Town Square

City of Palo Alto hires first sustainability officer

Original post made on Dec 9, 2013

Gil Philip Friend has been selected as the City of Palo Alto's first chief sustainability officer, City Manager James Keene announced Monday.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, December 9, 2013, 2:35 PM


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2013 at 4:16 pm

If he really is interested in reducing waste, maybe he could fire himself so the money could be spent on infrastructure, safety, education, etc...

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Got to wonder how long it's going to take this guy to make himself pretty unpopular. Telling people what they can do with their propery, and how they can run their businesses, is going to be the next level of interferrence in our lives by this local government.

There is nothing in the Charter to authorize this sort of craziness. So, it's only fair to expect him to operate more like an Czar than a servant of the people.

Another waste of time and money! It really is time for this guy Keene to go!

Posted by Joe, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2013 at 6:37 pm

So far, the feedback indicates that everyone would prefer to remain Friend-less.

Posted by Domadiful, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2013 at 7:00 pm

I can't believe it took me this long, but now I realize Palo Alto is filled with a bunch of Ayn Rand fans. Good luck!

Posted by Sad, a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 9, 2013 at 8:08 pm

I find this ironic since the City Council is going to tell the residents at Maybell who want to save the 100 established trees at Maybell in open space across from an existing park - even though they are offering to find a way to pay for it themselves as they did Bol Park if the City just gives them time - to go jump in a lake. The City prefers to hire someone for show and bulldoze the trees - that"ll teach us to cross them when they want to put giant developments in our neighborhood. (Us being the thousands of kids who take those commute corridors and the disabled kids in the school across the street...

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Don't worry, the city will make sure the bulldozers are powered with bio-diesel.

Posted by Barbara, a resident of Stanford
on Dec 9, 2013 at 9:12 pm

I doubt the comments above are representative of Palo Alto residents, just the usual vocal minority of nay-sayers. (Actually there is no proof that all these commenters even live in Palo Alto.) Congratulations to Palo Alto for apparently hiring someone with world-class qualifications and experience to lead the critical sustainability effort. I look forward to Palo Alto helping elevate the whole region's effort.

Posted by Palo Alto, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:15 am

Thank you, this is terrific. I would like to see a little more proactive eduction of the current city policies, specifically as it relates to the local restaurant owners who still use styrofoam and thin chemical leaking plastic containers to package hot food to go. I wandered who to contact so I am glad there is a someone out there. Mr. Gil is a very welcome addition to our community. I see his role of an educator who will lead by example.

Posted by Estupido, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:55 am

This is just as lame as the salary being paid for a PR person to cover Kevin Skelly's tracks! Stupid is as stupid does, and this is doing stupid! Cheaper and more efficient to just fire the person(s) who make this extra expenditure necessary.

BTW, at this salary, this guy should be required to live here.

The people who do the hiring in this town and in this school district must be blind, deaf, and dumb!

Posted by 35 year resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:18 am

What is the city manager trying to prove? Does he want us to be another Berkeley? Palo Altans are responsible enough and don't need anyone dictating any more policy than we already have. Friend said that "Palo Alto is a remarkable city with unmatched assets." I guess those assets will be decreased by $153,000. annually now.

Posted by econtreras, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:27 am

As a Palo Altan, I could not be happier that the city finally hired a sustainability officer with an extensive track record of community development. He should have been hired a long time ago, but nevertheless, this is a great step forward. Great job!

Posted by Confused, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:48 am

Since Mr. Keene can't "sustain",or provide a traffic report, or form a city vision plan,or provide a direction for Cubberly homeless issues, or be at least neutral on the Maybell referdum, Reducing and/or outsorcing the street cleaning program (after we have voted amonthly fee)...
etc.... Seem he can only hire Consultants, Managers to do the job he was hired to do at the first place.
Boy, do we have money to burn in this Great Town.

Posted by jardins, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:58 am

Are there any city staff who AREN'T managers these days? It's like being on Alma going north--everyone wants to be in the fast lane.

Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Would someone tell me what this guy is going to do?

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Would the PA Weekly publish a list of all the $125K and above so-called experts and managers and tell us what they DO??? What have they accomplished? How many staff do they have? Office? Phones? The list is long. Then give us a report of WHAT KEENE DOES!! And all his assistants-this and assistants-that. And their salaries and pensions and travel budgets. And the city wants to cut street sweeping and also contract out that service!! Time for Measure N!!

