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Palo Alto's green camps gear up for campaign battle

Original post made on Aug 9, 2011

Palo Alto City Council members, a developer and other residents are contributing their cash to two competing campaigns over a November ballot measure that could determine the future of local composting.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, August 9, 2011, 9:41 AM

Comments (48)

Posted by Drekmeier always Pro development, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2011 at 10:52 am

>Proponents of the ballot measure received a major boost from local developer Jim Baer, who according to the documents contributed $5,000 to their committee. Other top contributors include William Reller, owner of EWS Real Estate Investments, Inc., ($1,000) etc.>
Drekmeier when he was on the council voted for major developers. Most memorable was his vote in favor of 84 housing units at 195 Page Mill Road. South Palo Alto is paying the price of many of his votes.
He made sure to help major developers and real estate interests, and now they are returning the favors.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 9, 2011 at 11:05 am

I plan on voting no on this misguided initiative. As I have stated previously, we should have a vote, in a single election, on two ballot measures--one to undedicate the parkland and one to vote on which method to use. There is no point in wasting money on this election--of course Drekemier has no problem with spending over $250K of someone else's money in order to promote his folly. Drekmeier has never shown any fiscal responsibilty and this issue will end up costing our city big bucks, when we can least afford it.
I do find it interesting that Jim Baer has given $5K to this campaign--without his contribution the Drekmeier gang with not have much cash--even one of their big supporters, Cedric La Beaujardiere, only has given $200.
Vote no on this initiative


Posted by Jane, a resident of University South
on Aug 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm

This initiative is about a very small portion of that particular park. The portion is right next to an already existing industrial facility which is outdated. Do we really think that it helps our environment to truck our garbage and our compostables, on the freeways, to some other place to keep it out of our sight? We should be responsible for our own waste, and this is an opportunity to turn that waste into productive products.


Posted by Emily Renzel, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Just to set the record straight, the Composting Task Force did NOT recommend the Park site and, in fact, recommended that composting be removed from the park when the landfill closed. It was a bare majority of the Council who voted to look at the parkland site -- despite recommendations to the contrary from both the Planning and Transportation Commmission and the Parks & Recreation Commission as well as the Compost Task Force.

Since 1992, 85% of our waste has been taken to the Regional SMaRT Station and Kirby Canyon. We are doing our part for the Region by operating the Regional Water Quality Control Plant. It is not irresponsible to use and support Regional facilities elsewhere for our relatively small yard and food waste streams. It would make NO sense at all for every small community to build major capital facilities to "take care of their own waste".


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm


Jane,

"and this is an opportunity to turn that waste into productive products."

Other than a relatively small amount of electricity, for the large size of the industrial plant, what productive products are you speaking of? If the compost that is produced contains human sewage sludge, it will probably not be accepted by the organic food community, due to the possible toxins that it contains. In fact, such compost may need to be buried in a toxic waste dump, at a high cost, since the ash remaining after its incineration (the current method) is required to be thus buried. This issue needs to be resolved before the election, not after.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Quite right, Craig. Good points. I hope that there will be an opportunity for you to debate Drekmeier on this initiative before election day--but I doubt that Drekmeier will want to do that--too much work to prep for debate


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm

svatoid,

I am quite willing to debate Peter Drekmeier on this blog. I am not really interested in the theatrics of a public debate. I have offered to engage Peter D. in a blog debate, before, but I have not received a reply, thus far.

I would settle for a simple answer to the question I posed, above: Will sewage sludge be part of the compost mix? Moreover, what will happen to the sewage sludge if it cannot be incinerated, and it cannot become part of the compost stream?


Posted by Sandy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Can Palo Alto UNdedicate the parklands that are named for Emily Renzel and Enid Pearson, and, in future, only name things for people who are deceased?? It seems inappropriate that these two ladies wouldtD take such a vocal position on what boils down to an issue that is going to be settled by a citywide election; the city has given them a somewhat unfair advantage.


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Sandy:

Why do you think earning an honor takes away someone's constitutional right to free speech?

Shouldn't we also "undedicate" Former Mayor Peter Drekmeier? His city-bestowed title could be construed as an advantage, you know.


Posted by Annette, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm

It's hard for me to understand the heated argument over the degraded ten acres of our former dump located adjacent to the waste water treatment plant. It makes so much more sense to use this land to process our green waste locally rather than trucking it to San Jose and thereby increasing our green house gases than it does to just add it to Byxbee Park.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Annette,

"It makes so much more sense to use this land to process our green waste locally"

Really? Please explain to all of us in Palo Alto what you mean. Do you include sewage sludge as "green waste"? After all, this initiative was based on including sewage sludge in the anaerobic digestion stream (thus eliminating incineration of sewage sludge, as is the current method).

