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Friday, April 19, 2019

Condemn Budish For Jail, But Recognize that County Climate Action Plan is Smart and Necessary

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2019 at 4:29 PM

If not for the miserable conditions at the Cuyahoga County Jail and a sweeping corruption investigation, Armond Budish's annual state of the county address, held Thursday at the Huntington Convention Center, would have been his strongest yet.

Though the second-term county executive still delivers remarks like a sixth grader reading a book report, his speech was not without substance. The most important element was the unveiling of a collaborative countywide climate action plan. Budish outlined seven key policy priorities that he says will make the county greener and more inhabitable for generations to come.

It's possible, if not likely, that the audience interpreted Budish's point-by-point outline of the climate proposal as a lengthy diversionary tactic. The jail and the probe were clearly on everyone's minds. In an introduction, City Club Board Chair Robyn Minter Smyers referred to them gently as "concerns," and the audience remained largely silent throughout the address. Budish did acknowledge the jail "setbacks" early on, and did his level best to put a cheerful spin on the situation.

"I've taken and will continue to take decisive action," he said. "I'm pleased to say that we've made great strides!"

He said that the jail was on target to be at or below capacity within the next year, and that every individual now sees a nurse as they arrive.

It's unlikely that the climate action plan Budish described will do much to affect his legacy. Former PD editorial page director Brent Larkin now says that Budish's ability to govern or lead is "greatly diminished if not destroyed," and the cement seems to be drying on the notion that Budish is a catastrophic manager who, despite fundraising acumen, can't hire or retain top staff, gravely misapprehends county financial priorities and is still presiding over the ugliest period in this history of the county jail.

(It is yet to be determined how much personal responsibility he bears for the jail horrors, and whether his actions rise to the level of criminal misconduct. But reported last year — it should not be forgotten — that it was Budish's ruthless pursuit of cutting costs that led to the jail's becoming one of the "worst in the nation.")

The climate action plan should nevertheless be applauded and taken seriously.  Budish called it a "bold and transformative" effort that was also, much like the other highlights and proposals he described, "proactive, creative, distinctive, inclusive, collaborative" etc. Climate action was necessary, Budish said, because climate change is real, and Cuyahoga County is now experiencing "the four Ws: Warmer Wetter Wilder Weather." 

He said he wanted to make the region a "trailblazer" in tackling climate change and said the policies would not only enhance the region's quality of life but create numerous jobs.

The seven specific policies outlined were the following:

1) TREES: Ask county council for $5 million over the next five years to plant thousands of trees across the region. He wants to encourage companies and organizations to plant trees as well — he can envision competitions — and increase the county's tree canopy from 14 to 30 percent by 2040.

2) GREEN BANK: With support from local foundations, create a bank that lends money and invests in clean energy projects, including residential solar panels. 

3) COUNTY GREENWAY: Work to build more pedestrian and bike paths and connect the existing network. Enhance recreational opportunities while at the same time increasing property values and reducing carbon emissions.

4) PUBLIC TRANSIT ASSISTANCE: "Find ways to increase the use of public transit." The county's contribution will be giving preferential development dollars — all else being equal — to projects located within walking distance of transit routes and providing incentives to companies who wish to relocate to transit-connected job hubs.   

5) EV CHARGING STATIONS: Accelerate creation of electric vehicle infrastructure. Currently there are only about 50 charging stations in the county. Goal is to create "robust" infrastructure within three years.

6) TRAFFIC LIGHTS: Work with NOACA to better time traffic signals, thereby reducing idling (and concomitant emissions), and speeding up commutes. NOACA's next street project: Chester, from University Circle to downtown. 

7) ROOFTOP SOLAR: Heartened by the success of 35,000 solar panels in Brooklyn, which cover the vast majority of energy consumption at the county's administrative headquarters downtown, add rooftop solar panels to three county buildings and make available to other county communities the same affordable energy pricing that county receives.

Budish said the climate action plan was a joint project of the County Planning Commission, NOACA, the Cleveland Metroparks, the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, the Cleveland Foundation and the Gund Foundation. 

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