Earth Day events to sprout in Palo Alto this month

City and school officials prepare to bask in their green achievements next week

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

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."

Additional events scheduled for next week, including the GREENLIGHT Earth Day Film Festival of locally produced movies, are listed on the City of Palo Alto website at

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Posted by So proud of our kids
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm

It really is amazing to see the "sea" of bikes parked at our middle and high schools every day. The kids get it. With 11,825 PAUSD students traveling to and from school every day, the kids who walk and bike really are making a big dent in morning peak hour street congestion and carbon emissions...and they are getting healthy exercise!

We grown-ups could take a page out of their book. It helps that the city and school district have been working together to create better bike parking and pedestrian/bike connections into school sites and engineering safer public street conditions for kids on school routes so kids can do this more safely.

We don't have to walk and bike all the time. Carpooling and riding transit helps, too. We don't have to give up our cars, but I wish we'd think more carefully about how we use cars and burn fuel. Did you know that the average Palo Alto household generates about ten car trips per day and a high percentage of those trips are UNDER two miles? We don't have to walk and bike for every trip, but we can walk and bike for MORE trips. Before you leave the house, please take a miniute to think, "Do I NEED to drive for this trip? Can I bike, walk, ride a shuttle or bus? carpool?"

Our kids are leading the way. Thanks, PAUSD students!

Like this comment
Posted by PAGreenEnergy
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Our Palo Alto Green Energy and Compost Initiative will be represented at many of the Earth Day venues, and we welcome your endorsement and support. The campaign builds the way to keep composting local, and thereby reducing the carbon foot print that hauling the materials all the way to Gilroy would pose. The campaign builds the way to shutting down the city's sludge incinerator - the day that device is stopped will mark a true sustainability milestone for our community.

Show you support on Facebook:

Learn more about the campaign:

Like this comment
Posted by Peter
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 18, 2011 at 6:42 am

A true and honest accounting of being green starts with the fight and preservation of the trees both public and private.
How about not cutting down more trees in the city?

Where are you Gennady when it comes to reporting the removal of city trees over the last few years. No where to be found other than the post-CA Ave. analysis. Never was a picture shown of the removal of tree at Mitchell Park library, never was a picture shown of the removal of the trees at Pardee Park, sadly I am to assume you will turn a blind eye to the pending removal of 20 trees at the Palo Alto Art Center and then next the trees they have planned to removed at the main library.

Being green means fighting for the bits of nature we still have left.
Where do you stand?

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

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