News

Palo Alto halts plan for a local compost plant

City to continue exporting yard trimmings while weighing possible uses for Byxbee Park site

The long-running debate over the future of composting in Palo Alto reached a temporary truce Monday night, when the City Council agreed that now is not the time to build a local composting facility.

The decision by the council not to move along with a local composting operation came more than three years after voters approved Measure E, which made a 10-acre portion of Byxbee Park available for a potential composting plant. The issue polarized the environmental community, with some arguing that Palo Alto should take care of its own waste and others maintaining that parkland is not an appropriate place for an industrial operation.

On Monday, it wasn't these familiar arguments that swayed the council but a more practical consideration: cost. The city in September received bids from four different companies that offered to build a composting facility on the Measure E site. After eliminating one company from consideration and further evaluating the proposals from the other three, Public Works staff determined that even under the cheapest proposal, building a local plant would cost more than twice as much as exporting yard trimmings. Palo Alto has been shipping its yard trimmings to the Z-Best facility near Gilroy since 2011, when the city closed its landfill in Byxbee Park. The landfill included the city's composting operation.

The three proposals came from GreenWaste, Harvest Power and Synergy and had "net present values" (figures that include 15 years of operating costs and 30 years of amortized capital expenditures) of $59.7 million, $41.6 million and $39.4 million, respectively. The net present value of exporting yard trimmings was estimated at $18.9 million.

The cost estimates came as a disappointment to members of the Palo Alto Green Energy and Compost Initiatives, a group of environmentalists that has been lobbying hard for keeping composting local. In a letter to the council, the group noted that exporting waste is "irresponsible and ignores the traffic, climate and environmental justice consequences." Even so, group members recognized that the cost of having an enclosed composting facility "probably renders the local option too expensive at this time."

Former Mayor Peter Drekmeier, who is one of the group's co-founders, urged the council to table the decision on how the Measure E site would be used to a later date. The council voted 8-1, with Karen Holman dissenting, to do exactly that.

Drekmeier noted that even if the city doesn't proceed with a compost facility at this time, the Measure E site can be used for other purposes relating to waste management. Along with exploring a new composting facility, Palo Alto is also upgrading its sewage-treatment plant and preparing to retire its sludge-burning incinerators. The city is also preparing to build an anaerobic digester next to the plant, a facility that would convert local sludge and food waste into energy.

Drekmeier pointed out that if the city chooses to build an enclosed composting facility on the Measure E site at a later date, it would be able to process the residue (known as digestate) from the anaerobic digester.

"We feel it's very important to hold on to that option," Drekmeier told the council.

Former Councilwoman Emily Renzel, a conservationist who opposes a composting facility near the Baylands, argued that a local facility "offers no significant advantages" over the exporting option.

"In fact it has the significant disadvantages of high cost, use of parkland and loss of habitat," Renzel said.

For the council, the decision was strikingly simple. While prior discussions were lengthy and exhausting affairs filled with multiple motions and split votes, there was little disagreement on the council Monday night. Everyone agreed that given the price estimates, a local option is not feasible at this time. All except Holman (who has consistently opposed building a waste facility in the park) also agreed that the land should be preserved for a possible waste operation in the future.

Councilman Larry Klein's motion largely went along with Drekmeier's recommendation. Klein specified that the council should table the decision on how the Measure E site is used until the city has a better understanding of whether the land would be needed to support the anaerobic digester or until an "advanced technology for processing yard waste is available."

The council would also revisit the decision if it turns out that noise and odor can be sufficiently mitigated without a fully-enclosed building (thus making a local facility cheaper) or if exporting yard trimmings is no longer a cost-viable option.

Klein called the wait-and-see approach a "reasonable way to decide what to do with this site as we go forward."

Vice Mayor Liz Kniss agreed, even though she said she is troubled by the fact that the city currently trucks its waste.

"This is the middle-of-the-road decision, one that works well for where we are at this point in time," Kniss said.

Related content:

Compost debate set to flare up again in Palo Alto

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

1 person likes this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 9, 2014 at 10:27 am

Stopped by stink? Our garbage stinks? Well, let's not let that get nosed around.

Not to worry, though. If some startup on University Ave doesn't develop an anti-stink app in time, a duly lobbied city council will legislate the stink away in a proper Palo Process, and we can proceed with the ruination our baylands.


2 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 9, 2014 at 10:37 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.


