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By Cathy Kirkman

State of the City: Some thoughts on a more eco-friendly Palo Alto

Uploaded: Feb 19, 2014

I recently read about Nancy Shepard's State of the City address, and was glad to see a focus on the quality of life for residents here in Palo Alto. She's a neighbor in Southgate and it's wonderful she is giving her time to serve the greater good. The full text of her speech is worth reading, it sets a nice tone.

She highlighted a new initiative called "Our Palo Alto," to find out what residents are thinking about our city. So here are a few of my thoughts, on the subject of making Palo Alto more eco-friendly. These are just ideas, a wish list, and in no way diligenced or vetted. Note my focus here is mostly on living closer to nature, not the worthy and important initiatives such as Zero Waste, recycling, green energy and the like, which are on-going. I'm already a big user of the bike path system, so I especially applaud the city's efforts in that regard. My perspective here is on how to integrate eco-friendly living into everyday lives, in a way that improves quality of life and the planet at the micro level. So here are some ideas grouped by topic.


Community Gardens. It looks like all of the community garden plots are in North Palo Alto (by the Main Library, Eleanor Park, and downtown Johnson Park). Why not create a small space for garden plots at each park that is big enough? This would distribute the opportunity throughout the community and also promote walking or biking to one's garden rather than driving. Also, we should acknowledge and encourage individual efforts to grow home produce. The city's focus is on native and drought-free landscaping, which is fine and necessary, but the validity and importance of home food production should be recognized.

Lemonade Stands etc. Every year we hear about some poor kid who is told their lemonade stand is illegal. Is there a table at the local Farmer's Markets or elsewhere for kids and others to bring their produce to sell, barter, or give away? Or is there another way to enable and encourage this? I don't believe allowing this will put small farmers out of business.

Fruit Trees. Can we have more fruit trees planted around town, by the city and Canopy? Portland has an urban fruit tree project, including community orchards. I have noticed a persimmon tree that was planted in the last few years at Peers Park, which is really beautiful. There are also chestnut trees there and at Rinconada, so there is some precedent. It would also be nice to acknowledge our heritage here in what was once the Valley of Heart's Delight. I think south Palo Alto was largely orchards at one time. Los Altos has an orchard on San Antonio for example, although I heard that spot might be developed soon. The corollary to this is volunteers could harvest the fruit to share it with the needy in our community.

Harvesting. On the subject of harvesting, can we (do we) have a program to help seniors or anyone harvest from their fruit trees? I recall reading about this at Stanford, where the students harvested from the university trees and donated the fruit to homeless shelters. See also Portland's community harvesting program.

Animal Husbandry

Bees. The planet desperately needs more honey bees. Can the city create a communal bee-keeping area, just as we have organic gardening areas? Or an urban bee program, like this one in Seattle? I am meaning to interview the bee-keeping folks, so I confess my ignorance except to know that it would be nice if we could do something about the shortage of bees that is threatening the health of our planet.

Chickens. Many cities, including San Francisco (SF ordinance here) and Seattle (Seattle ordinance here) have updated their ordinances to permit city dwellers to keep a couple chickens. We are way behind the times on this. Today to have chickens someone has to go through a whole permitting process, while you can have three dogs without any permissions whatsoever. For example, you could allow two chickens without a permit, and require a permit for more. Or you could allow four animals total, so if you want two chickens you could only have say two dogs. And so on.

Junior Museum. I grew up with the junior museum and love it dearly. However the concept of a zoo is rather outdated. Could we have a mini-farm or petting zoo or bird rescue sanctuary, anything to better connect the children with the animals and how to take care of them? Raccoon Creek is a nice update. Randall Museum, our counterpart in San Francisco, has a weekly "Meet the Animals" event on Saturdays.

Animal Shelter. These are my own personal ideas, I don't speak for the Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter, as I know our leadership is working constructively with the city on improvements. Our Gunn High School youth board liaison, Joanna Tang, recently wrote a fine piece on how as a community, now that we've saved the shelter, we should strive to implement best practices, please read!

Could we please resume spay and neuter services, it's been a long while since these were "paused." Could we talk Stanford into using our animal shelter services, so a stray dog from College Terrace that gets picked up on campus doesn't get sent down to Gilroy (San Martin?). Also we've got a lot of dogs out there at the animal shelter that could use exercise, but not enough willing and able volunteers are being utilized, especially to walk pit bulls and other bully breeds. And could we be more reasonable about adopting out pets? I adopted a bunny and had to have my entire family interviewed to complete the transaction.

Baylands Interpretive Center. When I go walking at the Baylands, I've noticed that the
interpretive center
is not used much and often closed. What is going on with this public space, and how can it be better utilized? The renaissance at the nearby Sea Scout building now home of the non-profit Environmental Volunteers shows what can happen with creative thinking.


Dog Runs. Per my recent interview with Howard Hoffman of Palo Alto Dog Owners, we only have three dog runs, all in south Palo Alto, at Herbert Hoover Park, Greer Park and Mitchell Park. Why not integrate a dog area where possible into each park that is big enough? At Peers Park, for example, there's a stretch along the train tracks that doesn't get used that would fit the bill. I'm sure there are other spaces like this we could use.

Off-Leash Dog Training. I was looking at the park regulations for ideas in putting this piece together, and it says in R1-30(D) that as an exception to the leash law at parks , "the director may designate areas and times within which persons may exercise, show, demonstrate or train unleashed animals under full control or their owners or custodians." So can the park director please designate this? Mountain View already has such a program.

Dogs at the Library and City Facilities. It would be nice if the city would allow you to bring your dog into the library or other city buildings. They allow dogs when they have a "read to a dog" program for example. Many businesses today are dog-friendly, so why can't the city be so?

Dog Poop Bags. You see these stations here and there, why not have them at all the parks to make sure people pick up after their dogs, as it does happen that people forget or run out of bags.

Also, in December we hired a new "Chief Sustainability Officer," Gil Friend, and I'm looking forward to talking with him about his ideas. Sustainability is not just recycling and green energy, in my view it is also about lifestyle, "slowing your roll," connecting with nature and doing one's part for a healthy eco-system. I'm curious what other people are thinking about how we can make our city more livable and eco-friendly.