SALINE CITY COUNCIL ELECTION 2022: Meet Robert Cameron

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Robert Cameron is one of five candidates seeking office on Saline City Council in the Nov. 8 election. Voters will elect three members to council. The other candidates are Nicole Rice, Brian Cassise and incumbents Janet Dillon and Dean Girbach.

Below is our Q & A with candidate Robert Cameron.

Biography

My name is Robert Cameron, an artist and designer who has lived in Saline for 11 years. I work as a multimedia designer for the University of Michigan’s Office of Enrollment Management. I have two master’s degrees in Urban Planning and Urban Design from U-M, and I have served on the Zoning Board of Appeals in Belleville, Michigan. Salinians may also know me as the creator of the chickadees and the pink raccoon that were displayed downtown as part of the Art Around Saline program. I live with my wife, Amy, a Benefits Specialist at ITHAKA in Ann Arbor, and stepson Sean, a political economy student at Michigan State University.

Why are you running and why should voters elect you?

I am running because I want to partner with the citizens of Saline to help build a resilient and successful place to live. We all want a city of locally-owned businesses, inclusive housing opportunities, and walkable streets. However, many of our current city policies and zoning codes are no longer achieving these goals. The last few decades have seen a reliance on car-centric development that makes our historic town more suburban. In fact, the historic neighborhoods of Saline’s center would be illegal to build today under current zoning codes. Saline’s historic charm is a great foundation that can be expanded upon in order to create a more enjoyable future for everyone.

What are your top priorities if elected? Why? And how would you work on these priorities?

  • Create economic growth: Establishing a small-business-friendly culture will ensure Saline’s long-term strength. We should be open to new business modes such as pop-up shops and increasing retail in local neighborhoods that will allow business owners to locate closer to customers (especially needed in an era where an increasing number of people are working from home).
  • Build livable neighborhoods: The last few decades of Saline’s growth has brought increased traffic. Michigan Avenue is all too often congested with cars and trucks making it an unpleasant and loud environment.

Moreover, sidewalks, non-motorized paths, and safe crosswalks are crucial lifelines for our citizens who are users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters and are often an afterthought. We should seek a more balanced approach to transportation that will be more equitable as well as having the effect of improving the aesthetic look of Saline.

  • Plan for the future: Our current zoning has only resulted in adding sprawl to our community. This creates a domino effect. As the distance between buildings increases so does traffic congestion and infrastructure costs. Updates to our zoning code to allow more mixed-use, decreasing lot size, and eliminating parking requirements are just a few simple and easily achievable measures we can implement to improve the social and climate health of our city.

Additionally, Saline has the third most expensive housing market in Washtenaw county. We need to seek ways of expanding the real estate market in order to allow a variety of housing types and sizes. This will make it easier for younger people to enter the housing market and allow our seniors to grow old age in place.

Take action on climate change: While climate change is a global problem, local governments also have a lot of power to create climate policies. In fact, the ideas I’ve outlined here will also have the benefit of being a more environmentally friendly way to grow our town.

Do you support the city's new road millage? Why or why not?

Investing in our infrastructure is important for maintaining a high quality of life in our city and I will be voting to approve this millage on Nov. 8. Additionally, it is important to remember that this proposition includes a provision for sidewalks, bike paths, and accessibility improvements as part of any street improvement project.

If this millage proposal is approved, let’s use this as an opportunity to build a city more inclusive of non-drivers.

Are you happy with the direction of the City of Saline? Please explain your answer.

The city of Saline is the place that I chose to raise my family and I am proud to call this place home. I may have disagreements with some of the policy decisions that have been made during my time living here. I am running because I want to be part of the dialogue about how we move forward and create a more sustainable and inclusive city so we will continue to be a great place in the future.

The City of Saline investigated a council member for an ethics policy investigation - and then refused to divulge information about the investigation. Do you support the decision to conceal details about the investigation? Why or why not?

I believe in governmental transparency and that the citizens have a right to know how their elective representatives are working for them. However, since I’m not familiar with the specific ethics transgression that is alleged here, I am hesitant to make a judgment at this time.

Should council regulate marijuana businesses more than it does alcohol or tobacco businesses? Why or why not?

In the state of Michigan, marijuana is a legal, controlled substance. And let’s be honest, there is a demand for it. Recent polling has shown that marijuana use is currently more prevalent than tobacco use in the United States. I think the current city council has done an earnest job trying to keep up with the new and ever-changing issue of legalization. I believe maruijuana, like alcohol, should be subject to city and state regulations to avoid creating any “red-light” districts and maintain community health.

What should be done with the 207 S Monroe St land?

Currently, the land is zoned to be multi-family, and that may still be the best use. As I’ve mentioned above, housing in Saline is expensive and one way to make housing more affordable is to increase supply.

What we need to consider is that the failed development, like all developments in Saline during the past few decades, was a fragmented one-off development rather than a new addition to the neighborhood. At some point we stopped city-building and became a collection of real estate developments.

For example, the previous Monroe Street site plan called for the stormwater retention pond to be adjacent to the street. If we want to build walkable, inclusive neighborhoods, we need street-facing homes and businesses (rather than retention ponds) lining our streets.

The city has enacted the fire assessment - the latest tax hike on city residents. At the same time, water and sewer rates are rising dramatically. What, if anything, can council do to keep this city affordable?

What level of taxes are appropriate will always be a contested debate and I look forward to working with the citizens of Saline to help guide that decision-making process. However, the fire assessment, like many taxes, is tied to property value. And as we know, property values have increased. So keeping this city affordable is not just about specific tax rates; zoning regulations and housing availability are part of this discussion as well.

As for water rates, it is my understanding that years of deferred maintenance have been a contributing factor as we are now working to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant and water mains. But I think there is something else to consider here: As the city has expanded so has the amount of infrastructure needed to service that expansion.

This is not to say the city should not grow or add new development. But rather we need to reconsider the kind of development we add. Projects that require large lots, wide setbacks, and extraneous parking requirements use a lot of land. So we end up having to build pipes to service large areas that have fewer tax-paying parcels covering that land. This results in a poor return on that investment and higher cost passed on to the rest of us.

What is city council's role in attracting businesses to town?

Our business owners are a key part of what makes our city a great place to live. City council’s role should be working to expand on our reputation of being a welcoming place to own and operate a small business. We also need to be open to new ideas about what a business is. In an age of economic change and technological advancement, being tied to the idea that a business is a brick-and-mortar shop in a central business district may be outmoded.

As many people are still working from home; the concept of the office is evolving. We need to be more open to alternative business such as food trucks, home businesses, office sharing, and pop-ups, and be open to altering zoning regulations to allow more neighborhood-level retail. Having businesses located by those working from home will be a great way to expand local business opportunities. (As well as an opportunity to help eliminate carbon emissions by reducing unnecessary car trips.)

The rusty water situation seems to have improved. What else needs to be done on this front? What can council do to ensure the city is more responsive to citizen complaints like water quality and WWTP odor?

I live on Elmwood Court (in the heart of the stench zone) so I have an intimate knowledge of the difficulties of our town’s water infrastructure. The WWTP odor has improved during the previous year and I am glad the city has taken the action it has. But it’s still not perfect and I understand just how distressing this can be. Realistic and long term planning needs to be in place as we continue to grow. Being responsive and empathetic to resident feedback is also an important part of city council’s job and if elected, something I would take seriously.

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