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By Cathy Kirkman

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About this blog: This blog explores life in Palo Alto with our dogs, cats and other pets, as well as the urban wildlife around us, the title being a reference to Sharon Creech's lovely story, "Love That Dog." I grew up in Palo Alto surrounded by ...  (More)

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State of the City: Some thoughts on a more eco-friendly Palo Alto

Uploaded: Feb 19, 2014
I recently read about Nancy Shepard's State of the City address, and was glad to see a focus on the quality of life for residents here in Palo Alto. She's a neighbor in Southgate and it's wonderful she is giving her time to serve the greater good. The full text of her speech is worth reading, it sets a nice tone.

She highlighted a new initiative called "Our Palo Alto," to find out what residents are thinking about our city. So here are a few of my thoughts, on the subject of making Palo Alto more eco-friendly. These are just ideas, a wish list, and in no way diligenced or vetted. Note my focus here is mostly on living closer to nature, not the worthy and important initiatives such as Zero Waste, recycling, green energy and the like, which are on-going. I'm already a big user of the bike path system, so I especially applaud the city's efforts in that regard. My perspective here is on how to integrate eco-friendly living into everyday lives, in a way that improves quality of life and the planet at the micro level. So here are some ideas grouped by topic.


Community Gardens. It looks like all of the community garden plots are in North Palo Alto (by the Main Library, Eleanor Park, and downtown Johnson Park). Why not create a small space for garden plots at each park that is big enough? This would distribute the opportunity throughout the community and also promote walking or biking to one's garden rather than driving. Also, we should acknowledge and encourage individual efforts to grow home produce. The city's focus is on native and drought-free landscaping, which is fine and necessary, but the validity and importance of home food production should be recognized.

Lemonade Stands etc. Every year we hear about some poor kid who is told their lemonade stand is illegal. Is there a table at the local Farmer's Markets or elsewhere for kids and others to bring their produce to sell, barter, or give away? Or is there another way to enable and encourage this? I don't believe allowing this will put small farmers out of business.

Fruit Trees. Can we have more fruit trees planted around town, by the city and Canopy? Portland has an urban fruit tree project, including community orchards. I have noticed a persimmon tree that was planted in the last few years at Peers Park, which is really beautiful. There are also chestnut trees there and at Rinconada, so there is some precedent. It would also be nice to acknowledge our heritage here in what was once the Valley of Heart's Delight. I think south Palo Alto was largely orchards at one time. Los Altos has an orchard on San Antonio for example, although I heard that spot might be developed soon. The corollary to this is volunteers could harvest the fruit to share it with the needy in our community.

Harvesting. On the subject of harvesting, can we (do we) have a program to help seniors or anyone harvest from their fruit trees? I recall reading about this at Stanford, where the students harvested from the university trees and donated the fruit to homeless shelters. See also Portland's community harvesting program.

Animal Husbandry

Bees. The planet desperately needs more honey bees. Can the city create a communal bee-keeping area, just as we have organic gardening areas? Or an urban bee program, like this one in Seattle? I am meaning to interview the bee-keeping folks, so I confess my ignorance except to know that it would be nice if we could do something about the shortage of bees that is threatening the health of our planet.

Chickens. Many cities, including San Francisco (SF ordinance here) and Seattle (Seattle ordinance here) have updated their ordinances to permit city dwellers to keep a couple chickens. We are way behind the times on this. Today to have chickens someone has to go through a whole permitting process, while you can have three dogs without any permissions whatsoever. For example, you could allow two chickens without a permit, and require a permit for more. Or you could allow four animals total, so if you want two chickens you could only have say two dogs. And so on.

Junior Museum. I grew up with the junior museum and love it dearly. However the concept of a zoo is rather outdated. Could we have a mini-farm or petting zoo or bird rescue sanctuary, anything to better connect the children with the animals and how to take care of them? Raccoon Creek is a nice update. Randall Museum, our counterpart in San Francisco, has a weekly "Meet the Animals" event on Saturdays.

Animal Shelter. These are my own personal ideas, I don't speak for the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter, as I know our leadership is working constructively with the city on improvements. Our Gunn High School youth board liaison, Joanna Tang, recently wrote a fine piece on how as a community, now that we've saved the shelter, we should strive to implement best practices, please read!