If Peter Drekmeier is willing to take on that question, instead of you, I am quite willing to engage him, on this thread. Please talk to him, and extend my invitation. I am here.

Peter, where are you?


Posted by Do it live, a resident of Community Center
on Aug 9, 2011 at 5:31 pm

It would be better to have a live debate, that way peter will have to answer the questions live. In a blog debate, who knows who peter will turn to do the work and answer the questions. Anyway, I doubt we will be hearing from peter on this blog. He is not one to actually defend his hair brained schemes (who can ever forget when he became mayor his top priority was a framers market st city hall! And we know what happened with that)


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Do it live,

As long as Peter signs his full name to it, I have no problem having a blog debate with him. In fact, a blog debate is much beter than the theatre of a live public debate. Public theatre debates are more about who can bring out a bigger crowd, and talking points. I am interested in facts and logic.

Peter, I am here, and waiting....

Regards,

Craig


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2011 at 6:09 pm

"It makes so much more sense to use this land to process our green waste locally..."

To each his own, it would seem. It logically follows that, if Mayfield had not annexed into Palo Alto, each would need its own garbage processor by the bay.

I wonder when (and where) Menlo Park, Atherton, Mountain View, Redwood City, Sunnyvale, Woodside, Los Altos, Portola Valley, Cupertino, ... plan to build their very own garbage mills.


Posted by Just-Say-No, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2011 at 6:58 pm

> It logically follows that, if Mayfield had not
> annexed into Palo Alto,

And the same can be said for Barron Park (which was annexed in 1976).


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2011 at 8:29 pm

"It makes so much more sense to use this land to process our green waste locally..."

curmudgeon and Just Say No make excellent points. But they missed the big one.

As Emily Renzel points out, 85% of our trash has been trucked away for years. Perhaps Drekmeier and cohorts would have all Bay Area cities cut their carbon footprints by disposing of all their refuse at home. Think of it: Palo Alto could fill the bay with trash until it meets the dumps filling westward from Hayward, Fremont, and Milpitas.


Posted by musical , a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 9, 2011 at 9:15 pm

And then we could build ABAG housing on it with BMR lots for our vehicle dwellers.


Posted by sigh, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Good idea?


Posted by Ruth, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 10, 2011 at 12:24 am

What is meant by "taking care of our waste locally" is not a separate processing area within each community's boundaries. As pointed out, that's silly. One can group so that these places are reasonable distances from each other, on reasonable sites. What better site than next to the processing plant, on a small portion of a closed dump!


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 10, 2011 at 1:11 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I need to clear a few things up here, or I'll never be able to sleep tonight...
- If the initiative opponents have their way, the city and rate-payers will have to pony up $3M each and every year to ship away our wastes (see below: $2M/yr for our food and yard, and $1M/yr for sewage digestate).
- The initiative proposes to use 10 acres (less than 8% of the 126-acre former landfill) to handle our organic wastes locally.
- The site in question is immediately adjacent to the existing noisy and smelly sewage treatment plant, close to the noisy Palo Alto airport, and about a month ago was a fully operational dump. It is former landfill and can not be returned to wetlands.
- The most likely use of the 10 acres is for local composting of yard wastes and digestate, while the digesting of sewage and food wastes would likely take place entirely within the existing sewage treatment plant.
- Currently, the incinerated sewage ash is disposed of as a hazardous waste because it has a high copper content. The copper is from our plumbing, and its concentration is high because the incineration has reduced everything to ash. Copper content would not be an issue if the sewage were digested and composted instead.
- Someone wrote about the organic community not accepting compost derived from human sewage, and that is probably correct, but when we use the phrase "organic wastes" it is a reference not to organic agriculture, but to organic matter that has come from a once-living organism (such as yard trimmings, food scraps, and poop).
- The city of Milwaukee successfully sells Milorganite lawn fertilizer made from its sewage.
- While composted poop has a high nutrient value, no pathogens, and has been used to sustain agriculture for millenia, there is a yuck factor. As such, the feasibility study assigned a zero value to such compost, but even that is likely a savings, because if we don't compost it locally, it will cost the city $1M/year to dispose of sewage digestate.
- The initiative opponents' "regional solution" to ship away our yard and food wastes will cost the city $30M to $44M over 20 years (Net Present Value), which equates to about $2M/year. (I explained how I sourced these numbers from the feasibility study in a long thread at Web Link)
.
- I should clarify as well that when the City Council formed the Compost Task Force (on which I served, along with Emily), the Council directed that we should consider the use of parkland as a last resort. That is why we worked so hard to find a non-parkland site. But even for just composting yard and food wastes, it came down to only two sites which were large enough: part of the former dump, or part of the airport. We were informed that the airport had little chance of using the piece of land where Embarcadero Road T's at the baylands. So in a breakthrough moment near the end of our term, we unanimously recommended that the airport site be used, and that the compost operations be moved off the future Byxbee Park as soon as possible. We also recommended that we should handle our yard and food wastes in synergy with the sewage and that adjacency to the sewage plant was therefore crucial. The airport people understandably freaked out and convinced Council that they have plans for that site, so Council realized that the landfill site was the only possible site to handle our wastes locally. Council therefore initiated a feasibility study of our proposed solution, Dry Anaerobic Digestion (AD), compared to the existing practice of sewage incineration and exporting the rest, and eventually compared to Wet AD of the sewage instead of incineration.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2011 at 6:52 am

