Steamboat City Council candidates talk sustainability
In a forum hosted by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council Wednesday, 10 of the 11 candidates seeking seats on the Steamboat Springs City Council shared their thoughts about how to solve the climate crisis impacting the city. Dave Moloney, who is running for the at-large seat, did not attend the forum.
Routt County recently passed its climate action plan, which outlines goals to reduce emissions from the county and area municipalities.
When asked about the city’s role in implementing the plan, at-large candidate Eddie Briones said he would seek federal grant funding to help fund renewable energy sources for city buildings, which are one of the county’s top sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Technology is only getting better and cheaper, so we need to take advantage of that,” Briones said.
In response to the same question, Dakotah McGinlay, who is running in District 3, said she would work to divert destination marketing funds and place a fee on short-term rentals to support cleaner energy in city buildings.
“I believe it’s the city’s role to protect the health and safety of our community,” McGinlay said. “Securing sustainable funding is the first step.”
Walter Magill, another District 3 candidate, said he would change the city’s community development code to create better land-use strategies that require less water and resources.
“I think we should encourage more community housing projects where the parking is outside the building, and people are walking towards their homes,” Magill said.
Daniel Gerke, who is also running in District 3, said he would work closely with the county to build more electrical vehicle charging stations and encourage the use of electric vehicles.
“When the car fleets start needing repair or replacement, we should be looking at any opportunity there to replace those with hybrid or electric vehicles,” Gerke said.
Steven Randall, another District 3 candidate, emphasized the need for the city to be a leader in implementing the climate action plan, which he said can be done by zeroscaping properties, which will conserve water.
“We need to quit watering our lawns,” Randall said. “The city’s role is to provide leadership throughout the regional transit authority system.”
Joella West, a candidate in District 2, said she would first take action on more visible goals, such as building more trails and encouraging Steamboat Springs Transit ridership, then would move to implement longer-term action items.
“Making visible progress on these goals will encourage our community to pursue the longer and more challenging strategies where we need to take first steps now,” West said. “I’d like to see the city commit to both pathways.”
Blair Picard, who is running for a District 2 council seat, said he would ensure community members know why the city is taking the actions they are toward climate goals, which he believed could be unpopular at times.
“The city’s role right now is to lead,” Picard said. “There may be a certain amount of griping on some of our actions, but we have to make it clear from the outset on the whys and the hows.”
Loui Antonucci, a District 2 candidate, said he also wants to redo the community development code to make buildings more environmentally friendly.
“We know that a large part of our energy use and greenhouse gas come from homes and buildings,” Antonucci said. “I want the city to lead by example.”
Gail Garey, a candidate in District 1, said reducing greenhouse gases needs to be a factor in every decision council makes.
“One of the main reasons I’m running is because the environmental champions on council currently are stepping down,” Garey said. “With each day that passes, the task before us grows exponentially.”
David Baldinger Jr., a District 1 candidate, said improving Steamboat Springs Transit should be the city’s first step to implementing the climate action plan.
“The time is now,” Baldinger Jr. said. “The government has to step in and make sure we’re establishing priorities that are most important to reduce gases as much as possible.”
In discussing how to preserve old city buildings rather than building new ones, Baldinger Jr. said he would work with Historic Routt County to make sure historic buildings and houses are favored over building brand new buildings, which is more sustainable.
“Environmental sustainability is in lockstep with historic preservation, which is in lockstep with really cool houses,” Baldinger Jr. said. “Remodeling a house can be fun, and it can be efficient.”
Responding to the same question, Garey said she would prioritize preserving green landscapes.
“I see historic preservation and sustainability as natural partners,” Garey said. “Preservation of open spaces, green spaces and mature trees maintain the culture and character of our community, but they also make us a more environmentally sustainable community.”
When asked about overall top priorities for climate adaptation, Antonucci said City Council should revisit its municipal building code to ensure buildings are using less water and finding renewable energy sources for heat.
“I think that the existing buildings we have, any time they need to be repaired or need new A/C systems, I think they need to be looked at to provide sustainable energy sources,” Antonucci said, adding that city vehicles should also be replaced with hybrid and electric vehicles when possible.
