LettersFeasibility for Baylands
We often go out to the Baylands — we love it, especially in the early morning and late afternoon. I hope Measure E passes. A complete feasibility study can then be done. If the project is feasible then several percent of the cost can be creatively spend for Baylands mitigation — perhaps more accessibility and interpretation. If not feasible, we will seldom linger in the ten acres next to our sewer plant.
This is in regard to Palo Alto's Measure E, about the undedication of parkland at the Bay for the possibility of an anaerobic digester for sewage sludge and the creation of compost.
I do understand that it is the wet anaerobic digester that the proponents now favor. However, I would not want to use compost that has residue of sewage sludge in it. That residue could be toxic, and I would not use it for my tomatoes or other edibles.
No one has yet addressed this issue. How safe would such compost, made from sewage sludge and food waste, be for vegetable gardens? And would the compost also include yard trimmings as it has in the past?
I sat attentively at the Palo Alto Chamber debate (Oct. 11) over Measure E, regarding Byxbee Park's 10 acres. I did my best, even wrote down all the opponents talking points (42 total) as to why I should vote no on E. I heard so much fear, uncertainty and doubt, when the meeting ended I couldn't recall from my notes any rational reason. Voting no was all emotional. If any data was present it was exaggerated. I asked two attendees to give me one main reason why I should vote no. I got repeats of the emotional stuff twice. My vote is yes on E. We need to live and process our waste more stainable and this is the best option presented.
Good for the environment
Much has been said about Measure E circumventing the environmental review requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act by not preparing an Environmental Impact Report before the vote.
As it turns out, CEQA review is not required for proposals placed on the ballot by initiative (Section 15378 of the CEQA Guidelines). Beyond that, there are common sense reasons for delaying the review, namely that an adequate review cannot be conducted for a "project" that does not yet have a secured location and is not fully defined.
In development, like the rest of the economy, uncertainty equals risk; until the 10 acres of landfill next to the sewage plant are undedicated, the proposed composting facility lacks a secure site, making the investment in an EIR a much more risky proposition. If we want the opportunity to attract private sector financing, this will likely be the first step.
Similarly, without a secured location, it is much more difficult to determine critical pieces of information like building design, size, site coverage, traffic access, volumes of materials to be processed, etc. When there is a defined project a full environmental review should be conducted according to law. All impacts, including those to air, water, noise, odor, traffic, wildlife, land use, etc. should be identified and mitigated.
Perhaps this is why former California Assemblymember John T. Knox, author of CEQA, has endorsed the "Yes on Measure E" campaign. In his words, "Measure E is good for the environment. That's why I endorse it."
E is the future
As a parent of a high school student, a college student and a recent college graduate, their support for Measure E came naturally and selfishly.
Measure E and the associated development of a local organic conversion facility builds an interesting and engaging future for Palo Alto's next generation. Students and recent grads rally to Palo Alto's leadership in green technology — green tech will keep coming to Palo Alto and with the associated opportunities. The project will continue to engage Stanford research where our local treatment and organic management is at the forefront of technology. The project excites the local green tech venture community furthering our business growth in this arena. The project reveals the positive and scientific climate choices that inform discussion in high school environmental studies classes. The project brings the prospect of green jobs to Palo Alto, a common agony for recent graduates. There is no engagement or opportunities by voting no — the ten acres will just sit as disturbed land idle into the future.
So as parents, when you look at the ballot choice, talk to your kids. Know that Measure E's outcome will build a richer environment, economy, and opportunities. There are no guarantees, but as we set the correct course for Palo Alto, supporting Measure E is where to point the future's compass.
E proponents ignore facts
Proponents of Measure E carefully ignore facts and reality, appealing to emotions and fond wishes. In fact no facility capable of dry anaerobic digestion of biosolids, food scraps and yard trimmings has been built or operated anywhere. Attempting to verify such a facility is possible will cost tens of millions of dollars. The low range of 20-year operating costs are given as $60 to $96 million with 15 percents from grants assuming land value and rent are zero. The high range is $202 to $294 million. If land value and rent are included the true minimum cost would be $96 to $134 million, and the high range would be $240 to $332 million. The cheapest alternative is composting food scraps and yard trimmings in Gilroy and anaerobic digestion of biosolids at RWQCP which ranges from $77 million to $89 million in the low range and $112 to $134 million in the high range, including land rent.
