14 August 2005

The Green Life

A week ago last Thursday, I was at the Conference on Homelessness, where I had a great 20 minute chat before the keynote speech with one of our Councilors, and he mentioned that he'd like to speak with me about some ideas he had. He said he thought it was time for a task force or council to be formed that dealt with umbrella environmental concerns in our area. Friday we met at the monthly Dem happy hour at Rapture, and the canvassing began.

Out of the 34-40 Dems who showed up and were talked with, all were in favor (to varying degrees) of the concept, with the stipulation that the council would advise both City Council and the Albemarle County BoS. General consensus was that Charlottesville wouldn't get very far on it's initiatives without Albemarle. The top concerns seemed to be property rights & values and watershed issues, with pollution and traffic tying for third.

So the question becomes (1) how to form environmental legislation that appeals to both Dems (predominantly Charlottesville) and Reps (predominantly Albemarle), and (2) how to tie those environmental initiatives to the issues that concern people most, which are much more personal (e.g., taxes) and directly effect their daily lives.

Well, over the weekend it occurred to me that there were a number of things the residents of C-A could do to improve the environment if they could be encouraged to act. And the easiest way to encourage anyone to act is to effect their pocketbook.

Property values in C'ville, as those of you who have heard me rant know, are overinflated. That means tax assessments are very serious business around here. So I came up with a way to tie green living with a property tax break. I've cheekily called it the Natural Lawn & Garden Act of 2005.

Gardening seems to be the #1 hobby in these parts. Anyone with a scrap of lawn has planted something in it, and our Historic Garden Week would even impress the British. However, modern gardening, with its emphasis on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and weed killers, dumps tons of Round-Up and similar toxins into the soil and water of our environment, and our water quality is showing the effects. Add to that a Weed Ordinance that has gas-powered lawn mowers dumping emissions into the air nearly daily. Did you know that older lawn mowers emit as much noxious fumes in 1 hour as the average car does in driving 18.7 miles? And a Trash Ordinance that forbids organic composting by outlawing any visible refuse on your property--it specifically mentions organic matter as refuse too.

So, why not create a variance designed to encourage organic gardening practices by giving residents who apply for a "natural lawn and garden certificate" a property tax break?

It helps the watershed quality and conservation (a percentage of native plants, which are required in the proposal I wrote, require less special treatments and less watering), it propagates native flora and fauna, improves soil quality, and lessens trash removal (which is now being shipped out of C-A at a hefty cost to local government). It also provides a monetary kickback for those who want to use their property to improve our environment and reduce the City's costs.

The idea isn't new. In fact, it has also been tried several times. Lonnie proposed a version in 2002, I proposed another version in 2003 and neither of us was First. I haven't figured out why we can't get it passed. Perhaps we're just that unremarkable. Nowadays, it takes a gimmick to hold anyone's attention for more than 30 seconds.

So... Where did my barbalute suit get to and can it be dry cleaned in time for the next Council session?

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