Blue Zone Concerns Raised By Council Members

Oskaloosa City Hall

Oskaloosa City Hall

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The debate about the City of Oskaloosa and its relationship with the Blue Zone Project was a point of conversation brought to the floor by Council member Jason Van Zetten.

Van Zetten is chair of the planning committee that will help guide the city’s involvement with the Blue Zones Project. They are charged with selecting 17 items from the available 25 for the city to complete its pledge for the project. Van Zetten is concerned there will be a cost to the community.

“How much money are we going to attach to these programs,” said Van Zetten, who is concerned that no budget has been allocated for these proposals in the policy pledge, which needs to be in place by June 9th.

Van Zetten asked his fellow council members where they wanted to move forward on action items in the policy pledge.

The Council will have to decide which of the 25 they will move forward with to gain the needed 17 points. Click HERE to read complete Community Policy Pledge.

COMPLETE STREETS POLICY (Implement at least two options in this section.)

  • Pass a city resolution or ordinance to adopt Complete Streets principles.
  • Ensure staff in charge of design has received training on how to design Complete Streets. (You must pass a city resolution to adopt Complete Streets principles.)
  • Adopt and enforce a street-design guideline manual that supports all Complete Streets elements.

TOBACCO POLICY (Implement at least one option in this section.)

  • Adopt a comprehensive smoke-free policy for all indoor workplaces and public places and a comprehensive smoke-free policy for all outdoor workplaces and/or public places.
  • Adopt a comprehensive smoke-free policy for all indoor workplaces and public places and adopt a policy to address smoke-free multi-unit public housing.

ACTIVE LIVING POLICY (Implement at least two options in this section.)

  • Adopt an active transportation plan that includes plans for accountability, funding, implementation, and evaluation.
  • Implement a policy encouraging neighborhoods to achieve a street connectivity index of 1.4.
  • Adopt form-based codes for the community or a sub-area of the community.
  • Update zoning and building codes to encourage mixed-use development.
  • Adopt a bicycle master plan that includes plans for accountability, funding, implementation, and evaluation.
  • Adopt a pedestrian master plan that includes plans for accountability, funding, implementation, and evaluation.
  • Adopt a parking master plan that includes plans for accountability, funding, implementation, and evaluation.
  • Create a policy that facilitates joint-use-of-facilities agreements (such as model joint-use agreements).
  • Adopt building codes to require showers, changing facilities, and bike racks in municipal buildings.

HEALTHY EATING POLICY (Implement at least two options in this section.)

  • Establish zoning to limit density and location of fast-food establishments.
  • Prohibit establishment of new fast-food drive-thrus.
  • Provide incentives to attract supermarkets/grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods.
  • Create policies to increase healthy mobile markets.
  • Adopt policies to promote outdoor dining.
  • Restrict mobile vending of unhealthy foods near schools and public playgrounds.
  • Ensure that community gardens and farmer’s markets are allowable uses of city property.
  • Create pricing incentives to increase affordability of healthier foods.
  • Establish a healthy food-and-beverage policy at city-sponsored youth sporting events.
  • Adopt healthy vending standards in municipal buildings and public parks.
  • Increase access to fresh-water drinking fountains.
  • Adopt a written worksite breastfeeding policy that provides space and time for breastfeeding for city employees.

Van Zetten talked about the establishing healthy food and beverage policy at sporting events. “Are we going to cut out Snicker Bars and pops?” asked Van Zetten, who said he’s looking for further thoughts on the subject.

Mayor Krutzfeldt said that the process was being taken in steps, and the first was the recommendation by the committee of what steps the city would take up. “The next step is to say, how do we do it.”

Council member Scottie Moore said that she believes the recommendations brought forward were low cost and no cost options for the city. Moore said that if there was issue with an item, something could be taken out.

Council member Tom Jimenez expressed “Well I have issue with a lot of stuff. These don’t just stop right here, they just continue on. It says we’re going to pass a resolution to do this, we’re going to pass a resolution to do that. We’re going to make a zoning ordinance or some darn thing. Right on down the line, this thing continues to build on itself. It’s social engineering all the way down through it.”

