Incumbent Geri McCaleb and her challengers, councilmen Bob Monetza and Josh Brugger, made the case in a public forum Tuesday night for holding the city’s top elected position. The forum took place at the Grand Haven Community Center, and was hosted and moderated by the local League of Women Voters.
While the candidates have collaborated on a number of projects and have aligned priorities for the city, their views differ on a range of issues and policies.
On Aug. 6, city voters will decide which of the two candidates will proceed to the November general election.
Coming to the end of his first term on council, Brugger, 41, is leaving his seat open in order to run for mayor. So, he will not return to the council if he is not elected mayor.
Monetza, 65, has two years remaining on his latest term on council, and would return to his seat if not elected.
McCaleb, 72, will be off the council if she is not re-elected to a fifth two-year term as mayor.
Energy and the environment
The closure of the coal-burning Sims plant on Harbor Island has been a top priority for the City Council this past year. While a new gas-fired engine was proposed to produce local energy in the absence of Sims, recent estimates have made the cost of building a new plant cost-prohibitive for the Board of Light & Power.
McCaleb has maintained that local production is a necessary component and desired by residents. She said she would be open to other forms of local production, including nuclear power, but said “red tape and fear mongering” would prevent such an endeavor.
Brugger said local production isn’t a make-or-break part of the energy plan.
“We have wants and we have needs,” he said. “We need power and we want to generate it locally.”
The councilman said he would consider restricting the sale of plastic bags in the city. McCaleb said taking care of the environment is a personal responsibility, arguing against a “disposable society.”
“I’m all about plastic bags, especially when it comes to dogs,” she said. “I like plastic straws and I like plastic bags, and I don’t think the planet is going to succumb to a few things like that.”
Monetza said he helped bring the county’s Resource Recovery Service Center to Grand Haven, which allows residents to safely dispose of hazardous waste.
“We can’t solve the big problems, but we can solve the little problems,” Monetza said. “When you put them all together, it makes a pretty big problem.”
The candidates proposed different strategies for increasing affordable housing options.
Brugger said he pushed for the city’s Affordable Housing Taskforce that was formed last year, and has suggested allowing small apartments and reducing parking space requirements.
Monetza said accessory buildings in residential areas could provide suitable rental housing on a case-by-case basis. He said “setting the stage for development” as a member of the Planning Commission was among his top accomplishments with the city.
The mayor said increasing affordable housing is a challenge due to the need to fix costs, and said the proliferation of short-term rentals has driven up the cost of homes. She said the city should be mindful of “viewsheds” as it grows upward and increases density.
Diversity and inclusion
Brugger praised Ottawa County’s new Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and said Grand Haven is perceived by some outside the community as unwelcoming across demographics.
“I am passionate about cultural diversity,” he said. “We are lacking in the City of Grand Haven – there’s no other way to put it.”
The mayor said she remembers as a 5-year-old, her parents, who were immigrants from the Netherlands, received funny looks because of their Dutch accents.
“It’s something that you deal with,” she said. “I think there’s a diversity of opinion in terms of Grand Haven’s position in the diversity world. It depends on who you talk to and what their outlook in life is.”
Monetza said Grand Haven is “limited in its experience and outreach,” but the community should lead by example.
While Grand Haven voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana last November, the City Council voted to ban the industry. Brugger and McCaleb were both part of that decision, while Monetza said the council should follow the desire of voters.
Monetza is in favor of allowing medical marijuana establishments, as he and Brugger both supported a new in-the-works ordinance for the city. Brugger said he has grappled with growing up in the “just say no to drugs” era, and isn’t ready to get on board with allowing recreational sales.
“We need to be very respectful of the 44 percent, and we need to honor the wishes of the 56 percent,” he said of the vote that approved the November 2018 ballot issue in Michigan.
The mayor is opposed to all forms of marijuana access in the city.
“You can find it, and you can find it not far from here,” she said. “I don’t think it’s good for us. I don’t want to be that place that draws people from all over to get their medical marijuana. It doesn’t fix anything, but it covers things.”
Infrastructure and parking
All three candidates support a 3-mill perpetual millage to fund infrastructure projects, which they say will allow the city to adopt a “pay-as-you-go” strategy and avoid millions in costs associated with filing new bonds.
While McCaleb and Monetza said the city did not previously have the flexibility to adopt this system in the past, Brugger said the city should have begun a pay-as-you-go strategy years ago, as budget increases are now recommended to fix the city’s infrastructure.
The November ballot initiative would not increase tax rates, and would be applied as bonds come off the tax rolls in the coming years.
All three candidates are opposed to building a multi-level parking complex in the near term, instead prioritizing the immediate infrastructure needs. The prospect of a facility has been explored as the city has studied its parking inventory. City leaders are considering a citywide paid meter system to generate revenue and free up inventory.
Monetza and other city leaders in May testified in Lansing against Michigan House Bill 4046, which aimed to prohibit municipalities from regulating short-term rentals. Realtor organizations say the bill would protect property owners’ rights, but City Council leaders have been unanimous in defending their right to regulate.
The city issues special use permits for some zoning districts, while the rentals are banned in the North Shore area. The zoning changes were spurred by complaints from residents, who feared the rentals were changing neighborhood character.
Monetza said tracking short-term rentals is a complaint-driven system. Brugger, who owns a short-term rental, said the onus is on the owner to screen and enforce rules for renters.