By Larry Bohlen
Sierra Club activists concerned about sprawl in Prince George's County,
Md., asked themselves a key question: "How can we best use our limited
volunteer time to reverse land use trends in place for over 40 years?"
Recognizing that most land use decisions are local, these volunteers
chose to go head-to-head with county council members who had been
giving preference to developer profits, not community concerns. Unable
to match developers' financial resources, activists looked for tools
that would help level the playing field.
Led by the Sierra Club, community and environmental groups throughout
the county devised a report card listing the council members' votes on
issues. These included a bill to protect the Belt Woods, a
songbird habitat threatened by development; a reinvestment tax credit
for existing properties; and a bill opposing a Redskins football
stadium zoning exception. A few days after the report card was
released, the county council reversed its original "no" vote on
protecting the Belt Woods. A few months later, the Club and its new
partner, the Prince George's County League of Environmental Voters,
defeated an attempt by the local building lobby to reduce developer
contributions toward school construction.
The report card also had an unanticipated result: Council member Walter
Maloney, who received the highest grade, is taking action on his own to
remove a long-opposed highway from the county master plan. He even
contacted the Sierra Club to be sure this vote would be included on the
next report card.
Grading politicians' voting records is one of the best ways to show the
public who is voting on their side when it comes to taxes, quality of
life and the environmental impact of sprawl. A report card format is
- It can be completed by a few volunteers in a short amount of time.
- TV stations, radio stations and newspapers love to carry stories on
the performance of elected officials.
- It is easily understood by the public.
- It gives politicians feedback -- both positive and negative -- rather
than just criticizing their behavior.
Prince George's County activists intend to use the grades on the report
cards as a strong indicator of which council members deserve a Sierra
Club endorsement. They also intend to pass the grades on to their
chapter if any council member chooses to run for higher office.
For a sample copy of the Prince George's County environmental report
card and a two-page factsheet on how to create your own, contact Larry
Bohlen at (301) 445-1548; e-mail:
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