|GPKC Local Issues Platform|
The following is a proposal for comprehensive reform of Kent County in agreement with Green values. Its planks were adopted from many sources, including the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on social justice (Grand Rapids) and the suggestions of a wide variety of groups and individuals countywide. The issues discussed here represent a start. The Green Party of Kent County recognizes that other equally important community issues exist and welcomes dialogue with and suggestions from all interested groups and individuals. In this platform we have emphasized community issues, not political statements. We strive to unite citizens of all ideological persuasions through these proposals. Some are designed for municipal governments, some for County government, and many require only citizen participation with no input from government. To the extent that we are involved, as a County Party, in larger national issues, we adhere to the positions set out by the Green Party of Michigan and the Association of State Green Parties; however, we feel that these issues are often unnecessarily divisive in communities. We wish to stress non-political “quality-of-life” reforms, and urge readers to analyze the proposals below in an unbiased fashion.
- Green Party of Kent County in General Assembly, March 7, 2001
1.) Direct Democracy and Local Control.
In seeking to identify what’s best for the community, it’s necessary to go to the source. The city should provide money and other resources as needed to democratic resident-controlled neighborhood associations and other grassroots groups to organize and host town-meeting style dialogues with residents to identify issues of concern and propose solutions.
Decisions should be made generally at the lowest level. The closer government is to its citizens, the more responsive it is and the more difficult to be captured by special interests including corporations. With the exception of civil rights enforcement and environmental protection, where there is a proper role for government oversight, decentralization should be the ideal.
Democratically run neighborhood associations should function as a lowest level of local government, below the city commission. This level should make most budget and development decisions specifically affecting their neighborhoods. In addition, this level would have an official advisory role on other issues. Study the similar system in St. Paul, Minnesota, for guidance.
Develop a matching fund for neighborhood initiatives.
Facilitate the establishment of consumer co-ops in all neighborhoods.
The city’s primary focus should be on educating and empowering citizens and communities to solve their own problems.
2.) Strengthen The Local Economy.
A community currency should be established and expanded as widely as possible. Community currency is a locally issued currency redeemable for goods and services at local participating businesses. Community dollars can only be used by those in the community who participate, and they are guaranteed to stay in the community, making them much more productive to the local economy and beneficial to small businesses, including family-owned shops. Rather than being issued by a large bank under control of distant regulators who are not responsible to local people, they are issued by a local group directly responsible to citizens, ideally city or county government. Administrative costs may be paid by a use fee. Study similar systems across the country for guidance.
Community Development Credit Unions should be established as widely as possible as a more locally productive alternative to large banks. Susan Meeker-Lowry’s “Invested In The Common Good” is a good resource for more information.
Municipalities should adopt anti-sweatshop agreements with vendors.
3.) Fair Representation.
Set up an Advocacy Office with paid Public Advocates to help the underprivileged and defend the public interest, provide information, conduct commissioned research, and help individuals. Individuals are traditionally not well-served by local governments, especially when in conflict with well-financed special interests. Independent public advocates would help solve these problems. Study other systems such as that of West Orange, NJ, for guidance.
Expand public and independent media. Increase support for Community Media Center. Work toward a weekly public newspaper. Provide financial and technical support for further neighborhood media as they arise.
No special financial interests on any boards making decisions which affect those interests. Eliminate unrepresentative boards, including the Downtown Development Authorities. Replace with legitimate community authorities.
Incentives for municipal employees to live in the communities they serve.
A better voting system. Institute countywide mail-in voting with automatic registration. Study similar programs in the state of Oregon and elsewhere for guidance.
Stronger citizen review board for police departments. Greater direct citizen control over and feedback into the law-enforcement system, with final decision-making authority resting with the municipal government.
Immediate decriminalization of possession and use of marijuana. Commission careful research on the feasibility of decriminalizing other drugs and victimless crimes. We do not condone these behaviors; we simply recognize that the attempt to suppress them creates more problems than it solves, including increased crime and disrespect for the law which grow directly from the influence of a criminal black market. Redirect resources into non-punitive, voluntary treatment-based solutions to victimless crimes where appropriate.
5.) Quality Of Life.
Cultural events passes for plays, musicals, museums, etc, available for check-out at libraries.
“Tree walls” and other noise barriers along high-speed roads adjacent to residential areas, public parks or waterways, and in communities where needed.
A general strategy of making the city greener, including the use of native landscaping. Benefits accruing from more green space include better public health, cooler temperatures in summer, greater leisure opportunity, better air quality, etc.
Incentives to reduce car and truck use. Adopt recommendations of WMEAC’s Transportation Working Group, including limited light rail, which is more efficient than buses and more accommodating of clean energy sources.
Plant many more trees, including fruit and nut trees in public spaces, using local residents in planting and care.
Promote the development of community gardens, where local residents can grow vegetables and flowers for neighborhood consumption. Convert municipally-owned vacant lots for this purpose.
A long-term goal of a small park within walking distance of every family in urban areas.
Study the feasibility of using organic care methods on municipally-owned green spaces.
Increase public spaces. More parks and public meeting spaces for neighborhoods. Public spaces are crucial to community social networks, which improve health and quality of life.
Increase recycling services and expand the variety of materials recycled. Study the feasibility of providing recycling to outlying areas. Improve recycling services to apartment complexes.
Promote renewable, non-polluting energy. Expand wind and solar power options, using demonstration models in various pilot communities. Study the feasibility of using locally-produced biodiesel fuel in municipal vehicles.
Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the storm water system. Create a storm water utility, prevent the dumping of storm water in river and streams, and test water more frequently and comprehensively.
The use of public space for private advertising such as billboards should be charged.
6.) Land Use.
Inclusionary zoning, which requires new residential development to include low- or moderate-income housing. Look to similar successful systems in California and Montgomery County, Maryland, for guidance.
A Community Land Trust. According to the year 2000 report of the Mayor’s Task Force on social justice:
“This is an organization created to hold land for the benefit of a community and individuals within the community. It is a democratically structured nonprofit corporation with an open membership and a board of trustees elected by the membership. The board typically includes residents of trust-owned lands, other community residents, and public-interest representatives. Board members are elected for limited terms, so that the community retains ultimate control of the organization and the land it owns. The CLT acquires land through purchase or donation with an intention to retain title in perpetuity, thus removing the land from the speculative market. Appropriate uses are determined in a process comparable to public planning or zoning, and the land is then leased to individuals, families, cooperatives, community organizations, businesses, or for public purposes."
CLT’s are a way for communities to gain control over local land use and reduce absentee ownership, provide affordable housing for low-income residents, promote resident ownership and control of housing, keep housing affordable for future residents, make efficient use of public resources for long-term benefit, and build a sense of community.”
7.) Youth and Education.
Art and music programs for all schools. Use volunteers if necessary.
Involve students at all levels in community service projects. Improve science education in schools, including opportunities for study and recreation in natural areas.
Municipally-supported parenting classes for all interested. Bring parents to schools more frequently. Provide support to parents and volunteers, including transportation, daycare, and time off work, to enable participation in school functions.
More teachers, aides, and classroom support; aim for an child/adult ratio of no greater than 10:1.
Incentives, such as tax breaks, for teachers to live in the community.
Get all commercial advertising out of schools, including “Channel One” programming.