January 06, 2020

How to figure out a small town’s take on wind power from thousands of miles away

Beautiful green landscape with windmills viewed from the air

Wind energy is a controversial topic where municipal governments often hold as much power as states. And it’s a topic with surprising opponents and allies.

Those in favor cite the positive environmental impact of reducing reliance on nonrenewable energy sources, the economic impact of lease revenue for landowners, and the increased revenue for local governments from property tax. But those against may oppose it for a host of reasons: aesthetics, noise pollution, the impact on migratory birds and other wildlife, or the nuisance of a flickering shadow that drives humans and animals nuts when the sun is low in the sky.

Since wind farms are typically installed in less populated areas, the municipalities that make crucial zoning, tax, and regulatory decisions in support or opposition of wind power are often very small. Decisions can be swayed by a small number of people, and board meetings where decisions happen are often not covered by a local newspaper. 

To find out what a town’s attitude toward wind power is, you could make a trip to talk to locals. But before doing that, you could take a look at the CurateLOCAL database and search keywords like “wind turbine,” “wind energy” or “wind farm” in the communities you’re looking at. 

Here’s a sampling of comments you might find. 

In Seneca County, Ohio, (population 55,000) the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution in support of a state bill concerning industrial wind turbine projects on Nov. 14. From the county’s recap of an Oct. 10 meeting found in the Curate database, you can read an excerpt from one of the letters county officials sent to the state concerning wind turbine development:   

“In Seneca County, we have had significant public discourse around the development of wind resources and utility-scale wind farms. We have incredibly engaged citizens and public officials. If wind development moves forward in Ohio, we feel duty-bound to offer our recommendations for improving the wind development process.”

That gives a good indication that Seneca County residents are cautious about wind turbine development, but haven’t ruled it out completely.

In Logan County, Colorado, (population 22,000) the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to encourage on-site manufacture of wind turbines at a meeting on Oct. 1. At their September work session, the minutes show that Logan County was responding to a regional effort to attract more wind turbines:

“[State Sen.] Greg Brophy recently met with the Board to encourage adoption of a resolution in eastern Colorado counties that is intended to unite the counties to attract the wind farm growth. Yuma County has passed a similar resolution, Sedgwick County is considering a resolution, and Kit Carson County is working on one.”

The minutes from a Special Town Board Meeting and Public Hearing in the town of Enfield, New York, (population 3,500) on Oct. 16, record the varied opinions of residents and committee members about a draft of a local wind energy law, which some speakers called “stringent but not unreasonable” and others called “far too restrictive.”

The recap of one resident’s comments notes that:

“...she is frustrated with people who won’t have turbines in their backyards, but want turbines in Enfield. She sat through many meetings with a gag order. She would never want that to happen to anyone else. This law needs to be put in place to protect the safety of homes and residents. She would never want to live next to a wind turbine that would make her worry about noise, ice, and if they would fall over.”

With a CurateLOCAL subscription, you can research past discussions in city and county meeting minutes and agendas, and you can also stay up-to-date on current discussions with weekly reports. Any time your keywords appear in the documents from the municipalities or counties you’re following, you’ll get an alert, giving you time to engage with local government and get involved in the discussion.

Find out how you can stay on top of local discussions about wind power development by requesting a demo of CurateLOCAL.

December 30, 2019

3 ways stepping outside my comfort zone led to professional growth in 2019

From CEO and co-founder, Taralinda Willis.

DSC_0048


For the 2018 holidays, Dale and I invited the entire Curate team over for dinner. We all fit around our six-seater kitchen table. 

This year, our staff of 15 would have been very crowded at that table.

Curate saw tremendous growth this year, fueled by the closing of our $1.6 million fundraising round over the summer. One big move was developing a customer success program, which helped us systematically find out exactly which new features our customers wanted most. Based on that feedback, we made the strategic decision to focus our development on expanding the CurateLOCAL database, and we grew it from 12 to 50 states. 

We also had to part ways with a couple of employees, which was extremely painful. You put so much time and energy into your team, and for it to not work out is really disappointing. But that pain was a catalyst for us to invest in the human side of the business. 

As part of that process, we developed company values. One of them, fittingly, is “Be Uncomfortable.” And let me tell you, we’ve all been uncomfortable this year. Did I mention how weird it is to pitch your business to a room full of strangers, knowing they will decide on the spot whether to fund you? 

But even in the day-to-day of running a growing startup, there are so many opportunities to be uncomfortable. Looking back, I see three recurring situations where leaning into discomfort led to incredible professional growth. 

1. Recognizing my limitations and seeking outside support

When we started the year, we did not have a standardized hiring or onboarding process. We hired people who could do the job and who instinctively felt like a good fit. And it was working until all of a sudden it wasn’t. Having more people was supposed to make things easier, but our communication was breaking down. 

Just as this stress was reaching a breaking point, we met Keith Fuller from All About EX. We knew we needed to improve our employee processes, so we brought on Keith to help. 

I knew bringing in an outside perspective would be valuable, but I was totally surprised when he had us start by defining our company values. I didn’t realize how important these values would be, but now that we have them, we use them to make difficult decisions frequently.  

