Council Candidate Lisa Babcock Believes East Lansing Deserves Better From Its Leaders
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of City Council candidate profiles that ELi will publish in the coming days.
Attorney Lisa Babcock has made it official: She is running for East Lansing City Council. Babcock is a resident of East Lansing’s Hawthorn neighborhood and enters the race with professional experience in environmental and energy policy, and local journalism. Her goal is to make East Lansing’s decision-making more transparent, proactive in addressing climate change, and what she sees as more thoughtful with redevelopment.
Babcock tells ELi it was one particular event that happened in the City that spurred her to run for Council: the eBay land sale.
“I was like, that’s it. You can curse the darkness or you can turn on a light,” Babcock said. “I can be unhappy about it or I can go out and try to run. I think the city and the current leadership need more transparency. The Council, in general, has not been forthcoming as it should be with information.”
Babcock said that while knocking on doors for her campaign she has heard from residents saying they feel like there is no vision for downtown development. She believes the disconnect between the citizens and their elected officials is a problem.
“I would start by adhering to the master plan,” Babcock said. “Last year the City asked people to give their time and their effort to create a master plan. It’s less than a year old and the city development is not following that at all, which is disrespectful and wasteful. It’s leading to this chaotic development, and there is a sense that whatever developers want, they get,” Babcock said.
She added that she is not anti-development and believes that some tax incentives for development works, but stressed the need for an overall vision for what East Lansing should look like. She does not want to see big redevelopment subsidized by the taxes from residential neighborhoods.
“Responsible development is making sure the cost of public services like police and fire are all shared by the developers,” she said.
To date, Babcock said she has not received any donations from developers and plans to keep it that way throughout the campaign. She is one of seven candidates running for three four-year-term seats.
Emerging Leaders grad believes it’s time to get involved
In an interview with ELi, Babcock stressed the importance of the “quality of life” issues that often come before the City Council that sometimes do not make the final round of budget cuts. She is particularly passionate about making sure that the East Lansing Public Library and its funding is always guaranteed and protected in City budgets.
Babcock is a recent graduate of the East Lansing’s Emerging Leaders program, which seeks to teach residents about local government and how to become more involved in it. She grew up in the Groesbeck area of Lansing and attended Lansing Eastern High School and St. Johns Student Parish in East Lansing.
After high school, she graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's degree in Political Science with a minor in Communication.
A former journalist, Babcock previously wrote for the Petoskey Review and the Traverse City Record-Eagle. She said time spent as a reporter gave her a better understanding of the inner workings of local government.
“You spend hours and hours watching city council and zoning board of appeals,” Babcock said. “There is a lot of knowledge you can gain by just watching and reporting on local government. You learn that what works for Traverse City might not work for East Lansing, and as you watch things play out, you get an idea of what you want for your community.”
She worked for several years on the Michigan Senate Democrats policy staff, focusing mainly on environmental and energy policy. She would like to see the City of East Lansing do more to address climate change.
After working in the Michigan Senate, Babcock decided it was time for a career change and decided to go to law school. She earned her law degree from the Michigan State University College of Law, and has worked in private practice and also as a public defender in Ingham County.
“I have a real interest in how cities run. I’m a little bit of a government nerd,” Babcock said.
Senior citizens must be protected
Babcock praised a previous East Lansing City Council for adopting the Percent for Art ordinance, which mandates that developers allocate the equivalent of 1 percent of redevelopment project costs (capped at $25,000) to a public art project. Recently, the first public art project using that fund, a sculpture named “Lemon Grass,” was unveiled at Valley Court Park.
“It shows that East Lansing is a real community and not just a soulless suburb,” she said.
Babcock floated the idea of having the same type of ordinance that mandates that a percentage of a development’s overall costs go toward fighting climate change and promoting clean energy. She’s also concerned about the needs of senior citizens.
“Seven percent of our seniors in East Lansing live at or below the poverty line,” she said. “The City could pay attention to its neediest citizens more, and have a downtown that serves more than just students.”
In her spare time, Babcock leads a Brownie troop, she gardens, and spends time at the East Lansing library.
“Living in East Lansing, I have definitely had to step up my gardening game. There are some amazing ones around town,” she said.
Advocate for fiscal soundness
If elected, Babcock said one of the first things she will get to work on is figuring out a solution for the Evergreen Avenue properties the Downtown Development Authority purchased.
“We need to decide what we are going to do: are we going to sell them and cut our losses or go with the current Vlahakis proposal? Some people are going to be unhappy, but it needs to be addressed,” she said.
Babcock would also like to like focus more attention on the budget and making sure the City meets its financial obligations.
“Last year, we had the income tax and the property tax [reduction] was not what people were expecting,” she said. “There are things I want to protect going forward, like the library and the arts, but we need to be on solid financial footing.
“I would rather do things now like to be a part of the budget process and make sure the library doesn’t get cut then come back later and say ‘what happened?’ You can curse the darkness or you can turn on a light. It’s time to change, we want better government, we deserve better government and we can have better government.”
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