ANN ARBOR - Kirk Westphal (D) is running for re-election for the Ward 2 city council seat. He is seeking a third term as a council member.
He has lived in Ann Arbor for 14 years. An urban planner and filmmaker, he holds degrees from Wharton and the University of Michigan.
He is married with two sons.
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?
Our ward's challenges reflect many of the issues of the city as a whole. Some important Ward 2-specific issues include road repair, traffic and pedestrian and bike safety.
As many of us know, we're in a tight spot with regard to road funding, but the good news is that we have committed to a plan to get 80% of the roads improved to a Good or Excellent rating citywide in 7 years. It's a slow and expensive process to repave and reconstruct roads, but we're getting there.
Traffic is a problem in any city that's growing jobs and generates a lot of commuters, and we've got 70,000 or more coming in from outside the city every day. This isn't a solvable problem, but it can be managed. Investing more in sophisticated signal timing technology (we're partnering with UM) and facilities such as roundabouts have shown to move traffic more efficiently and safely. Transit is also a high priority for the community, which decreases traffic and the need to build more parking structures.
Pedestrian and bike safety are serious concerns as we manage both more commuters and the increasing number of cyclists and pedestrians. We've addressed the most critical pedestrian safety needs near schools, and we need to keep the momentum going with upgraded crossings, signals, and infrastructure to make everyone safer.
What do you feel are the biggest issues in Ann Arbor?
At the bottom of it all, the core issue is revenue. This affects every city in Michigan. As we know, the presence of UM in Ann Arbor is beneficial in so many ways, however it also means a significant amount of land within the city does not contribute property tax.
In addition, our state does not help its municipalities with road funding nearly as much as other states do, and they also are not sharing tax revenues with us as much as they should. Public education has not been a state priority either, so city residents need to keep the system thriving with education millages, and these compete with other priorities residents want to see addressed. On top of all this, the city's millage rates decrease steadily due to state law, so we are always trying to do more with what we have.
Thankfully our improving economy and investment in the city have prevented the need to cut more services, and we are able to move forward with road and infrastructure repair, caring for our trees, public safety, and other essential services.
What do you love about Ann Arbor?
Honestly, everything! My neighbors, our parks and tree-lined streets, our amazing downtown, the multiculturalism and welcoming spirit here, our public schools, and the list goes on.
What could Ann Arbor do better?
Communication is key. People get information in so many different ways today, we have to keep pushing to get relevant information to everyone.
Why did you decide to run again for City Council?
I initially ran for council because I wanted to make sure Ann Arbor lives up to its potential as a thriving, mid-sized city. As an urban planner, I look at the trajectory of other cities and the resulting quality of life of their residents.
In Ann Arbor, we have a complex set of advantages and disadvantages that impact us now and will continue to do so in the future. Because of the drastic change in the region's economy, we will always have to work harder than our peer cities to thrive in the future. We cannot afford to miss out on opportunities like federal funding and outside investment in our community.
Between my educational background, service on city boards and commissions, and my belief that we all need to take turns serving our community, I felt qualified to offer myself as a representative of Ward 2.
If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
Describe what you think it means to be an Ann Arborite.
I think we're defined by our lack of definition! The beauty of Ann Arbor is that we strive to be welcoming to all, so hopefully everyone feels they meet the definition, whether they're here temporarily or for the long term.
For more information about the upcoming election, including polling place locations and voter tips, read: What you need to know ahead of Ann Arbor's Aug. 7 primary.
Copyright 2018 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit - All rights reserved.