The faltering economy could force Palo Alto to cut programs and delay a new public-safety building but it should not keep the city from leading a green revolution, Mayor Peter Drekmeier said in his "State of the City" speech Monday night.
Drekmeier spoke informally, almost conversationally, from notes without a prepared text -- a departure from the usual practice -- and was rewarded several times by applause and at the end by a standing ovation.
Drekmeier's speech, which focused on the theme of "regional cooperation for local self-reliance," outlined an ambitious green agenda that included:
o Implementing a "carbon tax" on those contributing to global climate change, to be used for rebates to spur ways to save and creatively reduce overall energy costs;
o Diverting more of the city's recycled wastewater for irrigation and possibly to keep Stanford's Lake Lagunita full;
o Fueling local cars with compressed natural gas;
o Setting up weekday farmers markets; and
o Creating a new "dry composting" facility that, in addition to collecting local yard clippings, would accept restaurant food waste and even sewer sludge from the city's wastewater treatment plant.
Drekmeier drove home the theme that local, regional and global are part of the same whole, and the whole is the product of its local parts. He warned of looming environmental challenges of limited drinking water, a warming climate and a swelling population.
"The (global) population is growing, our resource base is diminishing and we're going to see a lot of turmoil as people struggle over diminishing resources," Drekmeier told the crowd in the packed Council Chambers.
While the speech touched on a wide range of topics, including the proposed high-speed rail system, the shortage of affordable housing and the city's budget gap, it focused on water conservation, waste reduction and renewable energy.
He urged residents to conserve energy by relying on farmers from within the city's "foodshed" -- a 100-mile radius -- and backed an effort by Councilmember Yoriko Kishimoto and local consulting firm, IDEO, to bring weekday farmers markets to the city.
He also called for more organic and locally grown food at the City Hall cafeteria.
"My dream is for it to become Palo Alto's little secret," Drekmeier said. "When you have friends in town and they want to go to a good restaurant, you take them to the Palo Alto cafeteria," eliciting laughter from those familiar with the basement space under City Hall.
Drekmeier also urged the city to promote energy conservation by creating a carbon tax that would reflect the true cost of energy production. Proceeds from the tax would fund rebate programs that would reduce residents' overall utility bills.
Such a tax, Drekmeier said, would make Palo Alto a world leader in fighting climate change.
"Maybe you'd pay more by the kilowatt hour, but the overall bill decreases and everyone is happy, including the environment," Drekmeier said.
He also advocated using the city's recycled water to irrigate local sites such as the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course and Greer Park. The city could then save water and bolster its revenues by selling water credits under a cap-and-trade system, he said.
Drekmeier, who works as a program director for the Tuolumne River Trust and who led a successful effort last year to cap the amount of water San Francisco Public Utility Commission would draw from the Tuolumne River, also called for the city to reduce its water usage by 20 percent by 2020.
Drekmeier said his dream is to see farmers from within the city's foodshed come to Palo Alto to deliver locally grown food, go to the local composting facility to pick up "the best compost available" and refuel their vehicles with compressed natural gas before heading back to their farms from the new recycling method.
The composting facility he called for would break down yard clippings, food waste and sewer sludge through anaerobic digestion and use the natural gas resulting from the process to power local homes and vehicles.
The speech was mostly hopeful in tone and laced with jokes and spontaneous asides.
But Drekmeier also warned of lean times ahead. With the city facing a $5.8 million budget shortfall this year and a projected $8 million to $10 million shortfall next year, Drekmeier said some programs and services will probably have to be cut.
He also said plans for a new public-safety building may have to be revised or put on hold until the financial outlook brightens.
"We might have to postpone it. We might have to look at a downsized project," Drekmeier said. "We're going to count on the community to work with us on that."
The speech, which lasted about 45 minutes, drew a standing ovation from the audience and an enthusiastic response from Drekmeier's council colleagues.
Councilman Greg Schmid and Vice Mayor Jack Morton praised Drekmeier's emphasis on environmental protection and conservation. Councilman and former Mayor Larry Klein said he agreed with Drekmeier's view that an economic slowdown shouldn't keep the city from aggressively pursuing green initiatives.
Councilman Sid Espinosa praised the speech for laying out a variety of long- and short-term ideas that are not only environmentally friendly but also economically viable.
"There's no question this city will have to make dramatic cuts to services and it can't keep on doing business the way's it's been doing business," Espinosa said. "What Peter is trying to do is find environmental initiatives that have economic opportunities."