Guest Opinion: Vote no on Measure E

Save Byxbee Park for future generations

by Enid Pearson

Parks are the most valuable and vulnerable lands anywhere. Park dedication protects parkland from government and developer confiscation. It saves parklands for recreational use. Measure E undedicates 10 prime acres (eight football fields) of Byxbee Park to construct a huge anaerobic digester (AD). We should not undedicate park land for some unknown future use like "option holding." If we do the public then has no control over what may be built there at the park entrance. Once undedicated, these 10 acres are gone forever.

Parks are Palo Alto's most valuable assets. The Baylands Park was dedicated in 1965. It included a small landfill expected to close in 1968. Palo Alto continued to fill wetlands, illegally, and then got approval. The state Lands Commission claimed these filled wetlands. Palo Alto agreed to lease them from the state, promising that when the landfill was completed, the area would become a park. That promise must be kept.

Our Baylands are an unprecedented asset. Right now, within 15 minutes of our frantic urban lives, we can be in a calm, serene park that renews and enhances our lives. Even our weather is modified positively by the Baylands. With the closing of the landfill, Palo Altans have the gift of a lifetime -- 126 acres of sculpted hills with miles of trails, rest areas, and unbelievable views. Don't let a big intrusive factory ruin this.

People are rightfully frightened by climate change and are searching for ways to reduce our impact. It's difficult to understand that we can have a big impact by saving and protecting open space, parks and undeveloped lands. It is easy to get seduced into false solutions. "Climate Change" is shamelessly being misapplied to sell us a waste processing factory in our Baylands Park, the same way high-speed rail was used to sell us "low cost" transportation. Like high-speed rail, this proposed project will have unforeseen environmental impacts and escalated costs.

Measure E is loaded with misleading information. We can't afford it. It's too expensive. The consultant ARI's feasibility study gives some insight. Dry anaerobic digestion costs from $111 million to $268 million, whereas our current regional plan would cost $77 million to $94 million. Our Refuse Enterprise Fund is in debt $24 million. Add the AD costs and refuse rates will continue to escalate along with the rest of our utility rates.

The proposed dry AD technology is experimental, risky and costly. In May 2009 and March 2011, an AD vendor, Harvest Power, said Palo Alto would be better off sending yard trimmings to an existing composter and that the proposed dry AD could handle only a portion of our sewage sludge, but not all. Dry AD has not been used anywhere in the world for sewage sludge. Proponents' economics ask us to take a costly risk to be the guinea pig for an experimental technology and to subsidize it with free park land.

Greenhouse gas savings are exaggerated. All the cases studied generate greenhouse gases. The differences are minimal, with one regional case saving 1,134 tons of CO2 a year over AD cases.

Truck trips are vastly exaggerated. Destroying our park for this is a travesty. The Compost Task Force found transportation green house gas emissions a minor issue. Our waste hauler will take yard trimmings six miles to our regional SMaRT station in Sunnyvale. Food scraps go 12 miles to San Jose. Less than three trucks a day would go from SMaRT to Gilroy.

Claims of AD profits to develop the park are false. California Proposition 218 allows only the actual cost of services -- not park improvements -- to be charged to rate payers.

Environmental issues have not been reviewed. To use this site, over 3.5 million cubic feet of old garbage would have to be dug up and spread on our remaining park, emitting huge quantities of methane, and incurring unknown costs. It would delay opening the remainder of our park for years. Noise, odor, dust, and truck traffic will have huge impacts on park users. Experts warn that food waste and sludge are notoriously stinky and require a 1,000 foot buffer that would engulf all of Byxbee Park, making the entire Park inhospitable for recreational use. These nuisances cannot be contained.

We already have an approved, cost-effective regional solution. We don't need to destroy our park. Since 1992, over 84 percent of our refuse has been processed regionally. That will continue. Less than 16 percent of our waste will be processed by this proposal. Our own waste hauler is building a regional food-waste processing facility just 12 miles away. Why spend scarce public funds and sacrifice park land for a redundant facility?

Vote NO on Measure E! Save Byxbee Park for Future Generations.

