Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Fatal fentanyl-related overdoses jump in Vermont; Spokane looking at its municipal broadband options; Florida school security upgrades divert education funds; and priorities for Nashville’s new mayor.
Here are state and local government news stories that caught our attention …
WATER | New aerial laser technology is being used by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in partnership with state and local agencies to get continuous measurements of California’s mountain snowpack, aiding on-the-ground efforts to produce more accurate water forecasts for cities and farmers. “This really is the holy grail for snow geeks,” Frank Gehrke, the chief snow surveyor for the California Department of Water Resources, said of the new measurement method, which uses LIDAR and detailed mapping of snowpacks and watersheds to deliver more data on the amount of potential snowmelt. Another late winter storm, meanwhile, is expected to dump more mountain snow on the Sierra Nevada this week. [Capital Public Radio; @NWSSacramanto]
Water managers in Idaho are think that farmers will see normal irrigation levels this year thanks to historic snow levels last year. Rivers should also continue to run high, giving a boost to the state’s rafting industry. [Boise Public State Public Radio]
During a visit to the Klamath Basin region in the southern part of her state, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown warned of difficult months ahead for local residents and tribal members due to the ongoing drought conditions. The governor signed an executive order to “make state resources available to provide immediate relief and assistance.” Snowpack levels in the region have only been 40 percent of normal.
Further south, in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, the water situation has been dismal. “It’s really bad out there,” according to Vice Mayor Mark Clark of Bullhead City, Arizona. Low levels of precipitation in the Lower Colorado River Basin in recent months could trigger possible reductions in water deliveries from river to the Central Arizona Project, which supplies water to Phoenix and Tucson, along with agricultural interests in parts of central and southern Arizona. [Mohave Daily News]
PUBLIC HEALTH | Among major U.S. cities, the opioid abuse epidemic has hit Philadelphia particularly hard: In three years, 3,000 people have died and there may be 70,000 people using heroin in Pennsylvania’s largest city. But public health advocates fear that some city leaders are “only just beginning to consider the contours of the crisis” and don’t have a coherent response strategy. [The Inquirer / Philly.com]
While a new state report shows that Vermont has made some headway when it comes to stopping its opioid-related deaths, the number of fatal fentanyl-related overdoses attributed to or in part to fentanyl continues to climb. There were 68 fatal fentanyl-related overdoses in 2017, a 33 percent increase over the previous year. [VT Digger]
After a groundwater monitoring program found “startlingly high levels of radioactivity” near 11 of 18 Duke Energy power plants, the energy company described the findings as “premature” and disputed the characterization of the report from the Waterkeeper Alliance. Meanwhile, others say that Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy, which provides electricity across the Carolinas, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, isn’t being totally forthcoming with the numbers. “The way Duke Energy presented its data showed a clear intent to obscure the findings,” said Lisa Evan, an Earthjustice senior administrative counsel and coal ash expert. The Citizen-Times; Earthjustice]
MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION | A Washington State Court of Appeals panel decided that local governments have the authority to prohibit marijuana sales in their jurisdictions. The ruling in Emerald Enterprises v. Clark County said that while Washington state law “permits the retail sale of marijuana, it does not grant retailers an affirmative right to sell marijuana.” [Emerald Enterprises v. Clark County; Washington Attorney Bob Ferguson]
PUBLIC SAFETY | Federal, state and local law enforcement continue to investigate a series of small but deadly package explosions that’s killed two residents in Austin, Texas. Local authorities cautioned people to not open unexpected or suspicious packages The Austin Police Department has responded to 200 calls from the public reporting suspicious packages, none of which turned out to be dangerous. Mayor Steve Austin stressed that his city, in the middle of the annual SXSW festival, is safe. "The most important thing for people to know is that we are a safe city, and we will continue to be a safe city," Adler said. [KUT; KVUE]
Money being used to improve security at schools in Broward County, Florida is being used “at the expense of regular funds the district receives.” According to school board member Rosalind Osgood: “Everyone is focusing on school safety, but people don’t know the money is coming from somewhere else. It’s not any new money. It’s a tradeoff.” [Sun-Sentinel]
CITY HALLS | After “more than a week of public acrimony” at Cincinnati City Hall related to a dispute over the departure of the assistant police chief, City Manager Harry Black will be leaving his position according to an agreement he reached with Mayor John Cranley. The mayor has been seeking Black’s resignation, though the City Council would ultimately need to approve any such agreement, which has not been finalized. [The Enquirer / Cincinnati.com]
David Briley, the vice mayor of Nashville, Tennessee who assumed the mayorship when Megan Barry resigned last week, is juggling a handful of priorities, including supporting an ambitious $5.4 billion transit-expansion measure that’s on the May 1 ballot and starting budget discussions with Metro Nashville government departments. [The Tennessean]
Santa Monica, California City Manager Rick Cole announced the selection of Cynthia Renaud, the current police chief in Folsom, California, as the Southern California city’s top cop. “The selection process was a rigorous one that resulted in someone who understands and practices 21st Century policing—using technology, data and community partnerships to fight crime and the fear of crime—and build trust that Santa Monica’s Police Department will be fair, equitable, constitutional, humane and effective,” Cole said in a statement. [Daily Press]
Denver City Council member Rafael Espinoza says that there should be an outside investigation into allegations that Mayor Michael Hancock sent inappropriate texts to a Denver police detective had been assigned to his security detail. [Westword]
BROADBAND | Spokane, Washington, the second most-populous city in the Evergreen State, has created a working group to examine options for how it could build out a municipal broadband network. “There’s a huge digital divide between the haves, and the have nots,” according to City Councilman Breean Beggs, who is sponsoring the plan. “I think we’re just now beginning to understand what can be accomplished with broadband.” Spokane is looking to other cities for broadband-expansion models, including Ammon, Idaho and the Grant County Public Utility District in central Washington state, where 70 percent of residents have high-speed connectivity. [Spokesman Review]
HOUSING | In Southern California, which has been facing a challenging housing crunch, most of the new homes in the region have been built in fire-prone areas on the fringes of urbanized areas, “where neighborhoods are surrounded by canyons, hills or other open land covered in flammable vegetation,” according to a newly released report. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of new houses constructed in former wildfire-burn areas increased 62 percent. According to Volker Radeloff, a forest ecologist at University of Wisconsin-Madison who was the lead author on the study, that outpaced the average U.S. housing growth rate of 29 percent. [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; Southern California Public Radio]
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT | In Seattle, the owners of Northgate Mall plan to redevelop the aging suburban shopping center, which opened in 1950, into a higher-density mixed-use development with offices, a hotel and “hundreds” of residential units built adjacent to a growing transit hub about eight miles north of downtown. While Northgate’s freeway-adjacent retail footprint would shrink somewhat, the area would become more dense under the transformation planned by the Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group. An extension of Sound Transit’s Link light-rail system that’s currently under construction will bring train service to Northgate starting in 2023, giving employers a transit-accessible alternative to high rents in booming areas in Seattle, like South Lake Union, and other regional hubs, like Bellevue. Seattle has designated the Northgate area as one of its urban villages where new housing is concentrated. About 1,000 new apartments have been added to the Northgate area in the past 10 years and 3,500 more homes are expected by 2035. [The Seattle Times; Curbed; The Urbanist]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.
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