Obligatory Ann Arbor Mayoral Endorsement Comment Count

Brian July 2nd, 2018 at 4:09 PM

tl;dr: vote for Christopher Taylor, who is good on many things, isn't really responsible for the road issues since he's in a state that's #46 in road spending, and isn't a ludicrous BANANA*.

Please, please, please vote in this election. Consider it a donation to the site. If you're not already registered in Ann Arbor you have until July 9th to do so. If you're a student consider voting absentee: the reason your rent is so damn high is largely because students turn out for local elections in dismal numbers. Even 20% turnout from students would decisively and permanently re-orient AA politics away from homeowner dominance.

This has been "Brian shouts into the void for a paragraph." Anyway.

*["Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone"]

CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR

Taylor's running for his second term after taking over for long-term mayor John Hieftje and is more or less a vote for Ann Arbor to continue in the same direction it's taken over the past 15 years. Development is generally encouraged in the downtown area and certain corridors around the city.

Taylor isn't ideal. Under his leadership the city spends some time and money on questionable activities, the foremost of which is a downright weird proposal to build a train station in Fuller Park*. That hypothetical station is near nothing except UM Hospital and would turn a big chunk of Ann Arbor parkland into a parking deck seemingly designed for the hospital, especially since the regional RTA millage and subsequent commuter rail from Detroit failed in 2016 and will not be on the ballot in 2018.

The city also spends a chunk of money on climate change when the only meaningful action cities can take is to reconfigure themselves so that people don't have to drive as much. The climate stuff is a subset of the usual strain of virtuous-seeming but ultimately silly policies that most small lefty cities undertake. (Your author was burned by that earlier this year when he went to Wolverine Brewing for the Loyola-Chicago Final Four game only to find out that the closed captioning, which the city mandated a couple years ago for all public TVs, was directly over the basket. Any deaf people also at Wolverine were no doubt equally livid.) Some recent public art that consists of metal stapled to a bridge seemingly at random is a particularly goofy expenditure.

And, yes, all of the rabbling about Ann Arbor's roads is a tiny bit justified because of those expenditures. However, those are dwarfed by already extant road spending, which is an eight-digit affair annually. Ann Arbor's road failures are largely a function of state spending. 82% of Michigan roads were rated poor or fair by the American Society of Civil Engineers; the state road system got a D-. Ann Arbor is at ~62%** and has a plan to get that down to 20% over the next eight years; they've been addressing the issue since 2014. The city just unanimously voted to add $4.3 million in road spending from cash reserves. There is no real difference in road policy between the anti and council parties, and no quick fix for cash-starved infrastructure.

Meanwhile, to live in a city in the midst of a housing crisis that is forcing out huge swathes of the next generation of Ann Arborites so that high net worth seniors in paid-off homes can avoid minor inconveniences in their lives means there is only one issue to vote on: development. And while Taylor has the odd habit of wondering just who is going to live in new apartments in a town with a 2% vacancy rate, he and his allies on council have continued to approve large buildings people can live in while Eaton and his allies vote against them.

Valid critiques of Taylor's approach come from the left and YIMBY territory. Ann Arbor's zoning is still highly restrictive, includes parking minimums, and has failed to chuck every student rental in an expanded downtown area. Baby steps are not sufficient to address the housing crisis, and that's largely what we've gotten. None of this matters because of his opponent.

*[I'm omitting the time and money spent putting together the "Treeline" plan for a 3-mile path through downtown since that passes unanimously when it comes up. For the record, I find the Treeline about as baffling as the train station. In both cases the city is hoping to get something for nothing, or close to it. The federal government will hypothetically pay 80% of the cost for a new train station and the city government isn't budgeting any money towards implementing the Treeline; they're hoping to get private donations.]

**[Those two articles don't use the same scales, unfortunately, so that is an estimate. 82% of Michigan roads score from 1 to 5 on the PASER rating scale. The Ann Arbor-specific article has a grouping for 1-3 and one from 4-6. I assumed a third of the roads in that category (28%) were rated 6.]

[After THE JUMP: A Person who is Not Recommended.]

