If you're an environmentally-conscious individual, family, or business thinking of relocating to Salem, Oregon, keep in mind what happened last night at a City Council work session.
Only two out of nine voting members (eight councilors and Mayor Anna Peterson) were in favor of establishing a Sustainability Commission, Tom Andersen and Diana Dickey.
I've been told that Mayor Peterson even said, “Sustainability — I don’t know anything about it.”
Wow. Ignorance among City leaders is inexcusable when it comes to making sure that Salem, and Earth as a whole, is as habitable and livable for future generations as it is for us today.
It is the height of selfishness to plan only for now, ignoring the impact of present decisions on tomorrow's well-being.
So let's give an I Don't Give a Shit award to Mayor Peterson and City Councilors Chuck Bennett, Brad Nanke, Steve McCoid, Daniel Benjamin, Warren Bednarz, and Jim Lewis.
(I assume all attended this important goal-setting meeting.)
If the Mayor had cared to inform herself about what "sustainability" means before she mindlessly voted against a Sustainability Commission, all she would have needed to do is pick up the most recent copy of Salem Weekly, which is available for free at a City Hall paper box.
An editorial, "Time For a Sustainability Commission," would have enlightened her.
If, however, we wish to avoid bequeathing a disastrous future to our children, it is imperative that we act now and at every level to make our communities economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. No doubt the federal and state governments must mobilize enormous resources (material and knowledge based) needed to reverse the impacts of the environmental crises, but local communities also have a decisive role to play in this process.
It is local government that does most of the planning for future development and delivers most of the daily services residents expect. Hence, local expertise and local resources will be pivotal to rethinking and implementing changes in the ways we organize our communities.
Many Oregon communities are not waiting for the state and federal governments to act. They recognize that a sound future rests upon adopting policies that are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable and they know that they have many local resources to tap into that encourage innovation and success.
For Forest Grove, for example, sustainability is “essential for the continued livability of the planet.” Forest Grove, like Eugene, has established a Sustainability Commission that includes citizens from all walks of life, e.g., the academic, business, nonprofit, and public sectors and is charged with reviewing and initiating city policies related to environmental health, economic prosperity, and social equity. This approach reflects the growing awareness of the need to embed sustainable practices into all aspects of community life.
But Salem's city officials seem determined to make this town a Willamette Valley backwater, one of the few large cities in western Oregon whose commitment to the environment, sustainability, and Greenness in general is pitifully lacking.
Here's some other evidence that Salem's Mayor and City Council majority are mired in a backward-looking perspective on 21st century problems and possibilities.
While other cities in Oregon are energetically and creatively moving ahead on Green initiatives that stimulate the economy, protect the environment, and enhance livability, Salem's Mayor and City Council...
(1) Also crazily voted last night to move ahead with an unneeded half billion dollar (or more) Third Bridge that will likely suck up most of Salem's transportation money, leaving little or nothing for improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, or seismically retrofitting the two current bridges so they won't collapse in a major earthquake. Only Councilor Tom Andersen stood up for sanity at yesterday's work session.
(2) Heard Mayor Peterson recently tell Salem's citizenry, in effect, "Shut up about trees." Meaning, the Mayor and some city councilors are just fine with City staff colluding in back room deals with businesses, or anyone else who wants to cut down street trees for no good reason, as happened in 2013 with five healthy, beautiful Japanese Zelkovas on downtown's State Street.
(3) Are, as I said in my Salem Weekly column, fiddling while the planet burns. Most of them aren't willing to say that they accept the reality of global warming; they favor cutting down urban forests for parking lots; they allow Salem's mass transit (bus) system to remain desperately mediocre; they give pennies to bike lanes and multiuse trails while lavishing many dollars on autocentric vehicular projects.
Don't get me wrong: there are good reasons to live in Salem or have a business here. But the quality of leadership at City Hall isn't one of them.
The best thing to do is to vote out all of them, aside from Tom Andersen, the only city councilor who has a firm grasp on what needs to be done to bring Salem up to speed with other more with-it Oregon cities when it comes to economic development, sustainability, and livability.
Until that time comes, those of us who live in or near Salem (I'm outside the city limits, with a Salem address) will have to grit our Green teeth and be thankful that we aren't living in Oklahoma City or Houston.
It's just more than a little disturbing to see a Mayor and City Council so out of touch with a citizenry which leans decidedly progressive, but is being (temporarily) represented by elected officials bought and paid for by Salem Chamber of Commerce and other special interest money.