3 people like this
Posted by Surly
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 9, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Good. We can save some money on our bloated utility dept. and their incessant costly ads and mailings.


Like this comment
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Nipping misinformation in the bud:

I appreciate that 'resident 1' watched the council meeting last night, as I imagine few residents tune in to that broadcast. However, it appears s/he didn't watch carefully in the moment when Council members (Karen Holman, also maybe Pat Burt) asked Staff about the jurisdiction and use of the site. Staff indicated they had spoken to the state agency in question quite recently, and that the sewage treatment plant site is also on the land under jurisdictional question, and that there has been zero indication from the agency that a compost operation on the former landfill would be denied.

In addition, around the time of the feasibility study and the Measure E election, there were staff and/or citizen contacts to the agency and all indications were that the agency supported the goals of the project, seeing that they were conducive to overall sustainability using a degraded site which can never be returned to marshland since it is full of garbage.

So that issue is just a red herring that the opponents like to wave around and claim something smells fishy.

The Council meeting webcast will be posted at Web Link probably within a week, if people want to hear Staff's precise response to the question.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2014 at 2:01 pm

@ Resident 1

". 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."

From what I understand, the dirt is being stockpiled, to be used later for the delayed flood control project. The city receives a tipping fee for the dirt which makes up for lost revenue, due to landfill closure. The city would love to install the engineered fill for the project, but cannot proceed due to environmental conflicts.


1 person likes this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 9, 2014 at 2:08 pm

>Councilman Larry Klein's motion largely went along with Drekmeier's recommendation. Klein specified that the council should table the decision on how the Measure E site is used until the city has a better understanding of whether the land would be needed to support the anaerobic digester or until an "advanced technology for processing yard waste is available."

Larry Klein seems to be waking up to the futility of pursuing anaerobic digestion. Is he possibly thinking of advanced technologies like plasma arc?

It is time to stick a fork in the entire anaerobic digestion approach. This is one fiasco that was caught (more or less) in time!


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Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 9, 2014 at 3:18 pm

resident:
"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?"

I assumed so until I heard one council member say that he deliberately avoided reading PA online. This was said by an outgoing council member, but apparently we can't assume council members read the comments.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 9, 2014 at 4:20 pm

>I assumed so until I heard one council member say that he deliberately avoided reading PA online. This was said by an outgoing council member, but apparently we can't assume council members read the comments.

This is the typically clever political dodge. They all read this site, or are told about the messages by their surrogates. They are clever enough to not respond, because they don't want to be locked into any particular response...nor do they want to have to admit that there is public opposition to their favorite schemes. Good examples of this are Larry Klein and Peter Drekmeier. Klein is listening to the thoughts expressed on this site, as shown by his movement on various political issues (e.g. car campers and anaerobic digestion at the Bayland); Drekmeirer uses his proxies (Cedric de la Beaujardiere and Bob Wenzlau) to get his message out.

Given that anonymous names are common on this site, it should surprise no one that our current politicians are using them.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2014 at 6:05 pm

I did not see a Cedric as a participant in last night's meeting. I did see a resident who has currently looked into the state's position on the use of the baylands and his comments are that the state is not at this time on board with any activity other than a parkland. The state was not approached during the Measure E time period with any action by the city to get approval to proceed with an RFP for any changes to the bayland property. The state will respond when the city formally submits documentation.
The city speaker's response was a CYA response with no documentation to support it.

I did see a company representative who was commenting that his companies proposal was not listed on the data provided as a participant. He feels that their proposal was equal to the ones listed. However the specifications provided for bidding were so technically incomplete that any price listed was open to many changes due to technical requirements.

It is not normal business practice to not acknowledge all parties who have submitted bids to an officially released RFP. It suggests that the deck was loaded to produce a specific outcome. Companies pay a lot of money to produce proposals so they should get recognition and a formal response to their proposal to justify their outlay of money for the proposal preparation cost. They have to justify that expense in the accounting and tax data for the company.

Any price agreed to - any proposal submitted is suspect as to being a ball park guess only open to many changes.

As to the mountains of dirt - there are unintended consequences, intended consequences, and predictable consequences given the right circumstances.
Wet mountains of dirt when saturated move downhill. The city has now put the golf course, possibly the airport, and the baylands in a vulnerable situation. So what happens if the saturated mountaind do move downhill? Does the city say "MY BAD - too expensive to correct so leave the dirt where it falls". Who is in charge of this situation? What city agency?

