Responses to DC Sierra Club Questionnaire

Ready for 100

More than two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions are from burning fossil fuels. To remain below a 1.5 degree Celsius increase from pre-industrial temperatures to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we must move to a fully decarbonized energy sector by 2050.  Achieving 100 percent of our energy from renewable sources is affordable with today’s technologies, and continued innovation will reduce costs even more. The District’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires 50 percent of our electricity to be derived from renewables by 2032. To combat the devastating effects of climate change, the District must expand our use of clean energy to 100 percent by 2050.

Q: Will you support the District of Columbia officially setting the goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050?

[Yes. This is a matter of global health, but also a matter of local public health. We need to look no further than Southwest DC to find stories on an almost daily basis about the unsafe conditions created by rampant development, which have literally poisoned our water, air, and our neighbors themselves. It has been truly upsetting to see neighbors complain about their toxic surroundings, and be largely ignored by their councilmember because he accepts money from the businesses and developers that are causing the problems. We need to tackle these problems in a comprehensive manner that brings immediate relief to our neighbors, beyond requiring that future new construction that uses renewable energy once it is finished. We must require these construction projects to be socially and environmentally responsible today. Unfortunately, our current DC Council, and our Ward 6 councilmember in particular, accepts too much funding from corporate and developer interests to possibly take them on in a meaningful way. His voting record to date proves it.]

Carbon Pricing

Putting a price on carbon emissions is one of the most straightforward and cost-effective ways to fight climate change. The DC Sierra Club is part of the “Put a Price on It” coalition that has proposed levying an increasing fee on carbon emissions and rebating most of the money back to residents of the District of Columbia, with additional support to low-income residents. The remainder of the money raised from the fee would fund strategic investments to accelerate DC’s transition to a clean energy economy in a way that is just and equitable. This market-based approach would provide financial incentives for using clean energy and financial disincentives for dirty energy.

Q: Will you support legislation to establish a carbon fee and rebate program in DC?

[Yes. I am very familiar with policies related to carbon taxes and rebates, having worked on Capitol Hill during the congressional debate of similar federal policy almost a decade ago. Policies that incentivize a shift to green energy and reduce our city’s emissions are becoming increasingly important, and policies that incentivize change by investing funds in our own communities are the optimal way to produce these results.

It is also important that we pursue clean energy policy without unduly burdening low-income residents who cannot afford to upgrade their homes or modify their energy source with efficiency in mind. To that end, as fees on distribution companies are increased and those costs are passed onto consumers, I would seek to revisit the percentage of carbon rebates going to our low-income residents, currently set at 15 percent. This policy is estimated to increase residential power bills by an average of $9/month, and while that should be offset by rebates, it is an increase that could be debilitating for families who struggle to pay their bills on a month-to-month basis. We need to make sure the rebate system is designed in such a way that we are proactively insulating low-income residents from price spikes they cannot afford, particularly since they may experience these financial pressures prior to receiving rebates.

I would also revise the eligibility requirements for low-income residents. I am not comfortable with requiring residents to have a photo ID or driver’s license in order to be eligible for rebates, since these requirements would inherently exclude the most vulnerable populations in our city who will depend on access to these rebates most. Presumptive eligibility would protect low-income residents from being excluded from this rebate program.]

Advancing Solar Energy in the District

DC's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires that 50 percent of DC's energy come from renewable sources by 2032, with 5 percent coming from solar energy generation in DC. The District is not on track to meet either requirement. The Cooperative/HOA Solar Expansion Act (B22-0229) prohibits homeowners and co-op associations from placing unreasonable restrictions on residents installing solar panels on their roofs. The Solar Ready Roofs Act (B22-0437) requires that new buildings in DC be designed and built such that their roofs can accommodate solar panels and that 10 percent of the building's energy needs can be generated from on-site renewable sources.

Q: Will you support legislation expanding solar energy production in the District – including the Cooperative/HOA Solar Act and the Solar Ready Roofs Act – and pledge to work with the Sierra Club on innovative efforts for more renewable energy in DC?