Picard emphasized the importance of making sure the Brown Ranch is set up to be environmentally sustainable.
“It’s hard to go back and undo what’s been done in the city, but there is going to be big growth out there in the next 10 years,” Picard said. “We really need to study what works.”
West echoed Picard’s point about the Brown Ranch and said she would focus on making sure businesses were conserving water.
“We can’t make drought disappear, and we need to do whatever we can as a city to mitigate the impacts of drought on agriculture, which is the heritage of the Yampa Valley,” West said.
When asked about what destination management means to him, Randall said it should revolve around teaching visitors to take care of Steamboat’s environment.
“It’s something best left to partnering with the Chamber and resort for a common message,” Randall said. “It involves promoting public transit, multimodal transportation systems and accessibility.”
Asked the same question, Gerke proposed hiring a consultant who specializes in destination management.
“It should address what is needed to foster a quality of life, culture and experiences,” Gerke said. “We need to measure the impact to environment and ensure we’re creating a management plan that focuses on sustainability.”
Magill said destination management was about ensuring visitors understand what behavior is expected when visiting Steamboat.
“It is imperative that the city asks those questions as they’re using community service officers and giving permits to these events,” Magill said. “We have a lot of good events that are sustainable events.”
Similarly, McGinlay suggested issuing a packet to visitors explaining how to lock bear-proof trash cans and other measures to respect the city’s wildlife and environment.
“Visitors must understand the devastating effects of pollution and misuse,” McGinlay said. “Destination management also has an opportunity to connect visitors with nonprofits.”
When asked about how to increase waste diversion, Briones said knowledge is key.
“Using City Council as a role model to inform the locals and having the chamber implement destination management would be great to inform visitors,” Briones said. “Educate the public and locals.”
When asked about shrinking water flows in the Yampa River and how to conserve water, Baldinger Jr. said the city can set an example by not watering its parks and lawns.
“The Yampa River is our crown jewel,” Baldinger Jr. said. “A big part of that conservation plan is educating the community on best practice, leading by example on city parks and properties.”
Garey said she would focus on educating community members about learning to change the way they live to conserve water.
“The time is now to implement water strategies that build resilience in our water use practices and help us learn to live with less water,” Garey said. “The city has a key role to play.”
Antonucci emphasized rewriting the city’s landscaping rules so they involve less water.
“The city needs to lead by example, and I think conservation in the public buildings is going to allow people to basically mirror what the city does,” Antonucci said.
Picard said the city should continue tree-planting efforts and require water-efficient landscaping.
“We need to consider tightening up our water and sewer rights,” Picard said. “If we need to, we should consider changing our rights.”
West encouraged working with the agricultural community to conserve water.
“Even if we as a city do everything possible, the greatest burden will still fall on the ranchers and farmers of the Yampa Valley,” West said. “The city can and should continue to do everything possible to minimize water use within its boundaries and follow the conservation plan.”
Randall said he would work with businesses and other city departments to ensure they are all working to conserve water.
“Let’s stop watering our lawns, and let’s reduce water usage from all non-food agriculture,” Randall said. “Let’s work with our local utility and encourage the maintenance and upgrade of our system.”
Gerke said he would focus on education and awareness about water scarcity.
“There are simple little things that we can get our kids and adults doing,” Gerke said. “It’s little things that we can do.”
Magill said he would look closer at whether the city should allow tubing on the Yampa River for much of the season.
“Nobody appreciates it, it doesn’t go on that long, and our guests enjoy it, but it does trash the river,” Magill said.
McGinlay said she would work with golf courses and restaurants to ensure they are doing all they can to conserve water.
“Coming from a farming background, I understand how much pressure is on farmers to reduce their use and still produce. That same pressure is not applied to golf courses, commercial and residential zones in the city and county,” McGinlay said. “We all need to be a part of the path toward water security in the valley.”
Briones said he believed the city should have stricter rules for irrigation and waste.
“Every day, I drive around and see folks just watering their lawn on times they’re not supposed to,” Briones said. “So educating the community as to when they’re supposed to water their lawn is a big step.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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