1st Friday Focus on the Environment: A look at the Ann Arbor Community Climate Action ballot proposal
ABOUT JASON FRENZEL:
Jason facilitates current and potential watershed stewards. Previously, he worked with the City of Ann Arbor’s Natural Area Preservation program for 10 years as its Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator. Jason holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan State University in “facilitating tree hugging.” He joined HRWC in 2011 and lives in the Traver Creekshed.
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 bachelor's degree and two ensuing master's 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 October edition of First Friday Focus on the Environment. I'm David Fair. And on the first Friday of each month, we explore issues of environmental and ecological importance in Michigan and right here in Washtenaw County. In a little over a month, voters in Ann Arbor are going to decide a ballot issue that may determine whether the city meets its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by the year 2030. The City Charter Amendment for Community Climate Action asks voters to approve a tax levy of up to one mill for a period of 20 years. That's a big ask. My co-host for WEMU First Fridays is Lisa Wozniak, and Lisa is executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And thanks for coming back and helping us navigate these kinds of issues.
Lisa Wozniak: It is always a pleasure to be here, Dave. And our guest today is Jason Frenzel. And Jason serves the environment in a number of different ways. He is the stewardship coordinator for the Huron River Watershed Council. He is the chair of the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club. And, most importantly for our conversation today, he is on the steering committee for the passage of the Community Climate Action Proposal. Thank you for joining us, Jason.
Jason Frenzel: Always a delight.
David Fair: First off, curious as to why you chose to take a leadership role in trying to get this particular measure passed?
Jason Frenzel: Absolutely. As you may recall, I was on city council a number of years ago, and the reason that I ran was I strongly believe that the city could be doing more for environmental measures across the board. When I was on council, we accomplished a lot. And one of the big things that I really, really have a lot of pride in is we created the infrastructure for the Office of Sustainability, which is enacting the Climate Plan for the City of Ann Arbor. We were able to dedicate funds for that, and those funds are going to sunset here in a couple of years. So, this is something that I'm very historically tied to and really want to see, obviously with my environmental side, want to see the climate work continue.
Lisa Wozniak: So, we're just about a month away from the November 8th election, and voting is already underway. Can you give us a broad description of what will be accomplished if the Community Climate Action millage passes?
Jason Frenzel: Yeah. So, the climate millage is directly tied to the Climate Plan. The way that city council enacted--putting it on the ballot--they tied it specifically to the goals of the first few years of the plan and the plan exactly. The plan covers all sorts of different climate measures: electrification, transportation, waste reduction. All the things that we think about when we think about climate issues are all in the plan. They're seven tenants with 44 sub-projects and hundreds of tasks to do over the coming years and decades.
David Fair: A lot of people are going to be perhaps a little confused, thinking this is different and separate from the A2Zero carbon neutrality initiative. But they are definitively intertwined.
Jason Frenzel: Absolutely. The way that the structure of the millage was proposed by city council was to tie it directly to the plan. As I noted a moment ago, the funding for--the dedicated funding--for implementing the plan will sunset here. And as we know, governments have lots and lots of priorities. And from my own experience and as we've all witnessed, budgets get pulled around to the squeaky wheel or the loudest thing of the day. And one of the reasons that climate change has been underfunded across the board, nationally and locally, is because it's always the problem for tomorrow. Even though we're seeing the impacts of climate every single day in precipitation and the horrific things that happened in Florida this past week, it is present, but it's always not the most present thing, like when I'm driving to work or the potholes or the garbage pickup or something.
David Fair: 89 one WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment continues. I'm with my co-host, Lisa Wozniak, the executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And our guest today is Jason Frenzel. He's spearheading the A2 Community Climate Action millage that's being decided on the November ballot. Now, the tax levy would be for 20 years, but the city's goal is carbon neutrality by 2030. And why the additional 13 years of the millage?
Jason Frenzel: It's a nice round number. No. A couple of anecdotes to that question. One is around health. We aim for a certain weight. We aim to reduce our meat consumption. We aim to have less coffee or whatever it is that you do right? There's not an end point to that work. There's a process to get to the goal, which would be carbon neutrality by 2030, but it's going to be ongoing work. Another anecdote that I have for it is the folks who and the economic process and the powers that be that created the environmental hazards and problems that we have aren't going away when the city goes carbon neutral. Those pressures are still going to be around and on us, be it through additional development of housing, which we obviously need, new technologies that come out that change our lives and how we transport to work, which we've seen in the last few years. All of these things shift how we use energy drastically, and I strongly believe that the city needs to be in a really good place to be able to work within those systems for years to come.
