Battle over the Baylands

Opponents in Palo Alto's Measure E debate prepare for Election Day showdown

The brown and dusty expanse of barren land next to Palo Alto's water-treatment plant looks like an unlikely setting for the next major battle in the city's Green Civil War.

It's not exactly a "dump" and it's not exactly a "park," though there are plenty of local environmentalists who would use these terms to describe the most controversial 10 acres in Palo Alto. But the argument over what to call this lumpy section of the Baylands is but a small, semantic quibble in the furious debate over the land's future -- a debate that will climax on Nov. 8 when residents walk into voting booths to consider Measure E.

The measure, which was put on the ballot by one of two competing environmental coalitions, asks a simple question with implications so complex that almost no one fully understands them: "Shall ten acres of existing parkland in Byxbee Park be undedicated for the exclusive purpose of building a processing facility for yard trimmings, food waste and other organic materials?"

The question has caused much head scratching among the local populace. Aside from the technical uncertainties surrounding the new facility -- including its costs, the technology it would employ and its impact on the environment -- the dilemma has opened up the larger question of what it means to be "green." The city's green community has split over Measure E, with former longtime allies asserting diametrically opposed viewpoints. Some of Palo Alto's greenest citizens are calling for the city to honor its promise to convert this land to parkland, while others are pointing to the 10-acre site as the perfect solution to the city's convoluted waste-management dilemma.

The latter camp, which initiated Measure E, specifically calls for the city to consider building an anaerobic digestion plant at the site -- a facility that would process local food scraps, yard trimmings and sewage sludge and convert them into energy. Opponents claim the proposed facility would sully the 126-acre Byxbee Park and set a dangerous precedent for future treatment of parkland. In addition, they say, Palo Alto's food and yard waste are already being efficiently handled in San Jose and Gilroy by the city's waste hauler.

The battle between the two different green camps is far from new, but it has taken on a particular intensity in the months leading up to the election, with each side accusing its opponent of trying to mislead the public. In one corner stand Peter Drekmeier, a former Palo Alto mayor and well-known conservationist who helped organize Palo Alto's first Earth Day two decades ago; Walt Hays, who may be the city's leading champion of sustainable living; and dozens of volunteers who submitted more than 6,000 signatures to the City Clerk in April to qualify the undedication measure for the November ballot. The environmental nonprofit Acterra, which Drekmeier formerly headed, has also endorsed Measure E, along with other organizations.

On the other side are Emily Renzel and Enid Pearson, two former council members whose conservationist bona fides are so well established that each has an open-space preserve named after her, as well as a host of park preservationists and land-use watchdogs. The Committee for Green Foothills and the Santa Clara Audubon Society have added their voices to the anti-Measure E campaign, as have former mayors Bern Beecham, Yoriko Kishimoto, Dena Mossar, Judy Kleinberg, all of whom are known for supporting green causes.

"We're all environmentalists, but we just see this a little differently," Kleinberg said in a recent interview, when asked about the split over Measure E.


Renzel has fought this battle before. For decades, she has been an outspoken critic of any city proposal that threatened to shrink or degrade the city's open space preserve. In the early 1990s, she supported the creation of a Utilities Advisory Commission to oversee the Utilities Department. According to Ward Winslow's "Palo Alto: A Centennial History," Renzel emerged as a leading critic of the Utilities Department.

"Palo Alto has been exporting huge environmental problems for years," Renzel is quoted as saying. To back up this claim, she cited such activities as "slashing through forests" to build transmission lines, sharing in a dam project and exporting garbage.

Now, ironically, she finds herself arguing in favor of the "export" options for local trash because the alternative would infringe upon Palo Alto's open space.

"Once undedicated, parkland is gone forever, and you will have little to say about how it's being used," Renzel said at an Oct. 11 debate on Measure E.

Renzel and her camp also stood firm on parkland preservation in 2005, the last time the two green camps clashed. At that time, an "Environmental Services Center" -- including in its largest proposed form services such as materials recovery, refuse transfer, composting, recycling, hazardous waste and public education -- would have occupied up to 19 acres in the Baylands.

The conservationist side prevailed, after the council voted 5-4 to defeat the proposal.

Renzel is far from the only prominent Palo Altan making the argument that parkland, in general, should not be touched, even for reasons as ostensibly "green" as a waste-to-energy facility. The anti-Measure E movement is made up of people and organizations that emerged in the middle of the 20th century to challenge Palo Alto's development boom. Chief among them is Pearson, the Palo Altan most responsible for the fact that the parkland is dedicated in the first place.

As the leader of the "residentialist" movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Pearson was the leading force behind the city's decision in 1965 to create a park-dedication ordinance (an ordinance that requires a vote of the people to convert parkland to other uses). According to Winslow's history of Palo Alto, she pursued the ordinance after "one small informal park on the old Sherman School block and part of the city's Bowden Park vanished" during the development boom of the 1950s. Her successful initiative propelled her to the council in 1965, the same year that the Audubon Society proposed creating a larger wildlife preserve in the Baylands.

Pearson's commitment to protecting the Bay from new developments remains strong. Like Renzel, she has repeatedly questioned the financial benefits of the waste-to-energy facility touted by the pro-Measure E side and argued against using the park for composting.