What is the cost of building the facility, assuming the measure passes? Where would the money come from to build this facility?

What are expenses in running the facility every year? and what is the revenue it would generate? be specific about the expenses & revenue - people costs, material costs, depreciation costs, etc. and for revenue as well.

We don't need another High Speed Rail pie-in-the-sky project.

And why wouldn't every city build their own?


Posted by To Be Clear, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 10, 2011 at 6:59 am

Cedric -

Thanks so much for clarifying lots of thinking about this.

I am trying to understand three of your points together, in order to answer the question, "what happens to sewage?"

1. The city and rate-payers will have to pony up $3M each and every year to ship away our wastes (see below: $2M/yr for our food and yard, and $1M/yr for sewage digestate).

2. The digesting of sewage and food wastes would likely take place entirely within the existing sewage treatment plant.

3.Copper content would not be an issue if the sewage were digested and composted instead.

So this means, what, that the existing sewage plan would digest sewage, leaving sewage digestate, which will be composted with yard waste in this 10 acres. The same amount of copper stays in the digestate. After composting in the new plant, the remaining compost is a higher volume than that of current ash, so the copper is present in the compost in a lower concentration. It goes back into the environment at low concentrations as Palo Alto residents use the compost.

Are you implying that design and building capital, operation, and risk mitigation of unknown or unaddressed problems (along with insurance etc.) will cost $3M/year less than it costs to ship our wastes?

Or are you saying we should compare $3M/year to the costs of building, operating, and mitigating risks of the new plant?

That is, this ponying up, does it only happen if we don't build the plant, or do we pony up either way?

This area is next to a dump and smelly sewage treatment plant and therefore less than ideal for most parkland, but isn't that a very attractive environment for a dog run? So in deciding on this, would we weigh in the cost of buying 10 acres of parkland?


Posted by Just-Say-No, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2011 at 7:01 am

> The initiative opponents' "regional solution" to ship away our
> yard and food wastes will cost the city $30M to $44M over 20
> years (Net Present Value), which equates to about $2M/year

We're left with a "so what" response here. While the numbers (dollar amounts cited) are questionable .. let's concede that everything costs money .. so the trucking costs will have some non-zero value. But given how much money is wasted by the City already--on "the arts", "supporting the schools", and paying bloated salaries--what is $2M more to people who, for the most part, won't see any of these costs anyway, or don't seem to care?

We are also left wondering if there are any other solutions that have not been considered—like mulching green waste at the point of origin. Suppose rather than picking up green waste and carrying it away for processing, it were mulched and home owners then used the mulch on their lawns? For the money that is on the table, the City could easily "front" half the cost of an inexpensive mulching machine for home owners/businesses that wanted to take care of their own green waste.

We also have to wonder about creating slurries that can be dumped in the bay—to feed the fish. While this sort of solution requires some thought, it probably has not been considered yet.

And then there is the possibility of using that land to build an electrical generation facility that creates far more electricity proposed, and using that money to pay for shipping the green waste to a regional disposal facility (of whatever kind).

We also have to consider that trucks (used by the City, anyway) might well all be fueled by natural gas, fuel cells, or even electric-powered, so that the cost estimates of today don't play out in the future. (And then there is the possibility of using rail to move the waste, needing to truck it only to a spur line for loading.)


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 10, 2011 at 7:31 am

While I agree with Do It Live, that a live debate with Drekmeier would be preferable, at this stage having Drekmeier respond in any manner would be welcome. Seems that Drekmeier chooses to ignore the public--strange since he needs our support for passage of this initiative. Instead he leaves the work to Cedric, one of the strong vocal supporters of the measure, to address concerns in all of the discussions on this forum.
Seems that Drekmeier is continuing the pattern of elected officials, both past and present, to ignore comments made on this forum--we know that our elected officials are very sensitive to criticism and choose to ignore it whenever possible. Too bad we cannot get Jim Burch to gavel those people that criticize as being out of order!!!
Anyway, looks like either Drekmeier does not really have the answer to the questions posed on this forum or else it is too much work for him to answer.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 10, 2011 at 7:32 am

"Another stink over biosolids erupted in 2009 in San Francisco when "organic compost," given away for free to the public by the Public Utilities Commission, tested positive for several endocrine-disrupting chemicals including flame retardants and triclosan, an anti-bacterial agent. The giveaway is now on temporary hold, and Food Rights Network, a nonprofit research group that oversaw the testing, has called for a permanent end to the program which it accuses of using home gardens as a dumping ground for the sewage waste industry.

