News

Compost debate set to flare up again in Palo Alto

City Council to review proposals on Monday for local composting operation

Palo Alto's passionate debate over the future of composting will resume Monday night, when the City Council considers whether it makes more sense to create a local operation or continue the current practice of shipping yard trimmings to a regional facility in Gilroy.

The council will discuss on Monday, Dec. 8, the four responses that the city received last month to its request for proposals on a new composting operation. They will also consider the two different alternatives proposed by staff: Either rejecting all four proposals or begin negotiations with the firm Synergy to build a composting facility on a 3.8-acre site that voters "undedicated" in 2011 when they passed Measure E.

The two options outlined in the new staff report reflect the polarizing debate that has been raging in the city's environmental community since Palo Alto shut down its landfill in Byxbee Park more than two years ago.

With the landfill's composting operation shut down, Palo Alto began to export its yard waste to the Z-Best facility in Gilroy, a practice that has galvanized local environmentalists who would rather see the city take care of its own waste.

With that aim, a coalition of environmentalists led a successful drive in 2011 to make a 10-acre site next to the city's Regional Water Quality Control Plant available for a new composting operation. Other environmentalists, led by former council members Emily Renzel and Enid Pearson, have vehemently opposed this drive, arguing that a new composting operation does not belong in Byxbee Park, near the Baylands.

Staff's conflicting recommendations also reflect the trade-offs that the city will have to make, whichever path it chooses. The new report notes that exporting would cost less than building a local facility and would allow Palo Alto to utilize regional composting facilities, such as the ones in Milpitas, San Jose, Gilroy or Lathrop. It would also "help the city reach its landfill diversion goal in the same way as a composting facility built in Palo Alto," according to the staff report.

However, building a local compost facility of the sort advocated by Measure E proponents would provide "a greater level of long-term price certainty (at least 15 years), allow for local control as needs and and requirements change, provide a sustainable organics solution within Palo Alto, a local source of compost to residents and result in somewhat fewer transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions," the staff report states.

Recognizing the delicate political landscape, the report concludes that the two options in the staff recommendations "are both viable paths forward toward meeting the City's zero waste and climate action plan goals."

The clash of green values is expected to flare up again Monday as the council considers Synergy's proposal along with three others that staff received in September.

One proposal, submitted by the firm BioMRF was summarily rejected because the firm did not provide "satisfactory information" and does not have experience operating in North America.

The other three proposals, by GreenWaste, Harvest Power and Synergy, came closer to meeting the city's requirements, though the new staff report makes it clear that any of these options would be more expensive than the exporting services. Each of these would combine food scraps and yard trimmings in the new compost operation.

GreenWaste, which also serves as the city's trash hauler, presented a proposal that received the highest "qualitative score" of the three, reflecting its strong technical resources, experiences and environmental approach. But its offer was far more expensive than the other two, which dragged its "overall score" to well below the other two viable proposals.

The company also "took a number of exceptions" to the city's proposed contract, according to staff, and provided a timeline that showed the compost operation commencing in September 2018, nine months later than called for in the city's timeline.

Harvest Power fared better in the overall scoring and indicated that it could meet the city's timeline and accept the contract conditions in the request for proposals. But the company's proposal did not include a financial structure that would cover all operational parts of the compost facility, as the city requested. Its proposed facility did not include a structure covering all operation parts, which raised concerns about odor. Though it proposed enclosing the feedstock-receiving and pre-processing components of the operation, staff remained concerned that this would not be enough.

"While many technologies can control process odors, only a structure that covers the entire operation (like a building) can control odors that generate from moving the compost into the vessels or from process area to process area," the Public Works report states, noting that Harvest Power's design did not fully comply with the city's request for proposals.

This leaves Synergy as the city's best option of the ones currently on the table, according to staff. Its facility, unlike Harvest Power's, would be entirely enclosed. The estimated capital cost of $20.7 million in the Synergy proposal is well below the $31.2 million cost in GreenWaste's.

Staff's main concern with the Synergy offer is that the construction contractor and compost operator are different companies that have not worked together before. The entity they formed, Synergy, "has no history of completing any projects, let alone building and operating a compost facility," the staff report states.

