The city council wanted Takoma Park to be on the cutting edge of environmentalism. So, it formed the Task force on Environmental Action to tell it how to get there. The Task Force submitted recommendations, and the council began discussing the recommendations October 11.
Looks like the only cutting edge around here is the one used for whittling down the task force recommendations.
In a series of straw votes almost all the items discussed started out as proposed regulations and ended as proposed public educational efforts. An anti-idling law, a gas-powered blower ban, and a city composting station, all reduced to recommendations that the city encourages you to do at home – but no pressure! If you don’t want to, go right ahead and smush the rest of us with your big fat carbon footprint.
The task Force’s top recommendation was for the city to hire a full-time sustainability coordinator, though they knew this would not be possible for a while because of tight budgets. They hoped a hire would happen by 1012, but city staff – whose comments the council was reviewing as a springboard for this discussion, thought it would be longer than that.
City manager Barbara Matthews cautioned that if such a position was eventually created, the job description and objectives must be very clear – verrrrry clear. Obviously, she’s dealt with the council before.
Matthews suggested the city share the position with other municipalities, similar to arrangements in rural communities. Councilmember Fred Schultz liked that idea, in addition he suggested the alternative of getting “outside training” for existing staff. The staff people present, wondering how to fit environmental training into their schedules, refrained from throwing their binders at him.
Josh Wright, who last budget year strongly supported the creation of such a full-time position, again voiced strong support, saying “this is key.” He said he believes that city residents would be willing to pay for it even if it means a tax increase.
Mayor Williams said the city should have “a conversation” with residents to gauge how important it is to them, and what they’d be willing to sacrifice for it – such as a raise in taxes or the loss of another position.
Half-measures were suggested, as were quarter, eighth, and even smaller ones. The tiniest was the suggestion to award inexpensive prizes to employees who came up with ways to decrease their department’s carbon footprint. It was not quite the professional approach the task force had in mind.
The task force recommended a city composting station, similar to its leaf composting program. But, the staff though it was better for residents to do voluntarily at home. Public works director Dayrl Braithwaite said a city service might end up losing money and the station would have to meet county and state code.
Josh Wright suggested a subcommittee be formed to look into the issue. Fred Schultz speculated that there were residents with proper expertise who could advise the council.
The gas-powered leaf blower ban is is back where it left off. Months ago the council had hearings on the subject, watering the proposal down and complicating it up. Finally they just dropped it into the task force’s lap. The task force lobbed it back at them. So, months later, the council recapped the original discussions in which he same objections and alternatives were voiced.
A ban would be difficult to enforce – the police having more urgent responsibilities, they said. The city could ban its own, not civilian, use of gas blowers, at the small cost of $3000 to 4,000.
Josh Wright was in favor of a seasonal ban of gas mowers, allowing them in fall and spring, but banning them in the summer. That didn’t get much traction with the council.
Terry Seamens supported banning the city’s use of them. This led to a discussion of what alternatives the city could use. Rakes, of course, but electric blowers too. But, how to recharge the batteries, which only last half a day? Someone actually suggested having a gas generator on site to charge the batteries – failing to remember that the goal was to eliminate gasoline emissions.
The council missed that, and the wider implication it raised when they suggested electric powered solutions for blowers and, later, lawn mowers.
If the device is electric, somewhere a power station is spewing emissions to give it juice. It may be better than directly powering it with gas, and it may be out-of-sight out-of-mind, but it still pollutes.
The council pondered exchanging electric mowers for residents gas ones. Fred Schultz joked that the city should prohibit growing grass.
The Task Force recommended banning idling – running a car engine when standing. The city manager informed the council that idling is already a violation of state law – but only if the car is unattended.
The problem is, again, enforcement. An officer would have to observe this happening for a certain number of minutes – not the most efficient use of a police officer’s time.
Dan Robinson suggested having cards that citizens could hand out to drivers idling their cars. Ah, vigilantism! Gilbert would come out of his cave to run with a environmentalist posse. Councilmember Reuben Snipper pointed out that in extreme temperatures, drivers would be reluctant to cooperate. Not if the cards were attached to bricks.
In the end, the train pulled up at the same destination it did last time – at the Education Station. The city should educate residents about these issues, and recommend they mend their ways.
How close to that cutting edge are we getting, Dear Reader?
Oh, well, they aren’t done, and the task force’s more proactive, innovative proposals, such as buying city street lights from the electric company, are yet to be discussed.