Rebecca Martinez -- March 3rd, 2010
Guest blogger Rebecca reports on the group from Harrisonburg going to Davis, California.
The Harrisonburg-based Voluntary Gas Tax club, which funds projects aimed at decreasing American’s dependence on fossil fuels, will send Mayor Kai Degner, three local activists, a city Planning Commissioner, a city employee and a documentary film maker to California on Wednesday to learn about bicycle infrastructure.
The grassroots group, made up of local residents who pay into a cache proportionate to how much gasoline they use, has been green projects since its founding in 2000.
“There are lots of other costs behind our use of fossil fuel and we should be trying to pay for some of those costs,” said VGT member Tom Benevento, citing pollution and the potential — and reality — of international conflict. “By taxing ourselves extra, it also makes us think twice about using it.”
Here’s how it works: The 20 or so participants save their gas receipts over a six-month period. They multiply the number of gallons purchased by $.50 and pay the total amount into the VGT’s pool, which usually amounts to $1,500 per half-year. At their bi-annual get-together, they vote on which causes — domestic or international — should receive “grants.”
“It really empowers a group of people to make some changes that they can decide on,” Benevento said.
Over time, the VGT has funded numerous projects, including a bike-powered recycling trailer at Eastern Mennonite University and a local resident’s trip to Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness to learn about the effects of the war on Iraqis. In 2008, VGT gave a $1,266 grant to Central Valley Habitat for Humanity to send two members to an alternative energy conference. Its donation to Habitat also helped them to build a house to Energy Star and EarthKraft (read: energy efficient) standards.
“We’ve been building green ever since,” said Central Valley Habitat Executive Director Marsha Smith, who added that all their houses now come with solar panels and solar water heaters. “It helps the houses continue to be affordable to our families and we’re really proud of that.”
VGT’s de-facto treasurer Earl Martin said about $1,200 of money collected will go to send the mayor, two city employees, members of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition, VGT and New Community Project and a documentary film maker to Davis, C.A., which has been designated a platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Other donations came from SVBC, NCP and a car-less former EMU professor who lives in Davis and offers up his frequent flier miles to cover several plane tickets.
For four days, the group will commute by bicycles and talk with Davis city officials, bike activists and residents and consider Harrisonburg’s potential for increasing bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. The group will return on Monday.
They will be blogging about their trip here.
Rebecca Martinez is a freelance reporter and radio geek living in Harrisonburg. She has worked for both NPR and the DNR.