Palo Alto's composting operation, which was slated to shut down within about a month, could get a new lease on life thanks to the voters' decision last week to make a portion of Byxbee Park available for a waste facility.
The city was planning to halt Palo Alto's composting operation within a month or two as part of the process of shutting down the Baylands landfill, said Phil Bobel, assistant director of Public Works Department. The plan changed last week, however, when voters passed Measure E with 64 percent of the vote, giving the city a new option for local waste management.
The measure, which polarized the city's green community, "undedicated" 10 acres at Byxbee Park, allowing the city to use the land for a waste-to-energy facility that would process local yard trimmings, food scraps and sewage sludge.
Now that the parkland is available for composting, proponents of Measure E are asking the city to revise its plans. Members of the group, which is led by former Mayor Peter Drekmeier, Walt Hays and Bob Wenzlau, attended Monday's City Council meeting to urge the council to extend the life of the composting operation, which consists of outdoor "windrow" piles.
Hays, who was one of the leaders of the signature drive that placed Measure E on the ballot, said voters "made it very clear that they want to at least consider options other than trucking our waste away." Hays told the council it would make no sense to start trucking waste to Gilroy -- as the city has been planning to do -- when a local option is available.
"We ask you to please take all the steps necessary to keep composting here, pending any final decision on what to do with the waste," Hays said.
Cedrid de La Beaujardiere, who co-chaired the blue-ribbon task force that was charged in 2009 with considering the city's composting options, said preserving a local operation would both save the city money and reduce greenhouse emissions by 380 tons of carbon dioxide, when compared with the trucking option. Measure E's passage "immediately presents the city with an opportunity to save on future costs by retaining our local green waste composting operation," he said.
Though the council didn't discuss the subject at Monday's meeting, Bobel told Palo Alto Online that staff agrees with proponents of Measure E that the city should reassess its options in light of Measure E's passage. He said the city had initially intended only to collect enough compost to be able to create a "vegetative layer" that can be used to cap the landfill. Now, the city needs to rethink that plan and consider extending the life of the compost operation, Bobel said.
"It's definitely worth exploring," he said.
"It changes the landscape," he added, referring to Measure E. "We need to pause and we need to analyze our options."
Wenzlau, who co-wrote the ballot initiative, said halting the composting operation would put the city at risk of losing its state permits and require the city to restart the permitting process. He proposed a timeline under which the city would continue its current composting operation until 2012 and later move it to the newly undedicated 10-acre site next to the Recycling Center. The plan also urges the city to proceed with planning and environmental analysis for the new anaerobic digestion facility. If the facility proves viable, construction would begin in 2015 or 2016 under his proposal.
Wenzlau called Measure E's passage a "milestone" and a "critical chapter" for his group's effort to keep composting local.
"The milestone was just enabling the land, but the community held a very strong vision of what they thought Palo Alto can be," Wenzlau said.
"What we now have is an interest in local composting," he added.