CANDIDATE RESPONSES — COUNTY

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

As the November 8 election approaches, 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. We want everyone in our community to have access to information about where candidates stand on issues of climate and environmental justice. (Note: GR Climate Coalition is not endorsing any candidates.)

This page features Kent County Commission candidates’ responses to a standard questionnaire. 

If we received a response from a candidate, it is below. Responses are listed numerically by District and alphabetically by last name.

Below are all the County Commission candidates who received an invitation to complete our questionnaire. Highlighted candidates have submitted responses and they are included below. Please scroll down to find your districts' candidate responses, if available.

District - Name (Party Affiliation)

1 - Jerry D. Berta (D)

1 - Ben Greene (R)

2 - Rebecca Diffin (D)

2 - Thomas Antor (R)

3 - Janalee Keegstra (D) 

3 - Jennifer Merchant (R)

4 - Judy Wood (D)

4 - Katie DeBoer (R)

5 - Vanessa Lee (D)

5 - Dave Hildenbrand (R)

6 - Nicholas H. Vander Veen (D)

6 - Stan Stek (R)

7 - Sue Merrell (D)

7 - Stan Ponstein (R)

8 - Jennie Chatman (D)

8 - Dan Burrill (R)

9 - Chip LaFleur (D)

9 - Matt Kallman (R)

10 - Julie Humphreys (D)

10 - Emily Post Brieve (R)

11 - John Considine (D)

11 - Lindsey Thiel (R)

12 - Monica Sparks (D)

12 - Lee White (R)

13 - Michelle McCloud (D)

13 - Tom McKelvey (R)

14 - Carol Hennessy (D)

14 - Jerri Schmidt (R)

15 - Lisa S. Oliver-King (D) 

15 - Brian Boersema (R)

16 - Melissa LaGrand (D)

16 - John Brooks Twist (R)

17 - Tony Baker (D)

17 - Jason Gillikin (R)

17 - Stephen Wooden (D)

18 - Tim Allen (R)

18 - Kris Pachla (D)

19 - Samuel R. Carstens (R)

20 - Elisa Rodriguez (R)

20 - Ivan Diaz (D)

21 - Charles Howe (D)

21 - Walter Bujak (R)

 

6TH DISTRICT 

Nicholas Vander Veen

votevanderveen.com

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

West Michigan Dental Foundation, Michigan Dental Foundation, Grand Rapids Bar Association, and West Michigan Vaccine Clinic Volunteer.

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

 

Everyone has the right to a clean and healthy environment, and that right is routinely and systemically denied to low income individuals as well as BIPOC communities. Some of the most pressing and pervasive issue relates to renewable energy and infrastructure projects, both of which do not come with small price tags. 

 

It is undeniable that our sources for energy need to change and clean transit solutions are needed to reduce urban air pollution, however, it is often the case that the communities that would see the most benefits from these solutions lack the monetary resources necessary to implement them. When identifying projects that support the installation of solar and wind or clean public transit solutions, project and funding plans should identify at risk populations such or focus on connecting centers of commerce with traditionally isolated neighborhoods and then direct funding proportionately to account areas of lower income or address historical injustices.

 

2. Are you in support of increasing funding to healthcare organizations and resources who assist communities affected by environmental injustice?

 

Yes. 

 

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

 

Public transit is sorely lacking in Kent County. Grand Rapids in the 1900's had a strong and robust trolley and light rail system that supported the mass transit of residents. Fast forward 100 years, and we have regressed to a pedestrian hostile environment that forces the necessity of personal transport in order to succeed economically and be independent. While we have made strides in recent years for more public transit options, more needs to be done to improve and expand these options to reduce personal vehicle emissions that are exacerbated by idling due to continued traffic growth. Furthermore, programs designed to support the replacement of older inefficient residential HVAC systems with high efficiency or heat pump systems would not only improve urban air quality, it would also advance quality of life, increase home value, and reduce monthly utility costs. These changes, coupled with strong support for renewable energy sources, would advance the goal of carbon neutrality in under a decade.

 

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 timeline would be to have transitioned yesterday. However, the economics and technology to do so is just beginning to mature to accomplish that. So, as with the best time to plant a tree, we will have to settle for today to begin the transition. Part of this transition will have to be a mix of wind and solar community projects that can adapt to changing conditions coupled with low impact base load generation and surplus energy storage to address rapid energy peaks. This sort of change will need state support, but getting community solutions will be a great start.