When it became clear that the biggest growth opportunity was on the CurateLOCAL side of the business, I realized I was going to need to learn to speak the language of local government, which was a completely new world for me. 

I had to find people who could get me up to speed in a new space. Finding the right people to ask for help was daunting, but I tapped into my network and found people to be incredibly generous with their time.

2. Understanding the value of my time as the CEO

One of the hardest things to wrap my head around as I’ve transitioned out of the mindset of an individual contributor is the value of my time and my obligation to use it on CEO-level work. I feel very strongly about embodying servant leadership, and when we first started, this meant that I took care of small details to make life easier for my team, like buying snacks at Costco on the weekends and ordering office supplies. Now I know that I can’t afford to focus on those details, even though it feels conceited to say that. 

Valuing my time also means being discerning in who I meet with. As I tapped into my network to find people who could educate me about local government, I found it was more helpful to meet several times with the same person than to meet once with everyone I got connected to. Taking everyone up on the offer could mean losing hours of work without gaining new insight. Again, it feels uncomfortable to place a higher value on my time than on someone else’s, but that’s the reality of being a CEO.

3. Letting things go to empower my team to grow

I’m a doer. I constantly have to be reminded to let things go. Luckily, I have my board and Dale, my husband and co-founder, keeping me in check.

One thing I’ve held onto as my team has grown is having a one-on-one meeting at least biweekly with every person who reports to me. But with a larger team, that now takes a significant chunk of my time, and things that I used to handle in the background can fall through the cracks. Dale has been great to gently point out what I need to delegate.

It can be hard to assign tasks that you know are outside of an employee’s job description. Luckily, everyone on my team is willing to step up and pitch in wherever they’re needed. And because of that, I’ve gotten to watch each person on my team grow in their career because of something they took on this year that made them uncomfortable. It has been awesome and an honor to watch them mature in the business with me. 

Looking forward to 2020, I’m incredibly excited about our growth and how we will better support our customers and their access to municipal data. We’re taking our national expansion and revamping our product to better support our customers. We’re investing in our product, our AI, and our data - it’s going to be a great year. Here’s to a new year filled with many more uncomfortable opportunities for growth! 

December 18, 2019

3 surprising issues that push housing costs up

Loving couple looking at their dream house

Affordable housing is an end goal that most people agree on in the abstract. Few people would disagree with the idea that the average person should be able to afford to live in the city they work in. But when it comes to regulating the things that push housing costs up, disputes arise between advocates for affordable housing and advocates for public safety, property rights, and funding for public services.

Looking beyond the larger trends of wealth inequality and gentrification, there are three surprising issues that intersect with affordable housing. And cities around the U.S. are debating these issues every month in council and committee meetings as they look for solutions that work for all.

Here’s a primer on these three issues, along with some of the keywords that can be tracked using CurateLOCAL to find out when they will be discussed at local government meetings.

Fire Safety

Since 2009, fire suppression sprinklers have been mandatory in all new one- and two-family homes according to the International Residential Code (IRC).

But only California, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. have successfully passed laws adopting the 2009 IRC, mostly because of opposition from the housing industry. The industry argues that requiring sprinklers would make homeownership unaffordable because it costs up to $5,000 to add sprinklers to a new home, according to some estimates.

In fact, 29 states have not only refused to add residential sprinkler requirements to their statewide code, but they’ve also passed laws prohibiting local governments from passing their own residential sprinkler requirements.

But in the remaining states (AR, CO, FL, IL, IA, ME, MS, MT, NE, NV, NM, OK, OR, RI, SD, TN, VT, WA, WY) dozens of local governments have added it to their code, and others are currently considering it, making it a hot topic to watch in local government.

Key terms to watch to find out when cities are discussing fire safety include:
-Residential sprinkler
-Residential fire suppression
-Sprinkler

For example, searching “residential sprinklers” in the CurateLOCAL database in Oregon pulls up a council meeting packet from Oct. 22, 2019, which includes an email chain discussing how the town of Madras might implement a requirement for residential fire sprinklers.

Short-Term Rentals

The ability to rent out rooms in your home through a short-term rental service like Airbnb can make homeownership more affordable, but the rise of absentee landlords converting long-term rental units into illegal hotels tends to push up rental prices, a new study from Harvard Business Review shows.

Short-term rentals already face their share of opposition from neighborhoods and hotels. If more evidence directly links Airbnbs to rising rents, cities might take a more aggressive approach to regulating them.

Key terms to watch related to short-term rentals:
-Airbnb
-Short-term rental
-Transient occupancy

For example, searching “Airbnb” in CurateLOCAL brings up the minutes from the Hotel/Motel Tax Advisory Committee meeting in Willowbrook, Illinois. on Oct. 23, 2019, which notes that “the Village is monitoring the impact of Airbnb to the Village.” This could be a predictor of a future ordinance placing new restrictions around short-term rentals.

