Candidate puts sustainability on the agenda

by Jordan Green

Candidate puts sustainability on the agenda

As a member of the Greensboro Planning Board from January 2006 through last month when his term ended, Joel Landau can recall only one instance when another member joined him in voting to oppose an annexation request.

For work reasons, he had to miss a meeting in which the board approved a slate of annexation requests brought by the city that included a virtual island east of the city near McLeansville.

“Personally, I think it’s absurd,” said Landau, who is a candidate for the open District 4 seat on Greensboro City Council. “Some of the goals in the city’s comprehensive plan are promoting infill and conserving resources — basically anti-sprawl measures…. The aim was to have a more coherent growth pattern, so you have concentrated activity areas, more opportunities to walk places and the ability to expand mass transit. Can we run buses to McLeansville? Of course not.”

Landau also opposes involuntary annexation because he considers it undemocratic.

Accomplishing his major goal of reining in sprawl depends not only on getting himself elected, but on having enough allies to cobble together a majority. Landau acknowledged that political reality but expressed confidence that events are trending in his direction.

“There are a couple issues that I’ve been out front on,” he said. “When we proposed that the council support the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in 2007, that was ahead of its time. It caught on the next year. Last year, when Emily Clancy and I went before council and talked about local food production, we got a lot of blank stares. This year, we came back and people were more receptive. Now reining in sprawl is not a mainstream issue, but if I’m elected to council I’ll have a platform to talk about it.”

Although the District 4 seat has opened with the retirement of Councilman Mike Barber, one of Landau’s opponents, Mary Rakestraw, currently serves on city council as an at-large representative. Rakestraw has built strong relationships in the Guilford County political establishment through her tenure as a county commissioner and among her fellow Republicans. Democrat Landau has established a reputation as a solid progressive, with public support from a long list of local notables, including Nettie Coad and Jay Ovittore, who are respectively running for the District 2 and District 3 seats, and NC Rep. Pricey Harrison. Two other candidates have filed for the District 4 seat in the nonpartisan primary: Mike Martin, a fiscally conservative Democrat, and Joseph Rahenkamp, a retired firefighter who is a Republican.

Landau was appointed co-chair of the Greensboro Community Sustainability Council in January 2008 by Mayor Yvonne Johnson. When the federal government awarded the city $2.5 million in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants earlier this year, the sustainability council was tasked with developing a program to dispense the funds.

“Our aim for the first round of recommendations is to identify improvements that are of little or no cost, but that have significant payoff,” Landau said.

The sustainabilty council will ask the city council to create something called a “sustainability cash-flow account,” which would receive a portion of the savings generated from weatherizing buildings, Landau said. Funds from the account could then be invested in projects with “a higher up-front cost and a longer payback period” such as converting the city’s fleet to hybrids or enhancing mass transit.

“I bring a different perspective that I think will serve Greensboro well — of sustainability, neighborhoods and small business — and I’m not part of any private interest group,” the candidate said. “I do my homework, work well with others and have a history of getting things done.”

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