The city council wants Takoma Park to be on the sharpest, pointiest angle of the environmental cutting edge, again. That’s where the city fancies it was a couple of decades ago when it introduced curbside recycling.
However, they are leery of regaining the edge by turning Puritan. The Puritan way is to ban things, especially sinfully convenient things, things people will experience soul-cleansing hardship to lose. Things like gas-powered leaf-blowers!
A group of local Puritans, er, environmentalists, are pushing the council to do just that. Some of them, swaddled in their green hand-woven natural-fiber robes, watched disapprovingly from beneath their cowls as the council tossed the ban proposal back and forth like an overheated planet at the July 20 city council meeting.
But the council is not eager to don the monkish garb. They were willing to seriously consider banning city employee’s use of gas-powered leaf-blowers – once they were safely assured by the Public Works director that such a ban would have little impact. But they balked at banning civilian and commercial use of them.
A total ban does not sit well with some residents, as Councilmember Dan Robinson reported. Robinson, usually quick to mention the city’s collective carbon footprint, recounted conversations he has had with constituents who place personal convenience and government non-interference in their exercise of it far above global warming on their priority lists. Robinson would like to see the issue on the ballot as a referendum. That, he said, would spark a citywide conversation.
Some councilmembers said they were frustrated the proposal was taking up so much time and discussion. They said they’d rather put their energy into establishing an environmental task force that would look at this issue and others in the process of creating an all-encompassing green policy for the city.
Seth Grimes, one of the 30 local environmentalists who submitted the ban request to the council, flung back his green hood and pointed out that the councilmembers were only postponing the inevitable, since surely some of the 30 would serve on the task force and surely they would recommend the same ban.
Co-inky dinky! Speaking of the Environmental Sustainable Task Force, that’s just what the council took up next – with a panel of folks mostly from the city’s Committee on the Environment (COE), including the committee’s chairperson Catherine Tunis. This is the committee the council was last heard plotting to suspend.
One COE member expressed “puzzlement” as to just why the council wants to suspend the committee, then appoint a task force to do essentially the committee’s job – propose ways for the city to become, once again, an environmental leader.
The council, squirming a bit in their seats, tried to explain itself without offending any valuable citizen volunteers. The committee, they said, has not had a full membership for a while, and communication with the council has not been what it could be, A shorter term task force with a focused goal would likely attract more people than the COE with its 3-year commitment. And, “starting fresh” would have a galvanizing effect on both the task force and the committee – once it was revived. [Oh, and the council would appoint the task force leader, no need for the task force to waste time electing one.]
There were some small flashes of objection from the COE members of the panel at this. Communication, they hinted, was lacking from the council end. They felt no direction from the council, despite its repeated (and repeated) mantra of Sustainability. Panel members hinted at what commentors to this blog have been squawking about – that the council has been ignoring the committee’s 2000 Greenhouse Gas Action Plan.
That said, Catherine Tunis opined that the best way for the city to get to the leading edge would be to hire an sustainability coordinator, an expert who could recommend the best ways to shrink the city’s carbon footprint.
Mayor Bruce Williams said the council had rejected that idea on the last budget-go-around because of the cost. He didn’t add that they had opted instead to put the city into hock for a new Public Works facility (the cost of which looks to be mushrooming).
Councilmember Josh Wright said, in not quite these words, “yeah, well, I pushed for a sustainability coordinator at the time, toldya, toldya!”
At the end, the panel was willing to slap the council’s happy-face sticker on the task force idea. Or maybe, given the late hour, they were too tired to do anything else.
The council unanimously passed a resolution supporting activists on the school boundary issue. The resolution pointedly suggests that the county school system follow its own guidelines when redrawing school boundaries, while skirting direct criticism of their failure to do so. Councilmembers Donna Victoria and Josh Wright, whose constituents are directly effected, felt it was a little too vague and mild, so they give it a couple of small teeth implants.
Their new language gets more specific, saying city students should not be moved from certain schools. This mollified the parent activists who were present, one of whom said she initially planned to complain that the resolution was too weak, but was now satisfied with the new wording.
Complicating this issue is that while the activist’s goal is to keep their children in city schools, some Takoma Park parents they canvassed want their children to remain at the non-city school they now attend. The activists are championing those parents interests as well as their own. So, the activists, and the council, can’t simply call for city kids to go to city schools. Instead they are advocating that the school board “considers the input received through the community advisory committee and that considers the interests of the school children of populations that are traditionally less active in community processes.”
Yeah, that reduces Your Gilbert to yawning and scratching his head, too, Dear Reader. But, what that means is “ask what people want, even the people who don’t come out for meetings, and LISTEN to them, for once!”
One particularly bizarre aspect of this is that some Takoma Park Elementary School students would — if one of the proposed boundary changes goes through — have to be relocated twice. The boundary changes would not go into effect until fall 2011. Next year Takoma Park Elementary is being renovated, so all of its students will be bussed to a distant holding school. The following year the boundary-change students would then have to be bussed to their new regular school. As those students would no doubt say, “that sucks!”
You fans of the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Sector Plan will remember that there are TWO Sector Plans in the works, one for each county. The Crossroads area straddles the Prince George’s and Montgomery County border. The city council recently submitted feedback on Prince George’s County sector plan. Now it is doing the same on Montgomery County’s.
The good councilmembers were a bit happier with Montgomery County’s plan, but they still had a long list of comments. One of the chief concerns was Hammond Avenue, a one-block long, residential street that the county wants to rezone for higher density (townhouses) and businesses. The council was not entirely happy with that.
Nor was local resident Barry Lee Howard. The current view from his home, he told the council, looks like the double-hill vista depicted on the city’s seal. He would lose that view if Hammond Ave is developed as proposed. He worried about additional crime, trash, and traffic that he said would follow if townhouses were built there. He criticized the mayor’s and councilmember Donna Victoria’s compromise suggestions.
LIke tired old basset hounds, the city’s political junkies half-roused from their naps and sniffed the air. Only last month Barry Lee Howard was one of two applicants who offered to fill the vacated Ward 6 council seat. The current occupant of the seat, Donna Victoria, was the other one. She is ineligible to run for it in the fall. Could Howard be preparing to run for that seat with Crossroads development as his campaign issue? Sniff, shiff!