In general, controversy over the wisdom of recycling biosolids on farmland and gardens has heated up following release in 2009 of results of an EPA survey in which biosolids from water treatment agencies in 35 states were tested for 145 chemical residues. Every sample contained, at minimum, a host of different flame retardants, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals."

Web Link




Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 10, 2011 at 11:16 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I should have added a few bullet points to address the costs of the alternatives.
- The cost of composting our digestate, any undigested food, and yard wastes at the 10 acre site was not called out separately in the feasibility study.
- If the initiative passes to make the land available, Staff has said they will quantify the cost/benefits of using the site to composting the organic wastes.
- The cost of doing so should be compared to $3M/year of sending it all away. Based on the existing study, our campaign is conservatively estimating a $1M/year net savings from handling our wastes locally.
- The current feasibility details the costs, revenues, and Green House Gas emissions from several processing methods (Dry AD of most organics with local composting; Wet AD of sewage with export of digestate, food, & yard; Sewage Incineration with Export of ash, food & yard). It has three different scenarios of financing assumptions (public vs private financing; no-, low-, or high-rent; pricing CO2 or not; etc.). It breaks out all the costs down to things like Operation and Maintenance; energy and compost sales; Capital Cost Debt Financing; Hauling; etc. With all that information, its a bit overwhelming. It would be impossible for me to supply all these details, but the studies and summaries are available at Web Link . Unfortunately, so far only PDFs of and not the spreadsheet workbooks themselves are available, hopefully soon the city will post the sheets themselves (in which you can see the formulae in each cell, and do proper analysis).
- Staff has said that in the study, Scenario 2 was the most realistic. Costs have to be looked at as the total cost over 20 years as Net Present Value (NPV, which basically means costs in today's dollars), because year by year the annual costs change over time. So from the report's Scenario 2:

20-year Net Present Value (in Millions of $):
Cost..... Case: Description
73......... 1a: Local Dry AD and composting for all our organics
96......... 2a: Wet AD for sewage, Food sent to San Jose Dry AD, Yard sent to Gilroy for Composting
91......... 3a: Wet AD for sewage, Food and Yard sent to Gilroy for Composting

@"To Be Clear":
Your analysis of the copper is correct. The copper concentrations in the incinerated sewage ash is just high enough that it is considered a hazardous waste, but diluted by the larger volume of compost and the other organics it would be lower. Hopefully my comments above will clarify your other questions: we pony up either way, but likely millions less if we vote in November to make 10 acres available to handle things locally.

@"Common Sense":
I don't know why every community wouldn't build their own digestion and composting plants, probably because they don't have Palo Alto's advantage of its own sewage treatment plant, utilities infrastructure, and sufficient land.

@"Just-Say-No":
- Home-based solutions don't meet all the city's municipal organics needs (though I did advocate for such an approach when I was on the Compost Task Force). There is green wastes from street trees and parks, food wastes from restaurants and biz, and plenty of apartment owners who can't make or take mulch or compost.
- The methane generated by the digesters could be cleaned and made into Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), a transportation fuel of an amount sufficient to power the city's entire residential garbage/compost pick up fleet about ten times over.

@"Svatoid":
- This campaign is a not a one-man-show by Drekmeier. It is group effort with hundreds or maybe thousands of supporters (6000+ people signed the petition to give voters this choice in November's election). I, not Peter, was on the Compost Task Force (and the majority of the former task force members support this initiative). Peter's a great organizer, but I'm good with numbers and have deep-dived into the study, which is why you're hearing more from me.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 10, 2011 at 11:32 am

Cedric:

"- This campaign is a not a one-man-show by Drekmeier."
But Drekmeier is the face of the campaign. He got it started. AS the Weekly noted in this article --"One group, led by former Mayor Peter Drekmeier....". That is why some of us expect Drekmeier to do the work and respond to the issues raised.

