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City leaders surprised by composting violations

Original post made on Dec 8, 2008

Palo Alto's ongoing effort to keep a composting site within city borders may be derailed by a newly discovered report detailing the present facility's checkered history in preventing and controlling fires.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, December 8, 2008, 3:52 PM

Comments (37)

Posted by Hulkamania, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Palo Alto compost is da kine!! We got a couple of pickup loads a few years ago, spread it, and seeded a new lawn. I've never seen grass so green.

Posted by Raoul, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Would it kill the Weekly to credit the Daily Post with breaking this story? Credit where credit is due!

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2008 at 7:30 pm

Did any of the composting personnel get bonuses for 'meeting the goals' of their jobs?
Just wonderin'.

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2008 at 7:35 pm

The Planning Commission AND the Parks and Recreation Commission both overwhelmingly vetoed keeping the compositing operation in the Baylands park area. So if the City Council wants to consider to override both, why bother with the commissions' deliberations and opinions? THe Council has an 'agenda'. Damn the torpedos...full speed ahead.

Posted by Want the Truth?, a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 8, 2008 at 10:14 pm

I ave Questions Why was over half the staff at the MSC replaced the includes the Field Mechanic that was In charge of the Equipment at the Landfill before the Fire? Why were several pieces of Equipment Complained about at this Landfill 1 Being the outdated Water Truck which was Broke down at the time not inline for replacement? Why was a Loader allowed to operate even after an Employee was injured on this piece of Equipment? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Want the Truth,

Can you back up what you say? Names, job titles, dates of termination and dates of hire?

You would have a lot more credibility if you could back up your statements.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2008 at 12:55 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Can't even run a dump!

Posted by Marvin, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 9, 2008 at 6:24 am

Walter--when you are right--you are right!!!

Posted by the real truth, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2008 at 7:51 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Want the Truth, a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 9, 2008 at 8:30 am

All you have to do is ask. Everything that I have wrote is Public Knowledge.

Posted by Judith, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 9, 2008 at 10:23 am

What about this part of the report?
"He also noted that state inspectors have visited Palo Alto's landfill site several times since the July citations and have found the facility to be in compliance.

"I've been to the site after the fire and these guys are really on top of it now," Kiruja said. "They don't want to have this kind of a thing happen again." "

Made a mistake, corrected it. Is that so terrible?

Posted by Susan, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2008 at 10:32 am

The compost is a city resource. I'm glad to hear that corrective action is taken and hope the city will be wise enough to keep this resource in our city.

Posted by margaret, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 9, 2008 at 11:40 am

Although I appreciate the compost which I've gotten from this site, I think that the entire community would benefit more if the compost area were converted to parkland as designated in the City's Master Plan.

Posted by Marshmama, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 9, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Byxbee Hills Park is supposed to be a major open space in our precious Baylands and is supposed to be a "pastoral" park. It has been dedicated as parkland since 1965. Both the Parks Commission and the Planning Commission found unanimously that keeping industrial scale composting on Byxbee was incompatible with park use. If the City wants to maintain a composting operation in town, it should look for a non-park site. The carbon footprint savings by keeping the compost operation locally is equal to 3.8 cars/day. We can get that level of savings many other ways.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Dec 9, 2008 at 1:12 pm

I visited Byxbee Park 2 days ago. Lots of pathways, great views of the bay! Many vistas. Almost no people! This was on a weekend. Why invest money into a parkland that people don't use?


Posted by jb, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 9, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Bob is right. Palo Altans don't use their parks and they spend a lot of time chasing residents of other communities out of them. The reason we sign up for park use today is that, in the past--I'm guessing 15 years ago--there were icecream carts, mariachi bands, families, blankets galore piling into Rinconada Park from surrounding municipalities every weekend. The surrounding neighborhoods petitioned for some relief from the parking overload that resulted on their streets. Now we show ID and sign up for park tables and barbeques. I myself haven't been to a park since my children grew up and flew the nest. The recycling has been in the Baylands precisely because it wasn't a park; it was the dump. I vote we leave the baylands wild with a compost operation, paths, and the occasional runner from Mountain View. Heck, I'm going to miss the recycling center. I visit it twice a month and it is always filled with recycling and recyclers. That's better than my visits to parks.