Supposedly undedicating parkland per Measure E is easy to reverse. Even if no facility is built there will be consequences. If conversion of the dump to parkland is delayed for 10 years construction costs certainly will be much higher.
Spending excessively on waste processing can destroy a community's finances. Harrisburg PA recently declared bankruptcy due to hundreds of millions spent on a waste facility that never operated adequately.
We can't afford to risk our financial viability on fond hopes and grand dreams. Vote No on Measure E.
A tough choice
Measure E was a tough choice. I am passionate about zero waste, climate protection, and open space.
I am open to the possibility of siting wind or solar power facilities on what is today dedicated parkland: it is true that climate change is our generation's defining challenge and we have to be open to re-examining our assumptions. It's a new world we live in.
But ultimately I came down on the side of "No on E."
Ten acres is huge: 40-50 times the average home lot size. The impact of a large processing plant in the baylands will be significant so the trade-off better be compelling. In fact, San Jose is moving forward on a regional anaerobic digester. It's great for Palo Alto to be a regional leader but it doesn't all have to be on our lands. We already commit 170 acres of our baylands to a regional golf course and 102 acres to a regional airport.
Closing the carbon cycle locally is a great goal. But we need to think in the most integrated and holistic way. There is much we can do to reduce the volume of green waste we generate. The right landscape plants, especially bay-friendly native plants, require little pruning and also save time, water, money and fertilizers.
In sum, we can work past this dilemma by working on a mix of regional cooperation, city leadership and making changes in each of our households and businesses.
Vote no on E.
Measure E is a good solution to our current garbage problem. Since my home is too small to maintain a compost pile, a local anaerobic digester will make it possible for me to compost my garden scraps. The separate curbside pickup of such compostables and recycling should bring into sharp relief the truly wasteful parts of our life, like packaging.
We have a precedent in using parkland for an important community use: My local park has a chunk taken out of it for the community garden. I am not allowed to go into that part of the park, there is a sign warning me to stay out. The residents decided at some point that the self-sufficiency provided by the garden is worth the sacrifice of a piece of the public park. I believe the same holds true of our need to undedicate a corner of the former dump.
Measure E is not risky nor expensive, since it does not require the city to build anything. All the measure does is open up the possibility of building an anaerobic digester on a small piece of the former dump. This will just lead Palo Alto a few steps down the path toward true sustainability.
League of Women Voters
The League of Women Voters of Palo Alto (LWVPA) endorses the Weekly's editorial (10-21-11) in support of Measure E. After independent and careful review of the arguments for and against the ballot measure, the LWVPA determined that passage of Measure E is in the best interests of our community.
Solving issues created by excess methane, CO2, and waste products requires creative solutions. Support for Measure E allows further research of the waste-to-energy facility options. The community will need to continue its careful critique of any waste-to-energy facility proposed to be certain that it truly converts our waste stream into environmental and financial benefits. Support of Measure E will allow Palo Alto to continue looking at our options.
Mary Alice Thornton
League of Women Voters of Palo Alto
I am writing regarding the upcoming election in Palo Alto on Measure E.
Misinformation by proponents of E says if the ten acres of park is undedicated and the anaerobic digester is not built, they will revert back to park. This is not true. The council would have to take action and rededicate the land. The proponents are trying to keep the council from rededicating for ten years while they try to prove anaerobic digestion works.
It is unlikely that a future council would take action. Once the land is not protected as park, there will be pressures to use it for public works. Look at CMR:ID2037 Oct. 3, 2011. (www.cityofpaloalto.org Staff suggests that "One idea is to utilize the new acreage ... for the aerobic finishing step....". Against all past recommendations we could revert to open windows of compost on the park.
For six years Public Works, without council direction and supported by these same E proponents, tried to build a garbage recovery and processing plant on 19 acres of Byxbee Park. This would have duplicated our regional SMaRT Station in Sunnyvale, six miles away. The council killed this proposal in 2005.
In 1965, the Park Dedication Ordinance stopped a plan to fill the wetlands and marshes to build an industrial site to be called Palo Alto Industrial Park.