"It is group effort with hundreds or maybe thousands of supporters (6000+ people signed the petition to give voters this choice in November's election)."
Do not forget that the firefighters got enough signatures for their measure on last years ballot and it was overwhelmingly defeated. Having personally run into Drekmeier outside of Piazza's when he was collecting signatures, his spiel would not pass as completely factual (fantasy would be a more apt description)--ergo people sign,but change their minds after finding out the real details about the issue

"Peter's a great organizer"
Translation--Drekmeier is good at getting everyone else to do the work.
I assume we will be hearing from Drekmeier at some point, if it is not too much effort for him. After all, shouldn't the public face of the initiative be familiar with the numbers (or the "numbers" that you are supplying us--be they factual or not.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm

"The copper concentrations in the incinerated sewage ash is just high enough that it is considered a hazardous waste, but diluted by the larger volume of compost and the other organics it would be lower"

Not exactly. Sewage sludge toxins are passed through to the end user, as part of compost, which is applied over and over, year after year and season after season. Over time, heavy metals and other persistent toxins accumulate. Anaerobic digestion (AD), be it wet or dry, does not do much to handle the toxics issues.

Economists like to talk about externalities...those things not directly perceived to be a cost of a process, by the owners of the process, but which are a real cost to those exposed to effects not paid for by those who profit from the original process. The accumulation of toxins from sewage sludge, over time, is the externality that is causing the resistance from the organic food people. The proponents of this AD proposal in Palo Alto have accepted that the toxins should be spread out into our backyards and farms, instead of concentrated and isolated. This is a not a very "green" approach.

Worse, there is a real cost (in $$) to accumulating compost that cannot be distributed to the external environment. This stuff will need to trucked to somewhere, probably another landfill, and the dumping fees and trucking fees will constitute a very signfnicant cost. Cedric has assumed a zero cost, but he needs to assume a real cost (not a profit and not zero). How will his tables look at that point?


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm

"Cost..... Case: Description
73......... 1a: Local Dry AD and composting for all our organics"

I watched the June 27 city council meeting that discussed the alternatives and costs. I then reviewed the online video (Web Link) to verify what I'm about to point out.

According to the city consultant, nobody in the world does Dry AD with sewage sludge. Palo Alto would have to build a pilot (read: experimental) plant to try it out. Nobody knows how many millions of dollars that experiment would cost. Nobody knows if it will work. Even if it did work, it would take millions more to upgrade or replace the pilot plant with a production version. The proponents never mention this hidden cost.

It also appears that an another under the table subsidy from the city is being assumed to lower the project's visible costs. This subsidy would have the city forgive many millions of dollars in land rent that it ordinarily charges its enterprises (like it did the landfill) for using city land.

If this boondoggle looks expensive on its face, wait till you look behind the curtain.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 10, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

@"Svatoid":
- You describe Peter's signature collection spiel as "fantasy", but you'll have to back that up. The city's feasibility study shows local processing of our wastes as saving money and reducing green house gasses. Show me credible evidence to the contrary. I personally have been dismayed by our opponents' use of misleading information.
- Peter does his fair share of the campaign work, but many others are pulling their weight as well. We are all citizens looking out for the best financial and environmental interests of the community.

@"Craig Laughton":
- First off, I did not assume a zero-cost for the distribution of sewage-based compost: the feasibility study did. (It has a $30/ton value for yard-and-food-based compost sales.)
- You assume that our sewage is heavily contaminated, but that is not necessarily correct. The Sewage Plant's service area is mostly low-density residential, commercial, and office, with a diminishing number of industrial activities. In addition, the city has a program for reducing pollutants at the source, before they go into storm or sewer drains. Thus, metals contamination, for instance, has declined in the last two decades. A full report of monitoring of the inputs/outputs of the plant can be found here: Web Link . I do not have the bandwidth to research the acceptable levels of each contaminant and compare them with the actual levels. Please feel free to dig through that and report back any findings of significant hazardous levels.

@"Curmedgeon":
- The feasibility study did in fact reveal that Dry AD appears to not have been used yet with sewage, which generally makes sense because sewage comes down the pipe in a wet slurry. Usually it is processed by Wet AD. Dry AD has been used primarily for food, yard, and mixed solid waste (trash). For this reason, when the preliminary draft report came out in January, we encouraged the City to study Wet AD for sewage and food, with composting of the digestate and yard wastes, but the study did not have enough funds and time left to study this option. Staff indicated instead that if the public votes to permit such an option by voting YES in November, they will study this option. As I indicated above, I think Wet AD of food and sewage on the sewage treatment plant's site is the most likely option, and local composting will likely be cheaper than sending or wastes "away".
- Scenario 2 of the study has over $100,000/year in rent for use of the 10 acres of former landfill, which is comparable to a park-land use of the site, which is the only other permitted use of the land.
- Our opponents want to saddle Palo Alto rate payers with $1M/year in rent (as in Scenario 3), in the hopes of making the project seem too expensive. $1M/yr rent is comparable to what an office building would pay for the land, but this use is not permitted by the initiative: either park or organics management, nothing else.
- Any rent paid for the site would be transferred from the rate payers to the city's general fund. It is up to the Council to determine how much rent to charge.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm

"- You describe Peter's signature collection spiel as "fantasy", but you'll have to back that up."