Related story: Media Center posts Palo Alto election videos

Enid Pearson is co-chair of the Save the Baylands Committee, NO on E. She was a member of the Palo Alto City Council from 1965 to 1975 and was honored for spearheading the park dedication initiative at the Enid W. Pearson Arastradero Preserve.

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Like this comment
Posted by Allen Edwards
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2011 at 7:48 pm

We walk Byxbee park often. I walked just last week up the hill where the landfull used to be. Nice view from up there. Adding that to Byxbee is a wonderful thing. One thing that struck me was how large the park is going to be. Looking over at the sewage treatment play in the distance, it looked small. Saying that we cannot undedicate 10 acres for good use because this huge park will be a little bit smaller seems like the wrong thing to focus on. We should be focusing on the gain from the proposed use of the land. The proposed location of the plant is not exactly the prime parkland. That hill overlooking the bay that I climbed for the first time is. Let's not stop a desirable project just to maximize every piece of land as a park. I like parks more than most I would suspect but I also want other uses for land that have a benefit to the community.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 10, 2011 at 8:56 pm

It is a matter of cost benefit analysis

1/ The cost is releasing hepatitis, HIV, TB and other infections into PA and EPA as well as toxic heavy metals and drugs

2/ The benefits are? well what are the benefits of putting human excrement into our food stream and environment?

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Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 10, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I've read a lot of Sharon's posts on PA Online over the past couple of years, and I can't remember reading one that had any rational ideas.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 10, 2011 at 11:06 pm

The city council a few years ago put in place "Green" building codes, which included reduced water consumption for landscaping. A by product of this will reduce the amount of compost that needs to get recycled.

The city could also provide incentives for residents to establish their own compost bins, which would reduce the amount that would get picked up as well.

Between these two actions and a few other actions, it's fairly conceivable that the amount of compost could get reduced by 50% in a few years. The same thing happened with push for recycling, and how it reduced the amount we send to the landfill.

What would happen if the compost being picked up was reduced by 50%? Does the facility the pro-measure E make sense financially? I believe not.

Like this comment
Posted by Scientist
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 11, 2011 at 5:12 am

Sharon should learn about the nature of the agent that causes HIV and hepatitis and how it is spread before she tries to inject scare tactics into the discussion

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Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 11, 2011 at 11:12 am

A small reduction to the acres is a small price to pay if there really is a reasonable financial return.

Before I make vote, I would like to hear more about the smell of the operations. If the smell impairs air quality and enjoyment of the park, then the intrusion is much more than 10 acres.

How about the particulate matter released by the handling of the compost? How about the noise?

If a quiet, particulate free, non-smelling energy generator can be profitably operated by the City, let's go for it. I'll focus on the "greater good" vs. any polarized position based on idealism, however more answers need to reach the common understanding of voters before Election day. We don't need the equivilent of a High Speed Rail Authority to spend tax dollars on studies to get to the bottom of this.

Best regards,

Tim Gray

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Posted by Walt Hays
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm

On the issue of smell and noise, this is what the Feasibility Study says:

"The RFI [Request for Information] described the sensitivity of the site as part of Byxbee Park and stressed environmental considerations. . .with particular emphasis on the needs for odor and noise control and minimizing the visual impact of a facility. All food scrap, yard trimmings and biosolids receiving and processing areas were to be fully enclosed with odor control, and any final curing area for the digestate was to be covered, with odor control, or enclosed in a building with odor control."

