Ann Arbor Area Community News
1. Do you support the proposed court-policy facility, as currently planned? What role do you see for Council now that it is underway? (Edited version of question from Eric)*
PATRICIA LESKO: I do not. I have researched other such facilities, and the cost per square foot of Ann Arbor’s planned facility is, in some cases, triple the cost of similar facilities planned and built in similarly-sized communities. I have toured the Police facility, and have serious concerns about the current state of disrepair into which the facility has been allowed to fall. I question why the facility was allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair, and why the refurbishment planned under the auspices of the proposed facility was not carried out a decade ago. In essence, as citizens, we have no guarantees that any new facility built will be adequately maintained. In addition, the 2009 adopted budget contains a quote from Roger Fraser that says Ann Arbor anticipates a structural deficit, and the city can make no further cuts in staff. Until the city’s financial situation stabilizes, we need to repair the facility, and refurbish the basement immediately. This will cost significantly less than the proposed facility. Current Council, however, has wasted $4 million dollars of our money designing a Mercedes when we have enough money to repair our mid-sized sedan.
SANDI SMITH: I believe that the current police facility is inadequate. The County and City have been unable to come to terms over a joint court facility and the City is required by law to provide a home to the 15th district court, making it essential to find a solution. For these reasons, I support the project.
If the project is scaled back, the first cuts will be the green components. As it is currently designed, the building is likely to achieve a LEED Gold rating. Bond rates are very favorable currently and construction bids are coming in lower than anticipated on other city projects making this a favorable time to invest in infrastructure.
Council’s role is to keep the project on budget, find opportunities to enhance the public amenities and seek out energy reducing technologies to make it as green as possible.
For more of my thoughts, see: http://annarborites.com/2008/04/24/the-new-15th-district-courtpolice-hq—building-project.aspx
2. What will you do to ensure that Ann Arbor has sufficient affordable housing? (Question from Chuck Warpehoski)
PATRICIA LESKO: I would like to work toward developments that favor co-housing. As you know, co-housing developments have been built in several spots surrounding Ann Arbor, and provide a wide variety of attractive design and construction attributes—the inclusion of green space, for instance—not to mention price point that is far more affordable than, say, the recent North Sky development which was just voted on by Council.
SANDI SMITH: Affordable at what level? First, establish the levels of affordability, define the problem and address solutions for each population. I support the Blueprint to End Homelessness and its goal to create 500 units of affordable housing at or below 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI) by 2014. I am currently serving on a County Task Force whose mission is to find funding for services for the people in those 500 units. Most often it is not just the housing itself that is needed, but the social services that support the individuals so they can remain in the housing. I also support the replacement of the 100 units that were formally at the Y.
I have initiated a program through the DDA to grant energy related improvements to affordable housing units in or very near the DDA district, reducing utility costs and freeing money for other uses.
3. What will you do to ensure a healthy community where people can live, work, shop and play without depending on their car? (Question from Chuck Warpehoski)
PATRICIA LESKO: If Ann Arbor residents do not elect to City Council members who are committed to responsible development, nothing substantial may be accomplished to help residents in Ann Arbor live, work, shop and play without depending upon their cars. The current thinking (including my First Ward opponent) is that the easiest way to swell the tax roles is through new, dense, development. It is a “Field of Dreams” strategy, that does not benefit citizens, but rather benefits developers, lawyers, and real estate agents. The problem is that Ann Arbor is losing residents to surrounding communities, and there are currently 1,000 homes for sale. The condo-building mania, and city officials who are content to use tax dollars to subsidize private builders, will only stop when citizens elect Council members willing to ask hard questions concerning our City’s budget which will lead, I believe, to a debunking of the myth that Ann Arbor needs development to grow revenue.
SANDI SMITH: Regional and multi-modal transportation are essential elements to the city’s planning. I will work to implement the Non-motorized Transportation Plan throughout the city, including the bike and pedestrian improvements to 5th and Division planned by the DDA.
I also will continue to support the work of the Downtown Development Authority within its District to provide public investment in our downtown that will stimulate private growth.
4. How will you work within the local foodshed to ensure food security and affordability for our city? (Question from TeacherPatti)
PATRICIA LESKO: Farmers who grow food using sustainable and environmentally sound methods deserve and must be paid a sustainable and living wage for their work and their products. This often conflicts with the notion that food should be “affordable” (whatever that term means). As an individual, I have participated in community supported agriculture since 1990. I have been a member of the People’s Food Co-op for 16 years, and served on the organization’s Board of Directors. On Council, I would certainly support initiatives such as Project Grow, and work to have it expanded.
As for food security, again, if we are talking about local food, no food source is completely beyond threat. However, if Michigan shoppers spent just $10 per week purchasing local food products, it would pump more than $35 million dollars per week into the Michigan agricultural economy. So, if I may, I would suggest that it’s ultimately up to people like TeacherPatti to spend her money wisely when she food shops.
SANDI SMITH: Personally, I was at the organizing committee for the Homegrown Festival (www.HomeGrownFestival.org) and encourage and participate in this type of community based work. I would love to see a program where building roofs were converted to garden spaces. It would improve stormwater management, improve water quality in the watershed and increase the amount of locally grown produce. I will support the Farmer’s Market and Greenbelt Program, which provide resources for local farmers to grow and sell their produce in Ann Arbor and the surrounding region.
I have been a Project Grow gardener in the past and will continue to support programs such as these.
5. What is your opinion of the performance of the Mayor and City council over the past 2 years? (Edited version of question from Mark Koroi)
PATRICIA LESKO: City revenues from property taxes and fees are up for the fourth year running. City spending on services has been reduced, and city services have been cut. For instance, Ann Arbor no longer replants any of the 10,500 trees lost to disease between 2005-2007. City debt over the past five years has doubled. There is hunger, and there is continued homelessness. The number of units of affordable housing built over the last two years pales in comparison to the total number of units built. Development continues to be approved for the sake of the developers, as well as to feed the gaping maw that is our city’s completely convoluted and difficult to interpret budget. The North Sky development in Ward 1, for example, puts 198 units in a denuded field, and we can count on the fact that residents will drive into the City center, and the three miles to the nearest loaf of bread and gallon of milk.
Though I am respectful of their opinions and contributions, I find the concrete (both literally and figuratively) results of their work disappointing, at best.
SANDI SMITH: I believe that most council members do their best to come prepared to the meetings, do their homework and participate in engaged dialogue. I do not agree with all of their decisions, nor will I when I am on council. However, I have been particularly unimpressed with the work of Ron Suarez. I supported him as a Candidate and voted for him. He has voted contrary to his expressed opinions and has even fallen asleep in meetings. He complains about being shut out, but does not attend his committee meetings. His poor performance led me to step up to run for his seat.
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