1st Friday Focus on the Environment: The November ballot proposal that could determine Ann Arbor's carbon-neutral future
ABOUT KRIS OLSSON:
Kris was elected to the Ann Arbor Township Board of Trustees in November 2020 after serving as a planning commissioner for 23 years. She grew up in Detroit and its suburbs, attended the University of Michigan, and has lived in Ann Arbor ever since, apart a couple of years. She stuck around at UM long enough to get a B.S. and a couple of M.S.’s (Biology and Natural Resources). Since 1992, she has been a Watershed Ecologist at the Huron River Watershed Council, where she directs the Natural Areas Assessment and Protection, Change Makers, and Green Infrastructure Planning for Local Governments programs. She moved to the township in 1992 with her husband, Dave Moran, who runs the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. She has two daughters and 3 dogs.
ABOUT LISA WOZNIAK:
Lisa’s career spans over two decades of environmental and conservation advocacy in the political arena. She is a nationally- recognized expert in non-profit growth and management and a leader in Great Lakes protections. Lisa is a three-time graduate from the University of Michigan, with a Bachelors Degree and two ensuing Masters Degrees in Social Work and Education.
Lisa serves a co-host and content partner in 89.1 WEMU's '1st Friday Focus on the Environment.'
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the July edition of First Friday Focus on the Environment. I'm David Fair, and today we're going to discuss some upcoming environmental proposals that are to appear before voters in both August and November. My content partner in this First Friday conversation series is Lisa Wozniak. She serves as executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. Always good to see you, Lisa.
Lisa Wozniak: Well, it's great to be here, Dave. Our guest today is Kris Olsson. And Kris is the watershed ecologist at the Huron River Watershed Council, as well as a public relations officer with Washtenaw Climate Reality. She's also chair of the Washtenaw County Environmental Council and a trustee with Ann Arbor Township. But today, Kris is speaking with us as a representative of the Yes to Ann Arbor Climate Action Campaign.
David Fair: Thank you so much for joining us here on WEMU, Kris.
Kris Olsson: Thank you, David.
David Fair: The City of Ann Arbor has set forth its A2Zero plan, and we've heard more than one city official say its success is dependent on passage of the November ballot issue called Community Climate Action. You were involved in a number of things, obviously. Why did you decide to roll up your sleeves and actively work to convince voters to approve this particular millage?
Kris Olsson: Well, as you know, David, extreme heat, drought, and floods are getting worse every year, and we need to act now to avoid these climate impacts. And Ann Arbor has been a leader for years in many, many issues, including the environment. And we need to be a leader now across Michigan and the country. City Council adopted the climate plan in 2020, and they recognized at that time that this is an emergency that is on the level of World War Two mobilization and catastrophes like that, where we needed to really respond. And so, the city has taken that commitment, and now we have this wonderful A2Zero plan. And it's going to take this level of effort not just for the city of Ann Arbor, but municipalities all over the country at the state level and at the federal level.
David Fair: Well, just to cover some of the nuts and bolts of the ballot question itself, Ann Arbor will ask voters to approve a one-mill levy to be collected over a period of 20 years. Now, the goals set out are ambitious and far-reaching. What will voters get in return by approving such a long-term tax levy?
Kris Olsson: It's going to turn the city's grid, so all of the electricity that the city gets is going to be 100% renewable. It's going to put in support, so that we can electrify all of our appliances and vehicles. So, getting folks off of gas. It will provide energy efficiency. It'll help to put in more non-motorized transit facilities. So, more bike paths, more transit. It will electrify our bus fleet. It'll make our city more resilient for the climate impacts that we cannot avoid. One of the favorite things I like about the plan, which is in force right now, is they have an energy concierge, they call it. So, if you are someone who's interested in doing something with your house to increase the energy efficiency or put solar panels on, or if you're looking for a heat pump or a way to replace your gas stove, you can call them up, and they can help you to navigate, you know, where are the best consultants? What are the best folks who can install these things?
Lisa Wozniak: So, Kris, it's estimated that if voters approve this new millage, it would result in just under $7 million in the first year that it's collected. So, of all the things you've just described, what priorities have been laid out for the first year of implementation?
Kris Olsson: Yes. So, there are seven strategies. And the way the plan works, and it's all in the plan, all of the information in the plan that they've modeled everything out in terms of what are the different activities you can do and how much greenhouse gas reductions that will result in and how much it's going to cost. So, it's really well thought out, but one of the big things they could do is expanding EV charging access. If maybe you were a renter, and you feel like they're "Well, how am I going to plug in my car?" They're going to be spending a lot of the money in the first year on providing that for renters and multifamily units, expanding walking paths and bike lanes, looking for those climate resiliency hubs and starting those--getting those created--and moving towards renewable energy. So, creating product discount pricing for folks who want to go to clean energy. So, a lot of it is helping residents to make that clean energy transition and especially helping low-income residents.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. Lisa Wozniak is executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And we're talking with Kris Olsson, a representative of the Yes to Ann Arbor Climate Action Campaign.