[Yes. I am encouraged by the expansion of solar power in my neighborhood, through individual and co-op installations, and believe we can continue to make progress particularly as the technology continues to get less expensive and more familiar. However, there is no question that the city’s current regulatory process, or lack thereof, makes it incredibly difficult. From homeowners associations placing restrictions on residents, to our own DC historic preservation districts making it confusing if not nearly impossible to receive permits that allow for solar installation in a way that does not run afoul of preservation rules, the policies and procedures we have in place are making it harder for us to meet our renewable energy goals, not easier. The role of our government is to serve as a force multiplier, not to stifle progress. We need to take a comprehensive look at everything from DCRA regulations to tax credit programs and make sure our government is accelerating progress, not inhibiting it.]

Protecting Renewable Energy Funding

The Renewable Energy Development Fund (REDF) and the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF) were created to provide funds to increase the deployment of clean energy sources in the District. The SETF also provides money for energy efficiency programs. These funds were envisioned as dedicated solely for those purposes and intended to be available year to year. In recent years, money from these funds has been swept into the general fund, a violation of the intent of the law.  

Q: Will you oppose diverting money from these funds away from renewable energy and energy efficiency programs and into the general fund and instead provide the oversight required to ensure that the Department of Energy and Environment is efficiently and effectively using these funds to expand clean energy in DC?

[Yes. Too many programs in DC have received celebratory press conferences at the DC Council upon passage, only to be ignored, underfunded, and neglected when the reporters are no longer paying attention. These funds are yet another example. We are currently in the middle of budget season, so if our DC Council truly cares about programs like REDF and SETF because they are good policy, rather than simply good politics, they can, and should, immediately push for dedicated, mandatory funding.

Waste Diversion Funding

The District has set a goal by 2032 of diverting 80 percent of our waste from landfills and incinerators through source reduction and by increasing reuse, recycling, and composting. However, DC is far short of that goal, with 23 percent of our waste being diverted in 2016. Last year, the Sierra Club successfully fought to reverse a proposed budget cut of $477,000 in funding for staff positions and zero waste programs at the Department of Public Works' Office of Waste Diversion. To come anywhere near the 80 percent diversion goal, funding for this office must increase.  

Q: Will you commit to fully funding DPW's Office of Waste Diversion so it has all the resources it needs to effectively carry out its mission and zero waste goals, including sufficient resources for education and enforcement?

[Yes. This is a worthwhile goal, and your work to date to secure funding is commendable. Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point in the lifecycle of our current leadership where the goals being set are so rarely met, that one begins to wonder why we listen when they set goals at all. The solution is simple: we either fund a program appropriately so we can meet our goals, or we don’t. I support adequate funding and ongoing oversight of goals to reduce our waste and increase recycling and composting across the city, and my support would be reflected not with mere words, but with a vote for full, mandatory, dedicated funding.]

Composting

In January 2018, the District’s new recycling requirements went into effect across residences and commercial properties, setting uniform standards for the entire city. The new rules were an improvement from past (and sometimes confusing) guidelines on the types of waste that were recyclable in DC. In addition to recycling, composting of food and other organic materials is an important component of reducing waste sent to landfills and incinerators. Currently, composting is not widespread in DC. Though the District has analyzed the feasibility of curbside composting and is working on a five-year plan to implement it, DC is not embarking on similar efforts to address the large volumes of food waste generated by restaurants and apartment buildings.

Q: Will you support efforts to expand composting and education programs for composting in the District and work with the Sierra Club on developing new legislation and maintaining effective oversight of the executive branch to encourage composting in apartment buildings and by restaurants?

[Yes. I fully support these efforts and look forward to working with the Sierra Club and other advocates on how best to carry them out. I know from speaking with neighbors that we need to be sure a program run by the city runs efficiently and predictably, and that means it must be adequately staffed and resourced. The consequences of a composting program that runs anything like our neighborhood trash and recycling programs have been known to run in the past could lead to setbacks that would make it difficult for composting programs to gain widespread support among neighbors. We can avoid this issue if we recognize it now, and ensure that any composting program we put in place is smartly developed and, importantly, adequately funded. Cities such as Boston and Milwaukee have shown that it’s possible, if it’s taken seriously by our government leaders.]