Though Synergy's proposal is the cheapest of the three under consideration, it would cost rate payers far more compared to exporting services, according to staff. In tallying the cost of each proposals, staff concluded that the net present value (which considers 15 years of operating costs as well as 30 years of amortized capital expenses) of the GreenWaste, Harvest Power and Synergy proposals are $59.7 million, $41.6 million and $39.4 million, respectively. The net present value of exporting is estimated at $18.9 million.

The compost discussion is one component of a broader plan to revamp the city's management of organic waste. Palo Alto is already proceeding with a plan to upgrade the water-treatment plant by building a "biosolids dewatering and truck haul-out facility," a step that would allow the city to retire its obsolete sludge-burning incinerators. The other major component of the plan is construction of a new anaerobic digestion facility that would process sludge and ultimately food scraps.

Underscoring the tense nature of the compost debate is a disagreement over whether the discussion should even take place this month. The 348-page report with the request for proposals responses and background was only released Wednesday, which has some critics from the conservationist camp crying foul about insufficient time to review the materials.

They lobbied staff to continue the discussion to Jan. 12, to give them more time to study the proposals. Proponents of the new facility lobbied to proceed with the Dec. 8 discussion, as initially scheduled.

Politics may also play a role in the squabble over dates. The three council members who are concluding their tenures this month, Larry Klein, Gail Price and Nancy Shepherd, had all sided with the pro-Measure E camp in the past and have been largely sympathetic to building a local composting operation.

It's not clear whether the three new members who will be joining the council next month -- Eric Filseth, Tom DuBois and Cory Wolbach -- will be as inclined to support a local composting operation.

After environmentalists Renzel complained to staff last week about insufficient time to review the materials, Assistant Public Works Director Phil Bobel responded, saying "proponents got the mayor/CM (city manager) to put the compost item back on the 12/8 agenda."

Shepherd also responded to Renzel's concerns about transparency by reaffirming that the meeting will take place on Dec. 8, as initially scheduled.

"As you know, this item was deferred in April with the request it return to this council before year-end for final consideration and release to vendors," Shepherd wrote in a Dec. 1 email to Renzel.

Related content:

Palo Alto scraps neighborhood trash experiment

Palo Alto moves ahead with organic-waste plan

Palo Alto fails to find compromise in compost debate

Proponents of Baylands compost plant not sold on new city proposal

Years after divisive vote, Palo Alto proposes sharp shift on composting

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 4, 2014 at 10:04 am

"It's not clear whether the three new members who will be joining the council next month -- Eric Filseth, Tom DuBois and Cory Wolbach -- will be as inclined to support a local composting operation."

""proponents got the mayor/CM (city manager) to put the compost item back on the 12/8 agenda."

That's the long and short of it. Ram it through now, before less ideological, more thoughtful Councilmembers have a shot at it.

According to the staff report, composting our garbage in Byxbee Park is the most expensive option. So why even consider it?

But here's the kicker. Measure E promised to turn garbage into energy. None of there proposals generates any energy from garbage. None at all. And they never will.

So, all of you who voted for Measure E: You been snookered.


5 people like this
Posted by Carol Muller
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2014 at 10:51 am

Once again, the Weekly's reporting is showing its bias -- "a coalition of environmentalists led a successful drive in 2011 to make a 10-acre site next to the city's Regional Water Quality Control Plant available for a new composting operation." Actually, NO, this is not the case. The voters voted for a proposal to undedicate the parkland in order to STUDY the possibility of putting an anaerobic composting facility at this site. The referendum, cleverly constructed by the so-called environmentalists to seem reasonable and pass, was voted for in large numbers precisely because it was a proposal to STUDY the idea.


2 people like this
Posted by Carla C.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2014 at 10:56 am

It's embarassing that Palo Alto bills itself a Green City but most of our food goes in the trash. It's also embarassing that we're even considering shipping it out of town. We have our "own" utilities, each new residential home must have its "own" electric car charger... but our "own" waste will go somewhere else. It feels so dirty.


1 person likes this
Posted by Not Snookered
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 4, 2014 at 11:09 am

for *curmudgeon*
No, many of those who voted for Measure E wanted the opportunity to "see what was possible", not because we had expectations that there would be an ideal solution with energy production at a low cost. Measure E provided the time for a reasonable study. So your parting line (e.g. snookered) was totally unnecessary to your points (and one of the reasons why this forum is almost worthless as a means of exchanging reasonable ideas among thoughtful citizens).

