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"]
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.]
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:
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.
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:
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.]