Van Zetten said that with a few exceptions, every policy will have some budget impact. “It is not low or no cost on each one,” Van Zetten said. “It might be a $500 here or a $1000 here. You start adding up 25 of these things.”

“The fact is, I think there was prevailing theory here that we’d be able to pick this out for what we thought, low or no cost and what we were already doing. That is not the case.”

“A number of these items we’re already working on or could be working on,” said Oskaloosa City Manager Michael Schrock. “It’s a good assumption to make that there are a number of community volunteers that are organized and ready to assist you as council on the support and adoption of these.”

“Those groups are looking for you to give your stamp of approval on a host of these items,” said Schrock. “They are then going to be charged with bringing forward options for you, if that’s the type of relationship you want to have with them.”

Schrock says that it will require coordination by city staff and if a study is needed, “somebody is going to have to pay the bill. It really does depend on how much the community wants to see. I think that’s what drives those master plans.”

Council member Tom Walling agreed that volunteers was the human resource part of the equation, “lets go back to the dollars. If it comes to us to spend money, and we say no at a later date, what does that do to us?”

“Until we sit down and put Blue Zone in our budget, we don’t have any money to give it anyway,” said Walling. “I’m still for supporting it, I’m not excited about funding it.”

Van Zetten pointed towards two options in the plan that may require funding a bike plan and pedestrian plan and that would cost the city money. “You guys all know what these studies cost. Conservatively 15 or 20 thousand dollars.”

“This is not the place for government to be. If you’re going to be here, you better put cash on the table,” said Van Zetten.

“I couldn’t get $35,000 to do a traffic study that Aaron (Ver Steeg) and I took a stand on, that made absolute sense, that this council voted down on. Now we’re magically going to find money for Blue Zones?” Van Zetten said, about the potential cost of bicycle and pedestrian studies.

“Mayor, Council, I work for you, of course, and I guess what I’m hearing the community saying is these things are priority,” said Schrock. “That’s what gives you support.”

Moore said that she has only received positive comments about Blue Zones. “I haven’t had a single comment from a person in this community that is not for it 100%,” said Council member Doug Yates. “If there are people out there, I’d like to hear from them.”

A member of the Blue Zones leadership team was asked about the resolution that needed to be in place before June 9th. She said that the council can modify the plans it supports as items progress.

“My concern tonight is that we don’t kill the project at this stage. If you guys decide that at some point you can’t do everything that there is on the community pledge, and we don’t get certified, so be it. I still think that you have a lot of community members, you have a lot of volunteers, you have a lot of businesses, who are very much in favor of this, and I urge you to please don’t kill it,” Blomgren said. “Because not supporting it, and pulling your support, does kill the project, it’s done.”

Ultimately, a split 4-3 vote in favor of moving forward came from the council. Van Zetten, Ver Steeg and Jimenez all voted against.

The community shared some of its thoughts about the Blue Zone Project on our Facebook page.

Vicky Gates wrote, “I don’t feel that Blue Zones Project will take away anyone’s choices, in fact I think it increases choices. I know that it was stated that if the City gets involved it will feel as if they are dictating to the citizens that they had to work out everyday and this is how they are going to work out, but after attending the Blue Zones Project launch party last month I learned it is the exact opposite. The way I understood things is that the City is going to commit to making it much easier for citizens of Oskaloosa to make the healthier decision whether it’s improving sidewalks or walking trails; having more safe places within the community for children to play or by helping to promote healthy and fun events for the family. The cost to taxpayers may increase but the overall health benefits for our Children outweighs that cost in the long run.”

Mary Boyd Werner wrote, “At first I thought the Blue Zone would be a good idea. However, since they seem to want to tell people what they can do in their own homes and properties, I have a problem with that. They think that people should not be able to smoke in their own homes, or if they live in apartments or condo’s. Well first, I would have to tell them that they should not drink around young people, and you know they do. If they ban smoking in private homes, I say lets get rid of the drinking in public (racetracks and Friday after five). While were at it, lets get rid of the emissions that come from the cars that people drive. Then we can talk about what people can and cannot do in their own homes.”

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