Getting to know Ann Arbor City Council candidate Erica Briggs

Erica Briggs is running for the Ward 5 city council seat. (Erica Briggs)

ANN ARBOR – Erica Briggs (D) is running for the Ward 5 city council seat. 

Briggs grew up in Ann Arbor and returned to the city in 2000, and then again in 2009 after moving to Germany. 

She holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science, a Master’s degree in Public Administration and a Ph.D. in Political Science. 

Briggs is the executive director of Scenic Michigan. 

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?

Fifth Ward residents, not unlike residents across Ann Arbor, are concerned about a wide variety of issues. They want to see our roads improved, better bike facilities, and increased pedestrian safety. They are worried about the safety of our water supply as the Gelman plume creeps under the 5th Ward. They want to make sure our police protect and serve all residents with dignity and justly. But the number one concern I hear from residents is community affordability.

While their backgrounds are varied-- nurses, court staff, planners, artists, students, renters, homeowners, retirees—many of residents I meet love Ann Arbor, but they aren’t confident that Ann Arbor has a place for them in its future.

Unfortunately, there isn’t one solution to make Ann Arbor affordable and we will need to use different tools to address and mitigate for the causes of rising costs for different populations. The solutions that work for seniors who own homes but are surviving on modest, fixed incomes (e.g. reducing taxes) are at odds with the desires of younger residents who want to see great schools and Ann Arbor actively address the climate crisis. I believe we need to increase the diversity and supply of housing in our community, improve our transportation options since transportation is the 2nd highest cost in household budgets, and better leverage the tax revenue we receive from new development to fund community priorities. If it passes, the affordable housing millage in November will be an important step to addressing our community needs, but many other actions are required to make sure we’re truly addressing the needs of residents that are getting priced out of Ann Arbor.

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

Ann Arbor is ranked as one of the best cities for entrepreneurs, best cities to raise a family in, best college towns, and best cities to retire in. The accolades are great and we’re fortunate to be dealing with the problems of a successful city rather than a city in decline, but growth is creating real challenges for our community. Housing prices are skyrocketing, congestion is increasing, and the cost of retail space in downtown is higher than it is in downtown Boulder or Berkley. One of the top concerns I have is that we will lose the diversity, both people and businesses, that makes Ann Arbor an interesting place to live.

The demand to live in Ann Arbor is strong and, if our policies to build a more livable community are successful, that demand is only likely to increase. On a normal (pre-COVID) day, almost 85,000 people commute into Ann Arbor. Our roads are getting more dangerous. Ann Arbor, like almost every other city in the US, is seeing an increase in pedestrian crashes and adding more distracted drivers isn’t helping. I believe the answer to the challenges we’re facing isn’t to try to turn back the clock, but rather to focus on growing thoughtfully. Building more housing along transit corridors so people can live car-free or car-light lifestyles, building safer streets for walkers and bikers, adopting a form-based code so we can manage the shape and form of new

growth more effectively, and emphasizing support of local retail in our economic development model will help us ensure Ann Arbor remains a great place to live and we’re able to retain our diversity as we grow.

Why did you decide to run again for City Council?

I am running for Ann Arbor City Council because I believe it’s imperative that we work together to build a just, affordable, and sustainable community. We need leaders who embrace collegiality and professional conduct, and who will work diligently to advance progressive policy.

I have spent most of the last 20 years living in the Fifth Ward. When I moved to Ann Arbor twenty years ago as a young, single mom, I was fortunate to be able to build a life here. I found an incredibly supportive community ready to lift me up and help me build a brighter future. But the reality is that building a good life here is getting harder for many. The Ann Arbor area is now the 8th most economically segregated in the nation. We have the opportunity to build a better future for our residents, and our planet, but doing so requires us to consider diverse perspectives. It requires us to face uncomfortable truths. And it requires leaders who can build consensus for and set policies that will lead us down a different path.

If elected, I will bring my strong commitment to ethical and professional public leadership, my passion for fostering citizen engagement, and my many years of experience working on community issues to serve the 5th Ward on Ann Arbor City Council. I am the executive director of a state-wide environmental nonprofit organization and have worked on transportation, land use, and sustainability issues for the last fifteen years. I currently serve on the Ann Arbor Planning Commission and previously served on the Ann Arbor Energy Commission and in leadership positions on the boards of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition and League of Michigan Bicyclists. I received my PhD in Political Science this spring and have a Masters in Public Administration. My knowledge of city policies, codes, and processes will help me be an effective voice on City Council from my first day on the job.

What could Ann Arbor do better?

We must leverage the growth we’re experiencing both from the University and the tech economy to address the growing inequality we’re experiencing and to finance a progressive agenda. We cannot simply claim to be a progressive community, we must move forward bolding.

To take bold steps, we must include more residents into public processes so that we can move forward with confidence that different perspectives have been considered and incorporated into our decision-making. To get more people engaged, we need to improve communications and have Council members interested in bridging the gap between city operations and residents.

As a candidate, I have launched a bi-monthly newsletter to communicate news of important items coming before City Council and I’ll expand this if elected. I plan to hold

regular ward meetings, ideally monthly, to discuss current issues and share news of Council’s work. I believe council members should be accessible, communicate important news with residents, listen to all viewpoints, and work to elevate the voices often left out of the public process. I hope that open and frequent communications will improve trust and understanding of local government and build confidence in public processes. I also want to improve outreach to neighborhoods. I am particularly impressed by East Lansing’s Neighborhood Partnership Initiative and would like to explore implementing a similar program in Ann Arbor.

What do you love about Ann Arbor?

I love our downtown, cultural amenities, charming neighborhoods, extensive park system, good schools… but mostly I love the values we share as a community. In Ann Arbor, there is a collective concern for the common good-- whether that means protecting our planet or fighting for justice and equity issues. There is also a fierce desire to help our neighbor.

For more information, visit 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.