Dallas Morning News
A master plan for garbage that some critics wanted to see tossed in the trash got unanimous approval from the Dallas City Council on Wednesday, but not before it was changed to satisfy concerns about a lack of public input. The plan had been criticized by industry and environmental interests for a variety of perceived problems.
But council member Linda Koop drained much of the controversy from the vote when she amended the plan to drop proposed timelines for all of its initiatives. Instead, she proposed that the city immediately begin work on a two-year timeline that would include initiatives that could be accomplished by 2015. And she insisted that, before the council adopts any of the initiatives, there be plenty of opportunity for input from stakeholders. Koop acknowledged the city failed to have enough public discussion around the plan.
“I don’t think we did really an adequate job about communicating the plan,” she said.
The complex 217-page plan was first briefed to a council committee last week and was placed on the council’s consent agenda for a vote. Items on the consent agenda are usually passed without discussion. But concern over the plan quickly spread.
Environmental groups appreciated its broad goal to have Dallas become a “zero waste” city by 2040. But the devil was in the details, critics said. The plan set timelines for increased recycling and other initiatives so far in the future as to make them meaningless, they argued.
Several groups also thought the plan’s call for “waste-to-energy” conversion was nothing more than a euphemism for burning trash — something that is widely opposed because of concerns about air pollution.
Representatives of the plastic bag industry, meanwhile, expressed concern about the plan’s call for banning that product in the future. The plan also targets polystyrene foam for elimination.
Some local apartment owners worried about a proposed requirement that recycling bins be available at every apartment and business in the city.
Criticism around the plan swelled in part because so little was known about it. Several people whom City Hall listed as serving on an advisory council that supposedly had input on the plan reported that either they never served on the committee or that the committee was nothing of substance. A number of council members said the city must get better involvement as it moves forward on implementing parts of the plan.
“We are chastised. We have learned our lesson. There was not enough public input on this before it came to council,” council member Sandy Greyson said.
Council member Scott Griggs said the plan should have been briefed to the full council before it was called to a vote. But the council was satisfied with Koop’s decision to eliminate all timelines from the plan and bring back stakeholders to discuss what can be accomplished in the next two years.
And some of those concerned appeared satisfied too.
Kathy Carlton of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas and Tracy Evers of the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association both approved of the idea to bring stakeholders into meetings before specific elements of the plan are implemented. Carlton was one of those listed as serving on the advisory committee but said she did not.
Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, was also pleased with the vote. It offers the opportunity now for input on how Dallas will move toward a future with greater recycling and less waste produced, she said.
“This plan can’t succeed unless Dallasites in every community get involved. This is an environmental issue where everyone has a role to play,” she said.