In Carbondale, the right to breathe, recycle and enjoy the night sky
July 31, 2017
An environmental bill of rights in Carbondale would advocate items including clean air, clean water, protected "viewscapes," increased recycling, automobile alternatives and "unimpeded views of the quintessential Western night sky."
It wouldn't have the force of law, but the whole Carbondale Board of Trustees supports the idea as a "guiding document."
Trustees have described it as a "filter" that the board would use in its decision making, but nothing as forceful as an ordinance. As Trustee Heather Henry put it, the environmental bill of rights is seen as an "overarching document, not a policy document." This will be a bill of rights to hang on the boardroom wall and distribute through town.
Henry hopes to see the bill of rights spark discussion about how particular projects or policies are helping the town meet its environmental ambitions.
A draft of the document presented to trustees last week lists 14 "rights" of Carbondalians and visitors, also including clear growth boundaries, solid waste reduction and increased recycling and automobile alternatives.
But the draft is quite a bit more voluminous, and trustees debated how specific it should be about how the town will work toward these goals.
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The board generally agreed that these items could be condensed and simplified to focus on the rights without getting as bogged down in specific strategies for achieving them.
Trustee Ben Bohmfalk pointed to a concise sustainability bill of rights adopted by Santa Monica, California, which sums up the city's seven environmental expectations in one sentence.
Mayor Dan Richardson initially took issue with calling these items "rights" if the document goes as far as prescribing how the town would achieve those goals. Calling it a bill of rights essentially says that the town is going to work to guarantee these things for residents, said Richardson, who was concerned about creating "entitlements" for things the town can't realistically guarantee.
"I don't disagree with any of these as something we want to strive toward, but I'm not necessarily willing to guarantee them as a right," he said.
For instance, the draft bill of rights provides that residents and visitors have a right to "mass transit alternatives within town and throughout the Roaring Fork Valley."
Though he supports the concept, the mayor called out that item as something the town government can't necessarily guarantee. The mayor said he "can get behind guaranteeing a right to healthy air or preservation and the restoration of native wildlife," but he didn't want to list as "rights" specific actions to achieve them. Richardson favored the more concise and broad approach that Santa Monica uses.
"I'm trying to give you guys a way to save the world here, because we're at critical mass on a lot of this stuff," said Trustee Frosty Merriott, the senior board member. Merriott said the document should be taken as points the town is striving for, rather than a list of entitlements.
"I've been doing this for 50 years," and the dynamic is about to shift such that "I'm going to be sitting back retired, but you guys are going to have to fix this mess we've made."
Merriott pushed to keep the bill of rights from being watered down, saying that Carbondale needs to maintain its position as a leader on environmental issues. "I think that's really important, because if we don't do that at the town level, it doesn't get done," he said.
"More and more," Merriott said, "I think things like this will fall to local politics to get done."
Henry said she hopes that calling it a bill of rights will give it a level of importance to promote dialogue that will challenge this board and future boards. "I see that it could spark some pretty intense dialogue at some point, that would be my hope for [the bill of rights], not my concern for it," she said.
The intent, said Richardson, is to "light a fire under our butts, to do more than we're doing, and I support that idea. If the board really didn't think this was important, it would have been easy to say 'looks good' and pass it," said Richardson. "But I think it's clear this board wants to support the concept behind this."
A couple of individual items brought out more straight-forward opposition. Former Trustee John Hoffmann pointed out during a recent environmental board meeting that a right against noxious and invasive plants could have the unintended consequence of promoting pesticide use. And Bohmfalk and others were also against including protection of residents' "viewscape" in the bill of rights.
Other environmental rights in the draft included the preservation and acquisition of open space and wildlife habitat, a healthy ecosystems through protected native wildlife and "well-managed built environment," control over noise levels, "wise and thrifty" use of natural resources, as well as "plans, codes and practices that place environmental protection as a top priority."