YOUR ELi: A Voter Guide for the Land Sale Charter Amendment

Thursday, April 30, 2015, 8:00 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

This Tuesday, May 5, registered voters in East Lansing can vote on two possible amendments to the City Charter, one on the sales of public lands, the other on marijuana enforcement. Below we provide information that may help you decide how to vote on the land sale charter amendement. Click here for information on the charter amendment regarding marijuana.

What percentage has to vote “yes” to change the City Charter? A simple majority “yes” vote (50% + 1 vote) would change the charter. If 50% + 1 vote “no,” the current system will remain in place.

How would the proposed amendment change the sale of public lands? If the amendment passes:

  • City Council is likely in practice to have decision-making power over more sales of non-park lands, because the value threshold of land sales that require public votes will be raised according to an inflation adjustment every year. (Only 3 of 5 Council members have to vote “yes” to sell land in instances that Council has control over.)
  • The sale of those non-park lands that are subject to voter approval will be approvable with a simple majority vote (50% + 1 vote) of registered voters voting as opposed to the supermajority (60%) vote now required.
  • The sale of park lands won’t change. Those all now and will all still require a simple majority approval of voters (50% + 1 vote), regardless of the park’s value.

Here’s a grid to explain more about how the amendment would change our system:

Issue

currently:

if amendment passes:

valuation threshold

Any public land worth more than $4 per capita (now about $194,000) requires approval by a vote of the people to be sold.

For land worth less than this, 3 Councilmembers can approve the property’s sale.

The minimum valuation threshold will go up every year to keep pace with inflation. Public land worth more than $4 per capita plus an annual inflation adjustment will require approval by a vote of the people to be sold.

For land worth less than the threshold, 3 Councilmembers will be able to approve the property’s sale.

percentage of “yes” votes needed for the sale of non-park land

Sales of non-park lands above the value threshold are approved if 60% or more of the people vote “yes.”

Land sales above the value threshold would be approved if more than 50% of the people vote “yes.”

percentage of “yes” votes needed for the sale of park land

(NO CHANGE WILL OCCUR)

Land sales of parks are approved only if a simple majority of citizens registered-to-vote vote “yes.” (This means 50% plus 1 vote.)

Remains the same.

 

What land does the City own? The City assessor's office has provided ELi a list of what it says are City-owned properties and another list of what it says are properties owned by the East Lansing Downtown Development Authority (DDA). See the City-owned properties list here, and the DDA-owned properties list here.

Be careful when reading these, as it looks like there may be some misplaced data. For example, on the “DDA-owned” list, we find City Hall (410 Abbot Road), which I do not believe is DDA-owned. (If you look in the left-side column on that PDF, you will find that it lists the City as the owner of City Hall.)

What we see from these documents is that there are parcels all over the City that could potentially be at issue in a Charter amendment.

Note that DDA-owned properties are not properties whose sale is subject to voter approval: The members of the DDA, not the voting public, decide whether and how to sell or give away DDA-owned land. As we have previously reported on the annual financial audit, East Lansing taxpayers are on the hook for DDA debt, so decisions made by the DDA impact all us taxpayers even though we have no say in decisions made by the DDA with regard to when, to whom, and for how much to sell a DDA-owned property.

How has the 60% supermajority requirement worked in practice? Historical data provided on request to ELi by City Clerk Marie Wicks shows that since 2002, there have been three land sales that successfully passed the 60% threshold. Since November 2006, there have been four land sales that would have easily passed had a simple majority been required, but all failed because of the supermajority vote requirement. Read more.

What do supporters and opponents of the charter amendment say? Read our report to get a sense of the “pro” and “con” sides on this issue.

Where and when can you vote? Polls will be open to registered voters on Tuesday, May 5, 7 am - 8 pm. Polling location information is available at the City Clerk's website.

 

This article was originally published on April 25, 2015, and has been moved up in the queue to be available to voters as the election nears.

UPDATE, April 25, 2015, 9 pm: The second bullet in the opening summary was changed from "a simple majority vote (50% + 1 vote) of the people" to "a simple majority vote (50% + 1 vote) of registered voters voting."

 

 

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