Posted by Jane, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2008 at 8:31 pm

The park is already more than large enough to handle the sparse use. The environmentally right thing to do is to compost (and recycle, for that matter) our own stuff, in our own community, instead of putting it on trucks and trucking it down the freeway, using gas and creating pollution!!

Posted by energyman, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Byxbee park is uninspiring: poles and concrete chevrons, yep, just like the wildlands I roamed as a child and, dont forget the 30 hp electric blower roaring 24/7, which helps burn landfill gas .
Most vehicle trips to the dump and recycling center are local users. Landfilling or trucking yard waste to Sunnyvale and beyond will consume more fuel. Keeping the logistic lines as short as possible reduces our carbon footprint.
As for fire danger, the fire was at the dump, not the compost operation. Compost has a high moisture content, that's why it composts. Fire in a pile is unlikely. Fire in garbage is a frequent dump hazard. The "State inspectors" in the article seem to have confused dump fires with steaming compost which can look like "smoldering". Why Klien and Drekmeier's reactions here? What is the City's real agenda here? More development? More car lots? Oh, of course, we have to balance jobs and housing for the greater glory of builders and bankers.

Posted by Byxbee Park User, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2008 at 12:16 am

I hike often at Byxbee Park and most of the time the parking lot for the park is full. Many elderly residents take their walks at Byxbee and many younger folks ride their bikes and jog there. Once the remaining 96 acres are available, there should be plenty of interesting trails and vistas. Give Byxbee a chance to be the open space it is designed to be.

Posted by Fireman, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2008 at 12:19 am

Don't know where energyman was on 7/23 but the rest of us were sequestered in our houses because of the smoke from a major compost fire. Google Palo Alto Compost Fire and see for yourself.

Posted by bikes2work, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2008 at 9:00 am

Fireman, the compost was not on fire. It was the freshly dumped green waste that caught fire due to a hot load. That is why it was so smokey. It was also extinguished much quicker than an actual compost fire would have been. Essentially, energyman was correct. If we didn't have a compost operation, that hot load would have just gone into the landfill and caught the garbage on fire. I have seen many people dumping green waste mixed with garbage into the main landfill area.

Posted by s.r., a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2008 at 10:46 am

Byxbee Park has been designated as park land for years. Let's make it a reality. I walk at the Baylands at least twice a week, often more. The parking lot is almost always full and there are many people enjoying the trails, views, birds and wildlife.

Posted by Fireman, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 10, 2008 at 11:15 am

You can split hairs over exactly what was on fire, but an enormous pile of yardwaste was on fire at the composting faciity and if you read the Daily Post in the last few days, the city was cited one week before the fire because that pile was smoldering and its temperature measured 180 degrees.

Posted by Senior Citizen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 10, 2008 at 3:05 pm

It's sad to hear people say that Byxbee Park is not used because it's not chock-a-block full of people. This is a wonderful place to go and enjoy nature without having to drive very far. Most of the times I have gone walking there, the parking lot has been nearly full plus many people are hiking and biking there from other parking sites. Many of us would like to see a little more habitat on the park, but the Public Works and Parks Department did not want to spend money on landscaping. Nonetheless, there is much to enjoy there and there will be much more once the landfill operations cease.

Posted by ortquist, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2008 at 5:10 pm

The Baylands was dedicated as park, open space and conservation lands in 1965. The dump was supposed to close in 1968. Public Works instead asked for extensions, 2-3 years at a time resulting in a huge landfill 43 years later. For the last 43 years, every city council, park commission, planning commission, Baylands study group and most recently the Zero Waste Committee has supported completing the park and removing the landfill and industrial compost operations. This is an open space that is used by more than 365,000 people a year in spite of the awful smell from the compost and treatment plant and landfill. The goal of Save the Bay and most cities around the bay has been to remove dumps, landfill, compost operations, etc. from the Bay. The sixteen cities in the Santa Clara County endorsed a region-wide approach to handling garbage, recycling, composting.
It is unbelievable that after years of promises, an industrial composting operation should scuttle a park.

Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2008 at 5:27 pm

I visited the PA airport runway 2 weeks ago. Almost no people! This was on a weekend. Why invest money into an airport runway that people don't use?

