Environmental footprint

Sustainability Action Plan
Courtesy of cifyofls website

LEE’S SUMMIT, DECEMBER 8, 2012 – Environment and Natural Resources committee Chair Bob Johnson, Brian Whitley and Rob Binney held the first of three meetings to discuss the Sustainability Action Plan for the City of Lee’s Summit.  Brian Scott, Deputy City Manager presented the Plan’s first three chapters (click here for the action plan).

In the City’s web page (click here) they have a good opening statement about the purpose of the Sustainability Action Plan:

In this age of revived environmental enthusiasm, there are a lot of “buzz” words being thrown around. However, words without substance, and enthusiasm without action are pointless. The City of Lee’s Summit knows this, and through ongoing efforts to serve the people of Lee’s Summit, the City works tirelessly to cultivate a balanced, sustainable culture.

A group of 15 citizens of Lee’s Summit attended the meeting to discuss the plan and the impact of it on the city.

Brian Rialti spoke first.  As most of us, he found out about the Sustainability Action Plan on Friday November 30, 2012.  His first question dealt with the Federal Grant that paid for the study conducted by the City.  Speaking earlier to Councilman Brian Whitley he told me that the Federal Grant was requested to upgrade the City’s infrastructure, including the purchase of Hybrid Vehicles for the Lee’s Summit Police Department, and part of the money had to be used for the Sustainability study.  Chair Johnson asked Brian Scott if the City would have conducted the study without the Federal Grant and Scott made it clear that without the Federal Grant Lee’s Summit would not have invested its own money on the study: It cost roughly $80,000 to conduct the study with AECOM (click here for their website).

The key question asked by Mr. Rialti was “[Because we did the study] are we obligated to implement the Sustainability Plan?”  Bob Johnson answered that the City Council has not adopted the Sustainability Plan, and the purpose of the three meetings is for Citizens to give input to the Environmental Committee.

Brian Rialti quoted from the Study (click here for the study) that “Cities across the country are using Sustainability Action Plans to create a framework for resource efficiency.  These plans provide long-range, comprehensive strategies to leverage existing plans and programs, and to prioritize and increase community benefits”.  If this is about resource efficiency, Mr. Rialti asked, “then why isn’t this called a Resource Efficiency Plan?”

Dale Coy spoke next at the Committee meeting.  Mr. Coy spoke of his similar confusion about the title of the study, and what it truly was doing.  He researched the start of the SAP study “to a Mayor and City Council Strategic Retreat in 2009 that asked to do an action plan to enhance the Economic and Financial Sustainability of the city.”  He tracked it further back to the Lee’s Summit 360 Initiative, reading from the Lee’s Summit 360 initiative Mr. Coy said that, “Sustainable infrastructure is a new concept that is not yet widely utilized by the community or the City.  Before embarking on a series of disconnected initiatives, a cohesive approach to sustainable infrastructure should be defined.

Dale pointed out that the Tracking Dashboard states that the City Manager will conduct Carbon Footprints of city buildings.

Mr. Coy pointed out that “in my estimation, this plan is sixty to seventy percent Greenhouse Gases”.  The SAP, appears to be – based on Mr. Coy’s presentation – more an Environmental Greenhouse program than it is either an Economic and Financial Sustainability or a Sustainable Infrastructure Plan: which is the stated task from the Mayor and City Council Retreat.

Dale Coy summed it up with a simple question, “If you don’t know the economic benefit, the how do you measure if it is balanced or not?” He concluded by stating “My bottom line is: First decide what the plan is supposed to be, then go from there.”

Clearly the first two speakers pointed out that the plan and the objectives set forth by the original task don’t match – it is very confusing to see what Lee’s Summit is trying to do.

Joyce Wilmoth spoke next discussing the lack of public information currently available on this committee’s and specifically the SAP review.

Lenny Cacchio of Lee’s Summit explained to the committee that he has personal experience with environmental concerns, having lived within walking distance of “Love Canal” in upstate New York: He “smelled and tasted” the effects of poor environmental conditions.