"Even here, in Palo Alto, some people want to destroy 10 acres of Byxbee Park," Pearson told the council on Oct. 3. "Enlightened Palo Alto ought to be doing all it can to find and save land for parks. There is no justification for grabbing park land to construct a huge factory that is based on great expectations."

Other organizations that emerged out of the mid-century conservation movement have also come out swinging against Measure E. The Committee for Green Foothills, which was founded in 1962 and which claimed the author Wallace Stegner as its first president, last month took an official stance against the proposal to undedicate the land. Jennifer Couperus, who serves on the committee's board of directors, told the council last month that the board decided to oppose the measure because it felt the loss of open space is not justified by the prospect of "unproved composting techniques."

The Santa Clara County Audubon Society, which according to Winslow's history has been eyeing the baylands for a bird sanctuary since 1923, has been even more adamant in its opposition to the measure. Shani Kleinhaus, an environmental advocate for the Audubon Society, joined Renzel in the Oct. 11 debate over the measure. Undedicating the parkland, she said, is not only a drastic measure but a premature one, given that the city hasn't fully analyzed the impacts the proposed facility would have.

Kleinhaus also rejected the argument by the proponents of Measure E that the land in question makes up only 8 percent of the park.

"If I ask you to take the nose of your face because it's a 'minute' part of your body, you'd probably say no," Kleinhaus said at the debate.

Former council members have also held fast to their specific environmental philosophies. Kleinberg, a former president of the Committee for Green Foothills who was one of the five council members to vote against the Environmental Services Center, hasn't swerved from her commitment to protecting the Bay from development.

"We've worked so hard to reclaim our bayfronts," Kleinberg said. "To undedicate parkland at the bayfronts seems to be so backwards and anachronistic, I can't believe we're not all up in arms about it."

For Renzel, the Baylands in her mind's eye will never include what she derisively terms "a factory." In July, just weeks before the landfill was scheduled to close for good, she and other nature lovers took a victory lap around a portion of the site and spoke in hopeful tones about the landfill's impending conversion to "the wonderful prairie that once existed," as Mayor Sid Espinosa put it.


From Walt Hays' point of view, opponents' fears about developments encroaching on the Baylands are both unfounded and exaggerated.

"There are some people who believe that parks are so sacred you cannot touch them," Hays told the Weekly in a recent interview. "Some people feel that when you undedicate it once, it can be an entering wedge and you can do it again."

"Frankly, if someone wanted to undedicate parkland and put, say, a fire station, I'd be on Emily's side."

For Hays, who led the Measure E drive, the issue is straightforward: The city needs to take care of its own waste, not ship it to another community. He is quick to point out that the measure would not commit the city to building anything -- merely give the council the option to consider a facility that, he says, would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Though he likes parkland as much as his opponents, the times have changed since 1965, he said, and the city has a duty to address the growing threat of global warming.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Hays said, referring to the 1965 dedication of parkland, including the eventual conversion and addition of the dump to Byxbee Park. "But that was before anyone has ever heard of the issue of climate change.

"Since that time, climate change is recognized as the most serious threat faced by humanity."

Hays is the leading player in Palo Alto's robust "sustainability" movement, which emerged in the 1990s and has been ballooning since. He has been talking about climate change and "zero waste" long before the City Council began adopting "environmental sustainability" as an official priority year after year.

As the co-chair of the Zero Waste Task Force in 2005, he helped formulate the city's ambitious goal of diverting almost all of its waste from landfills by 2025 through recycling and other green practices. The following year, he chaired then-Mayor Kleinberg's Green Ribbon Task Force, which was charged with finding ways to reduce the city's greenhouse-gas emissions. Proposed solutions included providing incentives for employees to carpooling and adding green-building code standards to the city's building code -- a policy Palo Alto adopted in 2008.

Hays' commitment to sustainability had pitted him against the conservationists before. In the past decade, he was a leading advocate of building the "Environmental Services Center," which created a firestorm within the green community not unlike the present argument over Measure E.

This time, Hays' side is confident it will have better luck. His coalition, the Palo Alto Green Energy Initiative, has been swelling and gathering a long list of endorsements in the months leading up to the November election. The CLEAN Coalition, the Green Party of Santa Clara County, the Silicon Valley Action Network and the Santa Clara County Democratic Party have all endorsed Measure E, as has Acterra. In its endorsement statement, Acterra noted that "balancing the goals of stopping climate change with preserving open space has put many environmental friends on different sides of this issue" but concluded that a "composting facility adjacent to the water-treatment plant could provide greater environmental benefits -- particularly reducing Palo Alto's carbon footprint -- than leaving the proposed ten-acre site as dedicated parkland."

Members of the "sustainability" camp -- which includes council members Larry Klein, Pat Burt and Gail Price and a host of former elected officials -- are quick to point out that the proposal wouldn't require the city to build anything but merely allow the city to continue evaluating its options.

"Just because it's undedicated doesn't mean they have to build it," said Ellen Fletcher, a former vice mayor who is supporting Measure E. "It'll still be up to the council and the public to go through the studies that will be commissioned and see what the alternatives are.

"If none work out, the council can still rededicate the land, so there's nothing lost."

