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Thursday, June 4, 2009

SCENE: IN BED WITH CITY HALL FOR A SUSTAINABLE CLEVELAND

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2009 at 8:24 AM

Envision a bed with the media on one side and earnest legislators on the other. What gloriously hubristic pillow talk there would be. But could this passionate embrace ever last? U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and PD columnist Connie Schultz are giving it a go and don’t even seem to hate each other yet. But, yeah: horrible idea. How could we ever really skewer our beloved Little Bed Bug in the court of public opinion when they’re over there looking all fragile and BFF sweet. So we’ll stay right over here on the wall like good little flies, thank you very much, and keep our stupid ideas to ourselves. This was the last time, we promise.

dca2/1244118642-zonematt.jpgOn Tuesday, I called Cleveland Councilman Matt Zone, Ward 17 for now, to bring up how the Ohio Highway Patrol is installing 5-watt solar panels in the back windows of its 1,150 Crown Vic cruisers, an innovation that would trim, in just the first year, about $1 million off the cost troopers incur by idling at speed traps. Money also will be saved down the road, since the panels will require just one battery for the life of the engine, as opposed to three.

Zone got all excited, like I invited him to Lola or something. He’d never heard of the solar panel idea, and he said it dovetailed naturally with an ordinance he’d already sponsored that would be discussed Wednesday morning at Council’s Public Safety meeting: a proposed law to prohibit city or civilian vehicles from idling along the city’s roadways. I sent him the information. “Thanks, man,” he said. “No bigs,” I shot back.

The next day, every committee member signed on as a co-sponsor. The panels were the “perfect” touch, said a thumbs-up Zone, whose ordinance proposes to improve air quality and reduce overall fuel consumption by keeping all vehicles from idling unnecessarily. It’s not a draconian measure, under the guise of green engineering, to help police harass motorists, says Zone. “Right now,” says Zone, “we’re in non-attainment status, and if we don’t start to clean up in 18 months, the money we receive for highway and transportation projects is going to be greatly reduced because of that.”

The city already enacted an anti-idling policy in 2006 for all applicable city trucks. And it has begun replacing Ford Explorers with Ford Escape hybrids. Of course, the city has replaced less than 100 light trucks, and there are about 4,000 in the fleet, so you can see how slow the drip of progress really is.

But it felt like things were happening on Wednesday all right. Safety Director Martin Flask and Police Chief Mike McGrath both signed on too. At first, McGrath was concerned about the installation cost, which Zone quickly told him was $36.99 each. By the end of the meeting, McGrath said he’d already asked the Service Department to start drawing up the particulars.

“We’re definitely going to take it into consideration,” said McGrath. “Anytime we can save the city money and provide for a more green climate, we want to do it.”

His only concern now, he said, was with protecting those fragile solar panels once some hostile perps take their crack-addled temper-tantrums out on them. State troopers will have the panels installed in the back windows of their cruisers, on the inside ledge, but how often do you see state troopers hauling some raging lunatic downtown to write them a speeding ticket?

But we don’t care about details like that. The wonks can work all this minutiae out. Our job is done here. — Dan Harkins

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