East Valley cities get good environmental grades - East Valley Tribune: News

East Valley cities get good environmental grades

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Posted: Monday, March 24, 2008 9:13 pm

Mesa is the only city in Maricopa County with a dedicated particulate pollution control program, according to local environmental guardians Valley Forward.

http://www.valleyforward.org/issues/reportcards.php">View the report

http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/images/photos/2008/03/24/hw4735wp.jpg"> GRAPHIC: See cities' environmental report cards

And Scottsdale is the first city in the country to adopt a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Policy for new municipal buildings, the local organization said.

Overall East Valley governments are a hit with Valley Forward, which on Monday issued report cards to the local municipalities, scoring them on their attention to air, water, land use and transportation issues.

The report doesn’t grade the community’s features, just the local government’s efforts, said Diane Brossart, Valley Forward president.

So air particulates could be pea-sized or the water supply full of contaminants, and a community could still earn an A if leaders are trying to address the problems.

Fountain Hills, for example, went from a D in land use in the last report, which was completed in 2004, to an A-minus this year, just by providing more detail in responding to the survey, Brossart said.

Some communities chose to disregard Valley Forward altogether, among them Paradise Valley, Cave Creek and Guadalupe.

But for the 16 towns and cities that did respond to the lengthy questionnaire, the results were encouraging, Brossart said.

“We feel the communities are doing a pretty good job,” she said. “And there was much more regional planning than in 2004.”

Most East Valley cities and towns with populations topping 50,000 earned all A’s, with an occasional B grade. Chandler earned a B in air quality commitment, and Mesa snagged a B-plus for land use.

Valley Forward likes Mesa’s infill policies, its strategies for ensuring a good mix of housing price points and its “slightly higher than national average” number of parks per capita. But the report cautioned the East Valley’s biggest city that development and maintenance of parks and open space “has been hindered by voter rejected bond and taxation issues.”

Mesa has been aggressive in making the best use of its resources in boosting the city’s livability, said Chris Brady, city manager.

“It takes a lot of creativity and hard work. Our programs have to get to the heart of a problem and make a difference, because we have fewer resources than most cities,” Brady said.

Preserving open space and encouraging environmentally sensitive building earned high scores for some cities, including Scottsdale and Tempe.

“For LEED certified building, Scottsdale is the star,” Brossart said.

In fact, Scottsdale’s “green” building programs are often cited as an example by groups nationwide, said Mayor Mary Manross. The city has been accepted since 2000 as a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Performance Track, which cites an organization for using the best possible earth-saving practices, she said.

Manross said there are lots of ways to measure environmental commitment, but she thinks Scottsdale deserves an A-plus all around for its green efforts.

According to Valley Forward, Tempe is the highest scoring of all the East Valley cities, with two A’s and two grades of A-minus. The “Tempe in Motion” program, the city’s multifaceted approach to transportation and land use, is a winner in improving air quality as well as getting people out of their cars, Schmaltz said.

The program, which includes free neighborhood circulator buses so that nobody is more than two blocks from public transportation and free bus passes for kids aged 8 to 18, has already changed habits, said Mayor Hugh Hallman.

“Our largest-growing ridership is 16- to 18-year-olds,” Hallman said. “These are kids that have been riding since they were 13, 14, 15, and would be driving cars at 16. Now we have families who can eliminate the expense of another car.”

Chandler’s “queue jumper” lanes for buses helped earn it an A for transportation planning.

And despite its fast-growing population, Gilbert’s “robust travel reduction program” and use of reclaimed water to create open space and riparian retreats shows a commitment to ensuring sustainable resources for the long term, according to the report graders.

“Gilbert is a very well-managed community,” said Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman. “It’s hard to pick an area we don’t do well in. We are a well-educated, intelligent community. We expect overachievement.”

Even smaller East Valley municipalities with little resources and arguably little use for big transportation systems earned mostly B’s. In many cases, it was for long-range planning to address the issues before they arise, Brossart said.

Apache Junction earned kudos and a solid B for “its strong commitment to long-term water issues,” Brossart said.

On the other hand, Carefree earned a D for lack of any regional transportation planning.

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