City of Cedar Rapids shares how residents can get involved in its climate action plan

Demonstrators at the Oct. 8, 2019 flood groundbreaking in Cedar Rapids draw attention to climate change’s impact on increased flooding. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The city of Cedar Rapids is organizing opportunities for residents to get informed and involved with the city’s ongoing climate action efforts.

The public engagement process will kick off on Thursday and wrap up in December, according to Eric Holthaus, the city’s sustainability coordinator. The process includes virtual presentations, a community survey and details on how to be part of the climate advisory committee.

“The city has taken some important steps over the last few years, but we can’t really have an impact unless the community joins in that effort,” Mayor Brad Hart said during the Cedar Rapids City Council meeting on Oct. 6.

City of Cedar Rapids Council Meeting – October 6th, 2020

City of Cedar Rapids Council Meeting – October 6th, 2020. Comments are not moderated.

Posted by City of Cedar Rapids Iowa Government on Tuesday, October 6, 2020

In February, the Cedar Rapids City Council unanimously passed a resolution that recognized the urgency of taking action to address climate change and outlined steps for creating a community-wide sustainability plan. The resolution committed the city to following recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change and directed staff to develop a greenhouse gas inventory to know where emissions are coming from.

The city also developed the iGreenCR action plan at the start of this year that focuses on the city’s commitment to pursue sustainability in their own operations. The plan is renewed every three years, with the first plan covering fiscal years 2020-22.

“The purpose of this plan is to lead by example, engage all staff and all departments and really work on that triple bottomline decision-making process, which is just to say that all decisions that we make have environmental, social, and economic impacts and we should be considering those in all of our decisions,” Holthaus said.

Holthaus said during the Oct. 6 meeting the iGreenCR 2020 fiscal year update is completed and available online. He presented highlights from the plan and next steps to the council.

The iGreenCR action plan is divided into four categories: resources, development, nature and community. The 2020 fiscal year update lists all the goals, which are organized by category. Each goal has a number of objectives under it, along with information about the schedule and status.

Screenshot from the iGreenCR’s fiscal year 2020 update.

One of the goals under the resources category is a reduction in greenhouse gases. According to the update, the greenhouse gas inventory is completed and city staff has started developing targets based off of the inventory. Other steps to reach this goal include providing guidance to city leadership, organizing a community stakeholder group and developing sustainable building guidelines.

The other goals in the 39-page update follow a similar format.

Screengrab from the iGreenCR fiscal year 2020 update.

To keep the public involved and informed, Holthaus said during the Oct. 6 council meeting there would be three main opportunities for community input beginning this month.

Kicking off the public engagement process will be Zoom panel discussions on Thursday, Oct. 22, and Thursday, Oct. 29. Panelists will discuss community resilience, social justice and climate change.

The Oct. 22 meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. and feature four speakers. Registration for the event is required.

• Mark Weldon from PepsiCo
• Dr. Eric Tate from the University of Iowa
• Karla Twedt-Ball from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
• Monica Vallejo from Young Parents Network, Westdale Area Neighborhood Association, and League of United Latin American Citizens

Next week’s meeting on Oct. 29 will begin at 10:30 a.m. and include a different set of speakers. Registration is also required for this event.

• Dr. David Osterberg from the University of Iowa and Iowa Policy Project
• Dara Schmidt from the Cedar Rapids Public Library
• Mugisha Bwenge from United We March Forward
• Andrea Scott from the Cedar River Academy and a student from the Cedar Rapids Community School District

The two events will also include information about the community survey and the Climate Advisory Committee. The survey will open on Thursday, Oct. 22, and be available until Friday, Nov. 20. Residents will be able to access the survey online.

“That’ll be an opportunity for us to educate the public about this process and find out what is important to them,” Holthaus said about the survey. “How do they relate to the topic of climate change, the items in the climate resolution and what should we be prioritizing?”

During that same time period, the city will be accepting applications for its Climate Advisory Committee. The committee’s members will be appointed by Mayor Brad Hart and oversee the development of the long-term planning process.

A final piece of the public engagement process will be “ground teams.” Holthaus said this is an “innovative” approach adapted from what other cities have done.

“We will be going into neighborhoods — practicing safe social distancing — and we will set up pop-up tents,” Holthaus said, adding that residents will be able to fill out the survey at these events and get more information.

City staff has reached out to neighborhood and nonprofit leaders in 10 neighborhoods. These leaders will be part of the ground teams and will help make connections and provide interpretation for residents. The goal is to hear from residents “who we don’t typically connect with,” Holthaus said.

“This ground team effort is special and will be helpful for our equity approach, reaching under-represented [residents] … that we want to engage, [and] we need to keep engaging,” Holthaus said.

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