City Council Preview – November 17, 2015

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Today’s Denton City Council meeting begins with a Work Session at 2pm followed by our Regular Session at 6:30pm – both at City Hall at 215 E. McKinney Street in downtown Denton, Texas. Click here for a full agenda of Tuesday’s meeting with backup material.

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I am traveling on business in Florida and will be absent for the Work Session portion of our meeting. However, recent changes in state law allow me to participate remotely during the Regular Session and I plan to do so. What that means is that I’ll be sitting in a hotel room in Orlando connected to the meeting via Skype. I’ll be staring at an iPad and anyone watching will see a big monitor sitting in my place in the council chambers. It will likely be a little awkward for me and the rest of the council as we work out the uniqueness of chiming in to speak and voting with this new arrangement. But those who were culture consumers in the 90s will certainly appreciate the Max Headroom comparisons on Tuesday night.

Here’s what you will see the council discussing on Tuesday:

LANDFILL MINING
We were set to discuss this a few weeks back, but the item was postponed due to lack of time. I find this entire concept fascinating. Technology now allows us to go back in to portions of our landfill in order to recover recyclable materials that have been preserved, remove them, and make more room for additional solid waste. The Denton Landfill is one of many examples of world-class sustainability initiatives underway at the City of Denton.

Here’s the presentation the council will see on this topic on Tuesday.

GAS INSULATED SUBSTATIONS
During the last council discussion on DME substations, the suggestion was made to pursue a different technology for the city’s substation which would radically transform the visual aesthetics of these electrical necessities. Council indicated their interest in looking into the possibility of such a substation at the site for the new Eagle Substation near UNT and South of Eagle Drive. We’ll be hearing a follow-up report to that request and giving direction on moving forward.

BUC-EE’S IN DENTON?
buceesBy now, you’ve heard the reports of a possible Bucee’s store in Denton on a vacant piece of land of I35 and between the Wind River neighborhood. Though this land is already zoned for this sort of business (after all it fronts one of the busiest highways in the nation), because Buc-ee’s is requesting an economic development incentives, this business’ entrance into Denton will be discussed by the City Council. Two neighborhood meetings have already been held with city council member Joey Hawkins and relevant city staff members to allow the developer the chance to hear the concerns of the neighborhood and adjust accordingly. As I understand it, the owner of Bucee’s is willing to create a significant buffer between the neighborhood and his project as well as preserve a well loved large pond that is adjacent to the neighborhood.

So why consider incentivizing this project? In order for this project to be successful, significant infrastructure improvements must be in place. Chief among them is a Brinker Road connection across the highway into this parcel of land. If you’ve ever tried to access the 35 North access road from Brinker coming from the Loop 288 area, you know how dangerous and busy that intersection is. Discussion of this project has been had with TxDOT and staff from Regional Transportation Council to come up with a plan that would create a solution for this intersection during the Phase I build out of the I35 expansion. That means that Phase I would see significant mobility improvements all along this corridor, including Mayhilll Road, Brinker Road, and the Loop 288/35 intersection. The plan to bring Brinker along in this scenario requires an estimated $2 million local match. It appears that Bucee’s is willing to front that money in addition to funding many other public infrastructure improvements (to the tune of over $6 million) in order to make this project happen. The incentives would be structured to help pay for this investment in public infrastructure.

I look forward to hearing this discussion, but am increasingly impressed with the way this business owner is working with the community to create a project that is good for Denton.

SEVERAL ZONING CASES
There are several zoning cases before the council during our regular session. Please consult our full agenda for the details of each of them to see if you are concerned by any of the proposed projects.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about the topics on our agenda, feel free to contact me at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.

Will Denton’s Energy Future be Determined by a Few Fossil Fuel Fundamentalists?

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The Renewable Denton Plan has been six years in the making – the result of a bold step Denton took in 2009 to begin it’s path toward a sustainable energy future when it announced the city would be powered by 40% wind energy. Almost immediately, the city council made clear that we needed to keep moving in that direction. Even since I took office, the direction from council has been to explore ways to scale our renewable portfolio beyond 40% while maintaining affordable rates and excellent reliability.