JACK EATON

eaton

Eaton is an archetypical Boomer NIMBY, a fauxgressive who spews nonsense in an effort to preserve Ann Arbor in amber. Eaton's campaign is largely designed to appeal to low-information fixed-income voters whose only priority is their tax bill. This extends to making making deranged claims that are in fact outright lies:

Finally, Eaton charges that crime is more prevalent than folks know. "In the Fourth Ward, there's a house near Allmendinger Park where last year the police responded to seventy-two calls. There were two overdoses there. One was fatal. There are guns, knives, and assaults. There's drug sales and drug use."

That assertion is juuuuuust a bit outside:

Soon-to-retire police chief Jim Baird emails that's not quite accurate. "[O]n the west side of the City near Allmendinger Park, we had 25 calls for service last year, not 72," he writes. "Six calls were related to some type of criminal activity, and there were none classified as weapons offenses."

That's a lie—by an order of magnitude—hidden in the pages of the Observer in the hope that it'll scare someone into voting for him. Eaton continually pushes for more police in a town with a rock-bottom crime rate despite protests from the police commissioner. Violent crime went down 25% (from its already tiny baseline) from 2010 to 2016. Property crimes went down 34%. Focusing on crime is absurd, and yet.

This is not a one-off, it's a theme for Eaton—a 65-year-old retiree. When he was the only vote against Ann Arbor's largely symbolic, punchless affordable housing initiative in 2015 he justified his vote like this:

"If we continue to tax our residents in a manner that allows us to afford to fund regional policy changes, it's actually going to have an impact on the ability of people on limited or defined incomes to live in our community, and I think that's counterintuitive when you're trying to address affordable housing."

This betrays a NIMBY mindset that prioritizes existing homeowners to the exclusion of all else. I find this "Got Mine, Fuck You" attitude deeply immoral and hope you do too.

But even if you don't, Eaton's argument about city taxes is also complete poppycock. Ann Arbor city property tax rates have fallen almost a mil since 2013:

image

School taxes, which the city council has no power over and must be voted on, have gone up. The city has rolled theirs back.

The slight annual decrease in millage rates is a characteristic feature of Michigan's taxation system. The Headlee Amendment automatically rolls back property tax rates when property values increase, and Ann Arbor has seen a terrifying spike. Since 2012 the average home price in Ann Arbor has increased 48%.

Thanks to the other major piece of state property tax legislation, Prop A, existing homeowners have been entirely shielded from this spike. Prop A did a bunch of different things to reform the state's education funding; it also limited property tax increases to the inflation rate. Over the same period of time that Ann Arbor home prices went up by 50%, inflation limited property tax increases to 6.6%. Or, uh, 0% in real terms. And that is the number to use since Social Security is indexed to inflation.

Existing homeowners have seen their city taxes go down in real terms since 2013. And probably a lot farther back since the 2008 financial crisis crushed city finances, because Prop A has no limit on how much property tax rates can fall. It was only this year that recurring general fund revenue recovered to 2008 levels. Rabbling about extra tax burden is a fantasy.

Meanwhile new construction has helped the general fund recover. New construction throws off scads of property tax thanks to that spike in value, and the limited number of homes that do get purchased and have their taxes reset to the sale price. Another feature of Prop A is that non-homestead properties (ie, rentals) get socked with 18 extra mil worth of education taxes, all of which goes directly to AAPS's bottom line.

The inevitable result of skyrocketing property values and the tax advantages of staying in one place:

1. Fewer houses are hitting the market

New residential listings in the first quarter of 2018 are down 12.3 percent compared to the number of new listings at the start of 2017.

2. Limited inventory means fewer houses are being sold

So far, 2018 has seen 13.9 percent fewer home sales compared to this time last year.

3. Houses are still selling quickly

On average, single-family houses in Washtenaw County are spending 51 days on the market so far in 2018.

4. Sale prices continue to rise

The average residential sale price so far in 2018 is $310,155, which is an increase of 10 percent compared to this time last year and 44 percent compared to a decade ago.

And that's Washtenaw county as a whole, not just Ann Arbor. Anyone who's talked to someone interacting with AA's real estate market knows it's even more of a disaster zone than the county numbers imply.  

The only reason Ann Arbor's millage has fallen despite the electorate's tendency to rubber-stamp any tax increase that shows up on a ballot are those big ol' buildings. Those buildings house people and throw off vastly more tax relative to infrastructure costs than single-family housing, especially when property tax increases are limited to inflation.