Well, Cedric, read crumudgeon's post above yours as one example. Another is that in Drekmeier's spiel it was presented that the undedication would then lead to the building of the facility that Drekmeier favors--not true. That is why I think we should have one election with two measures--one for undedication and one for the type of facility. This election is a waste of money, but that has never been a concern of some people

"I personally have been dismayed by our opponents' use of misleading information."
The above statement is like the kettle calling the pot black!!!

"Peter does his fair share of the campaign work, but many others are pulling their weight as well."
As I and others have said, we would like the front man for this to personally address the issues raised. I realize that will require work, but at some point in everyone's life, you have to do some real work.


" We are all citizens looking out for the best financial and environmental interests of the community."
Apparently not, since a good number of local environmentalists are against this boondoggle. And the issues raised by crumudgeon and Craig Laughton, to name just a couple, call into question the financial good this will bring to the city.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm

"You assume that our sewage is heavily contaminated, but that is not necessarily correct."

No, Cedric, I did not say that. What I said is that the organic foods community is increasingly wary of sewage sludge in its compost, due to the accumulation of toxics of all kinds (not just heavy metals). It has little to do with the "yuck" factor. You need to get up to speed on this one, Cedric. You might start with the link I provided, above.

Any economic model of this project MUST include an option whereby the compost produced from the sewage sludge CANNOT be distributed to the external environment, because too many people will reject it. This would mean that the compost will build up in a huge pile, and it will need to be disposed of...which means trucking and tipping costs at a landfill somewhere.

Cedric, where in your projections are these disposal costs calculated? As far as I can tell, you simply zeroed it out, and did not assume a disposal cost. Am I wrong?


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm

As with most other citizens, my bandwidth (to use Cedric's term) is finite and split among my other business and personal concerns in our current economic situation, but this is an important topic and I am following the discussion. I look forward to continued civil exchanges and thank Cedric for his efforts and Palo Alto Online for hosting.


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm

" when the preliminary draft report came out in January, we encouraged the City to study Wet AD for sewage and food, with composting of the digestate and yard wastes, but the study did not have enough funds and time left to study this option. Staff indicated instead that if the public votes to permit such an option by voting YES in November, they will study this option. As I indicated above, I think Wet AD of food and sewage on the sewage treatment plant's site is the most likely option, and local composting will likely be cheaper than sending or wastes "away"."

So, we are being urged to give up 10 acres of park for a project that is not even defined yet. Thanks, pal, but NO THANKS.

Come back when you and the city have finished your homework.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm

"WARNING: That garden "compost" you see, the one called Amend, promoted in photo ops of "organic" gardens by Hollywood stars is sewage sludge. The stars promoting the gardens were unwittingly paired with a corporation whose main business is selling sewage sludge-based products, but without any such disclosure on the bags. No law requires that sewage sludge be labeled to warn you to avoid it, so the sewage industry now calls it "compost" and disposes of it by duping unsuspecting gardeners into putting it on their gardens"

Web Link

I provide this link, just so that Palo Alto voters can get a feel about how intensely sewage sludge is being rejected by the organic folks. Watch the video clip to see what perception is.

The proponents of this AD proposal need to answer the question: What if we cannot get rid of the stuff?


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Cedric,

Thanks for the web link to the costs... am I correct in reading that there needs to be a bond approved for between $40 million to $80 million dollars to build the plant (depending on which options are chosen)?


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 12, 2011 at 10:07 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

"Common Sense",

- $83M is the figure for both a Wet AD for sewage and a separate Dry AD for food and yard. I don't think this option would be pursued unless they find it is cheaper than that.
- The study shows a $38M "Total Debt Required" for the capital cost and debt financing, for the Dry AD of all inputs. But this scenario has private ownership, so I think a private company would assume the costs and risks of building it, and then Palo Alto would pay them $3M/year. On top of that there's operations, and then revenue mostly from energy generation, so the total 20-year NPV cost is given as $73M.
- Scenario 1 had Public ownership, with essentially a lower interest rate, and also no rent, so its 20-year NPV cost was only $59M. Public ownership I presume would be done with a bond, though it might be possible for the city to loan itself money from its Calaveras energy reserve fund.
- The Wet AD is also $38M, but that is given as for Biosolids only. However I've spoken recently with someone from the city who said they think they'll be able to fit 3 Wet Digesters on their sewage plant next to the existing incinerator, and as this is built to accomodate growth projections, they'd have extra capacity and it looks like they'd be able to take all our food waste too. Once that is operational, the city can take out its incinerator, and if ever needed build an additional digester in its place. Since Wet AD is a more mature and provien technology than Dry AD, the city would likely go with Public ownership, which should entail lower financing costs, so probaly closer to $59M than $73M over 20 years.

