Meeting Minutes – July 2015

Green Neighbors July Meeting (July 20, 2015)
Present: Belinda, David, Rob, Lindsay, Fritz
Facilitating: Catherine

Railroad Conferences (guest Karl (Fritz) Edler)

Fritz has worked in various parts of the transportation industry. He spoke with us at the meeting regarding rail, particularly his work with the group Railroad Workers United (RWU). The group is not a union, but rather an umbrella organization with over 5,000 members and a much larger pool of people that participate in the group.

Overall Goals. There is sometimes a divide between labor groups and environmentalists when it comes to transportation. Labor folks are generally focused exclusively on jobs. But many labor folks also recognize that the long view involves working to be a sustainable transportation system now and in the future. This includes safety for workers and a healthy work environment, which often go hand-in-hand with environmental stewardship. The goal of RWU in this arena is to build a real alliance between rail and environmental activists. Already, action is happening that is spurred by recent conferences on the west coast. But there is no single issue that RWU is focusing on. Rather it is about information sharing and getting people to see where they have common battles that could be fought together.

The Conferences. Two recent conferences were held on the west coast, and one will be held in Chicago on September 19th. The purpose is to get the two groups together – environmentalists and rail workers / representatives. Rail folks educate environmentalists about problems they face, particularly safety issues like single-member crews and unsafe work schedules. The 2013 derailment of a train with a single-member crew in the town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec is a good example of what both environmentalists and rail groups want to prevent. In fact, one reason for starting these conferences on the west coast was that west coasters are very concerned about the oil trains and their safety. These are real grassroots events. The Backbone Campaign is a well-known environmental group in the area around Seattle. That group co-sponsored the Olympia conference. That conference had striking oil workers and other works on strike. These groups were tired of saying “no” to everything and want to say “yes” to some things.

Future DC Conference? A future goal is to build such a conference in DC. The hope is that out of the Chicago conference there will be interest. But there is no specific plan at this time. The conferences are funded by the resources of Railroad Workers United. The hall where it’s going to take place in Chicago was donated. On the West Coast, it ran off registration fees / was self-sustaining

Long-Term Rail Sustainability. A question was raised about electric locomotives as a visionary goal, with the electricity produced by wind and solar. The Backbone Campaign has been the sponsor of a plan called the Solutionary Rail Campaign. The vision for the Pacific Northwest is incredible, according to Fritz. Another long-term goal would be extending rail further into southern Maryland to increase quality of life and other issues like transportation as a civil right.

Side Project Note. Fritz has worked with a project to retrofit technologies onto AmTrak trains. For example, you can take a locomotive without emissions controls and change it out or add components to enable the control. As another example, you can use two smaller engines instead of one large one so that one can be used instead of both if not much power is needed. More fuel efficient engines and/or scrubbers are other technologies that can help. This results in a safer, cleaner place to work. However, the work to date has been funded by a grant program that no longer exists, so the future of those types of projects is uncertain.

Action Item: Green Neighbors needs to decide whether or not to endorse. Because the material was just presented, Fritz wanted to leave some time for people to do more research if they wished, etc.

Zoning and Open Space Component

Rob brought this topic to the group. Ward 4 Thrives was originally put together by people opposing WalMart. They now want to focus on zoning generally but not a specific goal, except for educating interested citizens on DC zoning. The idea is a speaker series with how-tos and cautionary tales and great tales, with breakouts for specific issues.
There is currently a zoning review happening. There is a city-wide rezoning up for review ending in September. The next organizing meeting is August 12th. Chris Otten and DC for Sensible Growth was suggested as a good contact who has a lot of experience in testifying and preparing for zoning. Would also be good to have people who have been battling in zoning in the trenches. Empower DC and Justice First were also mentioned. In general, a purposeful and positive relationship with local government is a good idea.

Decided to punt on the issue of whether this is a “Ward 4” thing or not. Not striving in particular to get all of DC, but could welcome anyone, really.

Belinda shared that previously, the Zoning Commission went around the neighborhoods to give talks and LOTS of people were there. Unfortunately, most people left angry because the information the city officials were trying to relay about zoning was so complicated.

Fritz shared information about an area by 7th street Northeast, where a big green space will be converted to townhouses. They have a grassroots effort now to stop it. They have gone to the councilmember of Ward 5; not sure if he’s responded yet.

The Ask and the Vote. Ask is for Green Neighbors to endorse the event, but are not necessarily asking Green Neighbors for resources at this time, aside from some promotion. They realize that they need an organizing committee of at least 6 people. Rob plans to be on it. The group unanimously voted to approve the request, with a proposal due if, after the steering committee makes more plans, there will be more resources needed.

Emailing Lists
Suggest concept of Quarterly summarizing notes. Or perhaps just make the monthly meeting announcements more full. Google Groups has options to turn the high-volume listserv into only a daily digest. But maybe we could send out a reminder to the Green Neighbors listserv to let people know about the lower trafficked listserv if they want.

Putting Information about Open Spaces on the GN Website
Open Spaces DC is a group with a board. They seem aligned. We can maybe postpone discussion until next time. Same thing as position on Sustainable Fisheries. Try to support the sustainable fisheries campaign.

This Wednesday 7/22, 11am-2pm protest on the West Lawn of the Capitol. Oak Flat in Arizona, which is sacred land to the Apache. Congress traded it away for a large copper mine.
Thursday September 24th is the moral action for climate justice. It will be at the Lincoln Memorial . This is in solidarity with the Pope’s address to Congress. Not much on their website at this point but can sign up for their mailings for meetings..

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