Posted by bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2008 at 9:36 pm

By closing the dump, we are simply moving our junk out of sight. I say keep it here and manage it well.

Posted by garbage maven, a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 10, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Bill, the dump will be full in two years. Most of our garbage has been going to Kirby Canyon since 1992. Our recycling has been going to Davis Street in Oakland since 2006. Only a small amount of self haul garbage can be accommodated for the next two years. The filling has been being done to create a park and that will happen. The only open issue is whether there will be an industrial composting facility smack in the middle of this long awaited open space. That would be most unfortunate for this carefully designed park.

Posted by Rick, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2008 at 7:44 am

Most of the department head old bulls of the Benest era are now gone or will leave soon - Yeats, Harrison, Johnson among them. The new City Manager will have the chance to have his own team soon. Public Work, City Attorney, Human Resources department head openings are inevitable in the near future.

Posted by Ben, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2008 at 9:03 am

Generally speaking, staff is trying to be responsive to the City Council and the Council is supposed to be representing the people of Palo Alto.
If you care about Byxbee Park, let the Council know. We like to think that staff is providing objective information for decisions, but it definitely follows some Council pulse reading. The Staff, old or new, will be responsive to the Council. Making your views known is the best way to get good staff work.

Posted by Ellie Gioumousis, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 11, 2008 at 2:20 pm

I was horrified to read in the Post and the Daily News that the composting operation had been cited for negligence and improper procedures, not just once but many times, over a period of fifteen years. The inattention and sheer negligence is appalling. I remember the night of the fire very well; I was driving out to get groceries at Trader Joe's and while on Middlefield Road I noticed an extremely strong and nasty smoke smell. I called home to ask if there had been an alert and my son said Yes, there had been a call informing us that it was a fire at the composting site. Upon arriving at the grocery parking lot at El Camino and San Antonio the smell was still very strong and irritating. I told one of the employees who was complaining that the smoke that was making him feel sick what it was and he was quite disgusted that this had been allowed to happen. These were my sentiments exactly. The pollution and CO2 and toxins from the pesticides and herbicides in the 'green waste' from that one fire alone is enough reason to give up on the composting operation. Many people reported problems with breathing and respiratory problems. People that were already ill were especially badly impacted and possibly some died from the overload. Add to that the truck trips to bring in 'green waste' from other municipalities, the exhaust from the heavy equipment used to turn and move the product and finally the loss of space for wildlife near the bay makes this not a very ecological operation.
Wetlands and bayside land has one of the highest values for purifying the air and also the water. Years of illegal dumping that has been continued in spite of many promises to close the landfill. It is shameful and dishonest to continue to promote this operation, both the landfill and the composting, when there are other options that are perfectly viable. Finally we need to stop our obsession with recycling and composting. We need to get our priorities straight. Recycling is not #1. The three R's are 1. Reduce, 2. Reuse, and finally, 3. Recycle.
1. Reduce. As far as the plant material goes reduce would mean planting more sustainable plants that grow more slowly and do not need constant application of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides, not to mention lavish watering, that we also cannot afford. This means planting plants suited to our climate, ideally plants native to California that support the native birds, butterflies and beneficial insects. Biologists have learned that the plants native to an area are far more supportive of the native animals with 10 to 20 times the numbers of native wildlife found on native plants.
2. Reuse is making good use of the much smaller amount of yard weeds and trimmings by backyard composting: Properly made compost prepared in small batches in backyards is ecological and safe and provides a far superior product. It will also be cleaner and safer with the avoidance of poisonous chemicals. The City of Palo Alto program to teach people how to make their own compost has been quite successful and it could be enlarged and advertised even more. I helped to teach the program many years ago and felt it was very valuable.
The use of home compost to grow some vegetables at home or the community gardens is healthful and the vegetables taste infinitely better. I once served some home grown, freshly picked and cooked Swiss Chard to a friend of my daughter who demanded to know what I had done to it. He could not believe that I had done nothing except steam it and serve it. My children were all laughing and giggling because they knew it was the truth. The difference in flavor in vegetables that have been grown in good soil and simply steamed is almost unbelievable.
After these two priorities there is much less necessity for #3; recycling. It is an expensive and wasteful procedure at best. Besides the large release of CO2 from the massive decomposition at a very high heat there is the truck exhaust from other municipalities who bring us their 'green waste'. The heavy equipment used to move, load, chop, and turn the decomposing mass of material is much more polluting than the typical automobile exhaust.
Another approach to reducing our waste is to ban the use of some of the more dangerous materials. The only plastics that are easily recyclable are numbers one and two. The others are either to toxic to process or cannot be recycled at all.. The Styrofoam peanuts are a tremendous hazard to wildlife as they do not decompose and collect in the ocean where wild life try to eat them and die as they choke on the indigestible waste. There is now a mass of floating plastic debris in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is the size of the state of Texas. It continues to grow every day. There are many alternatives to the peanuts. One is made from corn and dissolves when it gets wet. Plastic bags also blow around and end up in the floating mass of debris and they also tangle up ocean life and kill or choke them. The council could take a lead on this and urge the state to ban the use of these materials in California.

