Questionnaire: Livable Baltimore: Vision for a Healthy Environment

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Submitted to Baltimore City Forest Conservancy District Board, Baltimore Green Space, Baltimore Orchard Project, Baltimore TreeKeepers, Baltimore Tree Trust, Bikemore, Black Church Food Security Network, Blue Water Baltimore, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Citizens Planning & Housing Association, Civic Works, Clean Water Action, Friends of Maryland’s Olmsted Parks and Landscapes, Friends of Stony Run, Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, Maryland Environmental Health Network, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, Parks & People Foundation, 1000 Friends of Maryland, Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore

Preserve Trees & Green Space

1. The Open Space District in the Baltimore Zoning Code exists to enhance the quality of life for city residents and improve its business climate. What would you do to permanently preserve, maintain and expand parks, stream valleys, street trees, community-managed gardens and farms and other green spaces that are key assets for the city and help to attract and retain residents and businesses?

As chair of the City Council Recreation and Parks committee, I sponsored a resolution that created an Open Space and Parks Task Force of 25 citizens working to plan for the issuance of an RFP by the Department of Recreation and Parks, The city has not had a comprehensive review and design of parkland and open space since the Olmsted plan of the late nineteenth century. The work that this task Force will deliver will allow for a plan and subsequent implementation that will take our city well into the next century.

Currently, one of the neighborhoods in my district has an amazing community garden on a city-owned lot. It is slated for C-1 zoning under Transform Baltimore. I am working with the neighborhood to change the zoning to “Open Space” and will submit an amendment to protect this garden.

2. A single tree can remove 26 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, equaling 11,000 miles of car emissions. Trees have been proven to reduce stormwater run-off, yet tree cover in Baltimore has declined significantly in the last several decades. If elected, what would you do to increase the number and health of trees in our communities?

Baltimore is fortunate to have TreeBaltimore coordinate our planting and planning of street trees in Baltimore. Urban heat islands and rain water run-off are two areas that would benefit by a larger street canopy around the city which is part of mission of TreeBaltimore and the city’s Office of Sustainability. I would wholly support efforts to expand our funding to reach our tree canopy goal before 2037.

Part of planting and planning for street trees is the identification of tree wells around the city. I think it will be of utmost importance that we educate our DPW staff and contractors about how to respect the trees. Meaning, when they are working on street projects the crews must be aware of their environmental surroundings and not disrespect the trees that are planted. I believe this type of education had to take place when DPW crews took over the cutting of grass in our parks. They needed an education on watershed areas, tall grasses planted on purpose, and other highlights of our parks that they knew little about.

Reduce Trash & Litter

3. Plastics and polystyrene contribute markedly to the poor health of the Chesapeake Bay, our neighborhoods and waterways. What programs would you support or propose to reduce this waste – i.e. a ban on polystyrene or on plastic bags, source reduction policies decreasing the volume of frequently littered items, increased funding for litter removal initiatives like the Water Wheel, and/or city-wide recycling in restaurants, bars and businesses. How would you finance these programs?

Like D.C., Montgomery County, and Takoma Park, I support a ban on polystyrene containers. We will implement a fine and educate all city staff who inspect restaurants and carry-outs, such as health inspectors. They may not write the citation but would be an internal referral for violations to the department responsible. This would eliminate the need to increase I would not make this an overnight requirement allowing businesses to use their supplies over a specific course of time before the ban being fully applicable. This effort would be budget neutral for the city.

Public education can make an impact on people’s behavior as proven through one of the city’s existing energy conservation programs, the Baltimore Energy Challenge. I would work with nonprofits and the Office of Sustainability to support the CleanCorp program to stop littering behavior and encourage folk to clean up their sidewalks and gutters – taking pride in ownership even if the trash did not come from them. This type of programming would be enhanced by public service announcements, school education, and outreach through the city’s Community Action Centers. The cost for this program would need to be worked on because of the media cost, materials, and program expenses. Over time, this type of successful programming will replace the cost to sweep streets as often as we do now and other cleanup measures currently paid for in the city budget.

Create Good Government

4. Recent reports and news articles have indicated that there is very little transparency in tracking of revenue collected by DPW and the Finance Department to administer the Waste Water, Stormwater and Drinking Water Utility, and the projects funded by the taxpayers. Would you commit to better, more transparent accounting of these resources? What mechanisms will you put in place to accomplish this?

I was the person who introduced legislation in 2011 to require audits of all city agencies. After my colleagues voted against it, the bill was revived but only included a few city agencies and less frequently. It has now taken over three years to see anything from that legislation. As mayor I would require these audits as a part of good government reforms.

These audits are not just financial but performance focused as well. We don’t know how many potholes we have filled over the past few months, much less year, or where they were, or how many in a crew it took. So, are we working our employees too hard or can we be more efficient? I am guessing the latter. And only through performance audits will we know that.