Straws on Request

Single-use plastic straws are a significant pollutant of oceans and rivers, including in our local Potomac and Anacostia watersheds. Nationwide, 500 million plastic straws are discarded every day. Here in DC, Sierra Club volunteers last year worked with the Anacostia Watershed Society to sort trash removed from the Anacostia River. After counting the waste separately, volunteers found approximately 6.5 percent of the litter was from straws.

Q: Will you support a "plastic straws on request only" policy for restaurants in DC and pledge to work with the Sierra Club on developing legislation and maintaining effective oversight of the executive branch to put this policy into effect?

[Yes. Cities such as Miami, Seattle and Malibu have already implemented this policy because they know that straws have a devastating impact on their local environment, and it’s time for DC to catch up. I would fully support these efforts, including consistent and comprehensive oversight to ensure compliance.]

Dedicated Metro Funding

Metro is the only major subway system in the nation without a dedicated funding stream. In recent years, Metro has been addressing safety issues, deferred maintenance, and other basic infrastructure needs. Nonetheless, as the system enters its fifth decade, it regularly faces shortfalls in both its capital and operating budgets. Just to maintain existing service levels requires an additional $500 million in annual dedicated funding for Metro from local governments, and even more would be needed to restore previous service levels. Under the existing funding formula, $500 million in additional money would require a $178 million annual contribution from the District.

Q: Will you support establishing a dedicated funding stream in the form of a new tax to provide Metro with DC's $178 million share of the $500 million needed in additional Metro funding?

[Yes. There is no reason, other than failed leadership, for Metro to be the only major subway system in the nation without a dedicated funding stream. For many of the same reasons that I oppose raising fares in order to pay for this funding, I am opposed to any proposal that would seek to raise the sales tax in order to raise revenue for Metro. There are ways to find this money that do not involve placing a regressive tax burden on our low-income residents, including reversing the corporate and estate tax cuts that were given to businesses and wealthy DC residents over the last several years.

If DC is making this substantial investment in our Metro system, it’s important for taxpayers to know that it will be handled responsibly, so I would also move forward with the recommendation of Secretary LaHood that the Metro governing board be overhauled and reformed with a smaller, more credible body that will drive us toward solutions rather than often being part of the problem themselves.]

DC Streetcar Budget

The Department of Transportation has plans to extend the District's first streetcar line, connecting the current H Street line to Georgetown via Downtown and to Ward 7 along Benning Road. This would better link Ward 7 residents to job opportunities across the city and create a high-capacity east-west transit link, powered by electricity from increasingly renewable sources. Despite DC’s pressing needs for more transit and to transition away from fossil- fuel-based transportation, the DC Council last year slashed millions of dollars for the Streetcar and shifted the remaining money to the last year of the six-year budget cycle, resulting in a complete halt to Streetcar expansion.

Q: Will you support allocating the millions of dollars needed to engineer and build the Streetcar extension from Georgetown to the Benning Road Metro and oppose efforts to cut Streetcar funding or move it to the later years of the six-year budget cycle?

[Yes, if this funding is what the residents of Ward 7 believe will truly link them to job opportunities and improve their economic opportunity, I support it. What I truly support is a process that lets residents of Ward 7 determine whether they believe a streetcar is the best way to provide them with access to jobs, schools and businesses, rather than the city and stakeholders with financial interests making that determination for them.

The current H Street streetcar was built at great taxpayer expense, and while the promise of its construction may have incentivized growth in the eastern portion of the H Street corridor, the streetcar itself, once completed, has done little if anything to sustain those businesses or promote additional growth. Given the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on the H Street line, and the opportunity cost of using those funds on a streetcar rather than to help alleviate our city’s educational and housing shortfalls, it is hard to claim that the current iteration of the streetcar has been a success, so extensions of the streetcar line need to incorporate feedback from the communities directly impacted. In this case, I believe residents of Ward 7 deserve additional opportunities to be heard, so we are moving forward in a way that truly meets their needs. Most neighbors I speak to express a strong preference to take the X2 for their daily commuting needs, in part because it is faster and more predictable, so it is hard to claim that the current iteration of the streetcar has been a success if the measure is simply whether it has been critical in moving residents to and from economic opportunity.

