Letter from Sam Ahdoot

Hi Danielle,

Thank you for all the incredibly hard work you and the EPC have done on this. The action plan is remarkably comprehensive. It is very inspiring.
I hope you don’t mind my sending this directly to you. I wanted to express one concern I have. The current action plan uses the language of “educate”, “promote” and “encourage”, all of which are certainly necessary. I am concerned , however, that the changes should not be presented as optional and encouraged, but as necessary and expected. I think this would change the tone of the document and how it’s interpreted by the citizens. 

The necessary changes then can only be brought about through incentives (monetary) and penalties. Americans will not stop driving unless it’s too expensive or difficult. They will not use less electricity unless it costs too much, and they will not make less trash unless it’s they’re fined for not recycling or paid to compost. 
I’m curious what you think of this, as I’m sure you’ve all talked it over for countless hours.
Thanks so much,

Sam Ahdoot

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2 Responses to Letter from Sam Ahdoot

  1. Rob Krupicka says:

    Samantha raises a good point about how we implement. Some changes will take regulatory support. As Virginia is a Dillon rule state where regulatory control flows from the State Legislature. Most regulatory and tax incentive powers come from the State. This process should help us identify the regulatory changes we’d like to request from the state and then we’ll all have to work to lobby to make those happen. The regulatory actions that local government can do now need to be a part of our plan. The most common response to surveys from citizens has been that we need to help educate people about what their choice are and what they can do. That is the question I hear the most, “how do I do this or change that on my home?” Good education and information are important. You can’t help people change their habits without making it easy and convenient to do and without good education. Samantha’s question about money is really important. We are certainly going to have to spend money. These investments have huge value for our community. Unfortunately for all of us, we are entering a time where government is fighting for revenues to just preserve fire, police and school services due to the economy. So, while money and incentives are going to be an important part of this, we all have to recognize that those will have to be phased-in. We can also hope for Federal and other financial help — our eco-city plan certainly prepares us well for grant opportunities.

  2. Samantha Ahdoot says:

    Thank you very much for your response, Rob. While I understand there are financial and legal limitations, there are certain actions which I believe the city could take in the short term to make significant changes in behavior and set a new tone for the city.

    The city does, I believe, have the ability to impose fines and fees, if not taxes. It also has the ability, I believe, to modify the personal property tax. It may also be able to prohibit certain things from use in the city (say, yard waste in plastic bags).

    These tools should be used to implement environmental goals. Here are a few random examples:

    1. Charge a 25 cent fee for every disposable shopping bag given out in the city. Use this money for other green programs. Ireland has charged for disposable bags for years.

    2. Reduce parking spots for non-compact cars.

    3. Create bike only whole lanes in the city (eg: Prince and Cameron street). Oregon has done this.

    4. Fine for the presence of recyclable materials in regular trash (New York City has done this).

    5. Reduce the personal property (or other) tax for people who use green building technologies.

    Human nature is to take the path of least resistance. As long as that path involves creating waste and using petroleum products, as it does now, then large scale behaviour changes will not happen. Only motivated individuals will make the sacrifices. It must be made cheaper or easier to do the right thing or most people won’t do it.

    With the tremendous turnout for the Eco-City events, I think it is clear that the citizens are ready for strong environmental programs. I hope that this initiative will result in policies that create change both in the short and long term.

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