Monday night, the six candidates for three seats on East Lansing City Council — Erik Altmann, Lisa Babcock, Jessy Gregg, Mark Meadows, John L. Revitte and Warren Stanfield III — met for a lively debate organized by the Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU. Many topics were discussed, including tax increment funding and unfunded pensions, but a large portion of the discussion centered around students, their needs and their interests.
One of the main discussion points of the night was student housing, specifically surrounding the new high-rises being erected on campus. During ASMSU’s Q&A portion of the debate, candidates were asked if the city had too many, not enough, or the right amount of high-rise buildings.
Almost every candidate said they believed the high-rises are convenient and environmentally friendly, but more studies should be done before building more. Candidates Babcock, Altmann and Gregg also expressed a need for more diverse housing options. Attorney Lisa Babcock, however, said the high-rises may represent a threat to public safety.
“High-rise is a negligible term. For us, a high-rise is eight stories and under, so I don’t want to see another 14-story anything go up because it also becomes a safety issue,” Babcock said. “We only have one fire truck that can handle that. Other fire departments will provide mutual aid, but sooner or later, you just don’t want that travel time from downtown Lansing or Meridian Township or wherever. When lives are on the line, you need a high-rise firetruck, you need all the high-rise firetrucks you can get. As government, we have an obligation to provide that and to make sure that safety is in place.”
Housing affordability was another issue many candidates weighed in on.
Local small business owner Gregg mentioned many times that she believes the city needs more low to mid-range priced housing that is more flexible for all incomes. Babcock expressed similar grievances, specifically focusing on the large price tags that come on many of the new high-rise units.
“I think safe housing is really important. I think affordable housing is really important," Babcock said. "We’ll have a smaller carbon footprint if we live closer to where we spend most of our time ... Right now, unfortunately, the new apartment buildings are not affordable."
Another topic that came up during the questions was adding a designated student seat to City Council.
Babcock was the only candidate to voice support for this idea. She said a designated student seat would be a great way for the council to stay aware of what students are concerned about. All of the other five candidates said they do not support the addition of a designated seat.
Meadows said he thinks it would be insulting to students who have the ability to campaign for themselves. Gregg said she believes adding a designated seat would be un-democratic. Stanfield — who is a student at MSU himself — also does not support a designated student seat, and says that running for City Council should be a personal decision.
Stanfield does, however, believe that students should have a voice on the council.
“Most of the people who are here in East Lansing — residents involved in the city government community — are genuinely 40 to 50 year-old white people who are pretty out of touch with what’s going on across the street," Stanfield said. "There’s 45,000 people on campus, and I didn’t hear any of their issues brought up, in terms of socially and financially in regards to city government ... Things like flat-rate tuition, things like Larry Nassar, the continuing sexual assault issues that we face here at Michigan State University. These are problems that are not being discussed in city government, so I think that that’s something that we really need to tackle”.
Stanfield also spoke at length about the need for greater representation for minority students.
This is a topic that is becoming more and more relevant to the East Lansing area, he said. Stanfield said he believes minority student issues have been ignored by the City Council in the past.
“Being an elected official, you might not have legislative authority on campus. But you have the platform. You are allowed to direct the agenda socially, and that’s something that the City Council has not done at all in regards to the issues of minority students,” he said. "They haven’t spoken out on any of the issues we’ve been facing as minorities on campus this year and for these past couple of years. I think that beyond minorities — including minorities but to all students — the city government has been relatively silent on our issues. I understand that you can’t pass legislation, but you do have a responsibility to some of the constituents even if they are just temporary residents.”