I'll address some of the points that were raised by others above later when I'm not at work...


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

"The study shows a $38M "Total Debt Required" for the capital cost and debt financing, for the Dry AD of all inputs. But this scenario has private ownership, so I think a private company would assume the costs and risks of building it, and then Palo Alto would pay them $3M/year. On top of that there's operations, and then revenue mostly from energy generation, so the total 20-year NPV cost is given as $73M."

Wait, you think a private company will assume the costs?? You do not know? Has Drekmeier looked into this? Shouldn't this thing be looked into before we waste money on a ballot measure?

"Scenario 1 had Public ownership, with essentially a lower interest rate, and also no rent, so its 20-year NPV cost was only $59M. Public ownership I presume would be done with a bond, though it might be possible for the city to loan itself money from its Calaveras energy reserve fund."
Only $59??? Spoken like a true Drekmeier disciple.
Once again, shouldn;t these things be worked out before we proceed to the ballot box. Do you really think that PA residents will want another bond to finance a pie in the sky, pipe dream project?


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 12, 2011 at 12:48 pm

"However I've spoken recently with someone from the city who said they think they'll be able to fit 3 Wet Digesters on their sewage plant next to the existing incinerator"

Cedric,

Name that person. I (and perhaps others) will take it from there.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Svatoid, you're freaking out on us here. Take a few deep breaths, maybe a Valium, and call your doctor in the morning. It's gonna be OK...

Instead of speaking in absolutes, I tend to qualify my statements, perhaps too much, with phrases like "I think" even when in actuality "I'm almost certain". So, let me clarify.

The first preliminary draft of the feasibility study was broken down a bit differently than the final draft. Instead of the three Scenarios, the first draft had, for each case (of treatment and location options) a Base Case and several Alternative Cases (I can't recall the term they used). The Base Case assumed Private Financing, and it was explained that this meant the private entity would build the thing and assume the risks for it. This they said was more applicable to the Dry AD for sewage because of the uncertainty with this option. Because a private entity was building it, they need a stronger return on their investment so it's more expensive for us, but less risky.

One of the Alternatives was Public Financing, probably with a bond, and this one was much more affordable because the city just needs to pay for the bond, not make a profit on top of that. It was explained that this model would be much more likely for Wet AD, because sewage treatment plants have been using this technology successfully for decades and they know it works and all.

The final draft of the study (the consultants are basically just fixing typos at this point, before releasing the polished final version)... As I was saying, instead of these Base and Alternate Cases, the final draft of the study used three Scenarios:
- Scenario 1 is Public Financing, so I assume that means the same as what I just described above, and the pricing reflects that. $59M is straight from the report (look it up at Web Link (pdf)).
- Scenario 2 is Private Financing, so again I assume the city didn't change their minds and definitions of all this stuff, and so that still means Private ownership and risk: less risk for the city at a higher cost.
- As I explained above, Wet AD is a known technology, so the Public Financing is the more likely option, like Scenario 1. Also, with Wet AD on the sewage plant site, there is no rent involved, so this too is like Scenario 1. On the scenario's spreadsheets' Inputs tab, I found that the cost of the Wet AD is the same as the Dry AD, which price of ~$40M matched the price estimate provided to me by City Staff about a year ago.
- Thus, it is reasonable to say that the publicly-financed Wet AD for sewage at the treatment plant site, with the same capital cost as the Dry AD, and likely to have capacity for both food and sewage (as I was recently told by Staff), with the additional operational costs of composting yard trimmings and digestate (like in the Dry AD case), would therefore cost closer to the Scenario 1 Case 1a's $59M than the Privately-financed Scenario 2 Case 1a of $73M.
- All these costs to be compared to Cases 2a/3a which do not use the 10-acre former dump/future park site and which are Wet AD for sewage only, and sending our yard and food and digestate "away", which cost $89-94M for Scenario 1 or $91-96M in Scenario 2.
- So you're looking at a potential savings of ~$20M over 20 years, if we vote to make the land available to compost our wastes locally.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm

"Svatoid, you're freaking out on us here. Take a few deep breaths, maybe a Valium, and call your doctor in the morning. It's gonna be OK..."

