ward 1 candidates Anne Bannister and Lisa Disch had a townhall on Zoom. You can find that recording here.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: June 1, 2020

It's #a2council night gentle readers. Here's the agenda.

The evening kicks off with a moderate 14 item consent agenda. Of note, we have the Farmers Market getting a $35,000 grant (CA-2). Also, it looks like the city will continue their interem agreement with Spin Scooters (CA-7). There's also CA-8 which approves language for a street, sidewalk, and bridge millage. CA-9 is for filling a sidewalk gap on Boardwalk. It will be interesting to see if this gets pulled. CA-14 is probably the spiciest item on the consent agenda. This approves the new contract for Ann Arbor's police force. Given current events, I am hearing some calls to postpone this so that more people can read it. [ED: CM Nelson just tweeted that CA-14 is being removed from tonight's agenda.]

There are 2 public hearings at tonight's meeting. PH-1/B-1 is the second reading of the water rate increase. This squeaked by in the first reading. Some CMs are upset about the 4 tiered water rate structure and have been saying that because they don't like the rate structure, they don't want to increase rates. For an indepth look at Ann Arbor's water rates, check out Erich Z.'s article here. PH-2/DS-2 may be the evening's spiciest chili. This is the resolution to adopt the A2Zero Carbon Neutrality Plan. A2Zero outlines a plan to get to net zero emissions for Ann Arbor by 2030. Back in November, the council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring a climate emergency and calling for the creation of a plan to get to zero emissions by 2030. Now some CMs are balking because one component of the plan calls for allowing duplexes, triplexes, quads, and ADUs in residential zoned areas. Earlier today, I wrote about why allowing more people in Ann Arbor is good for equity and CO2 emissions. You can read that here. Gentle reader, I don't know what the outcome of this resolution will be, but I do feel confident that we will see a hear of public commentary and a lot of speechifying on this from the CMs.

Elsewhere we have C-2, a resolution introduced by CMs Hayner and Bannister that would increase the vegetation height allowed in yards from 12" to 18". This resolution would also exempt planned natural vegetation and garden beds from any height limit. I like this resolution and I am glad to see it come forward.

DC-1 is a resolution delaying the water rate increase to January. It also directs city staff to again look at the previous consultant reports on our water rate structure with an eye towards reducing the gap between the difference between what people in the top tier and bottom tier pay. I feel like we have been here before. Some CMs are unhappy that people who have very high water usage are having to pay more for that.

DS-2 is a resolution to approve downtown street closures to allow for safe walking and dining. This seems like a pretty low risk/low cost way of trying to help our downtown restaurants. DC-3 would allow the outdoor sale and consumption of alcohol during the pandemic. Seems pretty reasonable.

Gentle reader, what agenda items are you most looking forward to seeing. I am guessing that tonight will be another late night around the virtual council table. Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2council hashtag.

Ann Arbor for the many, not the few

Ann Arbor should eliminate exclusionary zoning. By exclusionary zoning I mean residential zoning that prohibits duplexes, triplexes, quads, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Also, I am including large setbacks and parking minimums in my definition of exclusionary zoning. There are two primary reasons I think Ann Arbor should abandon exclusionary zoning. The first reason is because exclusionary zoning is bad for equity. Exclusionary zoning is a policy born out of the desire for racial segregation. There is ample evidence that exclusionary zoning continues to perpetuate racial and economic segregation today. The second reason I support an end to exclusionary zoning is because it increases our CO2 emissions.

I am going to go into more detail below about the equity and CO2 emissions issues but before I do I want to talk about something important. We are in the midst of a housing crisis. There are two parts to this housing crisis. There is a lack of housing generally in cities with strong job markets like Ann Arbor, and there is also a lack of affordable housing. Here I am going to use the term affordable housing as an umbrella term for housing that is subsidized to cost below market rate, or housing that is subsidized to be affordable for people making less than the area median income, or AMI. Ending exclusionary zoning is not a panacea for our housing crisis. Nevertheless, it is an important part of making the city more affordable. There is a lot of research that shows more market rate housing does help to prevent displacement of vulnerable people (Zuck and Chapple 2016, Mast 2019). So while we must change zoning laws to allow significantly more market rate housing, policy experts agree that more market rate construction alone won’t be sufficient to ensure housing for individuals and families who make below the area median income. Housing insecure people in Ann Arbor are suffering right now and we cannot rely solely on new market rate construction to stabilize the housing prices. An important part of ensuring housing for all residents in Ann Arbor is increasing the amount of money dedicated to affordable housing in the city’s budget. We will not fix Ann Arbor’s affordable housing crisis with zoning alone, but we also can’t fix any of our housing issues if we don’t address zoning.

Exclusionary zoning leads to inequitable outcomes

Exclusionary zoning has its origins in the early 1900s. At the start of the 20th century, racial housing covenants would prevent properties from ever being sold to someone from a specified minority. These covenants were used to exclude African Americans and other minorities from ever living in new developments. When racial housing covenants were struck down in Shelley v. Kraemer, exclusionary zoning (large lot requirements, banning multi-family units) became a way for municipalities to keep “undesirables” out of wealthy areas (Hirt 2013). Many scholars trace exclusionary zoning back to a desire to perpetuate de facto racial housing segregation. Though, Fischel 2004 argues that the desire for class segregation was the primary cause for exclusionary zoning with racial segregation a second order effect. Regardless, the origins of exclusive zoning are not noble.