Could we please resume spay and neuter services, it's been a long while since these were "paused." Could we talk Stanford into using our animal shelter services, so a stray dog from College Terrace that gets picked up on campus doesn't get sent down to Gilroy (San Martin?). Also we've got a lot of dogs out there at the animal shelter that could use exercise, but not enough willing and able volunteers are being utilized, especially to walk pit bulls and other bully breeds. And could we be more reasonable about adopting out pets? I adopted a bunny and had to have my entire family interviewed to complete the transaction.

Baylands Interpretive Center. When I go walking at the Baylands, I've noticed that the
interpretive center
is not used much and often closed. What is going on with this public space, and how can it be better utilized? The renaissance at the nearby Sea Scout building now home of the non-profit Environmental Volunteers shows what can happen with creative thinking.


Dog Runs. Per my recent interview with Howard Hoffman of Palo Alto Dog Owners, we only have three dog runs, all in south Palo Alto, at Herbert Hoover Park, Greer Park and Mitchell Park. Why not integrate a dog area where possible into each park that is big enough? At Peers Park, for example, there's a stretch along the train tracks that doesn't get used that would fit the bill. I'm sure there are other spaces like this we could use.

Off-Leash Dog Training. I was looking at the park regulations for ideas in putting this piece together, and it says in R1-30(D) that as an exception to the leash law at parks , "the director may designate areas and times within which persons may exercise, show, demonstrate or train unleashed animals under full control or their owners or custodians." So can the park director please designate this? Mountain View already has such a program.

Dogs at the Library and City Facilities. It would be nice if the city would allow you to bring your dog into the library or other city buildings. They allow dogs when they have a "read to a dog" program for example. Many businesses today are dog-friendly, so why can't the city be so?

Dog Poop Bags. You see these stations here and there, why not have them at all the parks to make sure people pick up after their dogs, as it does happen that people forget or run out of bags.

Also, in December we hired a new "Chief Sustainability Officer," Gil Friend, and I'm looking forward to talking with him about his ideas. Sustainability is not just recycling and green energy, in my view it is also about lifestyle, "slowing your roll," connecting with nature and doing one's part for a healthy eco-system. I'm curious what other people are thinking about how we can make our city more livable and eco-friendly.


Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 19, 2014 at 4:06 pm

These are all great suggestions! Palo Alto has a lot of remodels and tear-downs, I would love to see people encouraged to donate and recycle what they tear out of homes. There are two home on Forest that are pulling lots of perfectly good cabinets, flooring, paneling, plumbing fixtures, etc. out of the homes, into dumpsters.

Posted by emily, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 19, 2014 at 4:34 pm

I would love to see a north Palo Alto dog park. My dog and I rarely go to the dog parks around here because they really aren\'t that nice. We love the dog park in Morgan Hill, with its separated areas for small/large dogs. We also like the one by the bay in Seal Park in San Mateo.

As for an off-leash hiking trail, I\'m hesitant to support this. As much as I would LOVE to walk my dog off leash, the animals are just too unpredictable to have this be safe. Even if you think your dog is well behaved, you never know if they\'ll meet a dog on the trail that triggers aggression. Also, if you have some owners that prefer to keep their dogs on leashes in these potential off-leash areas, some dogs have a hard time being on a leash when others are not. It just sounds like more trouble than it\'s worth.

I also love the idea of putting poop bags around town. Though I always have a poop bag holder on my dog\'s leash, sometimes I\'m taken by surprise when that last one is gone!

I had no idea that the PA Animal Shelter was no longer doing spaying/neutering. If you are in need of a free spay or neuter, Pets in Need in Redwood City is a wonderful organization that does free spaying and neutering. You don\'t need to have gotten your animal from them. Just call and they can set you up.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 19, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear palo alto resident, that's a terrific idea! It would be nice if people would put stuff out front that's worth reusing, and posted it as free stuff on craigslist, for a short while before it would become an eyesore. Sometimes you see a demolition sale, which is a form a recycling, and I wonder if any builders make a practice of donating to Habitat for Humanity, etc. I'm going to meet with Gil Friend, our sustainability officer in March for an interview, and will definitely ask him to review suggestions that have been posted. I like having a sustainability officer, because these issues touch so many different parts of life in our city. Regards, Cathy

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 19, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear emily, thanks for your comments. You might want to register with Palo Alto Dog Owners, at paloaltodogs.org, to get on their email list about the dog park thing, as they are working on that. Re off-leash, I didn't mean general off-leash, just for limited training purposes (I train dogs so that makes sense to me). I agree that off-leash in general can be a problem, as often people let dogs off-leash without a strong recall. I will ask Mountain View and see how they do it. And thanks for the tip on Pets in Need -- this is such an important service, and I will ask the shelter if they are referring people to resources such as this while our capability is down. Regards, Cathy

