Palo Alto's landfill may stay open until 2015

Council's plans to close controversial facility inadvertently prolong its life

Park lovers anxiously awaiting the closure of Palo Alto's nearly full landfill in the Baylands may now have to wait until 2015 before the controversial facility reaches its capacity, according to a new report.

City officials had previously expected the city's landfill, which includes the local composting operation, to close in 2011 or 2012. Once the landfill closes, the site is slated to revert to parkland. A coalition of environmentalists is also lobbying for the city to build a waste-to-energy plant on a 10-acre portion of Byxbee Park's landfill site.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the city's options for the landfill site at its Oct. 18 meeting. But whichever option the council ultimately chooses, the landfill site could remain a landfill site for at least five more years, according to a recent photogrammetric survey.

The survey, which involved aerial photographs of the landfill and a topographical drawing, was taken in May to calculate the existing elevation of the landfill, according to a Public Works Department report.

The survey showed that the landfill's intake of waste has dropped precipitously between fiscal years 2009 and 2010, from 76,199 cubic yards to 36,350. It is projected to drop even further, to about 27,600 cubic yards in fiscal year 2011 -- which ends on June 30 -- because of the council's recent decision to keep the facility closed on Sundays and Mondays. The council made the decision to reduce operation days at the landfill earlier this month as part of its effort to close a $6.3 million gap in the city's Refuse Fund.

As of May, the landfill still had 141,663 cubic yards available for refuse filling, the report stated.

The council's efforts to plan for the landfill's closure are, ironically, the main factors in prolonging the facility's life. In January 2009, the council voted to stop accepting commercial waste at the landfill to preserve space for a possible anaerobic-digestion plant, which would convert the city's yard trimmings, food waste and sewage sludge into energy. The group Palo Alto Green Energy Initiative launched a drive earlier this month to "undedicate" a 10-acre portion of Byxbee Park and make it possible for the site to house such a facility.

The council's ban on commercial waste has prompted a major drop in landfill-bound garbage, making it possible for the facility to remain open until the middle of 2015. To keep the landfill open beyond 2011, Palo Alto would have to get a closure-date extension from the state.

If Palo Alto doesn't get the extension, the landfill would fall under the "trickling closure" status. This means the city would have to proceed with the closing of the facility despite its ability to receive more garbage.

Former Councilwoman Emily Renzel, a leading proponent of reverting the landfill site to parkland, wrote a letter to the council criticizing its recent plans to ban commercial garbage and its "ad hoc" decisions about composting.

"I would love to see our landfill closed sooner rather than later, but no planning has been done for imminent commencement of closure and that will most certainly have more financial ramifications to the Refuse Fund," Renzel wrote.

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Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2010 at 6:46 pm

When the city stopped accepting commercial waste, they should have known that it would delay reaching capacity. This is obviously an orchestated move by the city staff to have room for the proposed anaerobic-digestion plant. I an not agaist the proposed plant, as placing it next to the treatment plant is very logical.

Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 27, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Yipee!! I won't have to drive down to Sunnyvale when I want to dump some trash.

Like this comment
Posted by jerryl
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Amen Eric. One of the fundamental services a city should provide is to operate a waste dump where its citizens can conveniently dispose of their trash. I viewed the looming closure of the dump as an abrogation of the social contract.

As for Byxbee, how much 'parkland' is enough. It looks fine to me as it is.

I wish the city would have the gumption to fight whatever state-level rules seem to be dictating what we do with our dump, how high we can pile our trash and when we must do it.

Long live the Palo Alto dump!

Like this comment
Posted by Old professor
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 28, 2010 at 2:32 pm


I use the facility quite a bit and am disgruntled about its closing. I may start a Save Our Dump movement.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Let's get rid of the airport and build a dump there so that in a a decade or two we have nice hills for another park and some more recreational area?

Byxbee park's size is not the problem, it is the maintenance and upkeep as well as policing. For example the incompetent contracting agency that cleans the restrooms out there.

Like this comment
Posted by recycler
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2010 at 6:08 pm

A park? Really? Some poles, concrete chevrons, a screaming waste gas combustor, all on a faintly pungent pile of garbage. Isn't there some other way for the park's proponents to achieve immortality?

The site next to the sewage treatment plant is perfectly suited for a composting and anaerobic digestion plant. What little mechanical noise is generated will be drowned out by the whining of a few displaced pilots.

Like this comment
Posted by Super
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 29, 2010 at 10:59 am

I really think that Palo Alto has enough parks already. Do we really need one more?

Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 29, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I have a better idea: Build a plasma arc thermolytic waste processing facility next to the sewer plant. Such a plant will take much less room than the proposed anaerobic digestion scheme, and it will handle almost all wastes delivered to it (forever!). In addition, it should be able to mine the existing leach pile out there (aka Byxbee Park) and return it to a natural state. It will cost us taxpayers nothing (yes that means it will be free, in terms of taxes, and it will not increase our utility rates). Oh, did I mention that plasma arc will also create relatively clean electricity for our grid, as well as some well-paid jobs?

It may sound too good to be true, but it is not.

Like this comment
Posted by Waste of money
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 29, 2010 at 1:17 pm

The best solution for our compostables is to use the anaerobic digestions plant Green Waste is planning to build in San Carlos. Forget about building our own plant in Bixbee Park it's too expensive.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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