We can look beyond the origins of exclusionary zoning and look at its impacts today. Exclusionary zoning causes income segregation and increases interjurisdictional inequity (Rothwell and Massey 2010). A study in the Greater Boston Area found that restricting multi-family housing disproportionately excluded black and hispanic households (Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston n.d.). In Ann Arbor, 70% of residential land excludes multi-family housing. There is also a large amount of the remaining land that requires massive amounts of parking spaces (think of the shopping centers and drive-throughs around town); this in turn prevents multifamily housing. Is it any wonder our metro area is the 8th most economically segregated in the country? Abandoning exclusionary zoning will not fix this alone, but it does play an important piece (in addition to increased dedicated funding for affordable housing). New market-rate housing tends to put downward price pressure on units in the immediate vicinity (Mast 2019). Preventing duplexes, triplexes, quads, and ADUs in most of Ann Arbor greatly reduces the ability to develop new housing in the city, which keeps housing prices high. Ann Arbor has not built much housing in recent decades (Tobias 2019, Point2Homes n.d.). This, in addition to the strong job market, is one of the reasons we have soaring rents and home prices.

Exclusionary Zoning and Carbon Emissions

Another reason to end exclusionary zoning is to reduce CO2 emissions from commuting. On an average, pre-COVID workday, about 80,000 people commute into Ann Arbor for work. The average distance they travel is about 20 miles and their primary method of transportation is driving. Allowing more of the people who work in Ann Arbor to live in Ann Arbor will greatly reduce these emissions. Work by Gately et. al (2015) looked at on-road CO2 emissions in cities across the US from 1980 to 2010. Their work suggests a city like Ann Arbor could double in population while not seeing a net increase in total on-road CO2 emissions. This is due to a precipitous decrease in per capita on-road CO2 emissions as more people live in cities. Gudipudi et al. (2016) looked beyond on-road emissions and found that increasing population density in cities also reduced residential and commercial building energy use, though the magnitude of this effect was lower than that of the on-road emission reduction.

Other benefits of inclusive zoning

There are other benefits of inclusive zoning. One is more municipal revenue. New construction increases property values. In Michigan, property taxes can only increase at the rate of inflation except when there are property sales or new construction. Allowing the construction of new duplexes, triplexes, and ADUs would increase property tax revenue. The city should commit a large portion of new property tax revenue from new residential construction to the Affordable Housing Fund. This money can be leveraged many times over with state and federal funds to build more affordable dwellings. Beyond bringing in new property tax revenue, having more people sharing the cost of city infrastructure reduces their per capita costs. For example, if you allowed more people who commute into the city live here instead—whether by renting rooms in existing homes or permitting apartment buildings where you see mostly parking lots around town—the cost of “serving” them as residents is negligible but they all then pay into the costs of our roads, sewers, and water systems.

Cars are not just a source of CO2 emissions. They are also a major source of air pollution and water pollution in urban areas. More housing in the city means that the residents living in that housing will not only drive less to work and other needs, they are also much more likely to use active or public transportation themselves. . Less pollution is good. Fewer vehicle miles traveled also makes Ann Arbor safer for other right-of-way users: pedestrians, cyclists, and scooter users.


Ann Arbor should adopt an inclusive zoning code that allows for duplexes, triplexes, and ADUs in all residentially zoned areas. This will play an important role in helping the city to become more equitable. It will also help the city to reduce its CO2 emissions.

Work Cited

Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, n.d.. Historical shift from explicit to implicit policies affecting housing segregation in Eastern Massachusetts.

Fischel, W., 2004. An Economic History of Zoning and a Cure for its Exclusionary Effects. Urban Studies, 41(2), 317-340. Retrieved May 29, 2020, from

Gately, C.K., Hutyra, L.R. and Wing, I.S., 2015. Cities, traffic, and CO2: A multidecadal assessment of trends, drivers, and scaling relationships. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(16), pp.4999-5004.

Gudipudi, R., Fluschnik, T., Ros, A.G.C., Walther, C. and Kropp, J.P., 2016. City density and CO2 efficiency. Energy Policy, 91, pp.352-361.

Hirt, S., 2013. Home, sweet home: American residential zoning in comparative perspective. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 33(3), pp.292-309.

Mast, E., 2019. The effect of new market-rate housing construction on the low-income housing market. Upjohn Institute WP, pp.19-307., n.d.. Ann Arbor Population and Demographics.

Rothwell, J. T., and Massey, D. S., 2010. Density zoning and class segregation in US metropolitan areas. Social science quarterly, 91(5), 1123-1143.

Tobias, R., 2019. The Boomtown Fallacy. Tree Downtown.

Zuk, M. and Chapple, K., 2016. Housing production, filtering and displacement: Untangling the relationships.