If (as it tentatively appears) a composting facility will cost twice as much (39M) as exporting (18M) then I probably have the answer that I was looking for. $20M is a third or more of a new public safety building, which (IMHO) we need far more than a composting plant.


1 person likes this
Posted by Post Compost
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2014 at 11:26 am

The proponents of compost processing within Palo Alto talk about the compost being used within the city. Is all of the compost generated used within the city, or is some of it trucked out of the city to farms for use? How far away are those users from a Palo Alto compost facility compared with the Z-Best Facility in Gilroy?


5 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Ah, yes. Plan B. Attack the accuser.

Anybody who followed the Measure E runup knew its centerpiece was the promise of converting our garbage to "green" electricity. Its proponents even called themselves "Palo Altans for Green Energy." Now the party line is "never mind that stuff about garbage to green energy, be happy with making compost." Green gurus ain't what they used to be.

George Orwell must be chuckling in his grave.


7 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

This is nothing but a naked display of raw political power by a Council faction, and as such they could be condemned for public indecency. The most common way to display power is to show that you can get away with unreasonable actions.

"Staff report? We don't need no stinkin' Staff report." As was too briefly noted in the article (and at the end), the agenda item was moved forward from January to this Monday before the Staff report had been completed. The Staff Report became available with only the legally required time, which is much to short for Council or the public to read, comprehend and respond to a complicated issue. So much for Council's policy and promise to provide adequate time for this. Clear implication: The Council faction is not about to be guided by the facts.

The proponents are not "environmentalists", and maybe not even "vanity environmentalists". The proposal has no environmental benefits, only deficits. It won't generate power (as we were promised by the proponents). It won't have a smaller carbon footprint: The current analysis seems to be that it is cheaper hauling the compost to a more efficient facility than having one in Palo Alto (remember to factor in all the contribution to a carbon footprint, not just transportation costs). Since it is compost, it is only temporarily at that other facility (unlike a landfill). What is left is the slogan "Every city should take care of its own trash/garbage/..." This is NOT environmentalism, but anti-environmentalism because it requires extremely wasteful practices (rejects economies of scale).

It is also misleading to call the group backing the composter "environmentalists" because they seek to industrialize the Baylands. Be aware that this is not this group's first attempt at this: About a decade ago, they pushed hard to get the City to build a large trash sorting and transfer station for Waste Management Inc in the Baylands (the so-called "Environmental Services Center").

Turn your back on this vainglorious Council. The only apparent reason to build the compost is bragging rights: "We have our own composter". This is a Council that has much too often put vanity before services to the residents. Can you say $250,000 for a video display in the proposed City Hall lobby... Silently standing up and turning your back to express strong disapproval is such a strong statement that in various instances it has been treated by the authorities at the same level as trying to shout down a speaker.


5 people like this
Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 4, 2014 at 1:44 pm

To Carla C and Post Compost: NO, most of the compost that was produced on Byxbee Park when the compost operation was there was sold to vendors both locally and afar. I suspect that a great deal of the compost got used as Alternative Daily Cover when the landfill was operating. For a while the City was paying $1000 a truckload to ship compost to Half Moon Bay and $800 per truckload to ship the woody materials to the Central Valley for hogfuel. That compost operation cost about $125/ton.

In May of this year, despite a very well-publicized Compost Giveaway Day, only 90 Palo Altans came to get compost -- a total of 90 yards or at most 10 to 20 of the 13,000 tons per year generated here. If, as in the past, there would be 5 compost pickup days a year, that would still be only a small fraction of the total tonnage.

For over 20 years, most of our solid waste ie. true garbage, has been hauled to Kirby Canyon in South San Jose via the SMaRT Station in Sunnyvale. Since 2007 our recycling has gone to GreenWaste's San Jose materials recovery center.

It does not make sense for every small city to develop expensive materials recovery centers. Nationwide, regional centers are the norm.




2 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2014 at 5:54 pm

What does this mean for residents? I hope that this isn't some sort of mandatory compost rule. We have enough difficulty with a dumpster located behind our apartment. During the post-holiday week with no trash pickup on Thanksgiving, the smell from that dumpster was horrendous and flowed freely into our nearby windows. I was in San Francisco two weeks ago where a terrible smell -- almost vomit-inducing -- flowed into the home. My friend explained to us that it was the "stench of compost."

