Getting to know Ann Arbor City Council candidate Mozhgan Savabieasfahani

Mozhgan Savabieasfahani is running for the Ward 4 city council seat. (Mozhgan Savabieasfahani)

ANN ARBOR – Mozhgan Savabieasfahani (D) is running for the Ward 4 city council seat. 

A native of Iran, Savabieasfahani is an environmental toxicologist and has authored a book and over 30 publications in scientific journals.

An Ann Abror resident since 2001, she regularly demonstrated in front of Ann Arbor City Council on several issues before running for the Ward 4 seat.

The following interview was conducted via email. 

In your opinion, what are the main issues in your ward? How do you propose to solve them?

The $15 an hour minimum wage is the most important issue, in my experience.

People have a right to at least afford an apartment in the town where they work. After taxes, $15 an hour turns into just over $12 an hour. For that money, you have to work three weeks out of every month just to pay your rent and nothing else. So yes, $15 an hour is the most important issue in Ward 4. Also, remember that most Ann Arborites are renters.

What do you feel are the biggest issues in Ann Arbor?

Public health, environmental health, good public housing, human rights, and the $15 an hour minimum wage. I am the only candidate to actually spell out my legislative agenda to deal with the issues facing Ann Arbor. 

Why did you decide to run again for City Council?

I want to put a stop to the continuous contamination of our waters by dioxane and PFAS. I am not pleased to see the City Council spend decades and millions of dollars on meetings with the polluter, negotiations with the polluter, fruitless litigation, and now prostrating itself in front of the EPA to beg it for a cleanup which it will never deliver.

That perpetual running in circles tells you everything you need to know about the blasé attitude of our City government towards our public and environmental health. They serve out their time on Council and leave us in a more polluted ditch than when they first took their seat.

Ann Arbor is the site of the largest dioxane water contamination in the world. We, the City, are the only entity that is willing and able to clean that up immediately. So we should clean it up now!

If you hate to watch Trump allowing COVID-19 to spread across the U.S., then you should hate watching City Council preside over the expanding dioxane plume (and now, PFAS contamination too), as it spreads throughout our waters. The Council has spent decades meeting but not acting to clean it up. I will do my best to compel action by the City.

The Gelman dioxane contamination of our waters has been reported since the 1960′s in the Ann Arbor News and in MLive. Today, the Gelman plume is the largest it has ever been. Years of meetings have failed miserably in protecting the public and environmental health of Ann Arbor residents, nor have the state or the federal government come to our rescue.

Similarly, PFAS releases by Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom, Michigan has not been stopped. We have known for over a year that Tribar is the source of PFAS contamination of our waters, yet no action has been taken to properly shut down this manufacturer.

Weak and starved environmental agencies allow for the fast and continuous spread of toxic pollutants, however we are not helpless.

We can still act and stop the spread of these contaminants.

To hold polluters accountable, we need 1) strong environmental laws, a 2) a strong Environmental Protection Agency to enforce those laws, and 3) local advocates on our City Council who will actually get that pollution cleaned up, with no more stalling.

I have been doing my share at Ann Arbor City Council 1) to make it clear that the EPA and Superfund cannot be relied upon to clean the Gelman dioxane plume, and 2) to compel the City to undertake that dioxane clean up now, and 3) to put a millage vote to the public and raise the necessary funds to clean it up immediately. Simultaneously the City can certainly go after the polluter, but don’t use that as another excuse to stall on the cleanup.

I have gone to many Ann Arbor city meetings, and Washtenaw County meetings, to demand that the City clean up the Gelman dioxane contamination of our waters. The EPA’s own Superfund deputy director for Region 5 has explained that an EPA remedial investigation and feasibility study alone could take 30 years! That’s 30 years just for a study, not even for a cleanup. The EPA would even leave the study to be done by the polluter. We cannot, in good conscience, wait for that.

For more of the reasons why I am running for Council, please see my agenda, in ten resolutions which I will introduce in City Council after my election to the Ward 4 seat which is being contested.

What could Ann Arbor do better?

Ann Arbor has been made into a segregated town for the rich. Ann Arbor is now more segregated, more polluted, and less “diverse” than it was when I first moved here in 2001.

For decades, Ann Arbor City Government has favored the well-being of private development over the needs of its working people. Single-family zoning drives Black residents out of Ann Arbor. Single-family zoning, which has been abolished in Grand Rapids and Minneapolis, is racist to the bone, from its earliest days until now. Ann Arbor needs to abolish single-family zoning to facilitate public housing.

To clarify, by demanding abolition of exclusionary single-family zoning I mean to open up that 70% of residential areas which is currently walled off as single-family zoning to public investment for good public housing. I don’t want that 70% of our living space to be a happy hunting ground for private developers to gentrify. Gentrification is another method of excluding people of color.

The public is willing to pay for public housing in Ann Arbor. WEMU has reported that 77% of voters in Ann Arbor would support an affordable housing millage if it appeared on a local ballot. We need to start by doing the following:

(1) abolish single-family zoning as Minneapolis and Grand Rapids have already done,

(2) invest in and construct enough good quality public housing so that every minimum wage worker in Ann Arbor can actually live in Ann Arbor,

(3) tell the U.S. Congress to repeal the Faircloth Amendment, which has largely illegalized public housing, and

(4) fund the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County to eliminate homelessness while we build good quality public housing

I would favor using that millage to construct 1500 units of good affordable public housing. Over time, the rent on those units could yield substantial revenue to the City. Development should be by and for the public, not for private developers' benefit. The private developers have had their fun.

Meanwhile, the incumbent, Mr. Eaton, still fiercely defends exclusionary single-family zoning. So where on Earth are people supposed to live, if 70% of our living space is off-limits to anything resembling affordable housing?

The Ann Arbor Mayor, Christopher Taylor, has talked about re-zoning to help alleviate the “affordable housing” crisis. However, since his leadership has created the current housing crisis, I would be hard pressed to believe he is able to remedy it. We need public investment in good publicly-owned housing to create sustainable affordable housing. Mayor Taylor has never supported anything except private development to benefit the exclusionary gentrification of Ann Arbor. That imposes a major cost on the residents of Ann Arbor – it means they can’t afford to live here.

What do you love about Ann Arbor?

I love and respect the human rights movements that have fought for the human rights of Black and Palestinian people in this town. For example, the movement to boycott the apartheid state of Israel – a state which was intimately allied to Apartheid South Africa.

For example, the movement to get rid of the racist Stand Your Ground law, a law which has been used as a license to kill Black men and boys.

I have been at the forefront of those basic human rights movements in Ann Arbor for many years. I have also been in the forefront of the movement to clean up our living environment – for an immediate city cleanup of the Gelman dioxane plume.

Learn more information at her website. 

All About Ann Arbor reached out to all of the city council candidates for interviews. 

For more information about the Aug. 4 primary, read:

Aug. 4 primary: Who’s running in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.