BayBuzz had a chance to talk with Mayor Yule and get a preview of his thinking about the advisory group he plans for environmental sustainability issues. The group will consist of Council and public members, perhaps with the latter in the majority.

Faithful BayBuzz readers know we never miss an opportunity to cause heartburn for the Mayor.

But for this initiative, he deserves hearty applause.

The Mayor has a sweeping view of the potential substantive scope of the group. “Everything to do with sustainability” he says, mentioning waste management & recycling, water allocation & use, land use & development, public transportation, curbing & managing the effects of climate change, and more. But approached with a practical eye as to setting priorities for concrete action and targeting areas where a real difference can be made at the community level.

As he sees it: “The community wants and is prepared to buy into doing things in a more environmentally sustainable way. But they need to see things they can do that will make a difference.”

He foresees that the HDC might receive advice on where and how to provide leadership regarding sustainability (e.g., in the sense of educating the public about the issues), on specific operational changes in Council practices, and even on changes to the District Plan that would provide more legal grounding for environmental factors to be weighed in Council policy-making and RMA interpretation.

He notes that “there is little in the District Plan on the environment at the moment” and argues this weakens the formal basis on which the Council can make decisions that, for example, favor sustainability over development. As he sees it, the advisory group could become an advocate for strengthening the environmental sustainability orientation of the DP. But, he says, the environmental community needs to apply itself in this forum and engage the Council to achieve that outcome, just as the wine industry has done to influence the Plan in its interest.

A key goal, according to the Mayor, should be devising ways of injecting environmental considerations into Council policy-making in a more timely and comprehensive manner … not just relying on the more adversarial (and often late-in-the-game) submissions process. This could involve some kind of “tickler” system where matters coming before the Council were flagged early on for environmental input.

We discussed the issue of global warming as it relates to the advisory group. The Mayor presents himself as a more recent convert on the issue than many others. But he’s obviously started to think about the implications of climate change on the region, noting, for example, that the airport is a mere 500 mls above sea level.

That said, he regards environmental sustainability as the real driver of the advisory group, not global warming per se. His view, which I share, is that by focusing on “here and now” issues that steadily come before the Council, decisions and programs can be adopted that will have favorable immediate environmental impacts while also having the spill-over effects of addressing climate change and shaping long-term planning.

It’s clear that the Mayor has given the advisory group’s role and charter a great deal of thought. However, he indicates that his next step will be to have one or more public forums “within a month” where interested parties can contribute their own thinking on the mandate and activities of the group. From there, the concept will be further massaged, the group will be appointed and organized, and sleeves will get rolled up after the Christmas holiday. Importantly, the group will be supported by the Council with dedicated staff.

In concept and intention, the Mayor’s plan sounds great. He is inviting environmentalists to the table in an unprecedented way. For their part, environmentalists will need to decide how to allocate their scarce resources to influencing from within, via the advisory group, versus agitating from the outside. Both have their place.

And of course, until concrete recommendations begin to flow from the group, the Mayor and Council will not be put to the test in terms of how deep their commitment to environmental sustainability actually runs.

For now, BayBuzz looks upon this initiative with an optimism that hopefully events will justify.

For now, good on ya Mayor Yule!

Tom

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