I'm just wondering what the consequence -- economic and other -- would be on residents of Palo Alto.


3 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Here is the link for the report:

Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2014 at 9:43 pm

THe problem with composting is that there is no real need for compost. So just cut to the chase and call it what it is - trash, and bury it.


5 people like this
Posted by Iconoclast
a resident of University South
on Dec 4, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Simple composting is consistent with the Measure E ordinance. Its relevant wording reads: "The Property shall be removed from dedication as parkland, for the exclusive purpose of building a facility (“Facility” herein) for converting yard trimmings, food waste, other municipal organics and/or sewage sludge from the regional wastewater treatment plant by biological and/or other environmentally equally protective technology."

The operative word is "conversion," which covers an indefinite multiplicity of garbage processing methods involving living organisms.

There is nothing about "garbage to energy." It is now apparent that was only a catchphrase used by the Measure E leadership to garner votes to trade park land for piles of garbage, which Palo Altans are very unlikely to support if plainly informed.

Curmudgeon has it right. The voters were snookered. Let's hope they learn from this debacle and read future ballot initiatives, with eyes open.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 5, 2014 at 9:42 am

Given the number of street trees dropping leaves right now littering the streets we do have a high amount of compostable material. My brother in Oregon puts the leaves in easy to make metal wire, open grill containers, lets them sit in the sun and rain - puts a bag of fertilizer in each container to enrich the process. By the next spring season he has high end compost for beautiful gardens. This does not require a huge outlay of money - just time and space for containers. We do not need a highly convoluted process for this that requires a huge expenditure of money.

What about the growing mountain of dirt at the bay-lands. What is that suppose to be? It is growing higher and in the rain could come collapsing down. There is something wrong here about what the city is doing based on number of people wagering for competing theories on how to proceed.


5 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 5, 2014 at 11:22 am

Have to agree with Emily Renzel. Given the amount of land and equipment required I am voting for the County to have designated locations for type of trash. Palo Alto has a very limited amount of space available and it is in a flood zone. There is no reason each small city in the county should be trying to outdo each other to have the best trash department. I have been to the Zanker land-fill and the Sunnyvale SMART department - these people have extensive equipment to deal with their area of business, and they need to money to offset the running of the very large, complex equipment. Also huge trucks for hauling.

Palo alto keeps thinking of itself as some isolated little city that is always proving itself. We are part of a bigger county that needs to be the center point for large scale support activities. And it is doing very well.


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2014 at 3:03 pm

After years of using free city compost, I am making my own from my green waste in the backyard. Why ship this stuff to the Baylands or Gilroy at all?


7 people like this
Posted by Ian
a resident of University South
on Dec 5, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Time to re-dedicate this as parkland where residents in an ever increasingly developer dominated, crowded and dense Palo Alto can enjoy what's left of our beautiful baylands!


3 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 5, 2014 at 5:39 pm

@Anonymous - Unless you are offering to take the excess off the city's hands, they have to do something with it. That's the problem with compost, there is about 1000 times more of it than anyone needs. If it had any real value (like glass, cans, or even paper), the city could sell it.


2 people like this
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 7, 2014 at 3:52 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Several commenters misrepresent Measure E as being garbage to energy, but this is incorrect. It was about converting yard trimmings, food waste and/or sewage to compost and/or energy, using environmentally protective methods. It is worrisome to see how literally ungrounded someone can be to equate compost with trash, rather than recognizing that compost is an essential natural transformation of organic material into soil, the source of most of our sustenance. In fact, when organics are buried with trash, they emit methane, a potent green house gas (GHG).

I was amused by the statement "trade park land for piles of garbage", whereas Byxbee park is literally a pile of garbage traded for a park. This transformation of garbage to park was enabled by a compost cover allowing plants to grow...

Home composting is great, but it alone does not solve the city's total organics management needs including apartment and commercial landscapes, street trees and parks.

Through the efforts of the Measure E supporters, we've gotten the city to agree to energy generation and GHG reduction instead of sewage incineration and landfilled food. Against our recommendation, the Request For Proposals (RFP) for yard trimmings composting included the requirement that the whole process be contained in a building, which had the predicted effect of dramatically increasing the cost of the operation, to the point that the council would have difficulty approving it.

