By Kevin Kelley
Lacking enough votes for passage, City Council members backing an ordinance to limit excess automobile idling dropped the measure and will instead pursue a nonbinding resolution.
The proposal had one reading before Council on Oct. 18. After a lengthy debate during a committee meeting Nov. 8, it was apparent the measure would fail, 4-3. Council unanimously voted to remove the proposal from consideration and replace it with an ordinance that would encourage residents to avoid idling their vehicles unnecessarily, but without the threat of a fine. The resolution has yet to be presented at a Council meeting.
Passion during the debate over the anti-idling ordinance met, or even exceeded, that of several hot-button issues in the past year, such as a monthly trash collection fee and an apartment licensing fee.
The ordinance as written would have limited vehicle idling to five minutes, 10 minutes if temperatures were below 32 degrees or above 85 degrees. The law included numerous exceptions for emergency, maintenance and work vehicles. Violators would have been guilty of a minor misdemeanor.
The main backer of the proposed law was at-large member Peggy Cleary, who said it would improve air quality and give police a means of settling possible resident complaints of fumes from idling vehicles.
Opponents saw it as government intrusion into people’s lives in an effort to thwart global climate change, which many scientists say is caused by carbon emissions. They also saw a myriad of problems with how the ordinance would be enforced.
Ward 1 Councilman Patrick Manning, the most vigorous opponent of the ordinance, said he does not believe global climate change is a man-made phenomenon.
“I oppose the Council creating laws based on opinion that could result in harassing and penalizing our residents and straining our limited safety forces,” Manning said at an earlier committee meeting.
Manning presented a list of 12 questions on the proposal, including how the police would document excessive idling and whether, if a vehicle moves one foot, if the clock would start over. He also requested studies indicating emission in Fairview Park are a health hazard.
Cleary said courts do not require or expect precise time measurements beyond a police officer’s report. She also said police would likely handle idling complaints the same way they handle law prohibiting placement of trash on the tree lawns before 5 p.m. – on a complaint basis.
Cleary also wondered aloud why there was such a vigorous defense of unnecessarily burning gasoline.
“I haven’t found the upside of idling,” she said.
Like Mayor Eileen Patton, Manning expressed concern the city’s police department would be burdened by complaints about idling.
Ward 2 Councilman Bill Minek, a retired 27-year-veteran of the city’s police force, also said the ordinance was not practical.
“It’s going to cause mass panic,” he said. While Cleary likened the ordinance to the mandatory seat belt law the city of Brooklyn passed in the 1980s, Minek said a lot of publicity promoting the use of seat belts was done before states began making the use of seat belts mandatory.
Police Chief Patrick Nealon told West Life that based on his conversations with communities that had enacted anti-idling ordinances, he was not concerned an anti-idling law would create a hardship for his department.
“I was not concerned we would be flooded with complaints,” Nealon said.
Nealon said officers in Cleveland told him that city’s ordinance did not affect the police a whole lot.
“Their experience was that they didn’t really have a lot of extra calls or police involvement,” Nealon said.
Law Director Sara Fagnili and other council members worried that parents waiting in cars to pick up their children at the city’s schools might become a flashpoint of enforcement of the law. She recommended Council pursue a resolution instead of an ordinance. In an interview with West Life, the mayor had also suggested Council go the resolution route.
In expressing his opposition to the ordinance, Ward 3 Councilman Fred Gauthier seemed to allude to the strong Republican showing in the elections across the nation.
“Right now people are not looking for government intrusion,” Gauthier siad.
Although he remained silent during most of the debate, Ward 4 Councilman John Hinkel said he would oppose the ordinance.
In addition to Cleary, Council President Michael Kilbane and Ward 5 Councilman Pete Matia expressed support for the measure.
At the Nov. 8 committee meeting, Economic Development Director Jim Kennedy objected to economic development needs being used in the ordinance language as a justification for the law.
Earlier in the year, Cleary had presented statements from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency indicating that Cuyahoga County and surrounding counties did not meet EPA standards for air quality monitoring for fine particulate matter. According to an EPA press release, new industry seeking to build plants in areas not meeting the standards must meet tight emission control requirements. The concern is industries will seek other locations to build plants.
Kennedy said of all the roadblocks to economic development in Northeast Ohio, excessive idling is not very high on the list.