City’s citizen panel gets a handle on sustainability

December 15, 2008

By Jon Savelle

Sustainability is the buzzword of the year, but really, how do you measure it? A diverse panel of 16 citizens is trying to answer the question.

Called the Sustainability Sounding Board, the group was convened this fall and has met three times. It meets again Dec. 17 to finish its concept of sustainability and how to measure it. “It seems to be going well,” said City Councilman David Kappler, the only elected official on the board. “I’ve been pretty impressed with the interest and the progress toward a goal.”

Assembled by the administration, the panel is made up of representatives of business, education, environmental organizations and social service providers. They are taking a broad view of sustainability, with the premise that it has social, economic and environmental components.

The board’s goal is to figure out how to measure sustainability, and to provide that information to city officials to use when deciding policy.

“It’s the beginning of a process,” said David Fujimoto, manager of the city’s Resource Conservation Office. “It’s less about an action plan and more about recommendations for metrics. It is a tool to inform policy makers about future direction and strategies. It’s also about sharing information with the community, education and outreach — to put some shape and form to sustainability.”

One tangible product will be a report, due early in 2009, containing the board’s recommendations. A separate report, to be released later in the year, will identify “sustainability indicators,” or means of measuring it.

In the meetings so far, the panel has looked at a variety of things that could be considered pieces of the sustainability puzzle. Among them are quality of life, long-term viability of the community, protection for natural resources, citizen involvement, strong education, effective transportation and economic vitality.

From there, the group moved on to establishing a more formal discussion framework, with more well-defined concepts. Key elements are to meet basic needs, improve the way the city grows, revamp transportation and emphasize innovation. Targets for the year 2050 were stated as follows:

4Compact, mixed-use development. Keeping our urban footprint the same even as we grow; being able to both live and work in Issaquah; having dense, centralized development surrounded by open space and agriculture. Our aspiration: People will work, live play, and create – closer to home.

4Transportation. We will become a pedestrian, bike and transit-dominated city. We will have ample public transportation services, bike lanes and sidewalks, so that we can get around to all parts of the city without using a vehicle. By 2050, our transportation will be carbon free, not reliant on oil or gas.

4Natural areas, open space and agriculture. Open spaces will be protected. Our hills will be dominated with conifers as they are today; we will have ample public parks, trails, community gardens and salmon in our streams. We will have a local food supply that we can trust and that keeps us healthy.

4Waste/resource use. Wasting resources will become unthinkable. We will consume less energy and rely to a much greater extent on renewable energy. We will also consume less materials and live in such a way that we will not use up our resources. Instead, we will replenish them at the same rate that they are consumed.

4Economic vitality. Our local economy will be healthy and diverse; local; supporting innovation, businesses of all sizes, and arts and culture; [and] connecting to the regional and global economy. Business leaders will want to be located in Issaquah.

4Basic needs. Food, shelter and health care will be available for all. There will be fewer residents in need. There will be ample affordable housing, essential for both living and working.

4Education. Our schools will be world class and we will have excellent ongoing education for adults. Citizens will be provided with the knowledge and skills to effectively contribute to the community, environment and economy through all stages of life.

4Community awareness and stewardship. People will be actively engaged in grassroots activities to improve their communities. Everyone will give back! All citizens will consider their impacts, and will make decisions leading to less waste, less energy use and greater support for those in need.

With these in hand, the board tackled “indicators” of sustainability. The aim is to find ways of tracking and measuring sustainability, and to use that data to improve the sustainability of the city overall.

This effort is ongoing.

Participant Julie Colehour, who lives near Mirrormont, said the process has worked well and should result in a clear vision of sustainability for the city.

“It seems like they have done a really good job of combining a number of perspectives,” she said. “They pieced together a really great combination of types of people, which is why I think it is working well.”

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 302-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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