There are very few cities in our nation anywhere close to 40%, yet within 6 years of that remarkable milestone, Denton announces a plan to increase the amount of renewables in our energy portfolio to 70% by 2019 – and divest ourselves of ownership in a coal-burning power plant in the process.

Think about that. Take away communities who have the benefit of hydro-electric generation, and you can count on two hands the number of cities in the United States who are anywhere near 70% renewables. In fact, the vast majority of cities haven’t even taken a single step in this direction.

This is how you scale to 100% renewables – a goal I fully embrace. You take bold steps when the market presents itself and you do so in a way that maintains low rates for your citizens and commercial customers. This is how you take meaningful steps toward doing our part to combat the cause of climate change. You continually and incrementally increase your investment in clean energy.

But there are some in our community who will tell us that anything less than 100% is unacceptable. I can appreciate the passion and ambition from which such a stand flows. The controversy, it seems, centers on the fact that the Renewable Denton Plan involves the creation of two gas generation plants within our city limits. Despite the fact that the overall emissions of Denton’s energy purchases under the Renewable Denton Plan are drastically reduced from our current position, despite the fact that we are divesting ourselves from ownership in a coal-fired power plant, and despite the fact that we are reducing our overall reliance on fossil fuels from 60% to 30%, the investment in gas generation is seen as unacceptable to some in our city.

Why? How is it that one of the most progressive and sustainable energy plans in the entire nation is finding its harshest critics among our self-professed environmental protectors?

There is a small, yet very loud portion of our population who hold a fundamentalist position against the use of fossil fuels. Those holding this position were emboldened by the historic citizen vote banning hydraulic fracking just a year ago. Even though the organizers of that movement went through great lengths to claim that the issue before the voters was narrowly focused on this specific operational method of extracting natural gas – even publicly claiming on many occasions that they weren’t opposed to drilling or fossil fuels in general – some who voted for this were motivated by an almost religious aversion to fossil fuels in all its forms and uses. And while my study of the election results indicate the vast majority of people who voted for the ban did so to keep industrial fracking operations out of their backyards, out of their neighborhoods, and away from parks and schools, this small band of fossil fuel fundamentalists would have you believe that 70% of our city voters went to the polls motivated by their same fundamentalist positions.

To them, whether it is 40% or 70%, it is never going to be enough. The fact that we are seen as national leaders in sustainable energy, it will never be enough if we are doing it with a plan that includes the creation of additional fossil fuel generation plants. Even though we are reducing our overall carbon footprint, significantly reducing emissions, and increasingly investing in clean energy generation, it is not enough.

I wish those who hold this view could stand with us as Denton takes another historic step in energy sustainability. At the same time, I am not interested in allowing a small minority of our population with such fundamentalist views to dictate the future of Denton’s energy policy and keep Denton from moving forward toward a more sustainable and renewable energy tomorrow.

The vast majority of citizens I talk to want us to continue our push beyond 40%, but in a way that maintains our competitive and affordable rates for everyone. I’m convinced that Denton can and will continue to make bold moves in our path toward 100%. This is why I have called for a council resolution to be adopted, concurrent with the vote on the Renewable Denton Plan, that would make explicit the city’s policy position to move toward 100% renewables when affordable opportunities present themselves.

The following slides show the many different options investigated during the ramp up to this plan and compares them on their overall cost and impact to both residential and commercial ratepayers.

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Denton Can Do Big Things – City Council Preview for November 10, 2015

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Big things are on the horizon for Denton. We’re talking about tackling broadband access and addressing the digital divide. We’re making strides toward addressing homelessness, mental health, and at-risk students as we work with community partners toward big goals. We’re embarking on innovative ideas to build into our economy and reignite entrepreneurship among our citizens. We are working to spark new life into areas of our town that haven’t seen investment in decades.

