News

Palo Alto shifts course on landfill policy

City now seeks to fill controversial landfill as quickly as possible

Palo Alto will start shipping more garbage to the local landfill and lift its recently imposed ban on commercial waste at the baylands facility if the City Council adopts a staff proposal tonight (Monday).

The new policies aim to fill the landfill and convert the baylands site to parkland as quickly as possible, according to a report from the Public Works Department. Matthew Raschke, a senior engineer, wrote in the report that staff expects to fill the landfill by the end of 2011 if the new measures are adopted.

The proposal marks a reversal of course for the city, which last year instituted a ban on commercial waste at the landfill. The council wanted to set aside a portion of the landfill while it determines whether the city should build an anaerobic digestion facility at this site.

The city is conducing a feasibility study to determine if an anaerobic digestion facility would be suitable for the site, which is currently slated to revert to parkland when the landfill closes. The landfill also houses Palo Alto's composting operation and unless the city builds another composting facility, local yard trimmings would have to be shipped to Gilroy.

A coalition of environmentalists, led by Bob Wenzlau and former Mayor Peter Drekmeier, has been lobbying the city to keep composting local and to build an anaerobic digestion plant, which would process local yard trimmings, food waste and sewage sludge and convert it to electricity. A citizen task force last year recommended anaerobic digestion as the most promising technology for composting.

Another coalition of environmentalists, led by former Councilwoman Emily Rezel, has been calling for the Byxbee Park site to revert to parkland once the landfill closes. This group argues that putting a waste-processing facility on the baylands site would betray the city's earlier promise to its residents.

Neither side has opposed staff's new proposal to quickly fill the landfill. That's because staff has initially thought that filling the landfill site with trash would make it more expensive to later use this site for a new anaerobic digestion facility. After crunching the numbers, staff concluded that it actually costs more to ban commercial waste and determined that lifting the ban and quickly filling the site would not have any major impacts on the anaerobic digestion project.

"It doesn't make a material difference on your ultimate decision on whether to go forward with the anaerobic digestion facility," Phil Bobel, acting assistant director for engineering, told the Finance Committee at the Oct. 19 meeting.

The site is "already nearly filled with garbage that would need to be excavated and relocated to provide a level pad for the facility," Raschke's report states. "Staff anticipates that the fast-fill option would not have a major impact on the amount of waste that would need to be moved if Palo Alto elects to move ahead with a new AD facility."

The Finance Committee voted unanimously in October to recommend adopting the "fast fill" option.

The new policies would add $389,648 to Palo Alto's badly depleted refuse fund. The fund would still have a deficit of about $5.1 million, largely because of the cost of closing the landfill.

In addition to lifting the ban on commercial waste, Palo Alto would also ship more of its curbside waste to the landfill. This would speed up the process of filling the landfill and reduce some of the cost of sending local curbside garbage to the SMaRT Station in Sunnyvale.

The council is scheduled to meet at 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave. (View the agenda)

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Oldbasse
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2010 at 11:22 am

In principle, I support building, in the Baylands, an efficient, environmentally low-impact AD facility to adequately serve Palo Alto, and possibly some other communities, too, for the next 20 years. In my view, using a small part of Byxxbee Park, if need be, is a minor issue not really worth much attention. However, I would like to see some financial data for, and some rough sketches of, such a facility. Further, it is not clear to me how compostables will be separated from other garbage, at the consumer level and/or at the facility site.


Like this comment
Posted by Jan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2010 at 11:37 am

We should do what is BEST for the environment, please!


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 22, 2010 at 11:39 am

We should do what is BEST for the people who live and work in Palo Alto, please!


Like this comment
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm

That sounds like a false dichotomy to me. Why should what is best for the environment be bad for Palo Alto residents? Don't we breathe the air and drink the water? Won't a rise in sea level flood our town, too?


Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Finance
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Judith,

What is best for the environment isn't always the best economic idea. Otherwise, we would all have solar panels and gray-water systems at home. We would also be a much denser community with lots of corner grocery stores within walking distance.

The idea of a fancy composting facility in the baylands has to be balanced against the cost of other alternatives for dealing with that waste. I expect our City to choose the best fiscal alternative. No one will ever fault them for turning the landfill into a park as planned.

That is my $2. I can almost remember when it was 2 cents.


Like this comment
Posted by Extreme Example
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm

@ Judith -
Here's one way it's different.

It might be argued that reducing the overall population by 90% (including Palo Altans) would be good for the environment.

But who would volunteer to perform "the happy dispatch"?

Give thanks for being at the top of the food chain.



Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of University South
on Nov 22, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Please try to process our composting and garbage locally. A vote long ago does not reflect the needs of today's world. And only a portion of Byxbee park would be involved. The rest can be parkland.


Like this comment
Posted by Bryan Long
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 23, 2010 at 9:37 am

I was a member of the City task force that recommended the Anaerobic Digestion facility, and am a member of the Citizen's initiative in support of the facility. Oldbasse, Jan, and Mr. Finance are each correct! 1) We need to keep our compostable organic wastes out of the landfills, where rapid anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition releases large amounts of methane to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. 2) We need to process our organic wastes in the most fiscally responsible way (without dumping into a landfill). So what will cost less to the Palo Alto citizen: paying to have our organics hauled to Gilroy and composted there, and paying again to buy compost, or building our own facility next to the wastewater treatment plant, capturing the methane for energy, and selling the compost for profit? (Palo Alto residents could continue to receive free compost as we do now). Obviously you have to trade off capital investment versus returns, but we estimate the City would save over $1 Million per year with amortized capital costs. My hunch is that most Palo Altans would prefer to have a 116 acre park and save $1 Million per year than to have 10 more acres of park!


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 23, 2010 at 10:20 am

> We need to process our organic wastes in the most fiscally
> responsible way (without dumping into a landfill).

Landfills work just fine.

> we estimate the City would save over $1 Million per year
> with amortized capital costs.

Maybe, but let's wait until we get a statement from the City. The question then becomes--why does this unit have to be in Palo Alto. Why can't it be somewhere else?


Like this comment
Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 23, 2010 at 11:51 am

I, also, recommended the anaerobic digestion facility as a Parks and Recreation commissioner. I had one caveat and it is to develop a regional facility that would include Stanford community, Menlo Park, Mt. View, Los Altos, or some combination of the above to share the cost.
To build in the baylands is counter productive in that within the next 50 to 100 years it may well be underwater. To have each city along the bay take care of its own waste would be fiscally shortsighted and redundant. Let's find some land away from the bay to build this facility.


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 23, 2010 at 12:06 pm

> To build in the baylands is counter productive in that within
> the next 50 to 100 years it may well be underwater.

Hmmm .. and what would happen if the levees were raised? Well .. hopefully the answer is obvious ..

It's a shame so many convoluted ideas get generated at times like these.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2010 at 7:59 pm

YIPEE!!!!!!!!!!! The dump will finally be closed. I cannot wait for our refuse rates to go through the roof!!


Like this comment
Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Visualize a Soylent Green factory.


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

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