I support efforts to expand access to Metro, and within Ward 6 I am particularly supportive of the proposal to construct a NOMA entrance/exit point closer to Union Market, and in opposition of efforts to build a government-subsidized parking garage on the site. I support improving the efficiency and reliability of transportation city-wide, because true disparities exist in our communities when it comes to access to reliable transportation that will get our neighbors to work on time, and at an affordable price. This is a problem that extends well beyond Ward 6, but it’s our shared responsibility to address it.]

Bus & Bike Lanes

The District's streets have limited right-of-way for travel, almost all of which is devoted to automobile lanes and parking and very little of which is devoted to transit and cycling. Expanding bus and bike lanes would reward District residents who choose to travel in ways that conserve land, energy, and fuel. Proposals by the DC Department of Transportation and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority would create bus-only lanes on 16th, H and Eye Streets NW, making travel faster and more reliable for thousands of bus riders who live in wards 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8. In addition, DDOT’s long-range plan envisions miles of protected bicycle lanes – which makes bicycling safer, easier and more popular and also reduces fuel use. The transportation plan calls for bike lanes on streets across DC, such as East Capitol Street, Naylor Road SE, Massachusetts Avenue NW/NE/SE, New Hampshire Avenue NE, and 6th Street NW.

Q: Will you press DDOT to accelerate plans for more bus and bike lanes (which take away lanes for automobiles and parking) and budget adequate money for DDOT to build these bike and bus lanes?

[Yes. I support dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes because our neighbors who rely on those modes of transportation should be able to do so safely, quickly, and efficiently.

I am not opposed to removing on-street parking in order to achieve these goals where appropriate, but there are certainly some neighborhoods, and streets, where eliminating parking spaces would have substantial consequences for the neighborhood and residents so these decisions cannot be taken lightly or made without community input. In many cases, protected bike lanes can be created by changing traffic and parking patterns, and enforcing traffic laws, without needing to eliminate parking. Transparency, public discussion, community input and government disclosure during the decision-making process are appropriate because each neighborhood, and each street, is different.

There are too many people in our communities who spent hours on the bus getting to and from work, appointments, and even the grocery store. To the extent that dedicated bus lanes can alleviate those unconscionable burdens, I am fully supportive. I also fully support the efforts to achieve Vision Zero, and to the extent that requires additional bike lanes I would be supportive. However, I am not a transportation expert, I am a mom and a neighbor who has worked in public policy my whole life and believes I can help my community by bringing new leadership. I do not see my role as that of one who should be dictating where bike and bus lanes should be placed, nor do I see my role as that of one who pretends to have mastered the profession of urban planning in order to answer a questionnaire. My role is to listen to advocates, riders, and members of the community, take their input and concerns seriously, and work to make their lives better.]

Comprehensive Plan

In recent years, population and job growth in metropolitan DC has shifted toward the District. This has spared thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and farmland from suburban development, and reduced pollution caused by driving. DC's population is expected to continue to grow substantially in coming years, to over one million residents. DC has built thousands fewer housing units than called for under the 2006 Comprehensive Plan and housing prices are sharply increasing. Adding new housing is difficult and costly, in part because 71 percent of DC's land is zoned for single-family homes or row homes, and much of the rest is in high-priced areas like downtown.

Q: Will you call for the Office of Planning’s updated Comprehensive Plan – which the Council must approve – to accommodate a larger population, zoning changes that allow increased density and mixed-use development, and zoning changes that allow more multifamily housing within low-density areas?