Byxbee Park will always be vulnerable until completed. We need the vision 22 other cities had to create parks on their completed landfill.
Don't open the door for more industrial factories in our Baylands.
Vote no on Measure E.
Bret Harte Street
While I do not agree with your editorial position on measure E I wish to thank you and Gennady Sheyner for a balanced analysis of the issue. Your coverage of both the pros and cons was thorough and very informative.
Committee for Green Foothills
It's unfortunate that the Palo Alto Weekly failed to consult with Committee for Green Foothills before incorrectly characterizing the CGF Board's position, among others, as stating that "parkland should never be repurposed." The CGF Board's statement and supporting material specifically recognizes the need to balance competing environmental interests and makes clear that it examines the issues on a case-by-case basis. In this case, the majority of greenhouse-gas emission reductions that would be done at a loss of parklands can instead be done by a smaller operation at the Water Quality Control Plant with no loss of parkland that has been promised to voters for forty years. Committee for Green Foothills' Board did not make a knee-jerk decision but rather a thoughtful one to support both action to fight climate change and to protect our local parkland and natural open space, by encouraging a no vote on Measure E.
Committee for Green Foothills Board of Directors
East Bayshore Road
The current conflict dividing the community with Measure E brought to mind a similar episode back in 1980, which involved some of the same key players, but interestingly, now on a different side.
The city had bought a block in Downtown North designated for a neighborhood park, but left it undedicated. Seems that a small park in Downtown North doesn't provide sufficient environmental cachet, so in 1979, with low-income housing having become the flavor-of-the-month, even for the "environmentalists," the majority on the council wanted to change the designation of the land to PC, opening the possibility of high-density blocks of flats being built there instead. The majority against park dedication included Byron Sher, Alan Henderson, Emily Renzel and Gary Fazino, who are now fighting for park dedication and opposing Measure E.
The neighborhood organized to try and overturn the council vote. Sterling efforts by the neighborhood succeeded in getting enough signatures put the issue on the ballot. However, to his credit, Byron Sher reversed himself and provided the vote needed to dedicate the land as park. Emily Renzel then also switched sides to provide us with what eventually become the delightful and highly used Johnson Park: A park that has provided a critical breathing space for the crowded Downtown North neighborhood and has served to maintain the residential character of this wonderfully eclectic community.
It says a lot that the Republican, Democratic and Green Parties have all endorsed Measure E. It's quite significant these days to see this kind of consensus. Measure E is good for the environment and the economy. That's why it has my vote.
Measure E provides a prudent mechanism to determine the most cost effective and environmentally beneficial method to manage our waste. Contrary to the proclamations of opponents, it is neither expensive nor risky. It involves zero risk as it only provides the land necessary should a facility be determined fiscally sound.
The council-commissioned study showed that the city can save $1 million a year if a dry anaerobic digestion facility is built. Opponents quote higher cost estimates from the study based on choices that the city would never make including:
(1) An expensive system for handling an amount of waste far exceeding what Palo Alto will produce. The study recommends "the lower cost options."
(2)Palo Alto to profit by charging its Refuse Fund $908,000 a year rent requiring an increase in garbage rates. This assumes that the land is worth eight times its appraised value.
Supporters believe that the most cost-effective facility would use well-established wet anaerobic digestion to compost biosolids and food scraps, with the residue composted with yard trimmings. The study did not consider this technology, which East Bay MUD has used for years, generating enough energy to run their sewage plant and sell the excess
The critical point in your editorial, is that "there is a reasonable chance that .... an exciting, low-risk and financially and environmentally beneficial plan can be developed." The council will not build anything without such a plan unless land is available. Vote yes!
Yes, with caution
Your "Yes on E, with caution" editorial is thoughtful, well reasoned and fair and correct in its conclusion. One reason for yes that you do not name is the global-warming and climate-change threat and the resulting need for awareness and action. Although this potential project on energy from renewable biomass fuel (organic wastes: sewage sludge, food wastes and compost) is extremely small compared to the global problem, it is the type of action that will be needed worldwide. Palo Alto's leadership would be consistent with what the community has done in the past. It would also show recognition of proper flexibility to make tradeoffs among environmental values and to encourage green technology and business.