We already know that the dirt is coming from Stanford building projects at a discounted price so that arrangement is still a wild card in the deck. I think the soccer moms who convinced the city to carve out land for a soccer field were the red herring - there has never been an intention to use that land for a soccer field.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 9, 2014 at 7:22 pm

"In fact it has the significant disadvantages of high cost, use of parkland and loss of habitat," Renzel said.

Let's be honest - the area that is reserved for the proposed compost project was not and currently is not parkland or habitat in its current state. It is targeted to be converted as such, but it isn't right now...and it's right next to the sewage treatment plant.

I don't what the correct solution will be - but arguing over land that hasn't been converted either way seems to be all about "getting something that I want" versus what is best for the greater good.

I would think that an environmentalist would want our city to consider such a facility given the potential. If you're going to think globally and act locally, this seems to be the place to start...


3 people like this
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I was in the audience of the meeting but I did not speak because my views were adequately represented in the letter from PAGE and in Peter's comments. It was a packed agenda and there was no need for me to go up there and waste everyone's time merely to repeat what others would say. I do have other views but these are more appropriate for the next phase of the project and not directly pertaining to last night's agenda item.

Regarding the company (BioMRF) whose proposal was rejected from the RFP responses, I too wish I had greater detail of why it was rejected. Page 5 of the staff report (Web Link) talks about the BioMRF proposal and its rejection:

"BioMRF was the only proposal to allow for a significantly larger volume of incoming feedstock (35,000 tons per year)." (Cedric's note: this is about twice the required capacity from the RFP. There is also slightly more information on page 359 of the PDF)
"Staff determined that BioMRF is not a contractually-viable proposer and should not be considered further. BioMRF did not provide satisfactory information as a guarantor to the project, did not provide evidence of bonding capability, and did not commit to a named operator as an operations partner as a guaranteed part of the proposal (Recology did agree to consider becoming the operator as part of a separate letter, but BioMRF did not commit to utilize their services). Also of concern to staff is the fact that BioMRF and its technology provider have no experience operating in North America. " (PDF page 5)

Two BioMRF company people were speaking to others after the Council meeting and when asked how much their NPV was, they said it was ~$17M, so basically a bit cheaper than the export option. So if there is any "stacking of the deck" (which I do not believe) then it worked against the local option.

Note that the company person said they were contacted by the city and asked to provide some additional information, but he expressed that they weren't contacted about the specifics relating to why they were DQ'd, which, if unambiguously true, is troubling. But they were not simply ignored as a comment above suggests.

Regarding use of this forum as a means of influencing Council and policy, don't count on it. I would not expect Council members to waste their time combing through the trolling and unsubstantiated rants that constitutes an all too high percentage of postings, just to get at the scarce nuggets of honestly expressed concerns. If you want Council to hear your views, write them an email and/or speak at a meeting. (Here's a tip I got from Joe Simitian: don't insult the person you are trying to influence.)


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 9, 2014 at 8:41 pm

My experience as to speaking at a PACC meeting - I have viewed these on the Monday night government channel - is that the person speaks, the PACC does not respond - and the person sits down. It is recorded in the minutes that the person was there but the impact is negligible.

Last night was an exception - the PACC picked up on the fact that the city had made no formal request to the state agencies and came back to that in the discussion section. That was a rarity.

The PACC members for the most part are depending on the staff to do the job and make token comments but not a lot of substantive changes. Most of this is scripted behind the scenes.

As to your comments about unsubstantiated rants I think a lot of very smart people are pointing out flaws in the cities approach to governance. That is what we are paid to do as taxpayers and voters. We know how business is suppose to work and we expect that same level of competency within the city government. If it does not happen we will point it out.


1 person likes this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2014 at 9:21 pm

resident1 said "Get in your cars - go down there." which says a lot about that person's world view. I would much prefer to walk there or ride my bike there; no reason to get in a car.


1 person likes this
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2014 at 1:42 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I'm not saying that people on this thread specifically are ranting/trolling, only that there is a lot of traffic on the forums as a whole whose sole purpose is to get a rise out of people, to be oppositional, and/or to be fixated on some conspiracy theory regardless of all debunking evidence. I have been fooled by such trolls in the past, naively thinking they were honest citizens like me, and it took a while to realize they were interested in neither debate nor finding common ground, they were just out trolling.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of that in online forums, especially where anonymous posting is permitted, and so reading such forums is not an effective means of getting a true sense of honest people's true thoughts on the matter. There is no reliable means to separate the chaff from the wheat, so to speak. As such, one can not reasonably assume that Council members spend their hours reading these forums for the infrequent little nuggets of wisdom buried in reams of BS.

