The greening of Palo Alto
City task forces, residents gear up to slow global warming
If hockey stick-shaped graphs still send you into shock, you probably haven't recovered from watching An Inconvenient Truth.
After all the criticism for his lackluster 2000 presidential campaign, no one could have predicted that former Vice President Al Gore's documentary — which delivers harsh realities on global warming — would stun theatergoers across the country.
Released on the big screen in May, the 1-hour-40-minute film doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to the grave scientific evidence that humans are heating the globe with their carbon-dioxide-pumping behaviors.
From the colossal success of Gore's film to the rising number of Priuses and other hybrid vehicles on the road, Palo Altans saw green everywhere they looked in 2006.
And the city moved to the head of the green class. The Environmental Protection Agency named Palo Alto the first green energy community in the state this month.
But that's not all.
From schools to city task forces to the Chamber of Commerce, everyone seems to be moving toward an energy-efficient lifestyle.
In 2003, the city's Palo Alto Green program became a way for citizens to support alternative energy by paying a higher bill, which funded renewable sources such as wind and sun. By August of this year, 15 percent of Palo Alto residents were taking part, according to a recent city auditor's report.
Last year, the Zero Waste Task Force set the goal of reducing the city's trash flow from 61,000 tons a year to almost nothing by 2021. This year, the new Mayor's Green Ribbon Task Force on Climate Protection — made up of local leaders in academia, business, schools and government — convened, then presented its work to the Palo Alto City Council on Dec. 18. Mayor Judy Kleinberg started the task force as a response to the Kyoto Protocol and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2005 order to reduce greenhouse gases.
Chaired by Walt Hays, the group set goals to reduce the city's 644,000 metric tons of annual carbon-dioxide emissions through five areas, including fuel-efficient transportation, green building, education and more.
For the green-building goal, the Architectural Review Board came up with some ideas of its own during its Nov. 16 study session, including charging a "green impact fee" for developers who want to sidestep environmental building standards.
"There has been a free lunch at everybody's expense, and we're realizing we can't do it or nobody's going to be able to eat anymore," said board member and architect Judith Wasserman.
Palo Alto Unified School District is also doing its part to bring green practices to school — not just to the students but to the buildings themselves. The Sustainable Schools Committee and Jerry Matranga — the district's associate superintendent of business services who recently announced his retirement next June — have been on a green-building and energy-savings mission.
After auditing its energy consumption and lowering it by 5 percent, the district is now looking to add solar panels, double-paned windows and energy efficient roofs to a science building. Students at some schools act as "Energy Patrols" that make sure lights — which have been replaced with greener fixtures — are off, along with the air conditioning.
These efforts have already paid off, for the environment and for PAUSD. The district has been able to keep its hefty $2.1 million annual energy bill from rising despite the increasing cost of powering the schools.
A major green no-go this year, however, was Measure A — a November election effort to reduce the amount of development possible on 400,000 acres of hills and ranches in the county.
Spearheaded by Palo Alto councilmember, Peter Drekmeier, Measure A fell to its opponents with 49 percent of the vote. If it had been up to Palo Alto, Measure A would have passed with 62 percent.
Measure A was intended to preserve the county's natural areas and agricultural lands and proposed additional safeguards for streamside corridors, woodlands and sensitive wildlife habitat.
Drekmeier attributed the loss to a "very effective misinformation campaign" by opponents, mostly real-estate agents, developers and farmers, who cast doubt on the costs and effects of the measure.
One ray of hope, as Brian Schmidt of the Committee for Green Foothills reported last week, is that Measure A proponents just won the lawsuit against the measure's opponents regarding November ballot-measure arguments. Schmidt said opponents were ordered to pay the winners' legal fees of $51,000.
"The good news is that supporters of the Santa Clara County environment have not given up, and this ruling encourages us to keep working to protect hillsides and farms," he said.
Staff Writer Molly Tanenbaum can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.