 

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

 

Yes

 

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

 

Supporting local manufacturers and businesses that strive towards net-zero waste practices would be a priority. Not only does this benefit the business with lower costs, it also promotes other accompanying businesses (and also jobs) that support this practice through recycling and remanufacture of waste into raw goods. The county can promote this with a mix of grants and tax amnesty tied to proven practices by the business, access to inexpensive renewable energy, and training a skilled workforce that can travel without cars.

 

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 grand scale of climate change requires more than just local policies. Local policies are great for tailoring the overall goal of addressing climate change to best reflect the abilities of a municipality, but there needs to be regional collective action all pointed to the same direction, otherwise what is the point? The best example would be working with energy producers to coordinate and promote baseload production that is clean and/or renewable and couple that with our local efforts. This focus on energy production is a must for the future of any growing community as we make the inevitable change to more and more electrified future, getting businesses and residents on board with the promise of cheaper cleaner energy is the best way to solve and bring disparate groups together on this issue.

10TH DISTRICT 

Julie Humphreys

 

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

President Red Flannel Saddle Club, Caledonia Dems Club

 

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?

 

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?

 

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.

11TH DISTRICT

 

John Considine 

 

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

 

Chapter co-lead for Citizens Climate Lobby (7 years) : Lobby federal Members of Congress, endorsements from community leaders, grassroots networking events.

Member of Climate Witness Project (5 years) : Energy saving teams in churches (audits and working the action plan), substitute member of Grand Rapids Energy Advisory Board, Developed Responsible Investing workshops as part of UCS Smarter Cooler project. As member of the advocacy team I lobby and stage Climate forums for State, County, City representatives. Working on demonstration energy efficiency projects for churches.

Grand Rapids Climate Coalition (since inception). Climate March team, fundraising, tabling, fundraising

Fountain Street Church Social Action Committee chair (making grants each year), Environmental Justice team and Green team.

Steering committees of GR Township & Forest Hills Dems

West Michigan Land Conservancy volunteer

ANSWER (American Nepali Students and Women's Educational Relief) board member

Thornapple Kellogg Schools Environmental Action Council (till retirement)
 

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

 

Having lived in Kent County for 23 years I want to focus on environment, community health, diversity, equity and inclusion. I am “ committed to environmental justice and pursue a just transition.” Ongoing community outreach, meeting with community groups, participatory decision making and transparency are part of the process. I am pleased by the county’s appointment of “a chief inclusion officer to oversee diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.”

2. Are you in support of increasing funding to healthcare organizations and resources who assist communities affected by environmental injustice?

 

Yes

 

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

 

I worked on the MI Healthy Climate Plan (energy task force) which was shaped by residents and am impressed by the talent and resources available in this state. Their roadmap informs how to proceed at a county level:

“Commit to environmental justice and pursue a just transition

Clean the electric grid

Electrify Vehicle sand increase public transit

Repair and decarbonize homes and businesses

Drive clean innovation in industry

Protect Michigan’s land and water”

The county itself is a major employer, user of transport, buildings and resources: we need to develop internal policies to increase efficiency, sustainability and resilience
 

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?

 

The science and the need are clear: we need to be approaching net zero by 2030, not “end load” efforts to 2050. This is a huge goal, perhaps the best kind, it is “the task before us if we would not perish”. I have my own solar system, support community solar, and have experimental investments in several startups in this field.

 

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

 

Yes

 

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

 

Having given citizen input in meetings of the Sustainable Business Park since its early days I am excited by the prospect of its implementation. Building consensus with the urban and rural units of government over tipping fees for waste management is critical. Networking with private and research sectors for best practice projects is ongoing

 

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?

 

We already have the skills and infrastructure to make major steps in this challenge. Climate change has been used as a wedge issue when it is actually a bridging situation: no one is exempt from it. We need to build the political will to move forward, “action removes the doubt that theory alone cannot resolve”. I have volunteered for the last seven years (since retirement) with many climate groups to put constituents in dialog with elected representatives.

 

12TH DISTRICT

Monica Sparks 

www.MonicaSparks.com

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

 

Kent County Agricultural Preservation Board

Kent County Finance Committee

Ready By Five Early Childhood Millage review Board

Michigan Association of Counties Agricultural Committee, Tourism and Finance Board

City of Kentwood Zoning Board of Appeals Commissioner

City of Kentwood Planner Commissioner

Kent County Black Caucus Chair

 

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

 

Be supportive of the commissioners that represent those areas and push for the help they need. Also vote on the dollars to help the change to happen.

2. Are you in support of increasing funding to healthcare organizations and resources who assist communities affected by environmental injustice?