While the public comment period at a civic meeting can be frustrating, at least you can be reasonably certain they heard your message. At that point it is your responsibility to package your message as clearly and convincingly as possible, and deliver it in such a way that it can be received without getting the receiver's hackles up.

Also note that there is a period at the start of the meeting for general public comment that is not pertaining to any item on the agenda, and the rules state that Council is basically not allowed to take any immediate action on the comments, because by definition the subject was not agendized. I think they're not even allowed to respond to the comment in the meeting. At best some council member will take what you say to heart and act on it later. But at least it is a more effective means of communicating your message directly to the policy makers, rather than posting to an online forum and assuming they will read it.


Like this comment
Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2014 at 6:13 am

To Crescent Park Dad. You should go and familiarize yourself with the site in question. It is the ONLY part of Byxbee Park currently landscaped. More than 20 years ago Council required the Regional Water Quality Control Plant to landscape a 125' wide strip of adjoining parkland to screen the RWQCP from Byxbee Park. (That is about 2 acres of the 3.8 acre Measure E site in the Request for Proposals.) Public Works allowed some of the irrigation system to fail and then for a while stored debris boxes on part of it, but there are still some significant trees and shrubs which provide a habitat corridor between the Bay and the Renzel Wetlands.


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Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2014 at 7:03 am

Resident 1: The rule is that City Council members and Commissioners are not allowed to respond to folks who speak during oral communications. We listen, take notes and if somebody from the public makes a point that needs clarification, we ask staff during the meeting. It may look like it doesn't had an impact but we are listening to what you say.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 10, 2014 at 8:57 am

Thank you Pat - since we are on the topic a number of people visited the 7.7 acre site in Foothills Park as advertised in the Weekly. We all signed up to get emails on meetings concerning that topic. I have seen no follow-up on that topic. The meeting was conducted by the manager of the park rangers and the manager of the Park and Rec Department. I consider them the "experts" on this topic since they are hands on for any activity in Foothill Park and understand the pluses and minuses of that location. Also - they are the paid city personnel assigned to that job.
How do people who have expressed an interest get feedback on that topic and when meetings are planned?


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2014 at 12:03 pm

"... there is a lot of traffic on the forums as a whole whose sole purpose is to get a rise out of people, ... ."

True, and the paragraph in which this excerpt appears goes on to provide a fine example of that.

"... honest citizens like me, ..."

Honest citizens don't promise well-meaning citizens that they will convert the well-meaning citizens' garbage to energy if the well-meaning citizens vote to surrender 10 acres of their baylands park to them, and then try to pretend that boutique compost fulfills that promise. [Portion removed.]

As for anonymous posters, I maintain that "anonymous" posters are the only honest posters. Like, I can easily prove I'm a curmudgeon; can you prove you are Cedric de La Beaujardiere?


Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm

@ curmudgeon

As for anonymous posters, I maintain that "anonymous" posters are the only honest posters. Like, I can easily prove I'm a curmudgeon; can you prove you are Cedric de La Beaujardiere?

I find Cedric's comments truthful, honest and factual. Thanks for posting facts.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I think Curmudgeon's point is not whether Cedric's posts are truthful, but whether he is Cedric.

We cannot prove we are anybody so the name of a poster is irrelevant. I could call myself George Washington, can you prove I am or not?


1 person likes this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Thanks, Resident. To be honest, I cannot claim originality. As William Shakespeare observed: What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Or was that Christopher Marlowe, writing as William Shakespeare? Learned people dispute.

Then there's Samuel Clemens and Eric Blair ... .


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2014 at 1:33 pm

This was a bad idea from the git-go. A few "save the planet" types sold some of the voters a bill of goods. There should have been a full feasibility study of the idea before things developed to this stage.

Naybe there is some poosible role for the City in a regional facility. But taking on something like this locally was never a good idea.


Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm

>We cannot prove we are anybody so the name of a poster is irrelevant

Not really. If I claim to be Craig Laughton, and I am not, the real Craig Laughton would be all over my butt for using his name. Same argument for all the others that sign with their own names. Plus, this is still a fairly small city, and those who use their real names will be confirmed (or denied)by others in this town.