Posted by southerner, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:40 am

Dear Cathy,
"Fruit Trees. Can we have more fruit trees planted around town, by the city and Canopy? Portland has an urban fruit tree project, including community orchards. I have noticed a persimmon tree that was planted in the last few years at Peers Park, which is really beautiful. There are also chestnut trees there and at Rinconada, so there is some precedent. It would also be nice to acknowledge our heritage here in what was once the Valley of Heart's Delight. I think south Palo Alto was largely orchards at one time. Los Altos has an orchard on San Antonio for example, although I heard that spot might be developed soon. The corollary to this is volunteers could harvest the fruit to share it with the needy in our community."

Did you know that the hotly disputed Maybell property has about 100 established fruit trees, mostly blenheim apricots, that survive without watering plus about a dozen century-old oaks? That there is a redtailed hawk nesting there who has produced offspring? It's nice of you to notice that most of the community gardens are in the north of town. Most of all of the community assets of all kinds are on the north side of town.

The Maybell orchard is catty corner to an elementary school, the side with the OH program for disabled students, and across the street from Juana Briones Park. It is the last patch of historic orchard in town and has been there for decades. It makes a lot more sense to try to preserve and rehabilitate it than to bulldoze it and spend the next decade trying to water some lone saplings all over the place into a poor replacement around town.

Wouldn't it be great to combine some kind of community garden and orchard preservation with a community building for the kids, something accessible for all the kids?

Since Nancy Shepherd is your neighbor, perhaps you could suggest it to her. People in the vicinity of the Maybell property prefer the preservation of the orchard over all other park or developed uses when polled. I'm surprised you didn't know about it. Given our historic drought, it sure seems a crime to bulldoze all those established trees.

Posted by southerner, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:45 am

I realize you are just throwing out ideas, but as a parent, I have to defend the Junior Museum and Zoo as it is. It's more of an educational and science center than just a zoo. The way it's designed is a Godsend for parents. There are petting zoos such as out at Hidden Villa and over at Happy Hollow. The Jr Museum is unique, busy, well-designed, well-managed, and the only thing I would change is to bring back the redesign of the indoor exhibit every year and make it more tactile again.

I'm guessing you don't have kids?...

Posted by southerner, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:49 am

Okay, last comment...

Great idea about the lemonade stands!

Actually, wouldn't it be great if we incorporated something in our 4th and 5th grade California curriculum on entrepreneurship? So instead of just learning about the missions, the young kids learn about the history of Silicon Valley and about starting businesses. Give them a regular place at the farmers' markets for all kinds of ideas, not just lemonade stands, but those, too, if they wish.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 8:13 am

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear southerner, thanks for your terrific comments. I did not know that the Maybell property has an orchard on it, thanks for educating me. That's a brilliant idea to have the city turn it into a low-impact, eco- and neighborhood friendly use like that. I will certainly ask and others should too. If the Maybell neighborhood could advance a project like that, it might gain momentum as it's hard to keep fighting other proposals. PS I voted to respect the neighborhood's wishes, as I would hope others would do if I had such a situation in my neighborhood. Regards, Cathy

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 8:15 am

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear southerner, yes I have two boys, one in college and one at Jordan. I know the Junior Museum is sacred, which is why I said I grew up with it. I'm just making a suggestion in terms of long-term modernization, as having been here forever some of the animal spaces seem a bit dated and forlorn, and I think we could do better. Just my opinion. I like the geese. Regards, Cathy

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 8:20 am

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear southerner, thanks also for your comment about entrepreneurship. Since we are in the center of Silicon Valley perhaps we take it for granted, and having gone through elementary school twice as a parent I don't recall any units of study on this, does anyone? It would also be especially relevant for middle and high school, as kids start to get a vision of themselves making a difference in the world. Regards, Cathy

Posted by Village Harvest, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 11:39 am

Village Harvest is already active in Palo Alto. Take a look at their website and sign up to volunteer:
Web Link

Village Harvest is a nonprofit volunteer organization in the greater San Francisco Bay Area which harvests fruit from backyards and small orchards, then passes it along to local food agencies to feed the hungry. We also provide education on fruit tree care, harvesting, and food preservation.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear Village Harvest, awesome thanks for sharing! This is wonderful to know. Regards, Cathy

Posted by Another southerner, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 21, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I agree with southerner about the Maybell orchard. It should be preserved as an orchard!

Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 23, 2014 at 11:58 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Maybell, an orchard (going to waste) locked behind a fence. :(

Picking someone else's fruit without permission is against the law.
We need rigid protections for the property owners who allow free picking. Without these I envision ADA lawsuits because someone in a wheelchair has been excluded from picking fruit from upper branches because the land owner did not provide a wheelchair compatible cherry picker bucket. (prove to me that suit could not be brought under the current law)

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 23, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear Another southerner, thanks and I wonder what is going on now with the site. I think the PA Housing nonprofit said they would sell the land after losing the vote. Regards, Cathy

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 23, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear SteveU, thanks and I guess everything is complicated in today's litigious society. That said, if a heritage orchard were city property it would probably be doable. I don't think you have a meritorious lawsuit if you say you can't reach the top of the slide at the park, for example, although anyone can bring a claim. In any event, legal claims are something the city has to deal with generally. Regards, Cathy

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Feb 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

pafree@yahoogroups.com is a great way to give away and find all sorts of needed items, from construction materials to plants and garden harvests to holiday decor. I think that it's much more active than the Menlo version, and the group administrators are very nice and helpful.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 24, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear Hmmm, thanks for the tip, I didn't know about this. Sometimes I will look on Craigslist Free, if I'm feeling ambitious, but this sounds like a nice list to be on. Also I'm wondering if there is a static repository somewhere to put all this great info I'm getting. I will have to ask. Regards, Cathy

Posted by Anonymous22, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 24, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

I think the property is going to be sold -- it's an amazing opportunity to have a community orchard that will be gone forever soon! If anyone would like to save the orchard, please suggest it to Council. I think they need to hear it from other people around Palo Alto...

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 24, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear Anonymous 22, it would be nice to have a community orchard, but I guess it would be up to the neighborhood to advance what they really want. Otherwise it's free market plus neighborhood zoning. We'll have to see what happens! Regards, Cathy

Posted by southerner, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 24, 2014 at 11:56 pm

HI Cathy,
The neighborhood was pretty clear about what they want - an internal poll (that showed they were very against upzoning) showed the most favored use was as a community orchard. Council has had plenty of people tell them that. City Council was pretty upset with them and pretty clear that they won't help in any way to advance that end. I think they could save the orchard for less than renovating the golf course, and with lots of community help on this side of town.

City Council were pretty gungho to bulldoze the trees, and disparaging about the orchard in the press, if you even heard anything about it. Kind of sad, since I know former City employees who would have worked to turn it into parkland. Also kind of sad since, as you say, you have more of the community assets on the north side of town, and we could really use a community orchard/garden on this side. Come over and visit the trees - considering how neglected it's been, it's really quite a beautiful space.

Did you read this essay about the orchard from Margo Davis? Very poignant especially in light of the drought.
Web Link

The site has 4 ranch houses along one end - which could be really desirable renovated as corporate housing for foreign executives, ala Stanford, esp since the backyards could be expanded. When is another opportunity like that going to come around in Palo Alto to have 4 houses together? The location is walking distance to elementary, middle, and high schools. If someone bought the property and donated the orchard to an organization like Canopy before renovating the houses, it makes for a nice write off, and then someone could be made whole financially almost right away by just renovating the houses - they are >2,000 sq ft. each, one of them > 3,000sq ft. Ultimately everyone's kids benefit because the site is so close to all the schools on this side of town.

Why do you think the City was willing to push PAHC to buy the property, loan them $7.2 million, help them buy it (actually handle the sale), push so hard for the whole thing that they were even making false verifications of zoning to the state during the referendum, but now that the upzoning didn't happen, they don't seem to be engaged in finding a more suitable property with the same zeal, and they seem unwilling to lift an eyelash to just give the neighborhood the chance to save the orchard? I can't think of any other reason than that they have a development agenda and wanted to nullify the element that raised a stink when they bulldozed the fewer and less established trees on California Avenue. They certainly accomplished that.

Did you know that the City has first right of refusal and the right to purchase the property under the contract? The neighbors did ask the City to just buy and hold the property for six months to a year to give neighbors the opportunity to raise the funds to save the orchard. The City could do that for almost no risk, no ultimate cost, and any interest payment would be at far, far less cost than they laid out for the special election. (Recall, they had the choice to just set aside their ordinance and not put the matter to vote, or to put it to a cheaper vote in a different election.)