The measure aims to settle what Drekmeier calls the city's "chicken-and-egg" dilemma. The city would have to complete an Environmental Impact Report before any major facility is constructed. But city officials would be loath to commit millions of dollars for such a study when there is no land available for the proposed facility; a much smaller "feasibility study" was approved after heavy debate and a 5-4 council vote. At the same time, opponents of Measure E insist that the land not be undedicated until there is further proof that such a facility would be feasible -- proof that could only be furbished through a full environmental analysis.

"People talk about this as a green-versus-green issue," Drekmeier said at last week's debate over Measure E. "Perhaps it is park-advocate environmentalists and sustainability environmentalists.

"I have a 2-year-old son," he added. "His life will be so different than mine. He has such huge challenges. The times have changed, and we have to address our waste."


The deep split between the two environmental camps has prompted a period of soul-searching among the city's greenest residents. Should one align oneself with Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," the traditional bible of the nature lover, or with Thomas Friedman's "Hot, Flat and Crowded," a manifesto that seeks to shake America out of its climate-change apathy (Drekmeier and Klein felt so strongly about the latter that they sponsored a special City Hall screening in 2009 of Friedman's talk about the book).

Though neither side in the debate is a monolithic bloc, each has common threads running through it. Not surprisingly, proponents of Measure E tend to be in the Friedman camp. They are, in most cases, more accepting toward emerging technologies and, in many cases, more tolerant of new development. The measure has received financial support and endorsements from the city's leading developers, including Jim Baer and Chop Keenan. Jonathan Foster, who chairs the city's Utilities Advisory Commission, is supporting the campaign, as is Bob Wenzlau, who pioneered the city's curbside-recycling program.

Opponents tend to be more cautious about new development. The group includes land-use watchdogs Robert Moss, Thomas Jordan and Winter Dellenbach, as well as Susan Fineberg, vice chair of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission who is known as a cautious guardian of the city's Comprehensive Plan. Councilwoman Karen Holman, a veteran of the planning commission, opposes Measure E, as do Mayor Sid Espinosa and Councilman Greg Schmid.

The tension between the two green camps probably won't end with Measure E, particularly if the measure passes. The two camps have squabbled incessantly over the feasibility study for the new facility, with each side using numbers from the study to back its point of view. If voters undedicate the land and the council proceeds with further analysis, the debate will undoubtedly escalate. If they reject Measure E, the debate will likely abate at least for a little while -- at least until someone comes up with another proposal to build something with environmental benefits in the Baylands.

"My sense is that when we go to the voters -- if they choose not to undedicate it, the discussion ends," Councilman Greg Scharff said during a meeting in April. "If they do -- that's the beginning of the discussion, frankly."

Related material:

A Measure E primer

Checking the facts on Measure E

Editorial: Yes on E, with caution

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Posted by Shani Kleinhaus
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 21, 2011 at 6:59 am

From the start, Santa Clara Valley Audubon asked that Standard Environmental Review (guided by California Environmental Quality act) should be conducted BEFORE voters decide - not after. This is just reasonable common sense: A transparent, participatory process would have allowed ALL stakeholders to assess the need for using our park, and discover the environmental tradeoffs that are embedded in any industrial development on the Bay.

Measure E dismisses the loss of 10 acres of parkland as a small, insignificant impact. Environmental Review would have challenged this assertion. Audubon values the site because it contains a functioning wildlife corridor between wetlands and foraging grounds for raptors like hawks, falcons and owls. The Committee for Green Foothills opposes Measure E because of its unnecessary use of open space by the bay. We believe that new development of land by the baylands should never be taken lightly. It should always be the last step – not the first alternative to be acted upon.

Measure E pre-selects a site – Byxbee Park - and implicitly pre-selects technology (Anaerobic Digestion) and supporters aggressively market both to a community that truthfully aspires to go “green”. The simple truth is - the two are not interdependent.

Palo Alto's Feasibility Study showed that the city can replace the incinerator with environmentally responsible technology at the existing facility and that parkland is not needed. This would provide the financial and energy benefits that the measure advertises without sacrificing our park. The Feasibility Study also shows that the "added value" of the 10-acres would be negligible, and the cost is disproportionally high.

We took a wrong turn WHEN standard environmental review was purposely circumvented. Because Measure E bypassed basic due diligence, Audubon sees it as a misleading marketing campaigns, and asks voters to be cautious, and vote no.

Measure E has another important cost. It has caused a rift in the environmental community in Palo Alto - dividing people who, in reality – all want the same thing: a responsible, cost effective solution to Palo Alto’s organic waste, and a beautiful park. If the measure passes, it will continue to split the community and impede not only the completion of Byxbee Park, but also the development of an environmentally responsible waste management solution.

Vote No on Measure E so the community can heal and move forward. Better solutions for Palo Alto’s organic waste do exist. Vote NO Measure E – and protect both our climate and our parkland.

As Mayor Espinosa says, “Once parkland is lost it is lost forever”.
Vote No on Measure E

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Posted by Carolync
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2011 at 9:39 am

This article neglects to mention YES on E endorsements by the League of Women Voters and the county Republican party (all 3 major parties in Palo Alto endorse YES on E).
As the person who spearheaded getting 14,000 signatures to turn Edgewood County Park into a natural preserve in 1993, as founding president of Friends of Edgewood Natural Preserve, and as a frequent user of Byxbee, I'm a firm believer in parks and natural habitat.
But the 10 acres that Measure E undedicates are a far cry from natural: part of our former dump, they’re mostly occupied by our (sadly reduced) recycling center. These 10 acres (which might not all even need to be used) constitute 8% of Byxbee, a fraction of 1% of the 1940 acres of Palo Alto Baylands, & a mere blip of our 4500+ park acres citywide.
It's time to look at the big picture. YES on Measure E.

