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Lawrence City Commission candidates talk climate resiliency at Douglas County Democrats forum

Among a series of questions addressing topics from police reform to affordable housing, Lawrence City Commission candidates shared their thoughts on the city’s role in preparing residents for climate change at Thursday’s Douglas County Democratic Party-sponsored forum. 

Via a Zoom webinar, moderator Natalie Yoza asked each candidate what their ideas were to make Lawrence more “climate resilient.” 

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Stuart Boley answered first, naming flooding as a climate issue that some residents have already dealt with. The city’s capital improvement plan addresses some of the needed stormwater fixes, he said, but on top of maintaining water infrastructure, an important part of environmental sustainability is moving to sustainable electricity and making productive use of the city’s surrounding land. 

“I think increasing the density of our footprint will help,” Boley said, “and also it will enhance utilization of public transportation.”

Amber Sellers answered next, beginning with three key areas of focus for sustainability: retrofitting of buildings, housing, and utilities. Several other states have introduced new data around “smart infrastructure” and retrofitting buildings for mixed use, she said, and in turn they have created new laws around it.  

“It is something that we need to at least explore a little bit more in depth as we look at lessening our footprint,” Sellers said. “We know that climate has affected our housing here, and it’s going to impact on our utilities as well. And I know that we’ve seen a constant increase in our utility rates, and it’s been reflective of the lack of preparation on the front end. So now our community is paying for it on the back end.” 

In his answer, Milton Scott said the farmland industry is an area that the city needs to be “very insightful” about. He continued by saying that the city should continue to be mindful of energy efficiency, as well as bringing in community experts and tapping into federal resources to go beyond what the city can address with its own budget. 

“We need outside resources, and this gives us an opportunity to look at sustainable energy throughout the community and be an example for others,” Scott said. “As we get new development or encouraging development, those should be some of the things that are on the table to be discussed.” 

Lisa Larsen said long-term sustainability efforts have already been underway. She began by pointing to the city’s long-term growth plan, Plan 2040. The driving point behind that plan is sustainability, she said, and it introduces the intent to get the most use out of the city’s infrastructure at the lowest possible ownership costs.  

“In 2020, we also passed the ordinance to be 100% clean energy in Lawrence by 2035,” Larsen continued. “Those are the things we’re doing locally to work on some of these climate issues and make us more sustainable.”  

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In her answer, Ma’Ko’Quah Jones agreed with previous candidate-voiced concerns around rising utility rates and increased flooding. The Lawrence energy grid needs more sources to pull from, she continued, referencing the winter’s rolling electricity blackouts.  

“I think that as we talk about economic development, requiring buildings to be solar-ready, requiring buildings to be energy efficient, requiring them to adhere to some of the smart technology, I think that’s important,” said Jones, who is chair of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board. “I think that the two most important things are utility rates and stormwater infrastructure.” 

The last candidate to answer was Bart Littlejohn, who concurred that “smart code” in infrastructure and efficient housing are key in keeping residents safe in terms of changing climate, as well as maintaining the city’s roads and avoiding flood zones. The effects of climate change are already visible, he pointed out, and the city will have to be “more resilient, more diverse, and more flexible” in adapting to that.  

“As we’ve seen recently during the wintertime here, in Texas, and all around the country, those things are going to happen more and more,” Littlejohn said. “It’s making sure that we’re introducing practices that are looking long-term and will be effective for generations to come, because we’re not only thinking of ourselves. We’re thinking of our children.”  

A recording of the event will be posted later on the Douglas County Democratic Party website’s event page and its YouTube channel.

Advance voting starts Wednesday, Oct. 13. The deadline to register is Tuesday, Oct. 12. The general election takes place Tuesday, Nov. 2, when polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Find more info and request a mail ballot at ksvotes.org.

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