Can the city live up to it’s plucky-yet-expensive environmentalist ideals at the same time the recession is steamrolling every government budget in the universe?
These things are costly: adding a sustainability coordinator to the city payroll (just after the city laid off employees and froze wages), the purchase of every streetlight in the city, and the construction of a roundabout in Takoma Junction! Ka-ching!
Those were some of the top recommendations of the Task Force for Environmental Action when it presented it’s final report in July. The city council was pleased with the report – though the mayor quickly pointed out that spending a lot of money, especially for a staff position, was unlikely this or next year. The next budget year is expected to be even worse than this one for the state, county, and city, he pointed out.
The task force was well aware of the budget situation, which was mentioned in the report. They said the more costly measures could be put off – part of a five year plan. They also pointed out that some of their proposals, such as the purchase of city streetlights, would eventually reduce city expenses.
Citizens would face direct costs and benefits as well. The task force recommended adding a monthly by-volume fee for trash pickup, and upping storm water fees. Residents would save money directly, however, under a proposed group-purchasing plan.
Blower Ban Back!
Oddly, the council barely mentioned the leaf-blower ban. The original ban was sicced on the council by a group of city environmentalists last year. After the council tried to pull the ban’s teeth, they shoved it in a cage and handed it to the task force to deal with along with all the other proposals. Perhaps they were hoping it would be reduced to a bulleted item far down the priority list, where it could be safely ignored. No such luck.
Then there was the fracas over Steve Davies, one of the ban’s more vocal proponents, who volunteered for that task force, but was, he charged, skipped over. Councilmember Terry Seamens, who had not made all his allotted appointments, appointed Davies. Davies was soon elected co-chair of the task force.
And, gee, guess what? There was the ol’ gasoline leaf-blower ban in the task force list of top priorities. Yet, hardly a remark was made about it. In fact hardly any objections were raised about all of the task force recommendations.
The mayor did start to poke and probe the trash fee. He wondered if the new wheeled trash cans suggested for the proposed program would be a problem on Takoma Park’s hills. He worried that they would roll away.
Task Force Co-Chair Joe Edgell, who presented the report, said “you can always find a reason not to do it.” He pointed out that Tacoma, WA, which has such a program, has a lot of hills, too, and runaway trash cans have not been a problem.
The trash by-volume fee was pitched as a “Rewards for Recycling” incentive program to reduce waste. There would be no fee for recycling, which would include organic waste. The fee would be only for non-recyclable waste.
Tacoma, WA has such a program, and their fees were cited as an example. In the “other Tacoma” one 20 gallon trash can costs $25.25 monthly. A 30 gallon can costs $35.35. A 60 gallon can costs $57. And, a 90 gallon can costs $79.35.
The top recommendation was to hire a sustainability coordinator, and give him or her “sufficient staff.” The failure to do this was the main reason the last set of environmental proposals were not implemented, they said. The current staff and volunteer committees were asked to take it on, but the staff especially was too busy and did not have the expertise.
The city would save a pile of money, the task force said, if they purchased the city’s 1,700 street lights and upgraded them to be more energy efficient. They would save 30% to 50% in electricity costs. Currently the cost of street lights makes up half the city’s electricity bill.
Though the task force calls for improved “human powered transportation” – more bike paths and sidewalks – it also calls for improved automobile traffic-flow. Environmentalists get road rage of a different sort when they get caught up in badly timed traffic light cycles. They get their 100% organic cotton panties in a twist seeing the extra pollution created by idling cars.
A traffic circle in Takoma Junction would help improve traffic flow, they said. They urged that this and other proposals already submitted by the Takoma Park Charette should be implemented.
The most far reaching proposals were to form a solar cooperative, a municipal electric utility, and a public/private purchasing program.
The task force recommended the city facilitate installation of solar panels on community buildings. This would be funded by citizens who would like to have solar power but don’t have optimal sun exposure. Energy savings would be passed on to them by the city.
By current state and county law it may not be possible to form a publicly owned municipal electric utility – powered from renewable sources. The task force urged the city to look into the feasibility of doing that.
The city could encourage energy efficiency and green-powered energy by loaning upfront capital to residents and businesses. These would be paid back over time. Also the city could arrange a group purchasing program on products such as home appliances and heating and cooling units.
Fees and Bans
The task force recommended a 20% increase to the current $48 residential storm water yearly fee. They suggested these fees could fund the city’s tree planting program. Takoma Park’s tree canopy is aging and needs replenishing, they said.
The city “should consider” prohibiting the use of chemical, non-degradable lawn fertilizers and herbicides, the report says. “At the least,” the city should educate the public about how such chemicals enter the watershed and end up in the Chesapeake Bay.
The report is comprehensive, addressing such issues as deer population (must be controlled), open burning of trash, twigs, and branches (should be banned), slapping a fee on plastic bags, and a “strict” anti-idling ordinance.
So, no more leaving the motor running while you read granolapark, Dear Reader. Those wasteful days are OVER!
They are over if the council enacts the recommendations, that is. Now we wait and see whether the council embraces the report or gives it a weak handshake.