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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 11:15 am

This is a tough one ...

I am all for progress and green-ness, but I also have seen what a "processing facility" can do ... namely the sewage treatment facility.

If we want to "do things" other than have a park and maintain or increase "green-ness" in Palo Alto, I would suggest that we FIRST prove that we can do it thoughtfully and competently.

In my opinion, how we can do that is to make the sewage treatment plant RIGHT.

That is, BEFORE we do anything else of a processing/industrial nature in the Palo Alto Baylands, let's fix the Palo Alto Sewage Treatment Plant so that it does not stink up the area so badly that using it as a park for recreation is an unacceptable idea for most Palo Altans.

Since we put in the sewage plant the land has just sat there. People run out there and walk their dogs (often without leashes) but it is not exactly a thriving recreation area for all people as for example Shoreline Park in Mountain View is.

I think one of the reasons for this is that the city management of Palo Alto has fumbled the ball and not developed this incredible resource for Palo Alto, preferring instead to cater to some low profile special interests or just plain do nothing.

Update the sewage treatment plant and then see where we stand - prove to the people of Palo Alto that we can put in a facility that will not further ruin or drive people away from our very special water resource that I cannot believe we are not exploiting for the best good in this often incredibly dense city.

Why not try to make Palo Alto better and set up a precedent and process for doing that instead of trying to jam some further dumplike concern on us ... now that the Palo Alto geniuses have gotten rid of our dump?

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Posted by Sue Luttner
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 11:58 am

Thank you for this excellent explanation of what's motivating the opponents of Measure E.

I must be a "sustainability environmentalist," because I don't see that Measure E encroaches on parklands. The land in question has historically been the city dump. As parts of the dump have reached capacity, the city has, presciently and prudently, been developing Byxbee Park, another fabulous Palo Alto resource. If you haven't walked or biked out there, I recommend it: Art, wetlands, wildlife, drinking fountains...

I agree that the baylands are a precious resource---they're part of a migratory channel of international importance, for one thing---and we must stop abusing them as our species has for generations. But we are human beings: We impact the land. The goal of Measure E is to minimize the effect of our presence on the peninsula, not just ship off a pesky problem to a county with lower wages and property values.

By way of full disclosure: I myself compost, in a small part of our yard. The idea of burning fuel to haul our collective biomass to Gilroy makes me nuts.

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Posted by Understand before you Act
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:05 pm

If there hasn't been any environmental review, how can the proponents of the anaerobic digester claim that it will reduce green house gasses? There can be estimates in the early feasibility studies but those depend upon many assumptions and there are so many unknown variables as to make all the conclusions meaningless.

Do the environmental review first so voters understand what is really being proposed and whether it yields any benefits that justify to cost.

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Posted by Linda Craig
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Can you refresh my memory on the Charter aspect of park dedication. I think we in San Mateo County had some issue with the Faber Tract, which is now in our county.

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Posted by Alex DiGiorgio
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:18 pm

For many Palo Altans, undedicating 10-acres of landfill next to the regional sewage treatment plant is a worth the opportunity to develop cost-effective and environmentally responsible waste management policies.

For others, it's not; everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

But to relentlessly accuse those who disagree with you of deliberately misleading their neighbors, and of attempting to evade environmental law, betrays any genuine desire to cooperate and collaborate for the best interests of our community.

The claim that Measure E is part of an attempt to avoid proper environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is as insulting as it is inaccurate. Former California Assembly member John T. Knox, who authored CEQA, has endorsed the 'YES on E' campaign. As the founding father of California's environmental review process, Mr. Knox has no reason to want to circumvent one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation he helped pass during his two decades in Sacramento. Neither would the Green Party, Acterra, the Climate Foundation, Clean Coalition, Students for a Sustainable Stanford, or the numerous other organizations that have endorsed Measure E. To suggest otherwise reveals an astonishing level of myopia.

Santa Clara Audubon is a highly respected environmental organization with a long history of pro-active environmentalism. Though I strongly believe its opposition to Measure E is misguided, I do not question Audubon's integrity simply because the organization does not reflect my own personal opinion on every issue.

I agree with Ms. Kleinhaus that all those who care about environmental stewardship should unite and combine their efforts to create a more sustainable community. But vilifying those who do not share your every opinion will not help advance this aspiration.

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Posted by Get your facts straight
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:25 pm

to Sue Luttner:

You claim we should "not just ship off a pesky problem to a county with lower wages and property values."

San Jose and Gilroy are both in Santa Clara County. Palo Alto is also in Santa Clara County. There's no basis whatsoever to claim that we ship our waste off "to a county with lower wages and propery values". Before you make claims about social and environmental injustice, please get your facts straight!

Is your claim that we should not ship any waste across a city line? Where will we store old cars or construction debris? Where will we process bio hazards? Where will we process radioactive waste from medical and research facilities?