Today’s city council agenda continues this trend of pursuing big things for Denton. We’ll be discussing our Renewable Denton Plan, an ambitious energy plan designed to scale our already laudable portfolio of 40% renewables to 70% within 5 years. We’ll also be discussing a plan that brings a Convention Center and higher end hotel project to Rayzor Ranch at virtually no financial risk to the Denton taxpayer – a stated goal of the city for the last couple of decades.

We’ll meet at 2pm at City Hall to address these topics. Click here for the agenda with backup material.

I look forward to discussing both of these items with my council colleagues. As always, let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Contact me at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.

City Council Preview – October 20, 2015

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The Denton City Council begins at noon on Tuesday with a Work Session followed by a 6:30pm Regular Session at City Hall at 215 E. McKinney Street. Click here for a full agenda with backup materials. It will be a long meeting, but there are several important topics worth paying attention to:

TOWING ORDINANCE
You might recall a group of citizens came to council back in March to shed light on the Denton ordinance provisions relating to “non-consent” towing practices relative to ordinances around the state. Of concern was the fact that Denton’s ordinance allowed for the state maximum to be charged by towing companies and what seems to many as predatory towing practices around the city. A task force met over the summer and has now released their recommendation. We’ll be looking at these recommendations during our Work Session.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.59.32 PMLANDFILL MINING
Did you know that it is possible to dig into old areas of a landfill, mine out the various contents, and redirect them toward possible recycling opportunities? See, for instance, this well-preserved newspaper from 1989 extracted from an old part of the landfill.

While few landfill operations go to this length to extend the life of their landfill, prevent contamination in areas where lining regulations were not as rigorous in times past, and discover new recyclable materials, Denton is leading the way in this renewable effort.

I find the science behind this fascinating. If you are nerdy like me, you will too. Click here to see the presentation for this agenda item - and share with your kids!

A DISCUSSION REGARDING VARIOUS TYPES OF MUNICIPAL DEBT, PROCEDURES FOR DEBT ISSUANCE, REFUNDINGS AND ASSOCIATED MATTERS
I love the way this sounds, so I stole it right from the agenda posting. We have the opportunity to have a very comprehensive overview of city debt and how it works. There is nothing wrong with debt – just about every business and family operates with it to fund significant aspects of their daily lives and commerce. But because the national conversation surround government debt is so pronounced, it tends to color citizens opinions of government debt in general. Several distinctions must be made:

  • Much of the federal government debt is due to the failure to balance the budget year after year, meaning that government spending regularly outpaces government revenue. This is why we now have a $18 trillion federal debt with no end in sight.
  • Local governments in Texas, on the other hand, are required by law to balance our budgets every year. This means that our expenditures can’t outpace our revenues or cash on hand.
  • Debt for local government generally goes toward big infrastructure projects, large capital improvement projects, and large machinery, equipments, and vehicles. This debt is taken out in proportion to the life of the project or item funded this way.
  • For cities, there is a debt capacity that plays a big role in tax rate decisions. Once again, cities must be able to make ends meet.

But because it is easy to paint all levels of government with one brush and allow one’s cynicism toward one to color all the others, city debt is often a target of criticism.

We’ll be hearing a comprehensive work session on this topic, but if you have any interest in this subject, please take a minute to review the presentation we will see during today’s meeting.

Along these lines, we will be hearing a presentation on the various options to debt fund proposed quick start gas generation facilities that are being considered as part of the Renewable Denton plan.

EAGLE SUBSTATION SITE DECISION
After months of research and public input, the city council is set to make a final decision on the site for the upcoming Eagle Substation located somewhere South of Eagle Drive just near the University of North Texas. DME has been pursuing a significant substation and transmission line rebuild project for the last few years as they work to make sure our electric infrastructure remains robust as our city and energy demands continue to grow. Below you will see the four sites being considered as possibilities:

Exhibit4 - Eagle Site Options

 

As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or ideas, please let me know at kevin.roden@cityofdenton.com or 940-206-5239.

