I discovered a campaign flyer produced by U-M student and first ward city council candidate Rick Lax at Cafe Ambrosia today. While almost certainly not progressive enough for my tastes, his platform presents a refreshing student-oriented point of view, if perhaps tempered by the scent of self-serving ambitions reminiscent Paul Scott and the University Party in the Michigan Student Assembly elections. Here’s his platform:
1) In response to the city mailing bills for unpaid parking tickets en mass last spring: “Make sure people don’t have to prove they paid a parking ticket to avoid paying it a second time”
2) In response to the newly created $125 snow-emergency parking fine, reduced to $35 last year: “Pass a bill that says unless a car actually needs to be towed, actually is towed, there will be no fine for towing”
3) “Oppose the Washtenaw Hill Historic Area expansion, a plan that may have good intentions … but is ultimately unfair to the residents of the area”
4) Perhaps most surprisingly, he says he would have opposed State Street Area improvement project, saying the area “was already a beautiful place to begin with,” saying the $5.5 million spent could have been spent on bike paths, city parks, or “electric cars.” He blames the rising rent in the area on the street improvements, lamenting the closing of Decker Drugs as a victim of the rent increases. In summary, he says: “If elected, I will make sure the City doesn’t spend another dime renovating areas that don’t need renovation. I will make sure money is used where it is needed, so that the local businesses that make our downtown so unique can continue to serve the community.”
While I am glad to see any candidate for city council making the city’s opportunistic approach to parking tickets, I think there are other, more important issues Lax overlooks, at least in this literature. Where is his opinions on lowering rent for students, the Patriot Act resolution, the long-discussed new dorm, and the mayor’s “greenbelt” proposal?
Finally, while I’m glad he’s worried about the mallification of the State Street Area, I think it is simplistic to blame the high rents on the street improvements. While they may have the effect of boosting the property values in the area, I think the new, wider sidewalks, brighter streetlights, and better crosswalks were needed and make the area more pleasant. There are other approaches to maintaining a diverse mix of businesses, including drug stores, and helping out small businesses, including tax incentives, rent restrictions, and encouraging planned development. However, Lax doesn’t address something fundamentally wrong with the project: it was executed by the semi-public Downtown Development Agency, which runs the city’s parking structures. In addition to resisting the unionization of their parking attendants last year, the DDA is not subject to the same levels of control and scrutiny as the regular city government, and in my mind should be abolished. Although I disagree with his opinion of the renovation project, he is right: the decision should properly lie with the transparent and democratic City Council and Planning Commission, not with a semi-private organization.