GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
So, what the hell have they been doing for 4 months?
Pesticide ban supporters and the city have had since November, 2012 to revise the proposed ban ordinance, and to answer substantial questions about enforcement, administration, legalities, and costs of the ban.
Since then, apparently, they’ve done diddlysquat.
The Safe Grown Initiative activists last presented their proposal Nov. 15, 2012 to a fairly acquiescent Takoma Park city council. Their presentation was mostly about the evils of pesticides.
They want to ban “cosmetic lawn and garden pesticide” use on Takoma Park public and private property. Not only lawn- and landscaping-company use, but individual use. There are exceptions for controlling poisonous, noxious, destructive plants, insects and animals, but even so, waivers would be required, and to get them users must have “exhausted acceptable alternatives.”
As written, the proposed ban raised questions about enforcement, cost, and administration, so the council gave supporters and the city until last Monday to come up with some answers and revisions.
Instead of the public hearing first proposed, they held an unusual “public forum.” The council allowed the activists seats on the dais, and allowed them to conduct another presentation, calling on several supporters to speak. It was not a presentation about the ordinance and how it would be administrated, but, again, a teach-in on the evils of pesticides. Frustrated citizens who had shown up to speak against the ordinance had to shout to interrupt the infomercial, and get some words of opposition in.
In response to one peeved citizen the mayor promised to have a financial impact statement at the next public hearing. That citizen was Jim Douglas, former city councilmember, who had presented 53 questions to the activists prior to the forum. One of the activists even mentioned that she had received those 53 questions, but did not begin to answer them. Another citizen complained that the ordinance had been “cobbled together” from similar ordinances in other jurisdictions.
The activists have the excuse of not being experts in writing ordinances and impact studies (though they had 4 months to consult with such experts). What’s the city’s excuse? What’s the supportive council members’ excuse? Where was the city attorney? Where was the police chief? Where were the financial and legal impact statements?
Apparently, the activists themselves were expecting a bit more from the city. One said she was surprised the city attorney wasn’t there to answer legal questions. The best the ban supporters could do, when questioned about the proposed ordinance provisions, was to say the draft was only there as a starting point and changes could be made. Which is what they said to the same questions last November.
As the draft is now written, the city staff would become responsible for:
• preparing, designing, and printing a number of forms and other required publications,
• administrating and distributing all the above forms,
• issuing and posting “attestations” whenever the city needed to use a banned pesticide, stating the time, place, banned substances, unavailability of alternatives,
• issuing and processing waiver for citizen’s use of banned substances on private property,
• accepting and reviewing property owners’ appeals, checking they have exhausted acceptable alternative treatments,
• providing notices to people with waivers stating time, place, substance used,
* enforcing and tracking that above notices are posted on land 7 days prior,
* accepting and weighing public comment for waiver applications. The proposed language says the city manager will personally be responsible for this task. Is that the best use of our highest executive?
• outreach and education – the city manager (again) shall publish notice of the ordinance, a list of banned pesticides, alternatives to retailers, lawn- garden- and tree-care providers, churches, schools, other institutions. Why churches? Why schools? What other institutions?
• sending these notices every two years or sooner to the same places.
Here are just some of the questions left hanging, many of them raised by Your Gilbert in the November 15th column, and also raised by citizens at the forum (ALL of whom said they don’t use cosmetic pesticides, or use them rarely). In 4 months, nobody came up with any answers to these:
• Who will do the enforcement? The overburdened city police department, or the overburdened city code enforcement office?
• How much will this cost?
• How will we pay for it: higher taxes, fire current staff, eliminate or scale back city services, take it out of the speed camera funds, charge hefty waiver application fees? It HAS to be one or a combination of those.
• Will this require new staff? A new department?
• How will this be enforced? Lawn-treatment companies leave handy little signs on the lawn – so that’s easy. But individuals can easily hide what substances they are using, and once a substance is put down, there’s no easy way to tell it is there.
• Will they depend on citizens ratting each other out?
• If so, how will they confirm the accusation, other than catching somebody red-handed?
• Will city enforcement staff come around and take soil, plant, or substance samples?
• Will they need a warrant to go onto private property to take samples?
• How will they test the samples?
• Will the city establish it’s own lab, or send samples out?
• If samples are sent out, how much will that cost?
Your Gilbert wonders where, oh where, has the council been for 4 months? If they support this ban, why aren’t they using their expertise to re-draft the ordinance, deal with the hard questions, and do this in a way that doesn’t spawn a new city department and a hike in taxes to pay for it, and is enforceable?
Mayor Bruce Williams wrapped up the forum with a mild statement, saying he’d “heard a lot of agreement about . . . reducing pesticide use,” and the need for education, but he’d also heard “specific questions and issues” about the draft ordinance.
There will be, he said, a council work session in the next couple of weeks. The council uses work sessions to jawbone about possible legislation, draw rough blueprints of ordinances, then ponder, rewrite, revise, and overthink everything until none of them can stand it anymore. The public can’t comment at work sessions, so at least we won’t have to sit through another pesticide teach-in.
Addendum: The public comments.
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