In his comments to the committee he asked some very poignant rhetorical questions that we all, as citizens of Lee’s Summit should be asking ourselves and City Council:

  • Do you believe that city government does not have enough data on my personal energy consumption, and this is a weakness and a threat?
  • Do you believe it is a weakness / threat that people in Lee’s Summit life in large houses and like to drive their cars?
  • Do you believe that a healthy dose of skepticism among the people is a virtue or a weakness / threat in the representative government?  And why do you accuse us of being fearful if we disagree with you?
  • Do you believe that energy costs are too low, and that this too is a weakness or a threat?
  • Do you believe that having a little land where we can each sit under our own vine and fig tree is a weakness and threat?
  • Do you believe an independent attitude is a threat?
  • Do you believe that assessing additional taxes is the key to sustainable development?
  • Do you believe that everyone who opposes Agenda 21 (see UN Agenda 21 here) is a redneck or a rube?

Mr. Cacchio asked a very important question: “where is this initiative coming from and where is it going?”

Lenny Cacchio brought up UN Agenda 21, which is a non-binding agreement and not a treaty that is supported by the United States Government yet not being a treaty it has not been debated in Congress nor ratified.

The interesting thing is that in the last decade, UN Agenda 21 has come into disfavor in the US.  UN Agenda 21 goes back to the Rio+5 Earth Summit in June 1992.  The Sustainable Development refers to an economy that is in equilibrium with basic ecological support systems.  Ecologists have pointed to the limits of growth and presented the alternative of a steady state economy in order to address environment concerns.

Mr. Cacchio’s comments and my conversations with Amy Fox of Lee’s Summit (the next speaker) start to paint the picture that Lee’s Summit City Administration – not necessarily the Council or the Environment Committee – hold to the concepts of UN Agenda 21 and the “steady state economy”.

Amy E. Fox spoke last at the Committee meeting and she gave further information about UN Agenda 21 and ICLEI (click here), which stands for International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.  A quick look at the list of US cities shows that in Missouri the following belong and pay dues (or have paid dues) to belong to the International Council (see the list here):

  • Clayton
  • Columbia
  • Creve Coeur
  • Kansas City
  • Kirkwood
  • Lee’s Summit
  • Riverside
  • Saint Louis
  • Saint Louis County
  • Town & Country
  • University City

Sustainable Development DiagramMs. Fox, who became aware of the Lee’s Summit Sustainability Action Plan by reading her son’s science textbook and doing research finds it of interest that Lee’s Summit so closely follows the UN Agenda 21 as supported in implementation by ICLEI.

Amy Fox talked about the ICLEI toolkit for implementing Sustainability.  The Plan (see the online toolkit here) includes a 5-step plan that looking at the Lee’s Summit SAP seems to fit exactly:

  • Milestone One: Conduct a sustainability assessment
  • Milestone Two: Establish sustainability goals
  • Milestone Three: Develop a local sustainability plan
  • Milestone Four: Implement policies and measures
  • Milestone Five: Evaluate progress and report results

Lee’s Summit, Ms. Fox points out, is currently at Milestone Three where we develop the local sustainability plan.

The fiscally interesting question is: With all the resources available for Lee’s Summit to conduct the study themselves, why did we pay $80,000 to AECOM to do it for us?

The most important takeaway for me from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee meeting is that Lee’s Summit has somehow, in this case, created a set of diametrically opposed goals.  On the one hand Lee’s Summit City Council wants to create an economically vibrant city where industries of all types want to set up business in Lee’s Summit, create more local employment, avoid the “bedroom community” problems where the city’s downtown is empty during the day and the local tax base is limited to residential and some industrial and retail sectors.  On the other hand, there appears to be a drive to increase regulations, implement intrusive practices (remember the single hauler proposal finally defeated not by the citizens, but by a threatened law suit), and create an environment where setting up shop in Lee’s Summit is increasingly difficult and more costly.

I’m going to follow the SAP progress by attending the next meeting of the Committee on January 7, 2013 at 5:30 PM at City Hall; I hope you’re there too.

Respectfully Submitted,
The Lee’s Summit Conservative