Impact Fees

Impact fees — also called development fees and service fees — are fees cities charge to homebuilders to construct the public infrastructure needed to support new homes. Those services can include sewer hookups, stormwater management, and streets and sidewalks — all of which directly benefit the new homes. But cities have also begun to use impact fees to fund projects with a wider impact, like community-wide recreational facilities and highways.

Homebuilders tend to oppose impact fees, making the case that they contribute to rising housing costs and place an unfair cost burden on people moving into new houses and apartments. But the American Planning Association counters that impact fees “can be an effective tool for ensuring adequate infrastructure to accommodate growth where and when it is anticipated.”

To find out in advance when cities will be taking public comment on new fees, monitor terms such as:
- Impact fee
-Outdoor recreation plan
- Needs assessment

For example, an agenda for the Park Board Meeting for the city of Hudson, Wisconsin, includes a memo about the Discussion on the Outdoor Recreation Plan, which notes that the city is currently conducting a Park Impact Fee study, and plans to use the results of the study to guide updates to its Outdoor Recreation Plan.

December 02, 2019

Microbility cities: How municipalities have responded to the nationwide surge of e-scooters

two-boys-riding-lime-s-scooter-on-street-1624894

What cities are doing to regulate e-scooters

E-scooters are a national trend with a huge variety of local responses. Keeping track of local regulations on e-scooters is a perfect example of a hot topic that local business associations, entrepreneurs, and advocacy organizations might want to track using CurateLOCAL. 

E-scooters are electric scooters that urban residents can use to take short trips around cities. The top two operators are Lime and Bird. Riders unlock a scooter with an app and pay per minute of use. The typical trip is less than two miles. 

Fans of the scooters view them as affordable solutions for first and last-mile connections to public transit, which could reduce the public’s reliance on cars. Many of the top scooter companies also provide job opportunities for independent contractors who help keep the fleets operational.

But like any new hot trend, scooters come with their downsides. In cities where scooter operators have set up shop literally in the middle of the night without warning, complaints have poured in from residents, business owners, and law enforcement officials. They’ve expressed concerns about everything from congestion on sidewalks and riders not following any rules of the road, to the unsightly piles of scooters that can end up in popular destinations.  

Municipal responses to e-scooters

Most cities are open to the concept of e-scooters, but they don’t appreciate the “ask forgiveness, not permission” approach many operators have taken.

In some cases, state law guides a city’s response. In Milwaukee, scooter operator Bird set up operations the night before the city’s massive Summerfest music festival, to the delight of some, but the frustration of many others. While many city leaders supported the concept, they ultimately banned them because existing state law said they were not street-legal.  

In cities like San Francisco, neither city nor state laws explicitly covered scooters when they first appeared, giving local lawmakers an open slate for regulations. After initially welcoming the scooters, Nashville considered banning them after a rider died in a collision with an SUV. 

Keeping track of local e-scooter regulations using CurateLOCAL

Most cities who don’t yet have e-scooters are looking at what other cities have done to control them. Some are proactively regulating or banning e-scooters before they arrive, and others are looking at small pilot projects. 

Many types of entrepreneurs and organizations could benefit from engaging with their local governments as they develop regulations for e-scooters. A few examples include:

  • Entrepreneurs looking to make money as chargers, mechanics, or even as fleet managers; 
  • Ride-hailing, car-sharing, and car-rental services who see e-scooters as either a direct threat, or an opportunity to expand services;
  • Transportation technology startups looking to build devices that improve on the concept;
  • Cycling advocacy organizations who might see e-scooters as a threat to cyclists’ safety, or might want to join forces with e-scooter companies to advocate for more and better bike lanes;
  • Historic preservation organizations — cobblestone streets and e-scooters don’t mix well; and
  • Chambers of commerce who might want to influence where e-scooters are allowed to park to make sure they don’t obstruct members’ storefronts.


Helpful keywords to track this issue in CurateLOCAL include:

  • Scooter
  • E-scooter
  • Micromobility
  • Microtransit
  • First and last mile
  • Bike lanes
  • MaaS (Mobility as a Service)


Curate’s database can take you directly to the minutes from government meetings where e-scooters were discussed, and it can provide advanced notice that a city is considering regulating them. Here’s a look at a few of the discussions going on in cities around the country, pulled from Curate’s national database. 


Bothell, WA (City) Meeting Date: 10/15/2019

“In order to make e-scooters a permanent fixture in Bothell, staff will need to add e-scooters to the City's ordinances, create a new permitting process, and determine the best path for managing the number of scooters in Bothell and the method of contracting with scooter companies.”

Hoboken, NJ (City) Meeting Date: 7/18/2019

“...the first week there were significant examples of irresponsible and dangerous riding and breaking of the law including riding on sidewalks, joy riding on the waterfront in heavy pedestrian areas, riding in the wrong direction, riding with multiple people on a scooter, and most concerning, youth as young as 7 or 8 riding on the EScooters (and always without helmets).”

Lakewood, OH (City) Meeting Date: 10/7/2019

“Through discussions with the Planning Department, it was found that not only can these devices be regulated with code, they can also be controlled through geofencing technology and the establishment of incentivized parking stations.”


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