Cedric--why don't you save your comments like the ones above for when you are spending time worshipping at Drekmeier's feet.
I realize that money means nothing to Drekmeier and company but people are raising serious concerns that Drekmeier has not addressed--obviously you are fronting for him, but you seem to ignore those concerns, as well.
I guess you figure that you responses can be made like the one above and everybody will be happy. Maybe you need drugs to get you through day, but comments ridiculing people (while ignoring the fact that many people really do use Valium for serious issues) have no place in this discussion. But I assume that this will be the future of this debate as the Drekmeier folly folks get more and more desperate.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Svatoid, you were being a bit dramatic, and I called you on it. Sorry if I hurt your feelings.

There's nothing boondoggle or pie-in-the sky about Anaerobic Digestion and composting, and the city's own feasibility study came to the conclusion that it was worth considering further.

Municipalities accross the nation and around the world use AD to digest their sewage. The residual digestate is typically either sent to a landfill or sent to a compost facility. For Palo Alto, sending our sewage digestate away would cost $1M/year, and sending away our food and yard wastes would cost an additional $2M/year.

The fiscally-prudent thing to do is to vote yes in November to give the city and rate payers the option of saving money and energy.

Phil Bobel from City Staff some time ago told us that digesting food and sewage together produces more energy than digesting them each separately. I went looking for a study I'd heard of that shows this increased energy output of co-digestion, which the East Bay Municipal District (EBMUD) has been doing for years. Instead I found and read a study (Web Link) done by EBMUD for the EPA which quantified the energy production and mass reduction of digesting food waste alone (not with sewage).

They basically found that digesting food produces 3 times the energy as digesting sewage.

Whether digested together or separetly, either way it generates a lot of energy. It seems to me that the city could digest them separately, in order to produce a separate stream of food-only compost uncontaminated by sewage. But that compost option is only possible if we vote to make 10 acres next to the sewage treatment site available.


Posted by Svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 12, 2011 at 7:28 pm

No, cedric I was asking realistic questions concerning this latest pie-in-the-sky boondoggle that need to be addressed by drekmeier before election day. I am not the only one who had raised these financial concerns. It appears that those concerns will be addressed with snide comments.
The fiscally prudent thing to do is to vote no on this matter until we have a clear picture of what the land will be used for and how much it wil cost us. We need deserve more than answers contrasting the phrase "we think".
I look forward to drekmeier addressing these issues in a public forum instead of relying on his acolytes to try to blow smoke in our eyes


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 13, 2011 at 9:34 am

Cedric,

I take from your comments that it will cost us $1M/year to haul away our sewage sludge, if the sludge cannot become part of the compost stream. If so, this wipes out your claimed $20M savings over 20 years. Put another way, we end up sacrificing 10 acreas of potential park land to a large industrial plant, and we do not profit from it. Do I have this right?


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 13, 2011 at 9:46 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Craig,

You're forgetting the $30-44M cost over 20 years to send away food and yard (not including sewage) if the site is not available to compost it locally.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 13, 2011 at 10:12 am

Here is an article from April that appeared in the weekly
Web Link
"Palo Alto voters will be asked to wrestle with incomplete and possible contradictory data in November when they hit the voting booths to consider whether the city should be allowed to build a waste-to-energy plant on parkland in the Baylands."

This is a perfect reason why we should not vote on this initiative until we have clearer information. We are wasting 250K+ on this election. Time to step back and come up with a real plan then vote on both at a future election

"You're forgetting the $30-44M cost over 20 years to send away food and yard (not including sewage) if the site is not available to compost it locally."
I would caution all readers that this number comes from one of the ardent supporters of this issue. Who knows if creative bookkeeping did not come into play to derive this figure.

I urge a no vote on this initiative. We need answers, accurate financial information and a solid plan, not the smoke and mirrors, number juggling and pie-in-sky plans that drekmeier and company are trying to foist on us.


Posted by Where is Yoriko?, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 13, 2011 at 4:21 pm

What is the stand of Palo alto's most vocal and leading environmentalist on this issue? I find it strange that Yoriko Kishimoto has not weighed in on this matter. She has always touted "green" issues and the need to recycle, conserve energy etc. Yet she is strangely silent on this matter. I wonder if it is because of the divided camps and she does not want to have to commit to one postion or another. That would make sense--a lack of commitment has been the calling card of many of our leaders


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 13, 2011 at 5:54 pm

"You're forgetting the $30-44M cost over 20 years to send away food and yard (not including sewage) if the site is not available to compost it locally."

Cedric,

Not really. The cost to build and run the plant will probably exceed that amount over 20 years. After 20 years, who knows what will happen? Maybe the plant will need to be torn down and replaced with a better model.

If you were willing to talk about exploring the best local solution (which is probably plasma arc), I would find you and your group more credible. However, since you are locked into a highly inefficient and unnecessarily large industrial plant, for what appears to be ideological reasons, I must remain doubtful.

I will be voting no, even though I do think that we should be responsible for our own wastes, and I am willing to use some potential parkland for that purpose.


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