The use of real names provides some gravitas to the arguments...because it means that those who do are standing up in front of their neighbors and friends...and are not hiding behind Shakespeare


1 person likes this
Posted by This is not a healthy public forum
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm

I wonder why anyone volunteers to represent us on our City Council, School Board or commissions. They are so rudely treated. I went to a community meeting on Bryant bike boulevard last week and was appalled by the rude behavior of people in the audience--shouting down staff, clapping and cheering for people who agreed with them. When staff tried to respond (in what I thought was a pretty reasonable response which was essentially, "Okay, these are just preliminary concepts. We will do what you want.") the audience didn't even hear them. They were too busy noise-making.

Democracy requires us to listen to teach other, learn the facts (even if that task is onerous) and work toward compromises. That means, necessarily, that every one of us will not completely get our way all of the time.

I am so disappointed in the uncivil behavior I see on this forum and, increasingly, at public meetings. We can do better. We'd better...or our democratic government is in trouble. Having a voice doesn't mean we get to shout down people. It means we get an opportunity to share our thoughtful ideas and contribute in a positive way to problem-solving. We can disagree, but please be polite about it and take time to understand the other side's point of view. Think about whether comments are helpful or just disruptive.

When I speak at City Hall I use my real name. Not here. I don't feel safe on PA Online where anonymous writers shoot barbs at people from behind the safe cover of pseudonyms.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Craig Laughton

I respect that you are using your real name and I know that you always using this name.

But if you started using a nom de plume that nobody had heard of and nobody else in Palo Alto had, say George Washington (not the real dead President) a fictitious person just for online purposes, how would anyone know. This means that an online name of George Washington, or John Browne, could not be verified as you. In which case, using Anon, or Resident, or anything else is just as good as John Browne who may or may not exist.

It is definitely safer for all to remain anonymous, particularly when commenting on school issues or anything sensitive, as it has been known that our kids can be discriminated on at school as a result, or our homes, cars or other property can be vandalized in response. If nothing else, we may not want to be approached while doing something with our kids by someone who wants to discuss the topic when it is not convenient.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Resident, I understand your basic point about avoiding difficult situations, if you don't use your real name. I specifically disagreed with the statement you made (and I copied). People who consistently use their own name should be believed that they are who they say they are...that's all.

I hope we can get off this (many times discussed) subject of anonymity vs. real names. In this thread, the subject is the rejection (for now, at least) of the anaerobic digestion industrial plant in the
Baylands. I think it is important to try to stay on this subject, even though I voluntarily joined the fray into the name game.

Anaerobic digestion was rejected. Newer technologies were mentioned. Let's discuss that.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 10, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Our neighbors - Mountain View and Sunnyvale are currently going through a large building boom. I am sure that their public services will be under the gun to keep up with the increased growth. Possibly we should be consolidating our approach with the neighboring cities to create a regional facility for the north part of the county. If we are pooling our resources with the other cities then we can have a bigger facility in the north county area. The Baylands are not the suggested location since the area is on a flood zone and is relatively small.

I heard the idea of using trains to transport and that is a really great idea.

I have been to the Zanker site and they keep wetting down the site so dust is not blowing around. The large trucks go through an after spray to remove dirt and drive over a grid to remove sludge from their tires. This is really a very messy activity.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2014 at 5:12 pm

resident 1, all the problems you mentioned would be solved by using plasma arc to thermally reduce our garbage and trimming and sewage sludge. And to produce green electricity in the process. We could even reverse the previous dump sites to return them to natural wetlands.


1 person likes this
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

@Craig Laughton, In Monday's Council meeting they did not reject AD. They rejected the bids that had been received to locally compost yard trimmings (AKA the green bins) and food from single family homes. For the next few years, we will continue our current course of sending food scraps and yard trimmings to Sunnyvale SMaRT station and then on from there to the ZBest composting facility in Gilroy (53 miles away).

The plan is still to issue an RFP for (wet) AD for the sewage and commercial/multi-residential food scraps and FOG (Fats Oil and Grease). The AD would be owned an operated by the sewage treatment plant, since wet AD is standard technology for most sewage treatment plants, and it is cheaper for the plant to own and operate it rather than pay a private company to do so. I do not know what the precise time frame is for getting that RFP before Council for approval before sending it out for bids, probably a few to several months.