If a building is to be required, then it would make more financial sense to include in the facility the ability to compost or otherwise handle the leftover digestate from the Anaerobic Digestion process, which could reduce municipal costs by millions of dollars.


6 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 7, 2014 at 10:17 am

In an opinion piece for the PA Weekly (Oct. 11, 2011), Peter Drekmeier promoted the passage of Measure E using the following arguments:

- enough green energy to power 1400 homes
- save ratepayers millions of dollars
- anaerobic digestion to be done in enclosed containers
- sewage sludge digestate would be mixed with yard wastes and food wastes. This means that the toxins in the sewage sludge would then contaminate the yard waste compost.

>Against our recommendation, the Request For Proposals (RFP) for yard trimmings composting included the requirement that the whole process be contained in a building, which had the predicted effect of dramatically increasing the cost of the operation, to the point that the council would have difficulty approving it. (from Cedric, above).

Come on, Cedric, the arguments by the Measure E proponents always assured the public that the anaerobic digestion process would be contained inside a building. There was even much discussion about how the building could be camouflaged for aesthetic benefits in the Baylands.

The proponents always like to ignore or downplay the question of what will be done with the resulting compost, if it derives from human sewage sludge. Such material is banned for use by certified organic farmers, because it contains most of the toxics of the incoming waste stream; organic farmers, in general, have rebelled against its use. This begs the question: What will Palo Alto do with the stuff?





7 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 7, 2014 at 10:42 am

I love the comment about turning a landfill into a park. That is exactly what Mountain View has done with Shoreline Park. From end to end they have a large outdoor theatre, golf course, boating and eating concessions, and habitat for birds and animals. The birds seem to have acclimated to small children chasing them around. The place is filled up with bikers, hikers, families, and recreational activity. They have blended corporate world into habitat world in a beautiful and thoughtful manner. So what is not to like there?
Meanwhile PA is busy competing with county provided services which function on a very large platform for the king of trash. If you visit the county services - which I have done - you will see huge buildings and equipment that requires a very large amount of land to work with.
The PA baylands is not large, it is next to the bay as an environmental location, and a flood zone. I think this is an excuse to throw money at a lot of companies who will end up costing the city a huge amount of money and ruin what is left of the baylands as we know it.


7 people like this
Posted by seriously?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm

so the Measure E folks do not want the composting operation to be enclosed in a building?
They prefer aerobic composting of yard trimming in windrows on a major wildlife corridor?
Aerobic composting of mixed food and yard trimming in open wind-rows?
Breath deep!!!




1 person likes this
Posted by Iconoclast
a resident of University South
on Dec 7, 2014 at 12:50 pm

@Cedric: Didn't your group used to call itself "Palo Altans for Green Energy"?


5 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 7, 2014 at 12:52 pm

This pertains to the issue of installing a compost facility within the Measure E area of Byxbee Park. When Measure E was brought before the voters of Palo Alto, nowhere in that initiative did it point out that if the digester was built, it would in the process wipe out the only wildlife corridor, the only animal "highway" linking the southern portion of the baylands with the northern portion of the baylands. Had those who initiated Measure E done an ERI study before bringing it to the public, this issue regarding the wildlife at the baylands would not be facing us today.

If this corridor is severed, you will be creating a deadly situation for all concerned in that the animals will begin to inbreed which eventually wipes out the populations. In other words, these corridors are essential to the health of the varied animal populations that live along the periphery of the San Francisco Bay. The area used by the gray foxes, the raccoons, the opossums, and a myriad of other wildlife both large and small must be put off limits to any development at all.

Too often humans have slashed and divided these vital corridors, these areas where the animals give birth to their young, these areas where for instance the gray foxes manage the rodent and squirrel populations at the baylands. It is time we stop destroying their habitat. It is time we stop looking out for our own selfish interests and instead allow them to coexist and flourish with us.

