CANDIDATE RESPONSES

Now more than ever, local and state elections matter for climate action
 

As the August 2 primaries and the November 8 election approach, the GR Climate Coalition is putting energy into helping our supporters and residents all over Grand Rapids and Kent County turn out to vote and make informed voting decisions. Though we are not endorsing candidates, we do want everyone in our community to have information about where candidates stand on questions of climate and environmental justice. 

This page features candidates’ responses to a standard questionnaire. This was sent to all county commissioner candidates who are in primary races. After the primaries, all candidates in the general election will also have the questionnaire. We will post all the answers we receive from candidates as they come in. Please check back before you vote!

All responses received from candidates are below. They are listed numerically by District and alphabetically by last name)

NOTE: all answers featured below at this time are from primary candidates. After August 2, this page will feature general election candidates' answers.

 

16TH DISTRICT (PRIMARY)

Melissa LaGrand (D)

www.melissalagrand.com

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

I currently serve as Kent County Commissioner for District 15. I have served the city as a commissioner on the Mobile GR & Parking Commission and Vital Streets Oversight Commission; 6 years as member of the governing board of Cherry Health; volunteer in Grand Rapids Public Schools; volunteer for Educational Outreach programs of the Grand Rapids Symphony.

1.  How will you address the imbalance in how climate change disproportionately impacts frontline (mostly low income and BIPOC) communities? 

I am always mindful of my many constituents who live near or below the poverty line, and they are front and center of my thinking in my votes on the Commission. As the County expends resources, we need to keep in mind the specific demands climate change places on frontline communities: need for energy efficiency and cool indoor temperatures for health and safety; the danger of pollution, etc. In terms of policies for which I advocate, I am an avid supporter of mass transit, which is both a key tool in reducing carbon emissions and a great democratizing force for our community. There is a lot of tension on this subject at the County level, but we are inaugurating a study of county-wide mobility which I hope will lead us to productive changes. I intend to be active and involved in this work.

2. Are you in support of increasing funding to healthcare organizations and resources who assist communities affected by environmental injustice? For example: neighborhoods affected by high air pollution, lead & PFAS poisoning, flooding, and other environmental factors.

 

Yes

3.  What policies should Kent County and/or Grand Rapids put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

 

The County is at the beginning stages of preparation to allow for electric cars in the county fleet. It has taken a lot of advocating to get this far, and I intend to keep on top of fleet services going forward to make sure they know it is a priority for me (and for some other commissioners as well). Again, a big investment in mass transit will help reduce emissions as well. The County also needs to make sure that all new facilities are built to the highest levels of energy efficiency with lowest environmental impact. The County is already working on a study of its space needs. The pandemic has taught us that flexibility is important for workers, and can reduce the physical footprint of the County, reducing energy use. We also need to be proactive in pursuing solar installations at viable county properties. The county can also hold to a Growth by Choice model, which means planning future growth in the county. This will help us make communities more dense, reducing sprawl and preserving green space. We are at the beginning of this process and while I am a big fan, not all the commissioners are. Finally, we need to stay on task with our plans for the Sustainable Business Park which will help us process our solid waste in the most environmentally friendly way.

4.  The best available climate science shows we need to drastically reduce emissions by 2030. What is your timeline for transitioning to renewable energy? Do you support efforts to implement community solar?

 

My family has had solar installations for many years, and we transitioned to electric cars five years ago. I am a big proponent of community solar, and while we need to advocate that our state government is offering the best possible incentives for solar power, our local government needs to educate and promote community solar. It's the perfect way to spread the benefits and reduce the up-front costs of solar installation.

5. Do you support the creation of a Sustainability Fund supporting districts with an insufficient tax base to respond to the climate crisis? A county Sustainability Fund would allow lower income communities / neighborhoods to implement weatherization and energy efficiency projects in their homes and/or businesses.

Yes.

6.  How will you support waste reduction efforts, such as the Sustainable Business Park, enhanced recycling, and municipal composting?

First of all, with my vote! Progress moves slowly on the SBP, but it is moving.

7. What do you see as the biggest roadblocks to addressing climate change through local policy? How would you collaborate with elected officials, businesses, individuals, and other community stakeholders to address these roadblocks?