#sschat on Local Government and Education – Oct 10, 2015

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Local Government

or

Why Voting for Mayor is More Important than Voting for President

Hosted by Kevin Roden, City Councilman (Denton, TX)
@KevinRodenlearn more about me

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I’m honored to guest host a Social Studies Twitter Chat (#sschat) on Monday evening at 6pm (CST) to discuss with K-12 Social Studies teachers the importance of local government on our democracy, the depressingly small amount of time devoted to teaching it at all levels of education, and why all of this matters.

THE PROBLEM

I frequently give talks to university students about local government. I like to start the discussion with a quiz, by show of hands, to see how many students know the name of the President, their Governor, and maybe even their US Senator. Just about everyone raises their hand. I then ask how many of them know the name of the Mayor in their hometown or even the town in which they are currently going to school. Needless to say, it is rare when a single hand is raised.

This lack of awareness (dare I say, lack of interest) of the people and issues of their local government is apparent in voting behavior in cities across America. In my own city of Denton, Texas, young people come out in droves for Presidential elections, but largely leave it to the city’s senior citizens to determine the policy direction of their own city. Consider the following voting data from November 2008 (Presidential election year), November 2010 (mid-term election with Texas Governor’s race on the ballot), and May 2010 (Denton City Council election):

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 There is much to discuss as to why this is the case, but for the purpose of today’s #sshat I’d like to focus in on the educational component of it.

Ideally, the very purpose of including history, government, civics, and the like into a school curriculum is to foster the values associated with citizenship among our youth (or perhaps this itself is controversial?). One wonders what we are teaching our kids about what it means to be a democratic citizen with so much attention and focus given to the federal level of government?

Think about it: what does it mean to be a democratic citizen if most, if not all, of our attention is on the goings on of the federal government? You get to vote every 4 years. A very small number of people ever write their national leaders and even they resort to form letters in letter-writing campaigns. The chances of a substantial back and forth with your elected representative are virtually zero unless you happen to be a wealthy donor. So most of our engagement with the players and issues tends to be our reaction to the shiny objects the two parties and political personalities dangle in front of us. And that tends to take the form of getting in polarized fights on social media, listening to only the media outlets that confirm our point of view, and subsequently unfriending our “friends” who don’t agree with us.

Welcome to the sad state of American democracy in 2015: disconnected, polarized, and full of Facebook fights.

Yet this state of democracy is all very foreign to our American roots. Alexis de Tocqueville in his book, Democracy in America, observed that democracy at the federal level worked precisely because it was first learned, practiced, and quite vibrant at the local level. Consider the following from Tocqueville:

“It is nonetheless in the township that the force of free peoples resides.  The institutions of a township are to freedom what primary schools are to science; they put it within reach of the people; they make them taste its peaceful employ and habituate them to making use of it.  Without the institutions of a township a nation can give itself a free government, but it does not have the spirit of freedom.  Fleeting passions, the interests of a moment, the chance of circumstances can give it the external forms of independence; but despotism suppressed in the interior of the social body reappears sooner or later on the surface.”

If we take Tocqueville seriously here (and I think we have good reason to do so), it is in the context of a city where we learn how to be democratic citizens. It is there where politics is concrete and meaningful. It is at the dinner table or playground where we learn early on how to temper our passions, compromise for a common good, and practice the civic art of diplomacy. In a city, the extremists, polarizers, and uncompromising few are rightfully relegated to the fringes of political conversation and whose only real voice is relegated to the comment section of the local newspaper. It’s in the city where I can run into my local representatives at church, the grocery store, community festival, or cafe. Only in the city can I be meaningfully put to work for the common cause of our local politic and be given a significant role in creating the city that I love.

But if all this is reversed and we have a generation of Americans whose democratic rearing is had primarily with an eye to national politics, what is the warning from Tocqueville? He’s quite explicit here: you are raising a generation of despots and tyrants who know nothing of democracy, precisely because they’ve never learned it at the only level where it can be practiced: locally.

I look forward with discussing the education angle of this important issue with those who are charged with shaping the next generation – our educators. Join us at 6pm (CST) on Monday night by following #sschat on Twitter.

QUESTIONS FOR THE CHAT:

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