I know you would prefer that the city skip AD and go straight for plasma arc, and I personally think there is merit to this idea, however as you know, in the first RFP the city expected to get bids for technologies of that type, and since these would be potentially novel technologies, they specified in the RFP that it should be privately owned and operated, such that if it didn't work as advertised, the bidder would be on the financial hook rather than the city. This was actually counter to my own suggestions to city staff, because I thought they should structure the RFP to allow for either public or private ownership, or get bids for both, but staff felt that the RFP was complicated enough as it was and that this would introduce too much complexity.

(Note for concerned readers: Gasification is NOT Incineration and the emission profiles are different. EIRs etc should still be done and are required, but if you are about to freak out, please spend a little time on Wikipedia, etc and look up the details first.)

Unfortunately, none of the bidders proposed advanced technologies like Plasma Arc, Gasification, or Biochar, etc. Instead, the bids were all for more conventional wet AD, and the stipulation for private ownership increased the NPV cost beyond what the city felt it would be under public ownership. While two of the bidders were willing to combine their technologies and negotiate for an accelerated timeline for transfer of ownership, the city believed it would risk a lawsuit if it were to do so, as this would be diverging from the terms of the RFP. As a result, the bids were rejected, and two new RFP were to be issued: the first specifically for the yard/residential food composting portion (what was discussed Monday and those bids rejected), and the second to be an RFP for wet AD for sewage and commercial food.

It is possible that with this next RFP, which is to be focused more on sewage and commercial food and not require bidders to deal with yard trimmings, it could be that some companies would submit proposals with advanced technologies, but only if the RFP is structured to allow for this. So now is the time to urge council and city staff to be more flexible with their RFP to allow for that. I plan to lobby for a less constrained RFP that does not (yet again) tie the city's hands in respect to what is possible yet not permitted by their own RFPs. However, others should do the same as mine is only one voice. (Just don't assume that posting here is sufficient to get your desires heard by Council and Staff.)

Finally, at Monday's meeting, it was clarified that the measure E site could still be used including for pre-processing the food stream for optimal input to the digesters (like taking out metal forks, making it into a slurry, etc), and/or for post-processing of the digesters' left-over solids (digestate), such as by composting or gasification, etc.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2014 at 8:35 pm

"(Note for concerned readers: Gasification is NOT Incineration and the emission profiles are different. EIRs etc should still be done and are required, but if you are about to freak out, please spend a little time on Wikipedia, etc and look up the details first.)"

Just to make it easier,here is the link:
Web Link


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 10, 2014 at 10:54 pm

The landfill at Newbie Island - Milpitas was on the news tonight. The residents are objecting to the smell. There is a Milpitas City council meeting tonight to increase the amount of trash for that landfill. The residents are strongly objecting to the increase in volume. The landfill supposedly uses high end equipment to reduce the smell but it is not working. So check out that situation - whatever it is it is not working.

Relative to RFP's the city needs to determine what it is doing first - what is it asking for, have the legal department review it for any state regulations that need to be green lighted with the state prior to release.

There has to be a basis of comparison for price value specific to what the city is requesting. It is unclear from what is stated above but the city is the Requestor - they are providing the groundrules for the proposal.


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Posted by Deirdre Crommie
a resident of Monroe Park
on Dec 10, 2014 at 11:08 pm

@Cedric de La Beaujardiere, doesn't this:

"The plan is still to issue an RFP for (wet) AD for the sewage and commercial/multi-residential food scraps and FOG (Fats Oil and Grease). The AD would be owned an operated by the sewage treatment plant, since wet AD is standard technology for most sewage treatment plants, and it is cheaper for the plant to own and operate it rather than pay a private company to do so. I do not know what the precise time frame is for getting that RFP before Council for approval before sending it out for bids, probably a few to several months."

pre-date Measure E? If not, what is new about it?

If this is realized on the RWQCP site, what do you propose for the "Measure E site"?


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Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2014 at 1:51 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

The Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP, AKA sewage treatment plant) staff was originally thinking they would replace the aging incinerator with a newer, more modern incinerator. I think the Measure E proponents are largely responsible for getting the city to do a feasibility study which showed pretty clearly that a new incinerator was neither in the city's best financial nor environmental interests. (If measure E had not been a "thing" many of those same people would likely have been agitating for the same purpose when plans for a new incinerator eventually came to light.)