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 10, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Clever: who could argue against "sustainability," whatever that means?
I'm sure educated people are in favor of being responsible with the earth, energy and so on. Nonetheless, I am puzzled as to what this person will do 8 hours per day at 153K/year. Seems questionable for an expenditure of taxpayer dollars, year after year. Perhaps hiring someone in the garbage/recycling department at far less salary could have made sense. I will not take kindly to being lectured by this person if he is a "czar," and as someone else posted, I wonder if it is a legitimate expenditure of taxpayer funds and use of city powers.

Posted by Sad, a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:17 pm

@ Barbara,
As one of the neighbors who warned City Council they would face a lot of opposition if they so significantly rezoned the Maybell property, I can tell you that at least the opinion I voiced above is representative of a lot of Palo Alto residents.

If you think I'm wrong, please send a letter to the City Council asking them to save the orchard and the 100 trees there, that it would be consistent with the goal of maintaining an urban forest, and that patch (with a nesting red-tailed hawk) has been there for many decades and in its location in the neighborhood nearest the Foothills is an important piece of the patchwork of open space for wildlife connecting the foothills to the bay. In addition to the historic apricot orchard, there are at least a dozen 100 year old oaks. Perhaps you might send your message to the new sustainability czar, too.

Maybe you'll be heard instead of talking to the usual hand we get.

(Interestingly, when I warned City Council of the opposition to the Maybell development — asking for the chance to hammer out a compromise -- they also characterized us as a small minority of naysayers.)

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

This is yet another example of the City's misplaced priorities.
First, the base salary of $153K translates into roughly $500K/yr when one factors in benefits and overhead (office space, support staff such as IT, HR,...).

That $500K/yr cost to the City likely translates into $2-5M/yr when you count the additional workload on staff (existing and to be hired) generated by such a manager (start with span-of-control of at least 5 people with an average salary of $100K/yr = $300-400K/yr loaded, add in contracts for consultants...)

And the City Council can't figure out why there aren't enough staff in the Planning Dept to produce even marginal competent or credible assessment of projects. Or why the City doesn't have the money to build a Public Safety Building.

Posted by Casa de Cerveza, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Congratulations to Gil Friend. We should all wish Gil success and support the City of Palo Alto's contributions to a more sustainable community. Hoping that a laissez faire policy will magically result in a healthy environment is wishful thinking at best and could result in a Bhopal moment at worst. Palo Alto is already home to one Superfund site because past chemical releases by Hewlett Packard posed a threat to groundwater -- Web Link.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:46 pm

This hire is just a continuation of the 'zero waste' fanaticism which has infected the Palo Alto mindset. At root, it is about climate warming alarmism.

You can expect a reflexive and enthusiastic approval of the anaerobic digestion fiasco. The fix is in.

Posted by Rolling in money?, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2013 at 3:20 pm

More management jobs with large salaries. PA is rolling in money, but cries poor mouth to get county & regional grants for basic infrastructure repairs that were neglected for decades, as if this is an impoverished area.
"Estupido's" combox name is classic.

Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm

"At root, it is about climate warming alarmism."


Climate varies naturally:

Posted by Paco, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2013 at 7:10 pm

How can a city hire a six figure salary manager who has no job description (or who has conveniently created their own job description) and yet have no personnel to manage? No problem! City Manager Keene has hired yet another of his good friends with no job and added to his shadow organization of skyrocketing management positions who have no responsibilities and who answer only to Keene regarding their value, if any, to the community. So what value is Keene to our community? It would seem City Manager Keene and his good friends have overextended their stay in Palo Alto. Perhaps the Palo Alto Weekly could do the community a service and post the number and cost of management positions created by the current city manager. Meanwhile, the City Council and City Manager continue to reduce city services......

