EMU students and faculty protest privatization of parking

A privatization plan for Eastern Michigan University’s parking, pitched to the Ypsilanti City Council for approval, was met with opposition from multiple students and faculty.

At one of their bimonthly meetings on Tuesday, March 6, the Ypsilanti City Council was asked to vote on approval for the university’s proposed privatization plan for parking. All 50 seats in the meeting were filled, with a couple people standing in the back.

Due to the parking lots being untaxed, public land, a governmental body’s approval is necessary to keep the land untaxed for the incoming companies. This is due to the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA), which was passed to eliminate tax loopholes. 

Michael Valdes, the chief financial advisor for EMU, as well as Vicki Reaume, the vice president and secretary of the Board of Regents, gave a presentation on the plan. Via PowerPoint, Valdes explained the main factors of the plan, including the companies involved and what it would mean for EMU. 

According to Valdes, the plan would be a public-private partnership, with companies Preston Hollow Capital LLC, LAZ Parking and Provident Resources Group serving as the operator, the financer and the concessionaire respectively. The deal would be a 35-year term, with an upfront payment to the university of $55 million. EMU would retain ownership of the assets – something Valdes characterized as different from many other privatization plans. 

“This [the plan] is meant to provide a strict and narrow guideline for the concessionaire to operate under,” Valdes said. “Our concerns were primarily reached to the students, because affordability is something that is important to the core mission of EMU and something we’re always mindful of.” 

EMU parking pass prices have increased by 16 percent over the last four years, according to Valdes. Under the terms of the agreement, for the first five years, the concessionaire cannot raise the rates more then five percent. For the next thirty years after, they cannot raise it more then four percent. 

A current, resident or commuter-parking pass costs $155 per semester. A five percent raise in that price is $162.75 per semester. 

EMU parking is already an income generating operation – according to Valdes, it generates about $2 million in annual profit – but it also ‘creates $750,000 in annual expenditures’, making the actual profit $1.25 million. 

“The $55 million [from the plan] is going to be invested in university’s reserves, invested long-term,” Valdes said. “We expect to earn at least a 5 percent annual return…so that would generate $2.5 million of annual income.” 

There was a final mention of technologies that could possibly be used to improve the search for a parking space, such as an app that shows where available spaces are. 

Students an faculty protesting the implementation of the plan noted multiple concerns. Judy Kullberg, a political science professor at EMU and the president of EMU-AAUP, noted the lack of effort the university put into informing the student and faculty body about the plan. 

“The parking agreement was concluded behind closed doors without any consultation,” she said. “Our 21,000 students, 1390 faculty lecturers and many other employees were not consulted about this agreement nor did they give their consent to it.” 

Kullberg also pointed out that the council was not given the official text of the agreement, so they can’t be sure if what was told to them was the truth. She provided a copy of the agreement to the council, saying it was leaked to her by an ‘employee of the university.’

EMU senior student Alex Nuttle echoed the same comments, while going on to show concern for the quality of parking at EMU. 

“Private parking will only raise costs on the students and decrease parking quality,” he said. “With raising education costs, many of us cannot afford these costs.” 

Daric Thorne, the president of EMU’s Federation of Teachers, noted the tense environment on campus due to current economic issues and unhappy employees and students. 

“You [the council] has an opportunity to tell EMU to stop, go back to your community and have a conversation with them and let them have a say in how we proceed, let them engage in the democratic process,” he said.

After the public hearing and deliberation from the council members, it was decided that the vote on the plan would be postponed until April 17, two meetings off from March 6. 

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