Measure E came out of a movement to try to keep compost local since we would (did) lose the operation when the landfill closed. First citizens urged Council to keep composting locally, so Council formed the Compost Task Force, on which I served, to investigate the city's options. We basically concluded that either a piece of the airport property or the former landfill were the only spots of land big enough for composting, and that it made sense to consider all of our municipal organics including yard, food, and sewage, that we should end incineration, and do AD instead, and that there were potential synergies to locating an operation adjacent to the RWQCP. We also found that burying food waste in landfills was a huge emitter of GHG gasses, and that it is better even to truck it 53 miles away for composting rather than let it go to landfill. Better yet to compost it locally, and best to derive energy from it.

After the airport people freaked out about plans to use some of the airport land for composting, etc, Council took that off the table. so the only viable site was somewhere on the former landfill, but it would require a vote of the people to make that land available (because the landfill had been designated as parkland back in 1965). So the Measure E campaign was born.

The Council was then debating whether to do a feasibility study, and the measure E folks told them we'd be taking it to the voters so they should do a study so that the electorate could be informed before voting. The feasibility study showed that under certain reasonable conditions a local project could be more affordable than sending our wastes elsewhere, while under certain other less reasonable conditions it would be more expensive. Our opponents latched onto the unreasonable conditions like charging rent equal to what you could get from land zoned commercial, when the land in question could never be commercial, or assuming that you needed a whiz bang facility more typical of extremely high throughputs which Palo Alto would never achieve. (Of course, they claim their position is reasonable and ours is not.) In any case, we won that election by a two to one margin, so the Measure E site (the last-to-be-filled 10 acres of the ~124 acre former landfill, adjacent to the sewage treatment plant) is now reserved for municipal organics management through environmentally friendly technologies. In 10 years from its passage, the Council will be allowed to vote to rezone any unused acreage back to parkland.

I described in my previous post the recent history with the RFPs so far and yet to come, and the possibility of using the Measure E site for essential activities associated with the AD for which there may not be room within the RWQCP, specifically food pre-processing and/or post-processing of the digestate.

Sorry for being so wordy, but I think that's a pretty tight summation of 5+ years of effort.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 11, 2014 at 8:12 am

Possibly the terminology and process described above is fuzzy.

If the city had no clear idea of what they wanted then the first activity is to request technical papers with projections as to potential approaches. Those typically have a "ball-park" projections since the specifications are unclear. That is a invitation to companies to provide technical approaches to the problem - couched in terms of what the cities goals are - also to provide more novel approaches which could prove a better choice. Included in this step is a "site survey" in which the companies visit the site and ask questions to further explain their approach.

The companies then are invited to provide further updates based on those that are of interest to the city. The state regulation guidance has to be included in the technical discussion since that is the guidance for final acceptance of the finished product - it must be compliant with county / state regulations - or other FORMAL guidance from the county / state.

Once the approach for the city is approved - through guidance with the legal department - then you offer a formal Request for Bid with the technical and regulatory requirements stated in the RFP.
In order for the company to get final sell-of for the project it has to meet all of the city, county, and state regulatory requirements and get their approval.

I am glad this subject has come up now since the Comprehensive Plan is under discussion and a number of comments were directed to ABAG requirements. The cities now should be going back to the ABAG people to get further guidance from them as to resolution and regulatory changes they plan on supporting to accommodate the topic of city services. I get the feeling that ABAG has been a one-way conversation but it should be a two-way conversation - increased urbanization has a finite number of realities which they have to address. It is their job to address those realities - water, trash, etc. - not the individual cities. Those are legitimate concerns and questions.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2014 at 9:50 am

>I know you would prefer that the city skip AD and go straight for plasma arc, and I personally think there is merit to this idea, however as you know, in the first RFP the city expected to get bids for technologies of that type

Cedric, with rampant opposition in Palo Alto to such technologies (see the PAGE website) why would any rational company want to waste their time and resources to submit an RFP? If the city wants to describe a request for an RFP as requiring the best technology to achieve the greatest good (volume reduction, toxics removal, smallest industrial footprint, lowest cost, net generation of electricity, no incineration, etc.) then we would probably see the newer technologies get involved. If the goal is to inefficiently produce compost contaminated with sewage sludge, then newer technologies need not apply.

It is good to see you stating that gasification is NOT incineration. Perhaps Bob Wenzlau would like to correct the PAGE website in this respect.

I support appropriate use of modern technology to solve current problems. Plasma arc gasification is one such technology.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 11, 2014 at 10:01 am

Cedric made a comment about use of the PAO for composting. And the PAO "freaking out". At the time of the occurrence the PAO was not a Palo Alto property - it was a county property with an FAA presence on the property. Palo Alto could not have implemented any activity of the PAO property without the county, state, and FAA approval.

