Permanent 'green' office could be put to voters

Posted: April 30, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Since its inception, Mayor Nutter's Office of Sustainability has attracted more than $41 million in grants for projects to make the city greener and more energy-efficient.

The office, created in 2008, primarily has worked to bring to life the initiatives in Nutter's environmental master plan, Greenworks Philadelphia.

Now, the administration is hoping those initiatives will continue long after Nutter's tenure ends in less than two years.

On Monday, a City Council committee approved a bill that would ask voters whether the Office of Sustainability should become a permanent part of city government, following a trend in cities across the nation.

Katherine Gajewski, director of the office, told Council that sustainability was "not just a passing fad, but something that's becoming a core function of city government."

To illustrate the need for energy efficiency, Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. noted that the city pays about $60 million a year for electricity.

More than 200 cities have created sustainability offices in recent years, Gajewski said, and cities like New York, Boston and Seattle also have moved to make them permanent.

If legislation is approved by Council, voters would be asked in November whether to make the office permanent here. The office now has a staff of five and a $750,000 annual budget.

Greenworks deals with a broad range of topics, including energy use in city buildings, managing storm water, planting trees, providing local food, and increasing recycling rates.

In particular, Gajewski said, greenhouse gas emissions and planning for global warming need to be "at the forefront of city decision-making."

"I really see climate change as the challenge of our time," she said. "We have the opportunity now to be proactive and to plan forward for some of those realities."

Council committees also dealt Monday with a couple of more traditional concerns: prisons and parking.

The Law and Government Committee approved a bill that would put a second question on the November ballot, this one asking voters to create a Department of Prisons.

The city's prison system now sits within the Department of Human Services, although the prisons have been operating independently for the last 26 years.

The change would elevate the prisons' commissioner to the same level as the police and fire commissioners, and make permanent Nutter's reentry program for ex-offenders, known as RISE - the Office of Reintegration Services.

Council's Committee on Streets and Services on Monday approved a bill that would allow parking-meter rates at the fringes of Center City and in University City to rise from $2 an hour to $2.50.

The bill also would raise the parking rates in neighborhood commercial corridors from 50 cents an hour to $1.

The rate increases are intended to encourage turnover and make more parking available, said Vincent J. Fenerty Jr., executive director of the Parking Authority.

But the changes also would generate $7.5 million for the financially struggling School District, he said.


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @troyjgraham

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