[Yes. The Comp Plan is centered on the idea of an “inclusive city,” but in reviewing the proposed revisions, and the Council approval process, it does the opposite. I testified before the DC Council at the hearing on the Comp Plan, which went until 4 in the morning. There is nothing inclusive about a process that takes place in the darkness of night. It is clear that the amendments stand to drastically change DC and bend to the whims of the developer class. Far from providing for an “inclusive city,” the proposed changes inject ambiguity, loosen definitions to key terms (e.g., residential and commercial definitions of low-, moderate-, medium-, and high-density), and weaken the Comp Plan’s existing prescriptive power at the cost of further displacing our African American and Latinx residents. This is wrong.

Moreover, I am deeply troubled by the lack of transparency throughout the amendment process that OP has pursued. I have spoken with countless voters throughout Ward 6 who have been counting on this Comprehensive Plan process to provide them with a pathway to stability and security in their longtime homes and neighborhoods. I’ve had more conversations than I can count with Ward 6 neighbors worried that the downstream impact of the revisions posed by OP will result in new, imposing development that will push even more African-American and Latinx families out of our community. These are individuals who have lived in our city for 50-plus years who thought this process would provide them with a voice, due process, and a recognition by their city that their continued presence in and contributions to their community was valued, respected, and worthy of protection. In light of this revision process, that’s the opposite of what the DC government is telling our neighbors.

I support a process through which the deliberation and decision-making leading to any revisions are transparent, and available to everyone in the community who wishes to learn more about them. Further, I support a revision and approval process that is driven by the DC Council, not the Zoning Commission, because decisions that will have such profound impact on individual neighborhoods need to be made by elected officials who are directly accountable to the people living in those neighborhoods. I applaud the efforts by local advocacy organizations such as Empower DC, and the ANCs holding OP and the DC Council accountable for this obscure process that stands to forever change the future of DC.]

Clean Elections

On February 6, the DC Council unanimously approved the Fair Elections Act, creating a public election financing program to lessen the influence of big money donors – such as a polluters – and empower small donors and grassroots activists. It is projected to cost the District about $5 million a year, a tiny fraction of DC's multi-billion dollar budget.

Q: Will you support full funding for the public financing program and oppose any budget that does not fund it?

[Yes. Importantly, I would also immediately introduce new legislation to enhance this law by requiring mandatory disclosure of all individual donors who serve as owners, executives, principals, directors, partners, board members or trustees of companies that have lobbied the DC Council or received public benefits, to be defined as contracts, tax subsidies, or goods and services of substantial value provided by the city. Many progressive jurisdictions throughout the country have passed similar legislation, so DC will remain well behind when it comes to campaign finance reform, even after the Fair Elections Act is fully implemented. These types of disclosure laws have withstood First Amendment challenges in court because it is recognized that, even in an era where money is unfortunately protected as speech, it is in the public interest for voters to know who is electing – and influencing – our leaders.

The DC campaign finance law that caps both business and individual donations at $500 has had substantial unintended consequences that need to be addressed. Members of the DC Council are able to take more money from owners and executives of businesses, as individuals, than they could have taken from the business itself. This has made it incredibly difficult to track which businesses are donating money through their owners and executive leadership, and has created a dynamic where people like the incumbent, Mr. Allen, are able to tell voters they do not directly accept business money – technically true – even though a deeper look at his finances shows tens of thousands of dollars in donations from developer and business executives throughout the city over the last four years. For example, in 2014 Mr. Allen accepted a max donation from the owner of PN Hoffman, the developer that went on to secure approval to develop the Wharf shortly thereafter. In 2014 and 2018, he has received substantial campaign contributions from the executive team at Stanton, the developer that recently completed the Hine project. There are many more examples, and the information is not easily accessible to voters, which is why Mr. Allen has been able to say for four years that he does not accept money from business interests, even as these donations continue to come in. This money has influenced votes and shaped our city’s skyline and spending priorities, so voters deserve to see it. Absent a deterrent that would keep councilmembers from taking tens of thousands of dollars from business owners and executives without paying a political price for doing so, we are not creating a system that will meaningfully change the dynamics of our elections and our pay for play politics.]