Promote Public Transit

5. A great city needs a great transportation system, including rail, bus, bike lanes and improved pedestrian safety. What is your vision of a great transit system in Baltimore and what will you do to help make this vision a reality and financially viable? How can you make Baltimore safer for pedestrians and bicyclists?

My vision is of a city where the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on public transportation are able to get around reliably, easily, and safely. And a city where all the different modes of transportation are well-linked through transit hubs and connections. Good public transportation meets lots of needs. These include commuting to and from jobs, to and from our schools and colleges. Public transportation meets other needs as well, such as shopping for daily and weekly needs, accessing healthcare, attending cultural and recreational activities and events, visiting with friends, and generally getting around and exploring the city. A specific part of this vision would also be a revitalized North Avenue, the east-west spine of the city, from one end of its five-mile length to the other, which could be done most effectively by designing and building a modern streetcar line, similar to the one in use in Portland, Oregon and several other cities across the US.

I am a strong advocate of creating 3 feet buffers between bike lanes and vehicles, and support the usage of flexposts to border the bike lane from the vehicle traffic. Though other factors will need to be considered when deciding on ways to create a buffer (e.g., in the winter the flexposts are at risk of being damaged by plows, neighborhood needs).

A policy I would highly consider for the safety of both bicyclists and pedestrians is the elimination of “left on red” and the removal of “right on red” where there are established bike lanes.

Protect Waterways

6. Under the EPA’s 14-year Consent Order, the City is spending more than $1 billion to repair and replace the crumbling sewer system. An extended deadline will be issued soon, but in the meantime, persistent overflows of raw sewage continue and the harbor is seriously impaired by trash and bacteria. As Mayor, what would you do to demonstrate your commitment to meeting the new deadline? What specific remedies would you take to help accelerate the reduction of this bacteria and trash pollution? Would you be open to meeting with advocates and community leaders who have proposed actions the city can take to be more responsive to overflows?

Ideas that have been proposed to me already by advocates and community leaders include hiring more inspectors who deal with housing and trash issues; replacing or retrofitting the inefficient corner trash cans with containers similar to those in Charles Village; increasing street cleaning; and providing recreational programs like kayaking and canoeing because you can’t care about something you haven’t experienced.

I also oppose the incinerator proposed for South Baltimore that will bring diesel trucks from around the east coast because Baltimore and our region does not have enough trash to feed the incinerator, not to mention the environmental impact of an incinerator. In the 1990s the communities of Baltimore stood up and said not more to incineration. They worked to get those elected who supported their advocacy, passed local and state legislation. Now the state provides waivers so that incinerators can be built closer to schools. As mayor I would not let that happen in my city. Those laws exist not only to protect the environment; they exist to protect our citizens.

Revitalize Communities

7. How will your administration “connect the dots” between the various types of vacant properties – including older housing stock with high levels of lead and vacant lots that have become dumping grounds – to create healthy, affordable housing in clean, green neighborhoods? How would you balance demolition vs. creative re-use of land for the benefits for communities, businesses, local water quality and local job creation to solve all these issues? There are many nonprofits working on these issues. What is the role of the city in these efforts and what resources will your administration provide?

Demolition of abandoned housing is not as critical as planned rebuilding. Rather than take a scatter shot approach to demolition, the city should plan to first support our neighborhoods on the cusp. These are the communities that are still fairly stable, but are stressed and frayed around the edges. These are neither our worst neighborhoods nor the ones with the greatest number of abandoned houses. We start from relative strength by selecting five to six communities and spend four to six months looking at the full needs of the community. In these communities, the city will:

  • Remove or renovate the dozen or two derelict properties;
  • Conduct housing and commercial inspections to cure all violations;
  • Plan for open spaces and playfields;
  • Support skills assessment and job training to move toward full employment;
  • Provide post-purchase housing counseling in partnership with nonprofits;
  • Create a Land Bank;
  • Support and promote city and nonprofit programs for healthy homes (weatherization, lead abatement, energy efficiency);
  • Set standards and requirements to increase the number of affordable housing units;
  • Assist with the growth and sustainability of locally owned small businesses;
  • Initiate strong community policing to lower the level of all crime, including small nuisance incidents;
  • Assure the local schools function well with an assured level of academic achievement in a community school setting the includes, health services, social and family intervention services, and after school and extended day programs for all students.

We will keep city boots on the ground during this 18- to 24-month process and will have a strategy of maintenance going forward. We will then move to twice as many (having learned to be more efficient from the previous experience) adjacent neighborhoods regardless of conditions by again planning and preparing six months before full operation. This strategy will allow us to use our resources in a stronger, more holistic manner of planned redevelopment.