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Posted by Diogenes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm

NO ON E. All of the numbers that Measure E proponents cite -- every single on of them -- is based on Case 1a in the Feasibility Study A PROCESS THAT HAS NEVER BEEN USED ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. NOWHERE. NONE. NADA. Dept of Public Works, which wants the ten acres to build its empire, has cooperated with the Yes people by including Case 1a in its study even though all of the data for it is a guesstimate or whatever you want to call figures not based on anything that actually exists. All of you engineers out there, what do you think of producing data for a process that has never even been shown to work, much less work efficiently? Would you add your name to such a study? Would you take a job with a company that was using such data? Consider that there are good reasons that this process has never been used in the hundreds or thousands of municipal waste facilities around the world. YOU HAVE TO DRY THE WET BIOMASS BEFORE YOU PUT IT IN THE DRY AD PROCESS AND THAT TAKES ENERGY. Does Case 1a factor in the energy to dry the wet biomass? NO!!! NO ON E.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm

@Walt, I'm a little unclear - does that mean the RFI recognized that smell and noise were bad (which we can all agree on) or that the proposed technology(ies) WILL BE smell and noise free? As before, my concern is, like HSR, that the devil is in the details, and we are being asked to take a step down the path without really knowing many of the details.

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Posted by Seeker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm

We should not undedicate park land until we know exactly what we are getting. Ten acres doesn't seem like a lot, but it is equal to 8 football fields. To place the proposed anaerobic digester on this site would require digging up the 52 foot high mountain of old garbage and spreading it on the rest of the park, thus delaying the opening of the critical part that has and will have loop trails. The amount of methane this might generate could be huge. Further the sewer plant will be fully exposed - all 25 acres of it- because the required landscaping will be uprooted for the anaerobic digester. This will expose all park users to 35 acres of industrial activity which is then 23% of the total area. not a tiny bit.

The Sewer Plant's master plan contemplates retiring the incinerator and using wet AD for sewer sludge. This will generate most of what the proponents tout without using park land.

Once the park land is undedicated, it can be used for anything. The initiative cannot restrict the council in this area. No undedicated park land has ever be rededicated. It is gone forever.

Like this comment
Posted by Alex DiGiorgio
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Hi Digenes,

I appreciate your passion for parkland conservation, but I think opposition to Measure E is misdirected. I think you may be overlooking the benefits Measure E will have for parkland conservation in the Bay Area and elsewhere.

One thing to keep in mind is that Measure E is not a referendum on Wet vs. Dry anaerobic digestion (AD) technology. Neither the word 'wet' nor 'dry' appears anywhere in the Measure; it refers only to biological conversion technologies, which includes anaerobic digestion as well as aerobic composting.

But you don't have to take my word for it; check out the plain language of the Measure: Web Link

I know you're desperate for advocates of Measure E to acknowledge Dry AD is not typically used for sewage, and that's true. But with a quickly evolving and developing industry, the past and present aren't always great predictors of the future.

I take your point about Dry AD of sewage being less energy efficient than Wet AD on account of the energy required to dry the sewage. But ironically, in Palo Alto's case ratepayers are ALREADY spending money to dry sewage so it can feed its incinerator. Presumably, we've already purchased the infrastructure to dry sewage--it's likely a sunk cost at this point.

In any case, the Feasibility Study acknowledged that Dry AD was more innovative for use with sewage, and for that reason applied a 30% contingency to the cost estimates. This was extremely conservative.

If you ask engineers like those of EBMUD, Central Marin Sanitation, Millbrae, Des Monies, Waco, etc. they'll all likely tell you there's no technological reason why you couldn't use Dry AD for sewage. But as you correctly pointed out, why bother to spend energy and money to dry something that's wet? This is the reason there are no operational examples of Dry AD in use for sewage. At least, not yet.

But again, today in Palo Alto, energy is consumed (presumably 24/7) for the sole purpose of drying sewage.

When it comes to energy, organic waste management-especially of sewage-presents a "Drain or Gain" scenario: either ratepayers drain energy and resources managing their organic waste, or they gain them.

Also, biopower is not an intermittent source of renewable energy like wind or solar; it can provide baseload power 24/7, night or day, rain or shine.

This is a long-winded way of saying it's worth 10 of 126 acres of landfill to explore our best economic and environmental options.

The only difference between the status quo of Palo Alto's organic waste management, and Measure E, is that this Measure offers ratepayers the chance to earn a return in energy savings, compost, and less pollution. Currently, ratpayers have no choice but to continue subsiding pollution.