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

There is a job description, albeit very abstract. From PDF page 45 of Web Link:

"Chief Sustainability Officer: The CSO will report to the City Manager and take direction from the Sustainability Board. A critical task of the CSO is to develop the long-term sustainability work plan and prioritize tasks for each fiscal year. The CSO will work with a larger group of individuals from many City departments to complete the tasks on the work plan. That larger
group, the Sustainability Team, will organize itself into committees to implement the work plan as prioritized by the CSO. Participants in the Sustainability Team will be embedded in job descriptions and annual appraisals to ensure that team members understand that the sustainability work plan tasks are key City priorities. The CSO will also be responsible for community outreach on sustainability efforts and will act as the co-
chair of community based Community Environmental Action Partnership

Posted by Gus L., a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Can you please ask him to tell the "City" to please stop sending me all of the Junk Mail and unwanted notices in my Utility bill for starters..Must cost hundreds of thousands in printing..

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:33 pm

The City runs a totally anti-environment land use policy and then hires a sustainability officer. The first thing he should do is enforce a moratorium on all new developmement projects and all basement and
underground garage construction which may require dewatering. Otherwise this is a complete farce. It's a complete farce. The sustainability
officer was introduced the same night the Council approved another
under-parked massive office project which creates more traffic far
beyond the City's infrastructure to handle. You know, you really can't
make up this kind of stuff. The Council doesn't connect the dots of course.

Posted by Aquamarine, a resident of Stanford
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Umm...what? Have fun with your new Friend, folks!

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:03 pm

How about the common sense move of not creating more high salary management jobs until we can consistently balance the city budget and fund our vital and essential infrastructure needs without raising taxes. Our city leaders and elected officials never cease to amaze me. No logic, no financial plan, and they continue to spend irresponsibly. Unreal.

Posted by Karl W. Braun, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:34 pm

This sort of "sustainability" will eventually prove to be quite unsustainable.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2013 at 1:22 am

Overbuilding and under parking is the new definition of sustainability.

Posted by A., a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 8:23 am

How about he first start telling the city to STOP OVERDEVELOPING! And I second Gus. L's comment about the unwanted junkmail. We have a great ordinance on bags and smoking, how about stopping junkmail...lets start with our city and hope it will spread.

Posted by PA007, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 11, 2013 at 8:35 am

They sure need one for the Department of Budget first!

Posted by really!, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:21 am

@Gus -- I agree with you and the Utility is apparently stepping up its big brother program. Recently I received a shiny two page letter explaining their new program which will send out reports on my water usage compared to my neighbors every three months. It felt like a parent addressing a child!

I noticed the report tells me they know how many occupants are in my house in order to generate this new report. Really? How does the Utility know that?

The report also strongly urges me to update my profile(!) so it will be more accurate. Gee, how much data about my life will the Utility need to make accurate comparisons of my water usage to my neighbors? Obviously more than just the number of occupants.

Maybe how often I have visitors or how often I travel. How about if I'm working from home or retired or work out of town often. Seems like the bigger house you have then you get to use more water. What if I make the choice to live in a smaller house but want a pool? How does the Utility plan to evaluate that?

Posted by SadWaste, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:33 am

This town has it's priorities backwards! Instead of putting this town on the map for being green, I think this town will end up on the map and in the news for the city with the "most unhappy residents". This town is a shambles and doesn't listen to it's residents. I don't feel happy to exploit it or bring friends and family to. Well, I don't think my family or friends can visit anyway because they will never find parking!

Posted by SadWaste, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:37 am

Just another way for the city to "mold" their residents into what they presume is the correct way to live.

Posted by Old Palo Alto, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:19 am

If this is true, why would he take a job for $153,000 a year when he could make millions running his own company? With that salary he can't even afford to live in Palo Alto.

"Gil is a pioneer in the field of sustainability and has extensive experience leading and developing strategic sustainability practices for cities and companies across the globe," Keene stated. "His thought leadership has inspired many, and he has instituted some of the most innovative programs in the field.

"Gil's deep experience and connections will be instrumental in making Palo Alto not only the greenest city in America but also a major contributor to advancing world-class sustainability strategies that link to the San Francisco Bay region and beyond."

Posted by resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2013 at 11:53 am

Oh my, another "Chief something or other"! I have heard that even the city staff think Keene has gone overboard with the number of Chief's whom he has hired - most of which have been his buddies and if not buddies, they are certainly his "yes men" with few responsibilities beyond making sure Keene sounds good. Why did council allow this? This is too much!

