Westwood City Council candidates on the issues: Addressing climate change

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for the Westwood City Council address.

Based on your feedback, we developed a three-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to the citizens of Westwood.

We are publishing the candidates’ responses to one question per day. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following:

Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Westwood take to prepare neighborhoods for increased flooding, along with extreme heat and drought events? What steps would you like to see the city take to build climate resilience?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on the issue:

Council member at-large

Jeff Harris (incumbent)

Global climate change is real and the burning of fossil fuels, which converts solid carbon into gaseous carbon dioxide and releases it into the atmosphere, is the primary cause. The working theory behind how an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase the average global temperature and cause other secondary effects (such as average higher rainfall in some parts of the world) dates back at least to the 1960s. Evidence to support the theory has grown over time and started to accumulate much more rapidly in the 1990s to today.

The city has already prepared for increased flooding as part of our longstanding responsibility to manage stormwater runoff. Stormwater is water from the rain, which is either absorbed into the ground or runs downhill and is collected and managed in the city’s stormwater infrastructure.

We implemented a stormwater service management fee in 2013 to fund stormwater improvements. The fee spreads the cost of stormwater management across all city properties and is calculated based on the square footage of a property’s impervious surface area, such as rooftops and pavement, which prevents water from absorbing into the ground and causes runoff.

The new Westwood View Elementary was designed with a large underground water retention system to manage runoff and is being constructed now.

The city’s leaf pick-up program, while a nice benefit for residents, also helps manage stormwater by keeping leaves out of the stormwater drainage system. The city has partnered with Johnson County Stormwater Management Program to provide lower cost options to residents to manage stormwater. The city has had tree planting programs over the years. More trees with mature root systems help manage stormwater, and mature tree canopies keep surface air temperatures cooler.

Probably the most significant work done to manage stormwater were three major projects in the summer of 2019 to rebuild storm drainage systems, one downstream from the new Westwood View Elementary. These projects prepare us for increased stormwater.

This is all good work, and shows the city takes its stewardship role seriously, but there is more to do. Several of the city’s elected officials have already been involved with Climate Action KC, a nonprofit regional collaborative which recently published a Regional Climate Action Plan. I think the best action to continue to build climate resilience is for the city to learn which parts of the Plan are actionable at the city level, likely relying on citizen support.

Jason Hannaman (incumbent)

First and foremost, I believe that climate change is real and that human activity is a significant driver of it. Although it can feel overwhelming to consider how much of a difference we can each make, I recognize that the decisions that we make in Westwood have an impact. As Climate Action KC’s Climate Action Plan states, “No individual or organization can do everything; yet everyone can do something.”

Past steps that Westwood has taken to invest in resilient infrastructure include setting up a Stormwater Utility Fee calculated on total impervious surface, paid for by all property owners in the city regardless of tax status. This fee allows for a dedicated revenue source to maintain and improve our existing stormwater system. In 2019, as part of a large street rehabilitation project, Westwood invested several hundred thousand dollars in repairing failing stormwater facilities as well as adding additional capacity. Also in 2019, Westwood completed a study of the condition of the existing stormwater system, which will allow for future project cost sharing with Johnson County through their stormwater management program.

Current steps the city is pursuing include a review of our zoning ordinances to consider alterations to our lot coverage restrictions, which would count some impervious surfaces that are not currently counted towards the maximum allowable coverage. Among other options being considered is allowing different types of pervious surface for driveways as well as “green roof” options.

Finally, as we look toward the future, if we are to take addressing climate change seriously, I think we must all recognize that the solutions will involve some amount of discomfort. That discomfort could be financial (for example, redirecting funds towards repair of existing infrastructure or investing in green energy), or it could be emotional discomfort as we wrestle with how to make our built environment more sustainable. As transportation is one of the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the Climate Action Plan rightly states that a major goal should be reducing vehicle miles traveled. As a first-ring suburb that is already close to job centers and amenities, we can take this issue seriously by making it easier to walk or bike, by considering additional housing options (including options that may look different than what is currently here), and by incentivizing energy-efficient building types).

Andrew Buckman (incumbent)

Did not respond