Invest in Green Infrastructure

8. Based on high levels of impervious surfaces that do not absorb polluted stormwater run-off, Baltimore is under a State and Federal mandate to restore or treat 20% of land for better environmental and community benefits. Local nonprofits have raised millions of dollars from state and federal sources to help the City meet this goal, yet the City’s current permit system and lack of staffing has stymied progress and jeopardized private donations that could significantly leverage public investments. Additionally, other municipalities around the country and in Maryland have implemented market-based solutions that allow private property owners and businesses with sufficient room to install green infrastructure projects on their property allowing them to reduce their stormwater fees and generate credits they then sell to the municipality, industrial permit holders, or developers. What policies would you support or prioritize to streamline NGO work that helps the city and to promote new, innovative strategies within DPW?

Government is often stuck in its ways and in Baltimore we are stuck especially when it comes to doing business, construction, or rehab. We need more expertise in the Department of Housing and Community Development that understands and appreciates the worth of green projects. When a nonprofit has funds to make a positive difference in our city and it falls in line with the vision for the city, it makes no sense to have them “fight 417 E Fayette Street” because what they are doing is different.

In order to address any of these issues, I would meet with the nonprofit organizations and others in this area to find out what the barriers are to their success. I won’t say that I know or understand all of them and that is where the expertise of others is needed.

Fight for Environmental Justice

9. Crude oil trains are running from southeast Baltimore through the city with no diversion route to protect communities from disaster. A current proposal would install an additional 4 lane, 5 story high tunnel under several predominately low-income minority communities which already have high respiratory illness and shorter life expectancies. How would you balance the economic push for this project with health and safety concerns of communities this tunnel would go under?

I support a city ordinance that will place a temporary hold on all local zoning and building permits for any crude oil shipping terminals in the city, until local emergency management, health and safety officials can study the impacts and dangers associated with crude-by-rail and crude oil shipping within a densely populated urban area.

The long-term health and safety risks far outweigh the supposed benefits to our city. Baltimore does not need another environmental injustice; all so big oil companies can use our city as a throughway for shipping crude to other East Coast refineries.

10. Parks in low-income and predominantly minority communities often receive less maintenance than those in wealthier communities. What resources will your administration provide to ensure that all city greenspaces – including parks,– are equitably maintained?

We will use the current resources we have but more efficiently so that all greenspaces are treated equally. We will need to engage the communities around the greenspace to work in partnership to maintain the properties. Additionally, the vacant lot improvement programs of nonprofits like Civic Works and Parks & People are meant to be a collaborative effort with the community and this includes the education needed to allow the residents to maintain the park or garden. Many neighborhoods do this very effectively now.

Clean Energy

11. Low-income households typically spend 5 times more of their income on energy than do middle- and upper-income households. But that could change. Because of climate change, we are being forced to change the way we make and use energy – replacing coal-fired power plants with clean solar panels that allow individual homes and business to make more and more of their own electricity for less money. So far, it’s mostly the wealthy who have benefitted from this “clean energy revolution.” What will you do to make sure that Baltimore’s lower-income neighborhoods also benefit from the savings, cleaner air, and independence that come from energy efficiency and solar power?

We are very fortunate in the city to have the leadership in city government to champion energy efficiency programs, the Office of Sustainability and Commission on Sustainability. We are also fortunate to have received $52 million in CIF monies from the PSC but that money will soon disappear. Moving forward we need to work closely with the nonprofits that focus on solar coops and help them promote their programs. There is much more going on around energy efficiency and solar than Baltimore residents are aware and the city can take a lead in getting out the word to city employees.

As for assisting lower income families with their energy efficiency needs, I recommend the following:

  1. Find the means to continue the work of the Baltimore Energy Challenge and their education and outreach through foundation and corporate funding;
  2. Bring together a coalition of jurisdictions from around Maryland to encourage the state to reduce its restriction on using WAP funds for solar;
  3. Investigate the possibility of using New Market Tax Credits to install solar in low-income neighborhoods; and
  4. Look into community shared solar since many of our rowhome rooftops are not stable enough to hold the panels and many homes do not receive enough direct sunlight to make the panels useful.

Final Question

12. Given the above questions and issues identified, what would be your top budget priorities as mayor?

Education and youth, followed by the reclamation and strengthening of our neighborhoods.

Developed by:
Baltimore City Forest Conservancy District Board
Baltimore Green Space
Baltimore Orchard Project
Baltimore TreeKeepers
Baltimore Tree Trust
Bikemore
Black Church Food Security Network
Blue Water Baltimore
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Citizens Planning & Housing Association
Civic Works
Clean Water Action
Friends of Maryland’s Olmsted Parks and Landscapes
Friends of Stony Run
Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake
Maryland Environmental Health Network
Maryland League of Conservation Voters
Mount Lebanon Baptist Church
Parks & People Foundation
1000 Friends of Maryland
Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore