The recent cover article, "Fading Borders," suggests that maintaining a composting facility in Palo Alto would not be a regional solution. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Palo Alto currently operates a regional wastewater-treatment plant at the end of Embarcadero Road that also serves Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Stanford and East Palo Alto. This facility is one of only two in the state that sill incinerates sewage sludge (our dirty little secret).
Burning our sewage sludge uses more than $1 million worth of energy per year, releasing 6,000 tons of previously sequestered carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. Through anaerobic digestion, we could retire the incinerator and instead of burning fossil fuels we could turn our sludge into biogas to power the wastewater-treatment plant.
It is impractical to truck our sewage sludge to another community, so the ideal site for the digester is on 8 percent of the current landfill immediately adjacent to the wastewater-treatment plant. The city could accept other organic wastes, especially food waste, which has a high energy content, from neighboring communities to make the facility even more cost effective while producing more green energy.
Opponents of an anaerobic digester use the term "regional solution" to mean anywhere but Palo Alto, but don't be fooled. Look for an opportunity to sign the Palo Alto Green Energy and Compost Initiative. It makes sense both for the environment and for our budget.
Green Energy Initiative
The Feb. 4 article on fading borders was a splendid example of well-written local journalism but it mischaracterized the Palo Alto Green Energy Initiative as local rather than regional. As proposed, this "high-tech composting" facility would process yard waste including not only Palo Alto's "green bin" collections but drop-offs by regional landscapers.
It would also process all of the regional sewage sludge, extracting clean green energy while converting the sludge into a safe soil amendment for land reclamation. Ideally, it would also take in food waste from neighboring cities if sufficient land were made available.
The current practice of disposing of food waste in landfills is a tremendous source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
The controversy over the proposed facility is not about local versus regional, it is about "NIMBY" (Not In My Back Yard) versus fiscal responsibility and environmental leadership. An artificial park built on the heavily impacted dump land would be expensive to build and expensive to maintain, and would not provide much environmental benefit to native species.
In a time of highly restricted budgets, global warming, vanishing forests, and mass extinctions, we need to emphasize true environmental habitats, like our local wetlands.
Let's enjoy Shoreline as a regional park and use a portion of the heavily impacted dump land to build a regional organics facility. The proponents of the Palo Alto Green Energy Initiative "get it", as do the majority of Palo Alto citizens: Rather than paying escalating amounts to have our waste hauled far away, we need to come together with neighboring communities and take responsibility for our environmental impacts, in a way that keeps our expenditures under control.
Caltrain serves San Jose (the 10th-largest US city), San Francisco (the 12th-largest) and Silicon Valley (where a third of U.S. venture capital flows). And yet this vital transit service lacks dedicated funding.
Only some kinds of transportation are called "public" but the fact is that no transportation system in this country thrives without public funding. The federal government subsidizes car travel with almost $80 billion a year, well over half the Department of Transportation's budget; the interstate highways were the biggest public works project in U.S. history. The highways can't survive on tolls alone and transit can't survive on passenger fares.
If we don't fund transit and rail service at comparable levels to roads, bridges and highways, cars will become our only option.
Amy Zucker Morgenstern
San Francisco and Palo Alto
The contract saga between Stanford and Packard Hospitals and its nurses has gone on far too long.
While other hospitals, like Kaiser, have recently shown their appreciation for their hard-working nurses by agreeing to a fair pay raise and fair labor contract, the management at Stanford and Packard Hospitals continues to drag its feet over contract negotiations with its nurses.
The nurses at the hospitals have been working under the terms of expired contracts for nearly one year.
They aren't asking for much, just a contract similar to ones enjoyed by nurses at other Bay Area hospitals. The current contracts proposed by Stanford and Packard have too many takeaways that will be harmful to their nurses and drive them to work elsewhere.
If Stanford and Packard choose to insist on inferior contracts upon their nurses, it will be a detriment to patient care. How will they be able to get the best nurses in the future?
Ultimately it will destroy the prestige the hospitals have worked so hard to achieve. We will all be losers — the hospitals and their doctors, the nurses, and the community that puts its trust in them.
We all love Stanford around here — its football team and its hospitals — and Stanford should show some love back.
If Stanford and Packard truly want to be and remain great hospitals, they need more than fancy new buildings. They shouldn't mistreat the nurses who have helped make them great.