Lisa Wozniak: So, in your estimation, can carbon neutrality be achieved if this measure fails?
Jason Frenzel: It depends on how much money both City Council would in that space allocate towards their Climate Plan and the Office of Sustainability, as well as...The Office of Sustainability has been very good at leveraging external funds. So, that's all politics, and that's talking about a crystal ball and you can't know. I want to say, "Yeah," because I believe--I always believe--in the staff, but it's an uphill battle at that point.
David Fair: Well, we're talking about money. It's estimated this one-mill increase in property taxes would generate $6.8 million for the city in the first year of the levy. Assuming taxes will go up over the next two decades, that means probably over $140 million would be collected from city taxpayers. Program investments will take place to drive the shift to a city run almost entirely on renewable energy.
Jason Frenzel: I'd like to start the answer a little slightly off topic. The climate plan, as it is written currently, is estimated to cost $1,000,000,000 to actually get to carbon neutrality.
David Fair: So, this is just a start.
Jason Frenzel: This is a start. We need to leverage additional dollars. We need to have this base funding in place to be able to move in that direction. But your question is great, though one of the things that I love about the climate plan is that it does touch everybody's life in multiple ways. The most obvious ones are, like, transportation, biking and walking infrastructure, getting people who have cars to be able to charge their electric vehicles in more places. But in much more simple terms, weatherization programs, helping people pay less for their utility bills, which also helps the environment. Similar to that, the OSI has started a program that they hope to expand drastically, which would be a range replacement program. These are your gas powered stove and oven. Stoves and ovens, obviously, use petroleum products if they're a gas. And that creates climate change problems. They also, especially when they're not maintained well, create indoor air problems. So, by incentivizing by creating bulk buy programs for solar or for these range replacements or things of that nature, you not only help the environment and the population in total by reducing greenhouse gases, but you also help the individuals in their own homes. And I'd just like to mention that programs like that disproportionately help those who are underserved in our community.
David Fair: The October edition of 89 one WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment continues with our guest Jason Frenzel, and my co-host Lisa Wozniak.
Lisa Wozniak: We know that, at the federal level, the Inflation Reduction Act recently passed Congress, and that makes a large amount of money available for communities to make investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and more. Do you see opportunities to leverage some of the funding with the tax money generated through the passage of this proposal?
Jason Frenzel: Absolutely. It was very, very front of mind that Biden's getting in office was going to leverage money that would then become available for us to double and hopefully way more than double the amount of money that we're pulling in from the tax base. I think I would have still pushed for this millage, nonetheless, but absolutely 100%. I have seen so many times where City of Ann Arbor staff across the board have been able to leverage the base dollars that they have against state and federal dollars, more so than many, many communities throughout the state and throughout the country, because they have the jurisdiction, they have the knowledge, we have all these plans. And so, they can they can enact that and pull that federal dollars in. Absolutely.
David Fair: Jason, I know a lot of folks in Ann Arbor who already feel overtaxed. And, right now, we're in a period of inflation. More people are feeling the squeeze on their wallets. And, you know, housing and housing insecurity, food insecurity, it's all real. What do you say to those who tell you they don't think they can afford another tax for 20 more years?
Jason Frenzel: I totally hear that. Having been a lifelong resident and taxpayer in Ann Arbor for 20 years, I definitely feel the squeeze. One of the things that I like to talk about is a lot of the climate goals help people's lives. Weatherization programs reduce the amount that people pay for utilities, allowing people more multimodal transportation to get around town when and if they don't have the ability to access a vehicle or the bus or something like that. It allows folks who don't have the means to do things and help save people's pocketbooks. Another huge portion of the climate plan lays out are a series of different bulk buys, incentive programs, and technical assistance. So, helping people get to that place of having solar or having access to renewable energy in other ways, that also reduces people's long-term costs.
David Fair: Jason, thank you so much for the time today and the information. I appreciate it.
Jason Frenzel: Thank you very much for having me.
David Fair: That is Jason Frenzel. He is serving as member of the steering committee for passage of the Ann Arbor Community Climate Action ballot proposal being decided by voters on the November ballot. And Lisa Wozniak. She's executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and my co-host for WEMU First Friday Focus on the Environment. Looking forward to the November edition.
Lisa Wozniak: I'm looking forward to it as well. David. Thank you so much.
David Fair: For more information on today's conversation, visit WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.
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