I am running for the board of supervisors here in the sleepy hamlet of Ferguson Township. A few months ago I decided to run when some local activists put an unfortunate luxury student housing development on the collective radar. Since then, that issue has subsided somewhat. But we have plenty to deal with in the area, some exciting and much that is mundane (and necessary). What do I hope to do as your township supervisor?
These are my three pillars:
1. My responsibility is to the community. I’d like to do better for the most challenged in our area while doing our part for a dynamic business environment. There are too many people in our area who live in poverty. According to recent census data, 17.8% of our fellow Ferguson Township residents live at or below the poverty line. We need to ensure that we do our part to assist them with services. I understand that the lion’s share comes through other agencies, but we owe all of our neighbors a good life. To that end, we need better and more available workforce and affordable housing. We also need to do our part to create a conducive business environment. Recent developments for food trucks, the Refarm Cafe, smart and caring businesses like Videon and others are creating good jobs right here in Ferguson. But we also have some blighted areas that we need to address, including parts of West College Avenue (where I live).
We also have human and physical infrastructure that needs to be maintained and supported. It will be my duty to make sure that our tax dollars are spent wisely on pensions, policing, public works including parks and roads, on the care of our elderly and on the municipal libraries. In fact, I would like to see Ferguson boost its funding of Schlow library.
2. We need to think differently about growth in the area. As I’ve written before, the recent Toll Bros. and Penn State land deal–which is still on hold–shows us that we have to control sprawl. We have to act with more community coordination and with our ecosystems in mind. Much of the uproar over that proposed development arose because of its proximity to the Harter and Thomas wells combined with a feeling that the community had been ignored.
I will work with our community, planners, planning commission, UAJA, COG, the water authorities, the university and developers to contain sprawl, improve zoning and reduce financial, material and energy waste. Recent examples of this kind of work in Ferguson include collaboration with Penn State students to work toward municipal composting. The process has been participatory, educational and goal-oriented. As someone who has taught at the secondary and university levels, I think engaged educational service and reciprocal projects can generate community good at low cost*. I would like to see engagement like that (not necessarily with students) on other issues including small-scale agriculture, services, parks and park design and energy, particularly renewable energy (see below).
I would also like to see incentives for sensible home developments. These would include habitat creation for threatened species like the Monarch butterfly. For houses with stream property, we could bolster stream buffers. I would also like to see changes to our rules on residential agriculture. In particular, homeowners should be able to own chickens or other livestock in compliance with an ordinance much like that in the State College borough. Each of those are good for the beauty, health and well-being of people and our land.
3. At the local level, we have to take climate change seriously. As the recently released third Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment (PCIA)** shows us, Pennsylvania’s annual average temperature will rise more about 4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 with wetter winters and drier summers. Ticks and mosquitoes will become more prevalent and with them diseases like Lyme and West Nile virus. As James Shortle who led the PCIA said, “The scientific data is clear: climate change is happening, and there will be impacts to Pennsylvania. The effects of climate change will be felt across all parts of Pennsylvania – agriculture, human health, water quality, energy, even outdoor recreation will be affected.” Those challenges will only escalate. We can do our parts to prevent and adapt to some of these impacts by making our government operations as energy efficient as possible, by moving to renewable energy, working on the kind of developments mentioned above, bettering local transportation systems and helping our community go solar. I would like to see Ferguson do its part to become a net zero emitter of carbon before 2050. To get there, we need a plan, preferably one coordinated with regional government. Let’s get that ball rolling.
We live in a great community. It’s beautiful, safe, well-educated and healthy. It also faces challenges from a growing university, economic inequality and larger social and environmental change. If we work sensibly together, we can make this community even better. I look forward to earning your vote in November.
Tonight, I will be at the League of Women Voters General Elections Candidate Night event. Join us in the State College Borough Building at 6:30.
* My peers at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute have worked on some of these projects. It may be possible that I would have to recuse myself of some votes in the future because of conflicts of interest.
** My boss, Dr. Denice Wardrop helped compile the PCIA.