 

Yes. 

 

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

 

Tax big companies and hold them responsible and account to clean up their mess!

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 believe solar is one way to start transitioning to renewable energy. We need to educate people on why and how this is best for our future and our environment.

 

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

 

Yes. 

 

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

 

With my yes vote! Working to get others a better understanding of the importance if need be.

 

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?

 

Slow government and unfocused. I would be happy to collaborate! That is how we really get anything done!

14TH DISTRICT

Carol Hennessy

 

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

 

Treasurer, New Development Corp, a non-profit affordable housing organization, 17 years on board; member, Senior Millage Review Committee, 14 years; Secretary, Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, 14 years; member, John Ball Zoo Board and its Facilities Committee; volunteer, La Leche League leader, since 1986; volunteer, pre-natal instruction, Clinica Santa Maria, 1998 to 2000.  In past, voted as Minority Vice Chair of the Board, alternating service as Vice Chair of the Finance or Legislative Committee. Kent County Commissioner since 2007. 

 

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

 

Kent County has oversight for multiple programs affecting lives of our residents. Many of the programs are targeted to assist lower income and BIPOC communities. These programs may directly – such as housing rehabilitation – or indirectly – allowing seniors to age in place – affect the broad issue of climate change and environmental justice. The county’s KCCA department offers weatherization programs to lower-income persons and families. Additional funds are expected to become available for renovation and weatherization by affordable housing organizations. The county continues to prioritize seeking funds to support personnel and programs to eliminate lead in our older housing stock and to control the effects of PFAS. 

 

2. Are you in support of increasing funding to healthcare organizations and resources who assist communities affected by environmental injustice?

 

Kent County can work to ensure that new and renovated buildings are designed for energy efficiency. Geothermal systems have been installed in several newer facilities. Mass transit options and opportunities need to be explored. Electric-operated vehicles are being examined for use. We need to be looking toward the future in all that we do. This also involves commissioners asking pertinent questions as decisions are being made. 

 

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

 

Kent County can work to ensure that new and renovated buildings are designed for energy efficiency. Geothermal systems have been installed in several newer facilities. Mass transit options and opportunities need to be explored. Electric-operated vehicles are being examined for use. We need to be looking toward the future in all that we do. This also involves commissioners asking pertinent questions as decisions are being made. 

 

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?

 

Implementing community solar projects is interesting to consider! Legislative action would be needed before this could be implemented. But we know that steps and goals should be set for every year covering multiple aspects of our public and private lives. The county’s DPW has done this in its efforts to Reimagine Trash, 2020-2030. In just one project that I am involved with at John Ball Zoo we can see environmental progress. Its Meerkat exhibit was designed with sustainability measures that earned it SITES Gold certification. Native plantings were used and it has a green roof. Maintenance equipment has no CO2 emissions. Concrete used in the construction is largely recycled content and will be recycled again at the end of its life. The LED fixtures have low BUG ratings. Rain is managed and excess is significantly cleaned with the zoo able to handle up to 100-year rain events on-site. Efforts extend to the care afforded the Meerkats, including animal care, natural light and natural environmental conditions.  This is a small project at one level and much larger when considering handling of storm water. It is part of a bigger conservation effort at the zoo. Every aspect of county oversight capability from the fleet services to the DPW affords opportunities for reducing emissions. Small goals and projects lead to bigger environmental success. 

 

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

 

Yes

 

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

 

I will support waste reduction efforts that include development of a Sustainable Business Park. I do support the well-planned and thoughtful coordinated efforts of the county’s DPW. It can be noted that as a commissioner I helped facilitate conversations and agreement between the DPW and Westside neighbors as it developed its recycling center on Wealthy St SW.  

 

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?

 

Currently we have too many laws and policies that incentivize old energy and we need new laws to achieve a new energy future. As a county, we are in position to advocate for state and federal change to reach environmental targets.

15TH DISTRICT

Lisa Suzette Oliver-King

www.lisaoliverking.com

 

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

 

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

 

As Kent County residents for more than 30+ years, my husband, Anthony King, and I have raised our two daughters here; both are graduates of Grand Rapids Public Schools. 

 

I have worked 30+ years in the public sector and am the founding executive director of Our Kitchen Table (OKT). My undeniable commitment to public health and human rights has led me to dedicate my career to championing at-risk, disadvantaged and marginalized community residents. My commitment is to ensure that those most impacted are visible, have voice, and can influence public policy decisions that impact their quality of life. I have proven success in mobilizing and organizing community members (particularly women receiving public assistance for child care, healthcare, housing, transportation, and education) to participate in purposeful action to build sustainable neighborhoods. My education and expertise includes skills related to community organizing, civic engagement, capacity building, health promotion and risk reduction, advocacy, health information management, community-based focus group facilitation and environmental justice work. 

