Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Ayes Have It: New Haven Alders Say “No” to Bottled Water

In a roll call vote on March 7, 2011, the New Haven Board of Alderman granted their overwhelming approval to an order prohibiting the use of any public funds to purchase bottled water for the City of New Haven, including bottled water for the New Haven Public Schools, except in cases when no municipal water or other alternative source of healthful drinking water is accessible or when necessary to address health requirements or emergencies. This order was originally introduced by Alderman Justin Elicker at a public hearing before the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee on February 15.

Last night’s vote was preceded by brief testimony by Alderman Elicker who cited reports that #7 plastic (of which large water drums are made) are endocrine disruptors. He also referenced a story on NPR this past weekend which reported that all plastics (including those of which small serving bottles are made) leach chemicals that act like the sex hormone estrogen. He also emphasized his points about the safety and purity of our municipal water supply and how we should be reinforcing this message in our schools instead of giving students cause to think that our water is somehow not good enough for them to drink.

The only publicly dissenting voice was that of Alderman Darnell Goldson who supported the order “with concerns.” He approved the ban on the purchase of bottled water but wished the order had been presented as part of a larger package during the budget process. He particularly expressed concerns over the high cost of the City’s cell phones and voice mail system and asked why we do “the easy stuff first.” Alderman Elicker countered, “This was not easy to do.”

When the vote was called, 26 of 30 alders were present. There were 23 ayes, 2 abstentions, and one pass. 

One question remains: Will the Board of Ed follow the order? The Board of Aldermen can not dictate how the Board of Education can spend the money allocated to them. The Board of Ed made that point clear at the previous public hearing (via messenger). 

Some may see the projected $32,000 savings from this measure as a mere “Drop in the bucket.” It may not do much to close the $57 million budget shortfall the City currently faces, but it is a cut that needed to be made by a city who wants to be known as “Green.” We owe a thanks to Alderman Elicker and to all the effort he put into this order. [Justin Elicker was recently named to CT Magazine's 40 under 40 List.]

Missing last night were the legions of supporters who had come out for the public hearing in February. Yale students are on spring break, and the hard core activists must have heard how the vote was going to go. No one told me, but I was happy to attend the meeting, my first full board meeting ever. I was impressed by the civility of everyone in the room, how seriously each alder took his/her responsibilities, and how much they seemed to care for one another. I stayed until the end when the personal items not on the agenda were introduced. I observed a moment of silence,  applauded an honor, joined in on the singing of “Happy Birthday” and walked out the door with my alderwoman when the meeting was over. Now that’s participatory democracy.  

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