Testimony of Spenser Balog
Sustainable Development Associate
February 25, 2020
Performance Oversight for the D.C. Office of Planning
Before the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole
Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson, Councilmembers and staff. My name is Spenser Balog and I am the Sustainable Development Associate at Casey Trees. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
The history of Washington, D.C.’s trees began with Pierre L’Enfant and his vision of a tree lined D.C., but the success of our tree canopy is owed to Boss Shepherd and his dedication to bringing natural beauty to a rapidly urbanizing capital. It is because of his efforts almost 150 years ago, that D.C. earned the moniker the “City of Trees”. Today, the Office of Planning continues this tradition through its efforts to promote and protect trees and green space across all eight Wards. Casey Trees commends the Office of Planning for its role in implementing the many District environmental, sustainability and resiliency initiatives and its positive engagement with the community on urban design and land use planning.
Over the past three years, the Office of Planning has been the driving force in updating the District Comprehensive Plan and we thank OP for its consistent community engagement during this process. Casey Trees was happy to see the new focus on resiliency in the most recent draft of the Comprehensive Plan. This focus allows for additional tree planting and maintenance, updated trees and green space protection policy actions and an update to the District’s tree canopy goal. These updates are a vital part in ensuring the District will thrive in the face of climate change. Additionally, the Office of Planning’s leadership in creating Small Area Plans has provided neighborhood– level goals to help the District reach its environmental visions. Unfortunately, many of these plans have fallen by the wayside. There are currently 29 Small Area Plans, but some, such as the Southwest Neighborhood Plan, are nowhere close to being completed1. We at Casey Trees believe that every action can make a big impact, therefore, with the Comprehensive Plan heading toward completion, we ask the Office of Planning to refocus efforts on creating Small Area Plans for all neighborhoods and updating existing Small Area Plans to align with the new Comprehensive Plan. Local action will be an important part in helping the District accomplish the goals it has set for itself, both in the Comprehensive Plan and in other initiatives, such as Sustainable D.C. 2.0 and Resilient D.C.
A large part of building resiliency is protecting the spaces that are already making D.C. resilient, including groves of trees and undeveloped green space. There are over 2.4 million trees in the District, many of which are on private land. We have seen time and again developers’ willingness to remove these trees. District land is some of the most expensive in the country, and we understand that there is pressure to develop it. However, if we are to become climate ready, we must preserve the natural resources that already exist. We urge the Office of Planning to work with ANCs, community groups and other stakeholders to identify underutilized green space and work with these groups to create a protection plan that will make these areas “forever green”.
The mission of the Office of Planning is to ensure that the District’s long-term growth reflects the city’s goal of building inclusive and vibrant communities in which all residents can thrive, regardless of their background. As the D.C. population continues to grow, achieving this mission will become harder, but the Office of Planning’s long-term strategic initiatives and its focus on building a resilient and sustainable future will ensure that D.C. continues to prosper.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify and I welcome any questions.
Sustainable Development Associate