If Jack Eaton is serious about reducing taxes for fixed-income retirees he should be voting for every building taller than three stories that comes across his plate. He should be advocating for towers that stretch to the sky that shower their surroundings in property tax. Instead he and his allies on council are voting against stuff like a four-unit condo across from the stadium even though that development is by-right*.

Unless Eaton can somehow convince Ann Arbor to not vote for every millage that crosses their plate, the only way "out" is to build, because the state's tax system is already set up to give Baby Boomers who bought their houses before 1994 the easiest ride possible. One wonders how much intergenerational wealth transfer to Jack Eaton and company is enough.

Age_Wealth_Gap

blue = 1989, red = 2016

That seems like enough. Jack Eaton disagrees, and he's willing to get the city sued because of it.

This nonsense is a pattern as well. Eaton's arguments rarely make even a vague amount of sense. He votes against site plans that improve mitigation in the floodplain because... they're in the floodplain. During an extremely inadvisable sojourn into the Ann Arbor YIMBY group on Facebook he made a tautologically nonsense argument:

...if single family zoning districts are up-zoned to multi-unit districts, which is a common suggestion here on YIMBY, that residents wishing to live in single family neighborhoods will seek that kind of housing in nearby communities and townships.

National real estate statistics show that millennials are the biggest demographic group buying single family homes. Urban planners have been advocating dense central housing to accommodate the demands of young professionals. Millennials are a huge demographic group that drove that sensibility. They are now pairing-up and seeking housing suitable for child rearing – something with a nice yard, within walking distance of a good school. There will continue to be young professionals seeking vibrant urban life, but not in the numbers that the millennials represent in the general population. There is no one single housing type that is desired by every person. We need to be sure that there is plenty of housing of all types available. Removing single family homes as an option will lead to further urban sprawl as buyers seek the kind of housing that fits their family.

This is literally "no one goes there anymore, it's too crowded." It is also deeply incorrect. While it's true that urban growth has slowed it's largely because of zoning. Price premiums keep going up. This is obvious for anyone who's touched AA's real estate market, or knows anyone who has, in the last 20 years.

It's infuriating. Either Eaton is capable of deluding himself into actually believing tautological nonsense or is arguing in bad faith. Most of his platform is similarly empty. He and his allies are constantly bringing up the maintenance the council party has supposedly failed to undertake, but when the city did its first review of water rates in 15 years, what happened?

Mayor Christopher Taylor and his allies approved the new rate structure, which was opposed by Council Members Anne Bannister, Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy and Jane Lumm.

They voted against it because the report that came back from Stantec laid out the case that single-family homeowners were being systematically underbilled relative to corporate and multi-family users:

image

Stantec is a giant company with billions in annual revenue that does this stuff constantly. The Eaton wing of council failed to understand the report, assumed they knew better than actual professionals, and once again reverted to protecting an already protected and wealthy class of people. And they again wanted to expose Ann Arbor to a lawsuit—state law says utility fees must be proportional to costs—because of increases to water rates that are necessary to maintain AA's aging system. Then they have the audacity to rip the council party for failing to pay attention to basic infrastructure!

Jack Eaton is an unserious person, and Ann Arbor should be embarrassed that this dingus is on council. It does not do to think what would happen if he was mayor. You tell him to get bent. "Get Bent, Eaton!" you say if you see him.

Vote Taylor on August 7th.

*[A by-right development is one that meets existing zoning. Many projects will request variances or rezonings; these can be legitimately voted up or down. Voting against a by-right development means the developers can sue your ass because you told them a building with parameters X and Y is fine and then voted it down anyway.]

Comments

bronxblue

July 2nd, 2018 at 4:34 PM ^

I find this stuff fascinating, mostly because I've never cared much for local politics anywhere I've lived.  But maybe it's the distance, but seeing these micro issues discussed to the degree you typically see only applied to national issues casts them in a much clearer light.

Also, based on the Where Do You Live? board topic, only a couple of people here should actually care about this post as an actionable topic...and yet I assume there will be more comments than expected.

