Almost despite themselves, the Takoma Park city council (and mayor) took some small but significant steps toward sustainability at their meeting Monday night.
Unless you were paying attention, it was hard to discern the import of the council's actions. Sometimes in Takoma Park you have to keep your eyes peeled or events will pass you by like the proverbial small town on the highway – blink and you miss it.
Two things: They agreed by consensus to phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers by city public works crews; and they took another step toward taking control of the sections of Ethan Allen and Flower avenues that run through the city.
On the latter issue first, the State Highway Administration has offered to repave sections of Flower and Ethan Allen and then cede control of those streets within Takoma Park to the city (with a little help, though don't expect much, from the county).
There are some other wrinkles to the plan, such as transferring land under Route 410 to the state, to allow stimulus funding to be used for the repaving, and an $800,000 payment from SHA for the city "to rehabilitate Flower
Avenue as it sees fit."
It sounds like a good idea. In the long run, the city cannot do worse, and will likely do much better, in maintaining the roads, than the unresponsive SHA has done. The only hitch, according to city staff, is that Martin O'Malley needs to be re-elected governor. To that I say, no problem, and offer the following prediction: O'Malley 55 percent, Ehrlich 45 percent. You heard it here first.
The leaf blower decision came after a discussion most notable for statements made from the dais by Mayor Bruce Williams, who said he had gotten some "education" about the effects of leaf blowers and other two-cycle engines, had bought a Neuton battery-operated lawnmower, and only plans on using his gas-powered leaf blower when the autumn onslaught becomes overwhelming.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I've probably been the person in the city who is most adamant about getting rid of gas-powered leaf blowers (Emissions from lawn-care equipment lead to formation of ozone, principal component of smog; lots of people with respiratory problems suffer. You can check out www.greenourcity.org for more information and contact me with any questions.) So when the subject of leaf blowers came up at the meeting as part of a larger discussion about the report from the Task Force on Environmental Action, of which I was co-chair, I was all ears.
And here I have to say that although I actually took some notes on the meeting, they disappeared with a computer crash – yeah, those still happen to me. But suffice to say that disbelieving my own eyes, I followed up with an email to City Manager Barbara Matthews.
Subject: no more gas leaf blower use by city?
"Did I hear that right?" I asked her.
"That was the consensus of the Council," she responded. "This direction will need to be formalized, most likely via a resolution."
A lower-case "yay" was all I could muster.
It's still not what I'd like to see – which is, at the least, a ban on the machines when they're at their most damaging, the summertime – but it's a start down the road toward a cleaner future.
Councilmember Josh Wright appears committed to pushing for a seasonal ban, but it's doubtful he can bring enough other councilmembers with him to provide a majority. We shall see where the leaves fall.
Being, as I said, the former co-chair of the Task Force on Environmental Action, I went down to the meeting Monday night on account of the city staff were presenting their comments on our report. I planned to enumerate a Top Ten List of environmentally positive things the city can do without spending a lot of money.
I walked in on a chamber empty of regular citizens (i.e., not city staff) with the exception, naturally, of city Peace Delegate Pat Loveless. Pat speaks at every meeting, usually to extol the virtues of participatory democracy or mention an upcoming protest. He's in a wheelchair, blind, and equipped with an oxygen generator, but he's there.
As luck would have it, he was in the process of asking the council whether some of the more onerous speed humps in the city (Maple Avenue) could be smoothed out or removed, because they really hurt his back. Each bump is like Mount McKinley, he said.
The upshot – No changes are in the works, because the council doesn't want to revisit the issue of the Maple speed humps, which were allowed to remain as is after a contentious debate many moons ago.
One of my Top Ten items was "No more speed humps." Certainly the city would save money by halting the unending construction of these traffic "calming" measures, which succeed only in delaying the arrival of emergency vehicles, increasing air pollution and making it seem as if drivers who accelerate to 25 mph between humps are racing in the Indy qualifiers.
In an attempt to keep this column only mildly disconnected, let me return to the activism angle. Because, as we heard again from The Washington Post in Monday's excellent article by Steve Hendrix on the new pragmatism of Marc Elrich, we live in an "activist enclave."
Yet when I showed up for the public comment period at barely 7:45 pm, I was fortunate Pat was speaking or I would have been too late. The newly renovated auditorium (it's nice) had no other audience save the cameraman.
Those danged activists! Last year at this time (or was it the year before), Pat was pillorying Columbus, but this year, it was speed humps. Times change. Maybe everyone in Takoma Park isn't as "activist" as they once were, but maybe also the city council is ready to pick up the slack.