Sincerely,
Bill Leikam, aka The Fox Guy
Partner: The Urban Wildlife Research Project
Board Member: Guadalupe - Coyote Resource Conservation District
Director: Independent Urban Gray Fox Research Project
Volunteer: Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Educational Public Lectures & Guided Walk/Talk Tours
Website www.uwrp.wordpress.com/documentary


4 people like this
Posted by emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2014 at 1:20 pm

When Staff prepared the Request for Proposals (RFP) for aerobic composting of yard trimmings and residential food scraps, they hired Matthew Cotton, a Statewide expert on composting, to advise them about what would be needed to meet regulatory requirements and also avoid nuisance factors such as noise and odor. It was on the advice of Mr. Cotton that the RFP required that all the composting operations be enclosed. As I recall, representatives of Palo Altans for Green Energy supported the issuance of that RFP.


3 people like this
Posted by Who do you trust
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I'm not an expert on composting so I depend on people I trust.
Emily Renzel has been a trustworthy expert and leader for years, without developer connections.
I trust Emily.


2 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 7, 2014 at 4:06 pm

@ Who do you trust

"I'm not an expert on composting so I depend on people I trust.
Emily Renzel has been a trustworthy expert and leader for years, without developer connections.I trust Emily."

Do you trust the tactics of that group with the way they stopped/delayed the flood control project?


2 people like this
Posted by seriously?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 7, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Now seriously - why would measure E supporters want build an aerobic, methane releasing compost operation on the few flat acres of the undedicated parkland? Choosing to do so means that the land will never be available should the city find that we need that land to build an actual waste-to-energy facility there.


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 7, 2014 at 7:54 pm

I don't get where this will all happen - there is so little space available. I have been around the other side for the hazardous waste drop off and there are buildings back there and offices. It sounds like PA is busy creating hazardous waste if you have a methane gas problem. There is a limited amount of room. I think whatever idea people voted on has been taken over by events.
The first requirement is to solve the flood control effort then see where you have available space. The flood control effort is a major county effort. Also planes are flying over that area to the PAO - they cannot fly through methane gas fumes. You are creating a giant fire hazard.


1 person likes this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 7, 2014 at 10:13 pm

You are right, there is very little room. That's why Measure E had to stipulate that 10 acres of the new area of Byxbee Park would be undedicated. Where is it? Drive along Harbor Rd and just before you get to the turn that leads to the present Byxbee Park parking lot, look to your right through the gate that leads off from there. If the anaerobic digester were already built, you would be staring directly at one wall of it just inside that gate. An ugly sight for far more reasons than one.

I've wondered about something over these past couple of years of this "debate" and that being where is Peter Drekmeier in all of this discussion? He goes to the council meetings and speaks his mind and that's what many of us have done, but why doesn't he come in and voice his opinion with people like you and me on such a forum as this? Does he think it would be politically dangerous to so engage?


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 8, 2014 at 8:29 am

The area designated is a growing mountain of dirt. I was in Alviso and you can see the mountain of dirt from there. So where is all of the dirt going?
Giant trucks are moving continually in the area moving dirt in - they are paying to do this? On the one hand you are designating an area but the area is in transition. So what happens when a mountain of dirt gets totally water saturated - it starts to shift and move and slide. There is a growing mountain of dirt at the golf course - trucks are in that area.

Is that the plan? - it can roll over into the area and basically cover it with mud and dirt.

Bottom line there is a whole set of problems here - methane gas is flammable. I remember when Shoreline Theatre first opened - we sat on the grass, lit a match and a blue flame came up from the ground. The first trees planted died because of methane gas underground.

We have somehow relegated engineering issues to people selling a concept that is flawed from an engineering and safety set of issues. The ideas may be applicable in an area that has a huge open space - like Zanker Land-fill - but we do not have the space and it is too close to city functions and support.


1 person likes this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 8, 2014 at 10:19 am

"I've wondered about something over these past couple of years of this "debate" and that being where is Peter Drekmeier in all of this discussion? He goes to the council meetings and speaks his mind and that's what many of us have done, but why doesn't he come in and voice his opinion with people like you and me on such a forum as this?"

Peter prefers to associate with people in his own class. (He is, after all, a former mayor.) He has his stooges to interface with the likes of us. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2014 at 1:11 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Just to clarify a few more misconceptions:

1) actively managed aerobic composting does NOT produce methane. All of the proposals received for the composting RFP were for aerobic composting with frequent turning, controls of humidity, temperature, oxygen, etc. In such conditions there would not be methane produced.