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Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Vote NO on E! It's expensive, risky, and destroys the pastoral open space park in our baylands.

First, I would like to correct an error in your story. Bern Beecham, to my knowledge, has not taken a position for or against Measure E. However, NO on E has been supported by Mayor Sid Espinosa, and former Mayors Kirke Comstock, Alan Henderson, Byron Sher (also former State Senator), Gary Fazzino, Judy Kleinberg, Mike Cobb, Dena Mossar, Lanie Wheeler, and Yoriko Kishimoto as well as five present and former councilmembers. NO on E is also supported by the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, Baylands Conservation Committee, the Palo Alto Daily Post, as well as Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and Committee For Green Foothills mentioned in your article.

Proponents of Measure E are now saying that this is just a reservation of land so further studies can be done. Studies so far have cost $2 million in lost gate fees at the Refuse area, plus $250,000 for the Feasibility Study and WHO KNOWS how much money in Staff time to shepherd all this through. The problem is that Pro forces are also using promises of savings using numbers from Dry Anaerobic Technology which has never been used anywhere in the world --how can those numbers have any reliability? They are also laying on the table all sorts of NEW possibiities that are guaranteed to cost millions more than just improving Waste water treatment plant.

The Zero Waste Task Force, which Walt Hays chaired, actually recommended the Regional approach for organics and the City Council on which Peter Drekmeier sat, approved that recommendation.

Anon (above) has the right idea. Let's fix the Sewage Plant first, retiring the incinerator, and then consider what else the city should do. It is putting the cart before the horse to undedicate parkland just to spawn more costly studies of unknown possibilities.

Vote NO on E.

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Posted by notme
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm

This may be an excellent problem that requires further investigation and study. Personally, I think the Palo Alto Airport should be expanded, a longer and wider runway and more services. Add a boat and
other water sport activity rental and use center in this awesome Open

Take this issue of waste treatment and request Stanford University to develop a plant that provides complete use of human waste and garbage and lawn cuttings and tree trimmings into usable electricity,
water and fertilizer with no harmful emissions to the environment.
NASA has been recycling urine into drinking water for awhile. How may
cities now sell bottled water and where does that treated water originate, before being bottled?

Forget placing the processing facility in Byxbee Park. Stanford Campus has ample land space that is now being used as Saturday Football parking on Saturdays. The West side of El Camino Real, North
of Galvez Street to Palm Drive and Arboretum Rd. A good place for such a facility.

This would be a good project for the Palo Alto Community and all the science available from research and application from Stanford University.

Simply building more garbage and human waste dump sites is not the long term resolution of the issue and there may be some alternative
uses available. Finding the ways and means to change the placement, transportation and reuse may be one possible answer. Hiding it unil an area is full and no longer possible, then moving it to another place and another when that area is no longer sustainable prolongs
the problem.

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Posted by Rick
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I'm confused. Can someone please tell me if voting yes or no on Measure E will lead us closer to curbside pickup of food scrap compostables? I used to live in Castro Valley and there we could throw all food scraps (except bones) into the yard trimmings bin. It was fantastic because it reduce our trash by probably more than half. I'm suprised that of all places Palo Alto doesn't have the same setup.

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Posted by Reality check
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2011 at 1:04 pm

To "Emily Renzel" -

You say "fix the Sewage Plant first, retiring the incinerator...".

Really? Just how do you propose to do that? Where would the sludge go? Do you understand what those communities like Sunnyvale and San Jose who do not have incinerators at their treatment plants do?

They have acres and acres of sludge ponds on their sites adjacent to the Baylands to hold and process the sludge. Is that what you propose for Palo Alto? Doing so would take even more acreage than what is being proposed by Measure E.

The incinerator was actually a progressive idea for its time in the late 60s/early 70s. It saved dozens of acres of Palo Alto Baylnds from being turned ino sludge ponds like what Sunnyvale and San Jose have today. While the incinerator is coming close to outliving its functional life and is probably past its environmental usefullnes, one cannot simply propose to "retire" it without having a plan on how to deal with the sludge which you and other Palo Alto residents produce.

The Measure E proposal provides for one such potential future alternative.

Have you even thought this through, or is your purpose simply to discredit Measue E at any cost?

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Stop big Texas oil!!

No on E!!

...well, it worked the last time

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Posted by Wasteof money
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2011 at 1:23 pm

NO on E, just one more thing we have to pay for

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Posted by Solomon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm

The reason you can't find examples of Dry AD used for sewage is because it requires a lot of energy to dry something that's already wet (like sewage). Any engineer will tell you there's no technological reason why you can't use Dry AD to treat sewage--it just seems less efficient (and thus, less economical) due to the energy needed to dry sewage.

But in Palo Alto's case, we already expend energy and money to dry sewage--so we can burn it in the sewage incinerator. Presumably, the infrastructure needed to dry sewage is already a sunk cost for sewage plant, so maybe that's why the feasibility study examined Dry AD so closely.

This is why it doesn't really matter that Dry AD hasn't been used for sewage in other places. And anyway there's nothing in Measure E that requires the City to use Dry AD, so why so much talk about Dry AD?

I don't see what the big deal is--if we pass Measure E we'll be able to see what our options are. If opponents are right, we don't have to build anything.

