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Q&A: Amber Waldref 

Spokane's youngest City Council member on sustainability and looking for LEED

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City Councilwoman Amber Waldref said the mere fact that an environmental activist and leader could be elected — for anything — proves that Spokane is taking a step in the green direction. Waldref spent almost six years with the Lands Council and is now taking her development-planning (and door-belling) skills to the city.

INLANDER: How has Spokane worked to celebrate the ideals of Earth Day?

WALDREF: Some of Spokane’s best work is being done on the Sustainability Action Plan. We know where we want to go, we just need to get there. I mean, gosh, in the last 40 years, we’ve seen an amazing amount of national policy protecting our waters and land. If you create good policy and laws that respect our environment, you place a value on it that people will respect.

How do we do better?

In an area that is more conservative like the Inland Northwest, there’s got to be trust and collaboration between loggers, environmentalists, businesses and nonprofits, everyone, to have long-term environmental protection and conservation.

Where has the city failed?

Now that I’m in City Council I would have hoped that we would have planned better as a community in terms of where we want to go in land use and transportation. I think we’re kind of behind the curve. Planning it haphazardly hasn’t worked.

Your work with City Council focuses on economic development, so how can the city continue to grow yet sustain its natural spaces?

We need to increase our viability as a city to have higher quality of life, and the environment is intrinsically connected to our economics. For example, the city got a grant from the state Department of Ecology to determine how to clean up the land at the Spokane Water Department site at Foothills Drive and Hamilton. Our goal is to move the department off the site and create a LEED-certified neighborhood, built around sustainability. That’s a place people want to live and work. There’s even the Market Street renovation with LED street lights and electric car hook ups. The redevelopment of these areas is proof that this demand is economically viable.

What’s the next battle Spokane has to face?

We need to address the Sustainability Action Plan passed last year by City Council. The reasonable thing is to look through it and implement the right policies to put into action. We have to be strong, brave and smart. There is still a minority that thinks global warming is a conspiracy that doesn’t exist. Our biggest challenge is to adhere to the best scientific views and make the best decisions based upon them. If we don’t make these decisions today, we’ll stay in a rut and the community will never improve.

Born out of the environmental movement of the late ’60s, Earth Day turns 40 this week. To mark the occasion, we decided to take stock of our successes and failures, asking local activists and thinkers to consider how far we’ve come and which issues need our attention now.

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