So, you see, the Council could save the orchard if they want, or make it possible for the neighbors to save the orchard. We need more voices from your side of town, though. Council would rather punish the southerners for being so uppitty.

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 25, 2014 at 8:12 am

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Dear southerner, thanks for laying it all out and I'm sorry I didn't follow this story more closely before. I will definitely go visit the orchard. I have to say that the neighborhood did a great job mobilizing for the project vote; it would be nice to see a round two for the orchard, and I'm sure there would be a lot of support for it. Regards, Cathy

Posted by Southerner, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 25, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Hi Cathy,
I agree it would be nice to see a round two. They just need to be given the chance. I don't think anyone wants to force the City to turn it into parkland, but if a group from outside the neighborhood initiated an initative, they'd help I think. They'd like the opportunity to save it, but right now, the City and PAHC decide. If there is going to be another big land use push in the neighborhood, it's probably going to be to save the trailer park.

I heard through the grapevine, only rumor, that PAHC had immediately tried to quietly sell to some stack and pack developers who said no thanks since the banks are skittish about that property for that kind of development. And they should be. When you go visit, go at 8am on a bike. You might see a little of why the neighborhood was concerned about developing that location, though not all since the weather has been good this year and more big developments are coming on line right nearby. The safety issues and the City's responsibilities will play out like overdevelopment did if the City let's someone try to max development there without regard to safety even under the zoning.

City Council allowed so much development to happen all around there without regard to safety and the capacity of the infrastructure, that battle is going to play out somewhere, and that could very well be ground zero. Except the banks and contractors probably can already see that and aren't interested. It's a really good place to save the orchard, for many reasons.

Also, when you go, note the school there facing the existing park across from the orchard. The gym is a county rehab facility for very disabled students. The wing on the end is the OH, which has a preschool program and elementary program for the most disabled children in our district. That program has declined as Palo Alto has become increasingly less accessible and attainable for the disabled, low-income or otherwise. The new standard in home construction, like at Alma Plaza, couldn't even be renovated to be accessible, much less liveable, to someone with serious mobility problems. Now do you see why it was such an affront to put such housing there in particular? Some combination of low-rise neighborhood-compatible affordable accessible housing, especially geared to disabled children, and saving the orchard would have seen a lot of volunteer energy behind it. (Wouldnt it be amazing if a tech firm saw it as an opportunity to both do some good and pioneer new technology in such homes?) such a plan would by definition have a low traffic impact.

It's a can-do neighbrhood. I think that's Palo Altans, myself. Love to hear what you think. Remember the orchard is completely untended, those trees have deep roots.

Posted by Palo Alto Homeless Dogs, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 26, 2014 at 12:38 pm

We just became aware of this blog post. There is a group of us pet owners in Palo Alto that are submitting app proposals to the Palo Alto Hackathon. All of our proposals are centered on improving the welfare and adoption of homeless pets at the Palo Alto Animal Services shelter. We would love to make contact with like-minded residents. You do not need to be a programmer or technologist. Proposals are due in two days! Friday Feb 28 at 5pm.

More info about the hackathon at www.hackpaloalto.org and Twitter @hackpaloalto

More about us at www.paloaltohomelessdogs.org
Email: paloaltohomelessdogs@gmail.com
Twitter: @PAHomelessDogs
Phone: 650 215-8406

Posted by Cathy Kirkman, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 26, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

Hi PA Homeless Dogs, I'm so glad you posted! Will follow up because I would love to learn more about what you're doing and hope this gets the word out. Regards, Cathy

Posted by Opposed to off-leash dogs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:49 am

I am a dog owner and I am completely opposed to allowing dogs off-leash in parks. My well-behaved dog has had three experiences in which off-leash dogs attacked her while my husband and I were walking her on-leash. My dog is not aggressive. She is a quiet, older, VERY well-trained Corgie. In every instance of attack my dog was on-leash and an off-leash dog ran up from nowhere and attacked her. In each case, the oblivious owner was on the other side of the park engaged in conversation. I've had to pull dogs off of my dog.

I don't know how the city would enforce a law that allows dogs to be off-leash "sometimes" for "some" purposes. The serious lack of judgment of many dog owners has created a bad situation for everyone. Nonetheless, there it is. The problem is dog owners who can't be bothered to train and manage their dogs. Poorly managed dogs are dangerous. They can kill or maim another animal or a child. They do NOT belong off-leash in our parks. That is an unacceptable risk for everyone using our parks.

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