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I'll just add my voice against the "sustainability officer" and the city council's ridiculous management of the city. Since some are claiming that it is just a minority that is anti-Palo Alto government, let me add my voice to the minority that is probably a majority.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm

If the city wants to do something that will lead to sustainability and empower the citizens let it install a 3-1-1 call system for reports and suggestions and then post a breakdown of the calls on the city's webpage so residents can see what is on people's minds and add to it.

There are 3-1-1 systems in many American cities right now and these can help with all kinds of things, and have the benefit of letting people know what is going on in their community.

3-1-1 is like 9-1-1 but non-emergency. Callers should be able to ask questions, get references, report problems or perceptions of problems, or maybe even things that are good. Here's some examples of uses for 3-1-1:

3-1-1 service is generally implemented at the local level, and in some cities, it is also used for various municipal calls.

- dead animal removal
- debris in roadway
- illegal burning
- non-working streetlamps, parking meters, traffic lights
- noise complaints
- Parking Law Enforcement
- potholes, sinkholes and utility holes in streets

All kinds of uses can evolve from a 3-1-1 system if the system has a defined web API and allows citizens to add their own ideas/software. This is an idea one person with 150K could probably not do, and the cost is much less.

Posted by Justin, a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 11, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Good luck making Palo Alto a green city when the most opinionated residents don't want it to become a city in the first place.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 3:48 pm

I think it is the extreme of being opinionated when someone makes a statement such as "the most opinionated residents don't want it to become a city in the first place." I'm pretty sure I've not seen one post ever than said Palo Alto should not be a city, let alone from the most opinionated. The "most" opinionated would have to be people who make extreme exaggerations wouldn't it?

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Prior to this position, there was an "Assistant to the City Manager for Sustainability". City Manager Keene hired a person into this position, who stayed for a few years, but left in 2012. Not much was accomplished, and I'm surprised both the council & the City Manager haven't realized from that experience that this position is a waste of money. Over the next 5 years, the position will cost the city over $1.2 million dollars in salary & benefits (not to mention all the time it takes from the other departments to respond to requests from this person).

Posted by Hello, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 12, 2013 at 2:18 am

Thank you Gil for accepting the job - distant commute and long hours for very little pay in my opinion. I would appreciate it if you set up sidewalk office hours like Joe Simitian use to do. It is unofficial hands on approach on a sidewalk of the Saturday public market behind the post office. Many of us use to line up to brainstorm with Joe and at the very least, he or his assistants would guide us to the right place for answers. Please help us develop Palo Alto into an exemplary sustainable town.

Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I see more and.more position like this being created or already have been created. So what is matter with trying to reduce are waste, use of.water and other resources. Was thinking Bay Area wide but then again people will pull Agenda 21 or something along the lines.

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2013 at 2:47 pm

> If the city wants to do something that will lead to sustainability
> and empower the citizens let it install a 3-1-1 call system for
> reports and suggestions

The City did contract with a 3rd-party service to provide Palo Alto residents, and visitors, just such a service--via the Internet:

Web Link

This service is accessible via Smart-App, and normal PC/Laptop/Netbook devices. Unfortunately, all of the services that you suggest are not currently implemented, and it's not clear if they ever will be implemented--given that it's now over six months since the City went live with this service.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2013 at 7:18 am

Wondering ... thanks for pointing that out, I was unaware of that. Although it is not really the full-featured 3-1-1 system that some cities have, with phone and web interface ... it is a start. It looks like there are some issues that have been reported and worked on to completion - real start.

Posted by Sad, a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 13, 2013 at 9:53 am

I think we should get rid of most of these expensive positions at the City level and do two things:

1) Change our City Council to district representation, so that every part of Palo Alto has someone who represents them on the Council, perhaps with 5 rather than 9 members, and

2) Pay a real salary to Councilmembers so that it's a job rather than essentially a volunteer position.

City code provides their pay as $600/month. We shouldn't be surprised when those for whom it is a power trip and a chance to shill for developers dominate, and our town reaps the results.

I hope everyone reading this who agrees with the above understand the implications of the Maybell referendum. If you agree, consider getting together with some of your neighbors and starting an initiative to make the above change to the City Charter.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Very good points, very good ideas, "sad". Still, I wonder if the city could afford to pay someone enough to be able to live in whatever area of Palo Alto they represent? Certainly not someone who wanted to move here - which means we would likely get residents that lived here already. What would those be likely to be?