Lisa Wozniak: So, Kris, I'd love to turn to watershed benefits because you do wear multiple hats. The A2Zero plan in the city's effort to become carbon neutral by 2030 would have really many far-reaching implications that you've described on the sustainability of our surrounding environment. And that includes the mighty Huron that runs through our midst. And only a small portion of it runs through Ann Arbor. But what direct benefit is the watershed going to derive from this millage?
Kris Olsson: We're kind of lucky in that most of the activities that this plan has in it and that climate activists promote are also have clean water benefits. So, promoting folks living closer together and living in walkable communities reduces the levels of impervious surfaces that we're using. We're consuming less land, keeping people from letting polluted stormwater runoff into the water. As the climate changes in Michigan, we've already seen this with get 44% increase in the amount of rainfall that we get, and the rainfall comes down as these larger storms. And so, that is going to sweep more of that polluted runoff into the river. So, whatever we can do to reduce that and to keep that impact from increasing, the bigger benefit we'll have on water quality. Many people have probably heard how City of Toledo had to shut down its drinking water plant because of an algae bloom. But with those bigger storms, that is just multiplying the impact.
David Fair: And, Lisa, I want to add a component to the conversation. There is an environmental-related issue on the August primary ballot. The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is seeking a millage renewal and expansion. It's a five year, 2.38 mill proposal that, if approved, would expand investment in public transportation. Now, in your organization's assessment of creating a more sustainable community, are these supplementary issues, these two ballot questions?
Lisa Wozniak: Absolutely. Public transit is an increasingly important piece of the puzzle when it comes to meaningful, real action to address the climate crisis. And this millage would push the status quo. It would provide more mobility for people and take solid steps to address this crisis that we need to address at all levels of government as Kris pointed out. And here's the thing. Greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector in this country amount to, like, just shy of 30% of our total greenhouse gas emissions, making this the largest sector of greenhouse gas emissions in our nation. So, people traveling by bus and other forms of public transportation, rapid transit, zero emission busses, which is part of this millage plan, is a great step in the right direction.
David Fair: And, Kris, I want to come back to you and the Community Climate Action proposal. Everyone is watching their pocketbooks these days: rising inflation, food and fuel costs, as well as housing prices and mortgage rates. How does the proposal affect housing affordability? Is it going to make it more expensive to live in the Ann Arbor area?
Kris Olsson: Housing affordability is a huge issue, and it's something that the plan addresses. And a major portion of the proposal's finance are going to go to help those residents lower their energy and water bills. So, there's the energy concierge that I mentioned, but there's a net-zero energy program for all affordable housing sites. So, all affordable housing sites in the city will have to meet zero energy standards. There will be energy efficiency improvements for residents and businesses. So, a lot of the funds raised will be going towards what we call a equitable transition. I mean, this is a huge transition we need to make. We emit as a community a huge amount of greenhouse gases as a city. And so, it's going to take a lot of effort to reduce those greenhouse gases. And we can't just do it alone. We have to do it as a whole community, and we have to do it in an equitable way. And so, this plan addresses that.
David Fair: Any concern developers are going to cite their properties as worth more? This property is now valued more, and I can charge more. And doesn't that exclude some who might be in favor of the environmental component of this measure?
Kris Olsson: Yeah, that's something that land use planners--so, on a city level and a township level on a county level--that is something that is difficult to deal with when you're doing your land use planning as a community, right? Because you want to put in standards that increase quality of life. Standards that increase quality of life will increase, like you say. Well, I mean, that's our capitalist system, right? But this plan, which addresses climate, also addresses a lot of those issues with, you know, as the city works and increasing its affordability as part of its master plan and its zoning ordinances. And there are a lot of efforts now going into transit-oriented development. This plan works hand in glove with that, as well as with the transit plan to make sure that affordable housing is on an equal footing. And so, that as you are putting in your standards, that will impact all of the housing equally. And this plan has provisions in it that will ensure housing affordability.
David Fair: Well, there are a lot of moving parts to this ballot proposal. And, fortunately, we have a lot of time between now and November to cover even more of them. So, Kris, thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate it.
Kris Olsson: Thank you.
David Fair: That is Kris Olsson with the Huron River Watershed Council. And she is also working as a representative of the Yes to Ann Arbor Climate Action Campaign. And she's been our guest on First Friday Focus on the Environment. My content partner for this monthly conversation is Lisa Wozniak. She's executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And, Lisa, thank you for your time, and I look forward to our visit in August.
Lisa Wozniak: It is always my pleasure, David.
David Fair: For more information on today's First Friday topic and conversation, visit our website at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR Station 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Celebrating 45 years of jazz broadcasting.
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