From zooming electric cars to blooming "green" buildings, Palo Alto's environmentalists have much to smile about these days.
As the city prepares for Earth Day, April 22, its green efforts and ambitions are taking center stage at local classrooms, environmental nonprofits and City Hall, where officials are seeking to raise the conservation bar even further.
Palo Alto's ongoing and soon-to-be implemented green programs were highlighted Monday night (April 11) by Deborah van Duynhoven, Palo Alto's chief sustainability coordinator. The long list of environmental efforts includes PaloAltoGreen, an award-winning program of the Utilities Department that allows residents to pay a little extra for electricity to support renewable energy. The program continues to lead the nation in participation, with 21 percent of the city opting in, though van Duynhoven pointed out in her report that the rate has leveled off.
Palo Alto's green-building program, meanwhile, is generating momentum and producing dramatic results. In 2010, the year after the council adopted stricter rules regarding construction demolition, 789 permit applications were covered by the program -- an 83 percent spike from 2009. Van Duynhoven told the council that 240 certified green buildings have either been built or are currently under construction -- a number she called "phenomenal." This includes 125 residences currently undergoing construction.
One major effort the city plans to undertake next year is creating a citywide policy on electric vehicles. The plan, she said, would consider everything from the permitting process to places where the city should set up chargers.
"It's really taking a holistic view of what electric vehicles mean in the city," van Duynhoven said. "We want to do this so that we have a complete picture in the planning department."
In addition to exploring the use of cleaner vehicles, the city along with the school district is also encouraging people to get out of cars altogether. On Earth Day, they are launching the "Driveless Challenge." The initiative aims to encourage city residents to eschew their cars and track their "clean miles" online at drivelesschallenge.com.
It is the latest tool in the school district's effort to get more students to walk and bike to school.
According to school officials, the proportion of students biking to Gunn High School jumped from 11 percent in 1999 to 36 percent in 2010. At Palo Alto High School, 40 percent of the student body bikes to school, while the share of bicyclists at JLS and Jordan middle schools is about 50 percent. School and PTA officials said in a statement that the district's Earth Day events "will celebrate this success and focus on encouraging more students to use alternatives to solo driving more often."
Mayor Sid Espinosa on Monday called the city's green efforts "comprehensive" and said he was overwhelmed by the wealth of activities local neighborhood groups and schools are planning to stage during the week leading up to Earth Day.
Green-themed events in the school district will kick off Wednesday, with an Earth Day Fair at El Carmelo Elementary School -- an event that will include an electricity-generating stationary bike, electric-car displays and games focused on carbon-footprint-themed games. They will continue Thursday, when the local nonprofit group Canopy is scheduled to plant trees at Terman Middle School.
On Earth Day, Espinosa will join Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Skelly in biking to JLS Middle School. Espinosa plans to spend Friday afternoon at JLS, where he and Skelly will officiate the school's "Rally for the Planet," check out a solar car built by students and unveil the plan for expanding the school. The expansion will include eco-friendly landscaping and building features, as well as improved bike and pedestrian amenities.
Espinosa will also kick off the city's chief Earth Day celebration -- the "Clean Green Street Scene" at Lytton Plaza, at the corner of University Avenue and Emerson Street downtown. The event, which will be held from 4 to 8 p.m., will feature a poetry slam, information booths, live music and a "recycled fashion show."