Um1994

July 2nd, 2018 at 4:48 PM ^

Many local governments in Michigan (and across the US, Canada, Ireland and many other countries) are actually Council-Manager forms of government rather than "strong mayor."  The mayor and council serve the legislative function and the Manager (or in Ann Arbor "Administrator") is the Executive Officer responsible for day-to-day operations.  Given this form of government, your local government can still talk about the policy issues, but make sure there is a professional adviser to the legislative body.  You can also count on taxes being collected, complaints addressed, treasury managed, etc.  The Manager/Administrator is hired by the elected body.  In Ann Arbor that person is Howard E. Lazarus.  IMO, the Executive Officer selection is more important than the Mayoral election - but that's just my opinion, man.

Sopwith

July 2nd, 2018 at 9:56 PM ^

Paraphrasing Homer Simpson, "I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my Michigan bloggers FLAMINGLY authoritarian."

I'm surprised more students at a place like UM don't vote, but then again, I don't remember local elections getting onto my radar screen at all when I was in A2. There was so much national noise it just got swept under. Plus, I didn't have a car and didn't really care that much about the state of the roads, nor did I own property so didn't have a dog in the property tax fight. But if I ever move back there, and I'd like to, I can see myself getting hyperventilated about exactly these kinds of things.

 

MileHighWolverine

July 3rd, 2018 at 7:13 AM ^

It’s by design. Local politicians dont want students to vote because they would sway things greatly and politicians don't like having to cater to young and most importantly, temporary, voter bases. 

They dont like flip flopping. Better to get an older generation with massive numbers that never changes their mind about anything.

jamesjosephharbaugh

July 3rd, 2018 at 10:16 AM ^

your blog, you do you, bro.  you've been at this long enough that your site data will tell you if posts like this help or hurt your livelihood, and if they hurt, how much, and what your ability to absorb it is.  fwiw i read these because i'm learning recently about the ann arbor civic scene.  otherwise i'd probably skip them.  appreciate your explanation of the property tax housing problem.

so many arseholes on this board deserve to be banned though before someone who simply gives you feedback they'd prefer not to see politics here.  

in fact maybe we should write you in for mayor because i'd love to see the constituents who write you letters to get a form letter response in the mail that says "get bent"

thedose

July 4th, 2018 at 1:01 PM ^

I just wonder why the minutiae of college football it presented so much more objectively than this post.

Eaton isn't against development, he's against the rape and pillage of decades of community planning for developer profits.

Sometimes that means saying no a few times until some compromises are made. Here's a balanced article discussing the topic of a2 development: http://www.ecurrent.com/feature/ann-arbor-real-estate-is-on-fire/

I'm voting for Jack E in the August 7th primary.

Communist Football

July 5th, 2018 at 7:59 AM ^

Brian, since policy wonkery is my day job, a few thoughts:

1. To whatever degree you want to grade on a curve, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the entire country a "D" for roads: https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/infrastructure-super-map/

2. The ASCE is, in effect, a lobbying organization for more infrastructure spending, because it means more work for civil engineers. Doesn't mean their analyses aren't worth taking into account, but it does mean that they have an economic incentive to be tough graders.

3. Thanks for calling attention to the YIMBY/NIMBY issue. This is a serious problem in many places, as you know, and so it's encouraging that Taylor has supported residential development.

4. While property taxes may have gone down from a rate perspective (i.e., the millage), it may not be accurate to say that someone's property taxes, in dollar terms, went down. For example, if your property is suddenly worth 10% more, and the property tax rate stays the same, your property taxes in dollar terms have increased. You may think this is a good thing, but to a retiree on fixed income who suddenly is paying more in property taxes due to economic forces he can't control, this is a big problem. What is gentrification? In economic terms, gentrification is often driven by property taxes going up in a low-cost neighborhood, driving out those who own their homes but can't afford the annual tax assessment. So the Michigan tax reform you describe is an attempt to rectify this. A cleaner approach is the one used in California, where property taxes are based on the last transaction for the property; i.e., if you paid $100k for your house, the property taxes are based on that, not some arbitrary assessment, until you sell the house to someone else at some point in the future.

jayfred

July 5th, 2018 at 11:52 AM ^

Your 4th bullet is a good point, but how would you respond to the assertion that such policy traps people in their own homes? If, say, you had a fairly large home to support your family but want to downsize after your kids leave, you may be trapped unless you're willing to leave the city altogether. So you end up with an epidemic of people occupying woefully underutilized space and property, or passing it down to the next generation. This entrenches the wealthy (or formerly-wealthy) while making it impossible for aspiring homeowners to enter the market.

