Green Task Force hopes its end is really a beginning

DOWNEY - Sipping from plastic, recyclable bottles of Dasani water, members of Downey's Green Task Force took turns Tuesday putting the final touches on a comprehensive report they intend to present to the City Council later this month.The 32-page report (16 pages after it's printed on two sides of paper), will include a laundry list of initiatives the task force hopes the Council will consider to make Downey an environmentally-friendly city. The document's creation marks a conclusion for the Green Task Force, which was created April 28 of last year with the goal of conducting, over a 12-month period, a "high-level review of city policies, procedures and practices as they relate to the Sustainable Cities principal." A review found several ways Downey can improve its relationship with the environment, and some ideas have already been implemented, including the installation of recycling containers at City Hall and the Barbara J. Riley Community Center. The task force also forged a relationship with the Downey Unified School District, teaching children about the importance of recycling. Last Dec. 17, more than 700 third- and fourth-graders turned in 1,000 plastic grocery bags on "A Day without a Bag Day." Children received one reusable shopping bag for every 10 plastic bags turned in for recycling. But the task force's greatest contributions may not take effect until much later, if at all. Among its long-term recommendations is that the city allow the installation of drought-tolerant landscaping on private and public property; replace city vehicles with electric, hybrid or other low-emission vehicles and install accompanying charging stations throughout the community; retrofit municipal and industrial buildings with photovoltaic panels; and promote low-emission mass transit downtown with eventual expansion throughout Downey. It will be up to city administrators and the Council to determine how feasible those recommendations are, but in the short-term, the task force also suggested plans of action that could be immediately enforced. For one, the task force wants to continue to meet, but as an official city commission and with increased assistance from City Hall staffers. They also want to see "A Day without a Bag Day" become an annual staple every Earth Day. Other immediate recommendations are to "publicize, reinforce and enhance" water conservation and energy efficiency programs in Downey; install recycling containers in public parks and public areas; distribute kits to new businesses that promote recycling; reduce or eliminate fees associated with sustainable construction; ban Styrofoam at city functions; expand the "green streets" program that emphasizes tree planting, water runoff reduction and streetscape improvements; and update the city's website with links to green-orientated organizations. If the Council agrees to continue the task force as a city commission, Councilman Mario Guerra, who chairs the task force, is recommending each council member appoint two residents, who would be joined by local utility and conservation experts. At present, the task force is comprised of residents Bob Ciatti, Lars Clutterham, Janet Molinaro, Robert Rubio and Nancy Swenson. They're joined at monthly meetings by officials from Coca-Cola Bottling, Southern California Gas Company, Southern California Edison, CalMet and others. Separate subcommittees met as often as three times a month. It should be noted that Downey had undertaken conservation efforts long before the Green Task Force was conceived: DowneyLINK buses are powered by propane, crosswalk signals were upgraded from incandescent to LED lights, and the city maintenance yard recycles green waste, scrap metal, used motor oil and tires. The yard also empties aerosol containers so the metal cans may be recycled. The city also has on staff Kathy Simmons, an integrated waste coordinator, who works heavily on the city's recycling program. The Green Task Force, in whatever form it may take going forward, will serve an advisory role as Downey takes steps to reduce its carbon footprint. "We need to be a leader not just for our 115,000 residents, but for our region," Guerra said.

********** Published: July 1, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 11