When asked at public meeting if a compost facility could be built in another area of Palo Alto, Glen Rogers, our public works manager, answered that no, it could not because it is classified as heavy industry and we do not have any land zoned for heavy industry in Palo Alto. Surely the baylands should not be classified as heavy industry either.. Both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning Commission voted unaminously that the composting was not a suitable use for dedicated parkland. I cannot agree more. The city council should listen the their recommendations and stop wasting more money on this really unsustainable and polluting project.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2008 at 4:32 pm

It is a travesty, and economic disaster for the future of Palo Alto, that the dump will be locked up as a preservationist reserve.

The entire presrvationist era is nearing an end, in Palo Alto. Why not just end it now? We need to keep our recycling center and composting operation. We also need more playing fields. We need to say "NO" to the preservationists from yesteryear.

Posted by redd, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 12, 2008 at 5:25 pm

I like the fact that I can dump ANYTHING at the landfill and never get caught. I hope they don't change anything.

Posted by cid, a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2008 at 8:11 pm

AMEN to this post:

"The park is already more than large enough to handle the sparse use. The environmentally right thing to do is to compost (and recycle, for that matter) our own stuff, in our own community, instead of putting it on trucks and trucking it down the freeway, using gas and creating pollution!!"

You should see all the Garbage Trucks on Hwy 92 Hauling the waste to the Ox Mountain Dump. Talk about sending the problem elsewhere!

Posted by Mushroom Grower, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Public Works Director Glenn Roberts appears to use former City Manager Frank Benest's mushroom theory of management which consists of keeping the City Council in the dark and feeding them horse manure.

Roberts failure to notify the City Council and the Fire Department about the many violations at the composting operation is understandable, but I would like to know whether Roberts told his boss about the violations.

Often, a Council Member who is about to lose a vote will accuse his colleagues of micro-managing, so it is understandable that Roberts would not tell the City Council about the violations at the composting operations to prevent the Council from being accused of micro-managing.

The Public Works Department never coordinates with the Utilities Department, unless you define "coordination" as waiting until the Utilities Department digs up a street, replaces or fixes underground utilities, and then repaves the street before Public Works digs up the street again, so it is understandable that Roberts would not tell the Fire Department about the violations at the composting operation because to do so is not included in his definition of "coordination".

However, Roberts should have told his boss about the violations.

When did Roberts report the violation at the composting operation to City Manager June Fleming, City Manager Frank Benest, Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison, and City Manager Jim Keene?

If Roberts didn't report the violations to his boss, why is Roberts still the Public Works Director?

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2008 at 7:27 pm

Mushroom Grower,

"If Roberts didn't report the violations to his boss, why is Roberts still the Public Works Director?"

I think you've answered your own question, and I agree on your "take" on this whole issue.

There is a related thread on the Weekly's editorial about the composting violations:

Web Link

One of the posters on that thread posts under the name of a City Employee in the Public Works Department. I'm not saying that is true, only that there is a Matt Raschke that is a City employee in the Public Works Department.

Editor (Tyler), I know you will delete the above paragraph. But I hope you will contact Matt Raschke to confirm or deny he is the author, and if he is, hope you will require that City employees identify themselves when posting.

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Sorry, forgot to include this City of Palo Alto URL which shows that Matt Raschke is a City employee:

Web Link

It's all in the public domain if you look......

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