Sopwith

July 3rd, 2018 at 1:08 AM ^

BOARD: Brian is a big jerk!

BRIAN: My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on this blog. You need me on this blog. 

BOARD: Did you order a code red on anyone bitching about you talking politics?

BRIAN: YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT I DID

Remember_the_G…

July 2nd, 2018 at 8:49 PM ^

I agree that Brian can obviously post whatever he wants but I think it’s pretty clear he is condescending. One needs only listen to his interactions with Ed on the Roundtable. If you say something he doesn’t agree with it’s because you’re not as smart as him.

On the blog his philosophy seems to be “if you don’t like it GTFO” as well as I haven’t seen him engage with any of the criticisms of the redesign. Again that’s his prerogative. He runs the place but it shows a certain personality. 

ppToilet

July 2nd, 2018 at 8:18 PM ^

Wait, is this Putin trying to swing things in favor or Taylor? Or, because Putin is for Taylor, then I'm supposed to be for Eaton? Or, knowing that I would want Eaton if Putin is against him, Putin is pretending to be against Eaton so that I vote for him rather than Taylor?

I wish it were like the old days when Putin would just send an army of bots, hack emails, and make pee videos so that I would know who to vote for...

gremlin

July 2nd, 2018 at 4:21 PM ^

I'm comfortable discussing politics.  Am just surprised.  Would appreciate an understanding of how the community is supposed to proceed moving forward after this post.  Are politics now fair game?

bronxblue

July 2nd, 2018 at 4:45 PM ^

It's my understanding that the "No politics" embargo applies only to us, and that the staff (esp. Brian) can post what he wants.  As others have noted, if that bothers the reader he or she can go elsewhere.  I think it's a fine policy especially in the dead of summer, though I do assume that it'll die down once whatever these summer elections are finish.

Quailman

July 2nd, 2018 at 5:53 PM ^

This is copy-pasted from the "Official Ethics of MGoBlog" under the about section, from Brian:

I will maintain focus. Appropriate topic areas for mgoblog in descending order of relevance:

  • Michigan sports.
  • Sports media; print, broadcast, and blog.
  • Opponent news.
  • General NCAA news.
  • Other sports of interest (Pistons, USMNT soccer mostly)
  • Dancing bananas, Walken 2008, etc.

Things I wont post on:

  • Politics
  • Karate Kid
  • The White Shadow
  • Musical groups that were last relevant in 1986.

carolina blue

July 2nd, 2018 at 8:49 PM ^

He can do what he wants, I guess.  however, it is fair to point out that his own website says he won’t post on it, even if it is old. If he wants to change that, then change it. Otherwise criticizing him for doing X when he says he won’t post on X is fair. 

Calling him a little bitch and daring him to ban you....yeah, ban that asshole. 

Jota09

July 3rd, 2018 at 12:46 AM ^

That list isn't so old that they didn't bring it to the new design while leaving lots of other things out.  Plus, if you go to the moderator action sticky, you will find posts about politics where Seth outlines that the no politics rule is for all, even moderators and the like.  He even goes into detail that Brian will post political stuff on his private twitter feed but not on the mgoblog site.  This was written on April 26th of this year. It was also made clear that his twitter account is not affiliated with this site.  I don't follow Brian on twitter, or anyone for that matter.  It's only in my life but for a moment of weakness.  So wanting to know what the new site rules are doesn't seem to preposterous.  If you are going to put no politics all over your site and include yourself in those rules, it shouldn't be unreasonable for people to question why there are now political posts on the front page.  He can do what he wants, but it would be a great service to the readers if he would address this and put this to bed so we can all move on.  

ST3

July 2nd, 2018 at 4:47 PM ^

Politics are fair game for Brian. They are off limits for us. It’s his blog, his rules. My brother lives in Ann Arbor and I lived there for 8+ years, so I find these opinions interesting. I wish the USMNT had made the WC so Brian would have that to write about. That Belgium-Japan game today was epic.

bronxblue

July 2nd, 2018 at 5:28 PM ^

The bent part was probably a bit extreme, though at the same time it must be tiring after over a decade of putting out extremely high-quality content basically for free to the average reader, some yahoo with, well, a Yahoo user name as his Twitter handle tweets "stick to sports" at you or concern trolls about "you might be losing customers, so I'm just providing a voice for them."