 

A perceived "us vs them" mentality can be seen on issues at the county level, between the urban center of the county and the suburban and rural townships. The differing perspectives of these two groups can be difficult to work through--the Sustainable Business Park is one example. If we are able to harness other sectors like the healthcare sector--Spectrum Health as the county's largest employer springs to mid--and the business community via the Chamber of Commerce, we will be able to speed that progress. The Business community generally disfavors regulations, and regulations will be necessary to implant effective mitigation efforts.

17TH DISTRICT (PRIMARY)

Tony Baker (D)

www.facebook.com/CTETonyBaker

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

GRPS School Board, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities Board To College, Through College co-founder, board chair Salvation Army Advisory Board Other local boards

1.  How will you address the imbalance in how climate change disproportionately impacts frontline (mostly low income and BIPOC) communities? 

This is very much a concern. I am very interested in supporting the Sustainability Business Park and the possibility of solar panel on this site. I am really looking forward to learning more about how I can assist county government in addressing this concern.

2. Are you in support of increasing funding to healthcare organizations and resources who assist communities affected by environmental injustice? For example: neighborhoods affected by high air pollution, lead & PFAS poisoning, flooding, and other environmental factors.

Yes. 

3.  What policies should Kent County and/or Grand Rapids put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Support for solar energy and other renewable sources. Emphasize purchasing policies to companies that limit greenhouse gasses. Support public transportation systems. Again, I look forward to learning more about how the county can assist.

4.  The best available climate science shows we need to drastically reduce emissions by 2030. What is your timeline for transitioning to renewable energy? Do you support efforts to implement community solar?

I certainly support implementation to community solar and would support efforts to reduce emissions dramatically, but I am not able to suggest a timeline at this time. I will plan to study and advocate.

5. Do you support the creation of a Sustainability Fund supporting districts with an insufficient tax base to respond to the climate crisis? A county Sustainability Fund would allow lower income communities / neighborhoods to implement weatherization and energy efficiency projects in their homes and/or businesses.

Yes.

6.  How will you support waste reduction efforts, such as the Sustainable Business Park, enhanced recycling, and municipal composting?

I love the Sustainable Business Park. I have already had conversation with Mayor Bliss on how the county can collaborate further.

7. What do you see as the biggest roadblocks to addressing climate change through local policy? How would you collaborate with elected officials, businesses, individuals, and other community stakeholders to address these roadblocks?

I believe that collaboration with elected officials by place (3rd ward commissioners with Mayor and other county commissioners of the ward - for instance) to create a more localized accountability structure. I would like to convene the south east side officials to address lead poisoning and climate change policies as a group, rather than the current siloed bodies. These officials with local community based organizations can create a more accountable structure to respond.

19TH DISTRICT (PRIMARY)

Dave Bulkowski (D)

www.davebulkowski.com

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

I have been a county commissioner, first elected in 2012. In this role, I am also on the Board of Public Works, Friend of the Court Advisory Committee (having chaired the FOC Taskforce in 2016 -2017) and have served on a number of other special committees. I also serve as co-chair for the Friends of Transit campaign committee which has worked to pass all of the Rapid Millages since 2000 (most recent successful campaigns in 2011 and 2017).

1.  How will you address the imbalance in how climate change disproportionately impacts frontline (mostly low income and BIPOC) communities? 

Many of the answers below help answer this question. I am totally committed to a clear equity focus guiding all of our work. Climate change and our waste disposal systems (e.g. the waste to energy plant and the waste water treatment plant are right next to the Black Hills and Grandville Avenue neighborhoods) have had such a negative impact on the quality of life of low income persons (who are disproportionately person who are BIPOC). Thus, environmental justice must be part of al of our efforts.

2. Are you in support of increasing funding to healthcare organizations and resources who assist communities affected by environmental injustice? For example: neighborhoods affected by high air pollution, lead & PFAS poisoning, flooding, and other environmental factors.

Yes

3.  What policies should Kent County and/or Grand Rapids put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

 

we should first work to reduce our energy use as much as possible as soon as possible. we should then move to eliminate our use of fossil fuels through the use of (truly) green electricity.

4.  The best available climate science shows we need to drastically reduce emissions by 2030. What is your timeline for transitioning to renewable energy? Do you support efforts to implement community solar?

I would want to see us move as aggressively as practical. there is no time to lose. Yes, we should implement community solar.

5. Do you support the creation of a Sustainability Fund supporting districts with an insufficient tax base to respond to the climate crisis?

