Sustainability and Climate Change
The City of Takoma Park has a rich history of pushing innovative climate change initiatives and aspirational environmental goals. Talisha is committed to advancing the City’s goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. However, it is important to note that the City’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory identified residential and commercial buildings and transportation as the two largest contributing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Takoma Park. Talisha’s vision to advance the City’s sustainability goals is multi-prong, practical, and based on what we, in the City of Takoma Park, can do to address this global issue. First, Talisha will address barriers faced by the City’s largest contributors, buildings and transportation, using an environmental justice lens. Talisha will also work to mitigate the impacts of climate change on residents by prioritizing addressing stormwater issues on private property. Lastly, Talisha will work to increase the City’s tree canopy and number of public greenspaces with emphasis on areas in most need.
Advance Energy Efficient Improvements in City Residential and Commercial Buildings
Establishing City and county goals are not enough to truly make progress. In 2022, Montgomery County established building energy performance standards. While on Council, Talisha has worked to aid multifamily property owners in obtaining the funding needed to make energy efficient improvements and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Through these projects, she knows:
Property owners want to make upgrades, but, given the age of our housing stock, the costs are high.
The process for obtaining financing needed to make upgrades is challenging. Because of the high costs associated with upgrades, property owners must obtain funding from multiple sources. This process is labor intensive, especially for affordable housing providers.
In cases where efficiency upgrades result in a building’s transition from a centralized HVAC system to individually metered units, tenants may be concerned about financial hardships associated with the uncertainty of utility costs. Therefore, tenants must be educated on resources available to assist with utility bills and energy saving measures.
To address these barriers, Talisha will
Advocate at the state and county levels to streamline financing options for multifamily and commercial properties to make energy efficiency upgrades in accordance with new county performance standards.
Prioritize educating residents on energy saving measures, as well financial support that may be available.
Continue to work with staff to implement the City’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) multi-family rehabilitation and energy efficiency upgrade grant program and work to ensure that the City obtains grant resources to continue these efforts after ARPA funds are spent. As part of the ARPA, Talisha supported making more than $1 million in funding available to assist multifamily, condominiums, and cooperative building owners in electrification and building improvements. Through this effort, Talisha worked to provide $250,000 in ARPA funds available to aid in the electrification renovation of a 96-unit affordable housing project in Ward 6. We need more of these projects throughout the City.
Work to Address Greenhouse Emissions Caused by Transportation
While we can’t control the fact that the City has a number of streets that serve as major traffic routes, we can reduce barriers that residents might experience when taking alternative modes of transportation. For example, some people in our community must take multiple buses to travel between key landmarks like the Community Center, Library, and Recreation Center. The more difficult it is for residents to reach their final destination using public transit, the less likely they are to use car alternatives. We can take practical steps that will help to move the needle to reduce greenhouse emissions caused by transportation. Talisha will:
Advocate for improvements to public transit connectivity across the City including bus route modifications, city shuttles, and bus rapid transit.
Address pedestrian and cyclist safety through installation of traffic calming measures, protected bike lanes, bike shares, sidewalks, and crosswalks.
Identify opportunities to install more electric vehicle charging stations throughout the City.
Mitigate the Stormwater Impact on Public and Private Property
The effects of climate change are being felt by all of us, and we must all work together to address this global issue. This includes neighbors working with each other and the City to address flooding that is increasing with more extreme weather events. Talisha will:
Encourage the creation of incentives such as grant programs that allow neighbors to come together to address stormwater issues on their property.
Work with the Department of Public Works to identify ways to include stormwater (private and public property) aspects into other public works projects such as sidewalks. At a minimum, staff must assess the potential impact of the City’s projects on stormwater on private property and work with residents to address them.
Increase the City’s Tree Canopy and Greenspaces
The City has geographic disparities in its tree canopy and greenspaces. It is important that we prioritize addressing these disparities. Talisha has advocated for state funds for tree replacement along the Purple Line route as well as the creation of innovative approaches to creating public space. Talisha will:
Leverage resources to increase tree plantings on private property with an emphasis on urban areas that are subject to heat island effects, such as neighborhoods along New Hampshire Ave.
Increase and enhance public spaces to include innovative green features throughout the City particularly in areas in need of public space. Examples of these spaces could include community gardens, edible landscapes, pocket parks, etc.
Wait, Didn’t You Vote Against the Sustainability Framework? What’s Up With That?
“I have demonstrated my deep commitment to environmental justice for all our residents, and while on Council, I worked hard to make sure that it is built into our climate and sustainability efforts. If all our residents are not on board, we cannot meet our climate goals. If they can’t afford to take climate-friendly action, we have to find ways to support them.
Some people question my vote against the 2020 Climate Emergency Response Framework resolution. I agreed with the goal of the resolution and the resolution's contents. However, my concerns related to problems with community engagement and the lack of cost considerations which could increase taxes and home prices.
My first concern was related to outreach. While some outreach was done in the City, there were key parts of the community that were left out. Specifically, only wards 1, 2, and 3 had targeted focus groups. The Crossroads Farmers Market had a table sitting, but the market is not an effective way to reach Ward 6 residents as it occurs during the workday for many residents. Community meetings also failed to target stakeholders like renters, businesses, multifamily, and commercial property owners or prioritize participant diversity. I believed that this was a major flaw in the process. A City-commissioned report designed to provide recommendations on ways to meet sustainability goals (the Cadmus report) stated that obtaining buy-in from multifamily and commercial property owners, in particular, is critical to implementation success.
In addition, aspects in the resolution had significant cost implications that had not been considered and could pose a barrier to implementation. Housing related recommendations in the Cadmus report (page 13 and 14) included suggestions to conduct economic impact analysis and to assess for unintended consequences of upgrades (e.g., air quality issues arising from tighter building envelopes without adequate ventilation, increased rent, and gentrification).
During my time on Council, I have worked with multifamily property owners in Ward 6 on energy efficiency upgrades. Retrofitting is expensive, and property owners face challenges obtaining the funds needed to make necessary upgrades because of how the financing works (i.e., Green Bank, loans, etc). At the time, the City's energy upgrade grant program only awarded $10,000 per project. That wasn't enough money to bridge the gap in funding, so multifamily property owners didn't bother applying for the funds. Fortunately, we have been able to use ARPA funds to provide larger grant funds in the short term. Without ARPA funding, we would likely have to invest more either through tax breaks, taxpayer dollars, or third-party grant funds to assist multifamily property owners; many of which are affordable housing providers.
Therefore, while I agreed with the goal of the resolution, I was faced with a choice of voting for a policy direction in which the needs of the community that I represented were not heard. I worked to get more engagement and cost analysis included in the final resolution which helped. As mayor, I will remain dedicated to ensuring that our City’s processes and policies include the voices and needs of those in our community who will be most impacted by our decisions.
To learn more about Talisha’s thoughts on climate change check out the Green Forum.