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Posted by Sam
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm

The digester will produce energy, but he compost will just end up in the landfill. No one uses composted human waste in gardens due to the risk of viruses and other pathogens. Worse yet, we will take all of our currently usable compost and make it toxic.

If we pass Measure E we will be creating Palo Alto's own version of high speed rail. A well meant project that will only benefit consultants and developers, and will net increase our carbon footprint.

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Posted by DDee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Here's a third idea... one that will give us a better bona fide as an honestly green community - and not a green community as long as it raises our property values by adding nice parks and open spaces, but not so much if it doesn't.

Instead of undedicating the 10 acres of parkland prior to doing the necessary environment studies, why not vote on a clause to hold that 10 acres from further park development for 2 years to then see if they really are needed for finding a more ideal solution to our current stink and haul situations.

This could give those forces in favor of E time to effect environmental and logistical studies to see if a rehaul of the sewage treatment plant could include the VERY positive idea of turning waste into energy (instead of the expensive NIMBYism of hauling it away to be someone else's problem) and solving the stink issue so that someone in their right mind might want to spend more than a few minutes in that 10 acre area once all is said and done.

Just a thought...

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Posted by WhatsTheRush
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Once parkland is gone, it never comes back.

If Palo Alto shows that it willing to undedicate its parkland, especially the baylands, there will be any number of other projects which will be proposed - like a connector from Dumbarton to Oregon?

If it turns out a regional facility is far more efficient, what will happen to this 10 acres. Guaranteed, it won't return to being parkland.

One has to wonder why all the money behind a "Yes" vote is coming from realtors. I'll bet they can think of plenty of great things to do with our parkland.

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 22, 2011 at 1:54 am

If "park" land is up for grabs, wouldn't it be greener to undedicate 10 acres of the office-park/car-park area adjacent southwest of the water treatment facility?

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Posted by Concerned Grandmother
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2011 at 7:53 am

This is about more than 10 dusty acres of closed dump land adjacent to a water treatment plant. This is about Palo Alto doing something concrete to combat global warming. All of the folks who think an Anaerobic Digester facility is expensive might want to consider the costs we will pass on to future generations if they have to install levees to keep Palo Alto from flooding as sea levels rise. We contribute to global warming, we need to do something concrete to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Measure E will give us the option to explore waste disposal alternatives that are don't require shipping our waste miles away, burning fuel and adding carbon to the atmosphere. It's time for some active environmentalism. Vote YES ON MEASURE E!

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Posted by Linda
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 22, 2011 at 7:54 am

I think this should go on Stanford land - since they reneged on their plan for a permanent community trail extending from the Dish area in exchange for permits to build 20 million square (approx) feet and the mega development they incurred over the years with all the congestion we have from it now. City dollars support the infrastructure around them, etc. They certainly have the space for it !!

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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm

"I think this should go on Stanford land - since they reneged on their plan for a permanent community trail extending from the Dish area in exchange for permits to build 20 million square (approx) feet and the mega development they incurred over the years with all the congestion we have from it now. City dollars support the infrastructure around them, etc. They certainly have the space for it !!"

Yes, I would be willing to put this plant in the dish area!!! Seriously--how is Stanford involved in this? Why should Palo Alto get to use Stanford's land?
How much money has Stanford put into Palo Alto's coffers over the years? Palo Alto is nothing without Stanford. I think we should put this on Fulton Street

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Posted by Gary Bradski
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 22, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Much as I'd viscerally enjoy dumping trash on poorer communities, reveling as we look down upon them from our brand new hill of green. In this particular case, they may be able to get back at us by upping fees etc in the future ... so, reluctantly, to deny them their revenge, we should probably explore figuring out how to deal with our own trash. Hold or noses so to speak, and vote for E.

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Posted by Brian Suckow
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 23, 2011 at 12:13 pm


I urge voters to just say no to the false choice embodied in Measure E by voting NO.

There is no reason why we can't achieve BOTH the objectives of preserving scarce park land AND disposing of our waste in an environmentally acceptable manner. Why do supporters of anaerobic digestion insist on using park land? Just put this facility in a more suitable location!

And, if the economics don’t work to buy 10 acres of real estate somewhere else in Palo Alto, then let’s partner with other local communities to develop a regional facility in a lower cost location.

I’m very disappointed at the either/or choice being put before voters. Our elected officials should have taken the initiative to frame a much broader range of options.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 24, 2011 at 8:03 am

> Much as I'd viscerally enjoy dumping trash on poorer communities,

There have been many comments about Palo Alto dumping its "trash" on poorer communities, and that this has caused other communities "problems". Once such claim is about the Kettleman City area, where some of the residue of the incinerator is shipped.

There CAL-EPA did a study, which found no evidence of birth defects in the local environment in the Kettleman City area. The following letter, with details, was sent to the PA City Council to insure that some of those on the Council were aware of this study, and its findings:

Palo Alto City Council
City of Palo Alto
Palo Alto, CA 94301

Subject: California EPA’s Kettleman City Birth Defect Study Finds No Environmental
Evidence Of Birth Defects.

Elected Council Members:

Some of those supporting Measure E have claimed that processing some of our waste locally will solve “real health and social justice concerns” of Kettleman City residents who are unhappy that “wealthy communities” like Palo Alto are sending their hazardous waste to “low-income communities”—toxic waste which might be causing birth defects in those communities.