There was also a comment on use of the golf course property. Were you sit right now is that you have two landfills - one on the west portion of the golf course (aka "soccer field") and one lower down - which is observable from Alviso.

So it looks like some attempt is being made to capitalize on that approach. However - the state and regional flood control people have rightly perceived that strategy and it will not happen. That dirt will be moved. Suggest that the city quits looking at it as a profit center since it will cost a bundle to remove it.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2014 at 11:42 am

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm

[Portion removed.]

It is much more effective to convince Palo Alto citizens about the plasma arc approach, then the city council will follow (actually, both ways). No need for an initiative...just political leadership. Besides, plasma arc would not require 10 acres, probably more like three acres max. Also, plasma arc might be better sited and used at the current transfer facilities than in our Baylands, because plasma arc is has a voracious appetite for garbage/trimmings/sludge/tires, etc. Palo Alto may not be capable of feeding it properly. The argument in favor of placing it at the Baylands rests on what to do with the human sewage sludge: Destroy in in place or ship it to a regional transfer facility.

Remember, this entire exercise was begun with the promise of eliminating the need to incinerate sludge and to process most of our other waste stuff locally. Either locally or regionally, plasma arc offers a rational and superior approach.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2014 at 12:25 pm

"It is much more effective to convince Palo Alto citizens about the plasma arc approach, then the city council will follow (actually, both ways). No need for an initiative...just political leadership."

I hear you. Once upon a time I believed that myself--show them a good idea and they'll leap on it. Then I got educated.

The local system has neither leadership nor possibility of leadership: no chart, no course, no rudder. It can only react to the prevailing wind.

So, if you want that plasma, you gotta make that wind.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2014 at 12:52 pm

>So, if you want that plasma, you gotta make that wind.

I am an optimist, and also fairly patient. I understand, as you do, that politics in PA is frustrating. It swings with the times and beliefs and the breezes and the wind (sometimes the storm). My belief is that a superior idea in the realm of technology will win out in the end, because technology continues to improve, and even the most reactionary luddites will eventually come around. After all, I no longer hear complaints about the demise of horses as the main means of transportation. Most baby boomers and beyond now use personal computers. Plasma arc or some other similar technology will, eventually, be the way that we deal with our wastes.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 11, 2014 at 3:59 pm

You all make this whole phenomena sound a bit disorganized. Possibly someone can identify what the name of the committee is heading this up and who is in charge of that committee. I did not get the feeling from the PACC meeting that we were not going to address this topic again until 2019 (?) when presumably the county would progress in some manner to provide direction. There was talk of Los Angeles trying to come up with a new technology for LA that we could possibly capitalize on. Meanwhile the Newbie Island location is now having issues which could drive this situation in a different direction. Technology is fluid and in process.
Does the city have a blog that is providing status on this issue?


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2014 at 4:29 pm

> Technology is fluid and in process.
Does the city have a blog that is providing status on this issue?

Good point. I am not aware of one. There should be one, as long as the city officials agree to contribute their ideas to it.

I think we should be beyond the 'blue ribbon committees' cutouts...they are just useful political cover.


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Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

There is a plan for the sewage treatment plant, it's called "The Long Range Facility Plan" maybe with more words before or after. There is also a website page with links to all of this, cityofpaloalto.org/energycompost, however with a recent change to the city's website, this is now an empty page so it is frustrating that all the handy info is missing.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 11, 2014 at 6:06 pm

The RFP and proposals are on some city site - they are official documents for the purposes of any legal actions - further development based on type technology. Since there are a high number of residents who can understand the technicalities of this discussion then they need to be posted unless the companies have dictated that the information is proprietary.
Cedric needs to get his two buddies to focus in on where this data is and who is in charge of the committee.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 11, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Anybody ever look at our Open City Hall? -- Web Link

"City officials will consider all input in their decision process.'

Impossible to navigate this site but there are plenty of, uh, interesting ideas flying around.

Comments there may carry more weight than comments here. Or not.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2014 at 10:38 pm

"Since there are a high number of residents who can understand the technicalities of this discussion then they need to be posted unless the companies have dictated that the information is proprietary."

According to the folks at Zero Waste some of the info is proprietary.


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Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

The City's Energy Compost page is up again now at Web Link. It's a bit out of date, I've asked that they update it and I asked about maybe getting a comment form or other effective mechanism to get public input into this process.


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

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