The Export Option, preferred by opponents of E, does not make sense financially or environmentally. Why spend money to truck waste to communities that are entrepreneurial enough turn it into value? Why not invest in the ability to turn it into value ourselves? The Export option would essentially require future Palo Altans to PAY for the privilege of delivering the feedstock and raw materials to biopower and compost facilities in Gilroy, Sunnyvale and San Jose.

Exporting your waste and importing your energy can't possibly be the most cost-effective and environmental option.

YES on E

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Posted by oldbasse
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2011 at 11:41 am

I agree with "YES on E."

Thank you, Alex, for your post. It provides some sorely needed insights for us who are not knowledgeable about the technological issues involved. I also appreciate your analyses, with which I concur.

As for the 10-acre parcel, I have no problem with its undedication -- for purposes that serve the broad economic, environmental and civic interests of the Palo Alto community at large.

I have no information about the collection of food scraps, spoilt, outdated and unused food items, etc. Currently, I assume that most households dispose of such materials via the garbage cart and/or the kitchen sink, including a food waste disposeall. Would a separate food waste cart become available, or...?

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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 12, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Alex (unintentionally) makes a very good point: Measure E's purpose is vague at best. Its proponents continually flipflop.

The petition circulator told me the measure would build a garbage to energy plant and solve all our electric power problems. I smiled at her naivete and politely declined to sign.

Now they tell us Measure E is all about opportunity. There is no definite plan. What a reversal. Alex's tortured thinking illustrates their dilemma perfectly.

This proposal is a technical sham, and a risky expensive venture for our city that never seems to have enough money to conduct basic civic operations.

Save your tax money for useful purposes. Vote no on E.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Also, do I have it right that this is on the ballot because a small group of people who favored a certain approach, went out and gathered signatures to force it on the ballot? So they didn't convince the city counsel or any thoughtful, deliberative body - they pitched whatever they thought sounded good to passers-by (like in Engineer's account above) to get them to sign the petition. If that's correct, it makes me even more uneasy that we shouldn't take this step until we understand the details; and if the details can't be worked out, then we shouldn't take ANY steps until they can.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2011 at 9:34 am

If the parkland is un-dedicated, the city will be able to build the compost facility without any further voting from the citizens; since the utility is treated as a quasi-separate entity, all they would need to do is raise the utility rates to finance what ever they want build - there will be no accountability as to meeting any of the goals being dreamt about.

Vote No.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2011 at 11:51 am

Is what Common Sense says above true? Can any of the pro-E people confirm or deny (Walt Hays?)? If so, that is very bad for the pro-E case - this has been pitched by pro-E people as just a step that allows more study. If in fact there are no more chances for voter approval, this is a HUGE step and really like the HSR fiasco - a pig in a poke.

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Posted by none
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 18, 2011 at 1:52 am

In response to For Me Too...A quote from the document, City Attorney's Impartial Analysis of Measure E

"The ordinance authorizes but does not require the City to build and operate a Compost Facility at the Site."

Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 18, 2011 at 8:37 am

Had a Yes on E handout left at my door the other day.
Saw 5 good reasons on it not to vote for measure E--Peter Drekmeier, Jack Morton, Larry Klein, Jim Burch and Ellen Fletcher.
These people have no idea of financial responsibility, refuse to take responsibility when things go wrong on their watch and have no respect for individual rights.
They all also think that if they mention that they were once mayors or vice-mayors in Palo Alto (i.e. they won a popularity contest with their fellow backslappers) thatit will influence me to vote for this folly.

Vote no on E.

Like this comment
Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2011 at 9:23 am

Thank you "none." So that says that, without any further vote, the Council can build and operate a plant. So without any plan to look at, this is the only chance for the voters to have a say. This sounds A LOT like the HSR fiasco to me - the pro-side sells us hopes, wishes, and dreams, and then once the vote is over, the real costs and issues will emerge.

I really don't understand, nor have I seen anyone make any real argument, why we should approve this today without any real plan to look at. We are voting for a pig in a poke and hoping that a FUTURE council then does the right thing. It seems like there is too much at stake to just hand it over to others. I really think this should be voted down and not reconsidered until there is a real plan to look at.

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

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