The California Environmental Protection Agency’s comprehensive review of the birth defect “cluster” in Kettleman City (Web Link) has found no specific cause for small number of birth defects seen there.

Against a national average of 1 birth defect per 33 births, 11 children were born with birth defects from 1987-2010. The CA-EPA could find no causal relationship between water, air, pesticides, or any of the other possible sources of toxicants linked to birth defects. Moreover, the study found that none of the mothers spent any time at or near the hazardous waste landfill facility.

Cancer occurrences were also studied. During this time period, there were 113 cancers diagnosed in the residents of this area. 143 cancers would be expected to occur if the area experienced the same rate of cancer as the rest of the state of California . Overall, this census tract experiences the same types of cancer as found elsewhere and somewhat less cancer than would be anticipated.

There is no scientific evidence that Palo Alto ’s use of the Chemical Waste Management facility near Kettleman City is causing birth defects in children born in the area. Given that some of those on the City Council have endorsed Measure E, and presumably are going to be will to make claims that might not be true about the “social injustices” that Palo Alto is inflicting on the people living in the Kettleman City area, it is important that the City Council be fully aware of the CA-EPA Kettleman City study, and its results.

Please take the time to read this paper, and the companion toxics study on the CA-EPA web-site.

I will be voting NO on Measure E, and encourage all Palo Altans to do the same.

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Posted by bill kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 24, 2011 at 8:32 am

There is something OBNOXIOUS about shipping our waste away. Out of sight out of mind. How do we teach our kids about our disposable society if we hide all the refuse? I'm for measure E because we need to accept the responsibility of our waste and process as much of it in Palo Alto as we can!

Vote YES on E!

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 24, 2011 at 11:38 am

> There is something OBNOXIOUS about shipping our waste away.

Interesting. While Measure E “un-dedicates” some park land (if the City actually owns it) and hence sets the stage for some sort of waster disposal operation to be built on that land, what does Measure E actually do about all of the “waste” in Palo Alto?


In fact, all of the other “waste” that is not processed locally will continue to be “shipped out” of Palo Alto to be processed in places that are more appropriate than this highly urbanized, tiny, little town. For instance, all of the water that is cleaned up in the water quality plant will continue to be dumped in the bay—which is not Palo Alto. All of the storm drain water will be dumped in the bay, too. All of the recycled material, such as paper, and metal cans, will continue to be shipped elsewhere. And what about the concrete, wood and steel that is left over from the construction, or tear-down, refurbishment, of buildings in Palo Alto? That’s going to be shipped out too. It is inconceivable that a small town like this could be the home of upwards of 150,000 people during the day time, and well over 65,000 at night, and not generate waste that can not be processed, and disposed of, locally.

And what about all of the basic materials that are “shipped in”, such as water, natural gas, electricity, gasoline, building materials, virtually every product on the shelves of the retail outlets, the food we eat, the clothes that we wear, and so on. Shouldn’t symmetry be applied to this “shipped out” argument, to demonstrate how being a “disposal society” requires that we be opposed to industrialization too? Certainly there is waste generated at the point of manufacture which people opposed to “shipping out” need to acknowledge, and begin to pay their “fair share” of cleaning up the areas where “waste” is generated in the creation of the products they buy, and consume, here in Palo Alto?

It doesn’t take long to see the craziness in claiming that anyone who buys, and eats, a candy bar is responsible for a “chain-of-waste” from Palo Alto to who-knows-where-the-chocolate-has-been.

> How do we teach our kids about our disposable
> society if we hide all the refuse?

Well, if you really believe that you and your children should not be involved with the modern world, you could:

1) Move out of the Silicon Valley
2) Homestead somewhere that you have sufficient acreage to:
..a) Have your own well
..b) Your own sewerage system
..c) Grow your own food
..d) Raise sufficient livestock to provide raw materials for clothes.
..e) Raise sufficient cotton to make your own clothes.

While this may seem like a tall order, the people who colonized America managed, over three hundred years ago.

So .. the choice is yours. What are you going to do to bring your children up free of the benefits of a “modern world”.

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Posted by Walter Sedriks
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 30, 2011 at 6:29 am

Walter Sedriks is a registered user.

-- "Once undedicated, parkland is gone forever, and you will have little to say about how it's being used," Renzel said at an Oct. 11 debate on Measure E. --

Seems to me that some of the main supporters for keeping all the land dedicated as park are very selective in their commitment to parks. The current conflict dividing the community brought to mind a similar episode back in 1980, which involved some of the same key players, but interestingly like Emily Renzel, now on a different side.

The city had bought a block in Downtown North designated for a neighborhood park, but left it undedicated. Seems that a small park in Downtown North doesn't provide sufficient environmental cachet, so in 1979, with low-income housing having become the flavor-of-the-month, even for the "environmentalists," the majority on the council wanted to change the designation of the land to PC, opening the possibility of high-density blocks of flats being built there instead. The majority against park dedication besides Emily Renzel included Byron Sher, Alan Henderson, and Gary Fazino, all of whom are now key supporters of keeping all the land in the Baylands dedicated as park and opposing Measure E.

