Cleveland mayoral candidates are vague on environmental issues, but at least they’re talking about it

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Zack Reed wanted to make the city’s sustainability department as important as the public safety department. Basheer Jones commented on the July storms. Justin Bibb thought the city’s 90-day opt-in recycling program was stupid. Ross DiBello wanted to “attack” automotive culture. Dennis Kucinich wanted to turn Burke Lakefront Airport into an urban park that would be the envy of the nation. Sandra Williams wanted more green space in which residents could relax. Kevin Kelley, before rushing to the memorial vigil for late former firefighter Wilbert McCormick, said restoring the city’s canopy was “the number one priority.”

This was the Cleveland Mayor’s Forum on the Environment, moderated by Justin Glanville of Ideastream and sponsored by the Ohio Environmental Council and a host of 501 (c) 3 zones. It was a bit of a mess. At the end of the quick 85-minute program, the overwhelming impression was that very few applicants had more than a Cliff’s Notes understanding of environmental issues. It might not be fair to expect doctoral-level essays on topics like particles and water technology, but the scattered answers were often only tangentially linked to the questions asked. Buzzwords and big features abounded.

Still, candidates agreed that Cleveland’s outdated recycling program should be reinstated, that streets should be made safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and that more trees should be planted, especially in low-income neighborhoods, was imperative from an environmental justice perspective.

Basheer Jones, in a frank moment, admitted that he really isn’t an environmental expert – evident when, in response to a question about how to make water bills more affordable, he spoke at length talked about lead pipes – but promised to bring experts to the table if elected.

Environmentalists in attendance at several live surveillance evenings around the city were undoubtedly delighted that the discussion had taken place. Several candidates hinted at interesting ideas and policy changes. Justin Bibb, for example, said Cleveland should explore alternative funding models for public transit. Dennis Kucinich launched an international competition to design a reinvented Burke Lakefront park. He also said the city should quickly build 20,000 low and moderate income housing units. Bibb, Kucinich, and Sandra Williams all mentioned Cleveland Public Power’s exit from its 50-year purchase agreement that hurts consumers and limits the possibility of green alternatives.

Zack Reed said on weekends he was closing MLK through cultural gardens to vehicular traffic. Ross DiBello stumbled upon the idea that the city could plant trees much like repaving streets – using a worst-case-first approach that would target neighborhoods with the highest temperatures. He said the “urban forester” should be a cabinet-level position. Kevin Kelley, who only answered two questions, presented a simple approach to tackling climate change from city hall: increasing tree canopy, reducing vehicle emissions, making solar energy. the standard in city-owned buildings and promote multimodal transport.

Bibb, who based his remarks on environmental justice throughout the evening, also leaned on Kucinich. Kucinich had announced earlier this week that on the first day of his administration, he planned to cut rates for RPC and Cleveland Water customers in the city by 10% by tapping into growing utility surpluses. Bibb said the commitment was based on “fun math” and it would reduce the link capacity of utilities to increase energy reserves in the future.

You can watch the entire forum above.

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