2) None of the compost bids were for open windrows, which was the simple but space-consuming method in use before the landfill closed. The RFP and bids were for either in-vessel composting or in compact and covered Aerated Static Piles (ASP). So even if there wasn't a building enclosing the whole facility, there would still be active controls for humidity, dust, odors, runoff, etc. All this was stipulated in the RFP. Our group felt that Best Management Practices would have been sufficient to control such issues without needing to enclose the whole facility in a building. The big building approach is what Emily's group wanted, so that it would drive up the cost, and make it cost prohibitive, which is what happened.

3) methane is produced in anaerobic conditions, such as when food is buried in landfills, or when organics are put in digesters expressly designed to generate and capture methane which can then either be burned for electricity, or cleaned and injected into the natural gas pipeline, or compressed to form Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) a transportation fuel. The landfill itself releases methane, but there is equipment in place to collect that methane and at a minimum flare it off so that it is not released to the atmosphere as a potent green house gas. Ideally it is piped to the waste water treatment plant to be used more effectively.

4) At this point the Anaerobic Digestion (AD) component (which has not yet gone out for bids with RFPs) would be built within the waste water treatment plant, adjacent to where the sewage incinerator now stands. so it wouldn't even be in the Measure E site, which was dedicated in 2011 by 66% of the voters specifically for handling organics, not for garbage or garbage to energy, and not for offices or any other use. However, it is quite possible that the measure E site could be used to support the AD, such as a place to pre-processing the food scraps to be digested, and/or to process the digestate, which is the solids remaining after digestion. Possibly it could be composted, or turned into biochar, which would require a much smaller footprint than composting. Such uses of the measure E site could increase the amount of energy we can produce and reduce the costs of digestate disposal.

5) as for the claimed mounds of compost or soil at the landfill site, if the poster is correct on the location, then this is probably material being used to cap the landfill, provide a layer of soil for the new park's plants to grow in, and/or fill in areas where the landfill has settled. They need to keep managing the landfill post-closure to prevent settling from creating ponds, which would then lead to water infiltration into the landfill, where there are likely pollutants which nobody wants to leak from the landfill into the baylands.

I eagerly await Gennady's next article to sum up the results of this night's Council meeting on the topic.


2 people like this
Posted by residnt 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 9, 2014 at 8:12 am

I watched the PACC on the Government provided channel last night. What I came away with is:
1. That the city proceeded to spend a lot of time and money for an effort that is out of Palo Alto's control. The location is under the authority of a state controlled agency and no one made the effort to investigate whether PA would be able to proceed with any effort other than a parkland. Where was the city attorney in all of this? Any major effort the city undertakes which will require huge expenditures of money should be thoroughly vetted as to whether anyone can even proceed with any action based on the states requirements for the location. Measure E should not have happened until the state's authority was thoroughly investigated and the future of the area given the green light.
2. Many people who commented made excellent points. Other people ignored the realities of the situation and proceeded as though their points were a foregone conclusion - big expenditures of money in a very small space.
3. One PACC member on another topic commented - the Comprehensive Plan - complained that the city did not get much public commentary. Isn't the PA Online system a qualifier for public comment? Do some of the PACC members work in a vacuum with people who have something to sell?
4. It is a challenge that the residents have to take on for any big expenditure that all of the responsible agencies and state and county regulations have been thoroughly vetted prior to issuing any RFP's. The Baylands is specifically carved out with many regulations that have to be vetted first for any greenlight to formally request RFP's.
5. I did go visit the "soccer field" at the baylands and it is getting more dirt. The city has created situation in which no other actions can proceed until the dirt is removed. This is so purposely implemented that you wonder if people actually go and look at what is going on. Get in your cars - go down there. Once that dirt is saturated with water it will start moving.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 9, 2014 at 10:09 am

There is the theory of intended consequences, unintended consequences, and set-up's which if nature takes it's course are predictable outcomes.
The growing mountains of dirt in the baylands at the landfill and "soccer field" qualify as predictable outcomes.
So what happens when the ground becomes saturated and the mountains begin to move downward. Your baylands, golf course, possibly the airport, and your current set-up for disposal become moot. So what will the city say to that? "MY BAD. Cover the whole thing now since it too expensive to cleanup."


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

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