A county Sustainability Fund would allow lower income communities / neighborhoods to implement weatherization and energy efficiency projects in their homes and/or businesses. 

6.  How will you support waste reduction efforts, such as the Sustainable Business Park, enhanced recycling, and municipal composting?

I currently am the only Board of Public Works member who approved the original "20% by 2020; 90% by 2030" goal for the reduction of solid waste being landfilled. My motto throughout my time on the BPW has been, "We have to do more, faster." While we missed the 2020 goal, we are working hard on the 2030 goal through the Sustainable Business Park development. I am on the (hopefully) final stakeholder taskforce which is hammering out the final parameters of the SBP. This will include enhanced recycling, the development of a market for our recyclables (and others') and composting.

7. What do you see as the biggest roadblocks to addressing climate change through local policy? How would you collaborate with elected officials, businesses, individuals, and other community stakeholders to address these roadblocks?

The climate change deniers are very real and present in our community. In addition, too many people are still driven by the quickest and cheapest and easiest way to do something. we need leaders who are willing to lead where the majority of our citizens want to go and they are willing to pay the added costs (which are simply externalized today). I will work with all interested persons to achieve real goals as I have done on other issues such as public transportation.

Kris Pachla (D)

www.krispachla.com

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

Through 2014 - HS Physics Teacher in Fairfax County, VA. Various volunteer and outreach efforts in the Washington DC Area (at local museums, K-12 events, large community events in DC). Former board member, Friends of the East Grand Rapids Library. Former board member, GVS University Club. East Grand Rapids City Commissioner, 2019-present.

1.  How will you address the imbalance in how climate change disproportionately impacts frontline (mostly low income and BIPOC) communities? 

We need to consider where we are investing resources (money, time, information) in our communities and the ways in which these resources reach our stakeholders in frontline communities. We need to also consider, by including voices from those communities in our planning efforts, how our actions, mandates, recommendations, restrictions, etc. will be handled and implemented in those communities.

2. Are you in support of increasing funding to healthcare organizations and resources who assist communities affected by environmental injustice? For example: neighborhoods affected by high air pollution, lead & PFAS poisoning, flooding, and other environmental factors.

Yes.

3.  What policies should Kent County and/or Grand Rapids put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

 

We must do baseline first order carbon emission studies across all municipalities to determine where we can make the most short-term and long-term impact. From there, we must invest critical dollars, for instance ARPA funds, to make meaningful impact in reducing localized carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. We must also consider our largest methane producers, landfills, and reduce or totally remove them from our portfolio.

4.  The best available climate science shows we need to drastically reduce emissions by 2030. What is your timeline for transitioning to renewable energy? Do you support efforts to implement community solar?

I do support efforts to implement community solar. I think that we can meet a 2030 deadline if we collectively pass climate resolutions focusing on this across Kent County in all communities. Local government as the front line for municipal operations, followed by communities must find this as an important and attainable set of steps.

5. Do you support the creation of a Sustainability Fund supporting districts with an insufficient tax base to respond to the climate crisis?

A county Sustainability Fund would allow lower income communities / neighborhoods to implement weatherization and energy efficiency projects in their homes and/or businesses. 

6.  How will you support waste reduction efforts, such as the Sustainable Business Park, enhanced recycling, and municipal composting?

The SBP relies heavily on two necessary government structures: guaranteed delivery/countywide participating and a flat fee for all tipping across the county. I would advocate for those across the county, especially with our township communities. I will also continue to advocate for private businesses to consider the ways in which waste reduction impacts their bottom line. Finding ways for such waste stream measures as the SBP to be an incentive for businesses, rather than a stick for their participation, is key toward getting everyone to buy into this need. Supporting organizations such as the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum will support this effort.

 

7. What do you see as the biggest roadblocks to addressing climate change through local policy? How would you collaborate with elected officials, businesses, individuals, and other community stakeholders to address these roadblocks?

There is a balance between carrots and sticks with climate change policy. We must accurately portray the nature of the problem and concern, while still allowing for individuals to make some level of decisions within a range of acceptable ones. Because of our hyper-partisan environment and hyper-capitalist mindset, we will find issues with increasing costs for individuals and local businesses in response to climate change policy. This can be offset through tax incentives at the local level, building funds that can support offsets of costs, and general support of increased adoption of green economy which will necessarily drive costs down.

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