 

OKT sat on the environmental justice committee that released this report in 2019.

 

My most notable professional accomplishment is the thriving Our Kitchen Table (OKT) organization. OKT provides services and opportunities to mothers and caregivers of at-risk children and children with environmental health issues. OKT’s participants reside in targeted Kent County communities where we seek to implement awareness and education strategies informed by the insights and lived experiences of residents living there. We understand that target-community members are often left out of the decision-making process, yet disproportionately impacted by those decisions. Likewise, we understand the staff and funding limitations of the community’s environmental and public health resources. OKT empowers participants to have a healthy vision of themselves and where they live as well as a sense of their own power. OKT staff takes seriously their responsibility to support the community in every way possible. In past projects, community members have been overwhelmingly supportive of and have participated in OKT’s work. Decisions about where to hold the trainings, how outreach is done as well as engagement in outreach efforts are made under the direction of a peer advocacy network (PAN). OKT’s success is heavily dependent upon the PAN’s input. 

 

2. Are you in support of increasing funding to healthcare organizations and resources who assist communities affected by environmental injustice?

 

Yes

 

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

To my knowledge Kent County has not completed a Greenhouse gas inventory, completed a climate risk assessment and developed a climate mitigation and resiliency plan. I will support the County undertaking these activities during my term if elected.

 

The City of Grand Rapids has made huge strides in this area and could be a model and pattern for the county as a whole, especially in urban and suburban areas.

Education and regulation are needed in rural areas where development and farming methods are not aligned with a green future.

 

We could look to our local resources, e.g., the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum for ideas and inspiration in addressing this serious risk to our lives and especially to the lives of those who come after us. And Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, as an improved tree canopy is key to slowing global warming,

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?

 

In terms of a timeline and transition to renewable energy, I propose initially, help develop a county-sponsored strategy to provide homeowners access to a free or low-cost home energy audit using the City of Holland’s Home Energy Retrofit program as an example. Secondly encourage a county-wide PACE ordinance, to help everyone, but especially economically disadvantaged communities afford the initial cost of home energy efficiency and/or solar technology and promoting the transition away from natural gas to electric options such as solar assisted heat pump technology to reduce residential and small business GHG emissions. Yes, I support efforts to implement community solar with  an educational strategy to build the capacity of community members to best understand this option. 

 

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

 

Yes

 

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

 

The Sustainable Business Park is a progressive step the County has taken to address regional waste diversion from disposal. Minimizing waste and reclaiming materials will help support the environmental justice tenets that I hold dear and hopefully create a cleaner environment for all people of Kent County, especially those most impacted by inefficient means of waste disposal. In terms of municipal composting,  I would like to see the county institute a composting program that supports residents in composting their own food waste and reap the benefit of receiving healthy, living soil for their own yards and gardens, to grow food or to replace lead contaminated soil. 

 

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 am running for this position so that I can further amplify the voices of all community members living in my district in a way that creates equity in representation on decisions, policies, and programs enacted by the Kent County Board of Commissioners.. With that being stated, I want to collaborate with elected officials, businesses, individuals and other community stakeholders to practice and commit to doing advocacy work based on the intersection of climate change justice with environmental justice issues e.g., food, air quality; water quality and right to clean water; sustainable agriculture; climate change; seed sovereignty; and equitable and increased tree canopy. 

16TH DISTRICT 

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

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.

18TH DISTRICT 

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.

20TH DISTRICT

Ivan Diaz

 

Briefly list your civic activities over the last ten years.

 

GLPS Equity Steering Committee, protests

 

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

 

Directing funds and policy towards the district will be key. We need to make sure that our community is benefiting from state and local policy.

 

2. Are you in support of increasing funding to healthcare organizations and resources who assist communities affected by environmental injustice?

 

Yes

 

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

 

Invest in public transportation and housing policy. Reduce sprawl and equitably disburse federal funds.

 

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?

 

Yes i definitely support community solar. We need to make a full transition to renewable energy and that eventually includes little to no gas and nuclear.

 

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

 

Yes

 

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

 

We need to bring free recycling to every municipality in the county. Investing in sustainable energy and agriculture is key.

 

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?

 

Gridlock and the dysfunction we see at the national level could definitely already be present so we need to avoid that at all costs.

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