Back in 1979 the neighborhood organized to try and overturn the council vote. If I remember correctly, it was Tony Badger, Bob Freedman, Tom Reid, John Flather and myself who dipped into our pockets to pay for some legal advice and our counsel, Kent Michel, advised that we should gather signatures for a ballot initiative to reverse the council decision. Sterling efforts by the neighborhood succeeded in getting enough signatures.

To his credit, at this point Byron Sher reversed himself and provided the vote needed to dedicate the land as park. Emily Renzel then also switched sides to provide us with what eventually become the delightful and highly used Johnson Park: A park that has provided a critical breathing space for the crowded Downtown North neighborhood and has served to maintain the residential character of this wonderfully eclectic community, yet at at the time was initially opposed by some of those now adamant about preserving parkland no matter what.

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Posted by League is discredited
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 30, 2011 at 3:25 pm

The local League of Women Voters is so tied in with developers, they have long since lost their credibility. Their housing advocates dominate the chapter and will support anything the developers propose. Measure E is just the latest example.
The support of the local League chapter should be a clue to anyone who has watched them over time: if it's good for developer supporters (like Drekmeier) they are for it. Vote NO on E.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2014 at 8:51 pm

@ Shani Klienhous As I was driving to Alviso, I noticed a huge pile of dirt being dumped in a area that I have always perceived as flood control/ marshland area. I stopped and spoke to a resident of Alviso. My question was : How is it possible for a company such as Disilva/Gates to dump dirt on bird habitat.Her reply was simple: They paid off the Audubon Society. [Portion removed.]

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2014 at 9:00 pm

@ Shani

How do you phrase it?

"Cut off the nose, despite the face."

3 people like this
Posted by shani kleinhaus
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 26, 2014 at 12:13 am


Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, in partnership with the City of San Jose, has a burrowing owl habitat restoration project near Alviso. At that 180-acre site, we take great care to protect habitat and wetlands and to improve conditions for native plants and for birds. No wetlands or marshlands have been filled with dirt.

Audubon started this work two years ago. At the time, there was one owl at the site. This year, the restored habitat attracted 7 pairs and produced 34 chicks. You can read about it here:
Web Link

The City of San Jose approved development projects near Alviso in 2000 and some of these projects are now moving forward. Audubon has no power to make any land use decisions, and cannot be "paid off" to allow or disallow these or any other development.

Finally, Audubon has had no interactions whatsoever with Disilva/Gates. If dirt is indeed dumped into a marshland, please contact Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society directly and we can try and help you find out who is doing this work and whether this activity is permitted by the pertinent government agencies

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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2014 at 12:02 am

I can only imagine this is going to lose big.
The problem is that who knows what it means ... it is confusing on multiple dimensions, any of which could be a disaster for the City.

We never knew how good we had it when we had our own dump. Never really understood until I was a homeowner how useful it is to be able to cart stuff off to your own dump at a reasonable price. I am getting scared to buy anything these days for how expensive it is to get rid of it when it is worn out. I guess you can always leave whatever by the curb and let someone else cart it off.

I'd love to see some use for the Baylands that was not "industrial" and that is another reason I think this is not going to be popular.

I thought the South Bay cities were smart enough in the 21st century to stop using the SF Bay as a dump or sewer and start to rejuvenate and reclaim the habitat in our waterfront.

The problem is that with the Palo Alto airport the whole area is just incredibly unpleasant to be around with planes going over low and loud every minute or two. I like it out there, but even as a hike or runner trail there are problems. No safety monitoring, no restrooms when you get away from the parking lot. Unacceptable restrooms out by the old Interpretive center and boat launch.

If the people of Palo Alto realized how great it would be to spruce up the Baylands and use it for a nature and recreation place, as it rightly should be, they would demand that:
1) that noisy and dangeround airport be closed.
2) the sewage plant be modernized.

I would be fine with some kind of waste processing plant, but no one has defined or made the case really for an anaerobic whatever, not do we know if Palo Altans are smart and responsible enough to even sort their garbage for this kind of thing. A big step like this requires stakeholder buying, and until you hear the clamor of Palo Altans demanding to be able to throw away their organic waste institutionalizing this process will be damn near impossible and we should not just take it for granted.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 28, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Must have been 1000 people out there enjoying the airport today.

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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2014 at 5:59 pm

I like the Palo Alto Airport's new slogan: "Safer than a Japanese reactor!"

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Posted by funny
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2014 at 6:22 pm


"Must have been 1000 people out there enjoying the airport today."

How do you enjoy an airport?

3 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2014 at 4:31 pm

I'm starting to see Emily Renzel and Enid Pearson in a whole new light. It is their way or the highway. Both of these 'environmentalist' want everything taken away because they say so. I love the response from Reality Check about ER's comment to close the co-gen plant AND removing the incinerators would leave the treatment plant with no method of dealing the the sludge. Just think of the foul odor that spreading it out over several acres would produce.

Emily, what do you mean by pastoral (...pastoral open space park in our baylands)? Is it "used for or related to the keeping or grazing of sheep or cattle" or is it "a work of literature portraying an idealized version of country life"? There is nothing pastoral at Byxbee Park. It is where the sewer meets the sea.

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Posted by DarinNot
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 10, 2017 at 7:29 pm

Web Link can you buy naltrexone over the counter

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