News

Palo Alto takes block-by-block approach to climate change

New pilot program aims to shift residents' behavior one block at a time

Can a city block become a building block in Palo Alto's battle against climate change?

That's the question city officials hope to answer as part of a new experiment that the City Council approved Monday night. Developed by the Empowerment Institute and known as Cool Block, the program will aim to shift the behavior of residents on 30 city blocks through 112 "action recipes" -- everything from wearing warm clothes to cutting down on driving.

The program will be rolled out on 10 blocks initially and later expanded to 20 more. Each block will have a captain that will help facilitate the carbon-cutting efforts and help achieve a 25 percent reduction on greenhouse gas emissions.

Though the city will have a role in selecting blocks and spreading the program's message, Cool Block is expected to be primarily a "bottom-up" approach, shepherded by residents themselves. Even so, the council had an extensive discussion Monday about whether to participate, citing concerns about staff resources and the program's compatibility with existing neighborhood programs.

Several neighborhood leaders have offered their own criticisms of the proposed pilot program. Sheri Furman, who chairs the umbrella group Palo Alto Neighborhoods, wrote in a letter to the council that she is concerned that Cool Block's foray into disaster resiliency (one of the program's focus areas, along with sustainable lifestyle and "livable neighborhoods") is unnecessary because the topic is already covered by the existing Emergency Service Volunteers program. She also questioned the whole premise of the block-by-block approach.

"One thing I've learned over the years is that people identify more with 'affinity groups' than with those on their blocks – be it sports, schools, creative interests and so on," Furman wrote.

Annette Glanckopf, a longtime leader in the Emergency Service Volunteers program, also raised concerns about duplicated efforts and insufficient coordination. She urged the council in a letter to "personalize" the program to Palo Alto and to add a chapter on volunteerism, including information about how residents can join the Emergency Service Volunteers program.

The council debated these concerns on Monday and received assurances from staff that the program would not consume more than 40 hours of staff time and that it would complement, rather than duplicate, existing efforts.

City Manager James Keene made a case for retaining the program's disaster-resiliency element, noting that the program could serve as a model for other cities across the nation and should not be scaled back based on existing local efforts.

"The whole idea here potentially is that if this works and the seed money is there and continues to flow, this could effect cities potentially across the country," Keene said. "I think we have a bit of a responsibility as a kind of a city we are to help pilot that."

Keene also lauded the program's focus on bringing neighbors together and said it would be worth seeing whether the city can do a better job in "building more on social connectiveness on a block level," particularly if doing so would help the city reduce carbon emissions.

"I have a bias to thinking that we want to get individuals and households involved as actively as possible on the climate change issue," Keene said.

Sandra Slater, a downtown resident who is spearheading the city's effort, called the program a "systems approach" to tackling climate change -- one that integrates city policies, business solutions and resident interests. Participants will be able to access a web portal where they can simply click on their area of interest -- whether it's water conservation or energy reduction -- and get instant information about city programs in this area.

Residents understand, Slater said, that there is a "sense of urgency on climate change and some of the issues we're facing not only on the planet but in California and Palo Alto." The pilot program will require the city's policy leadership, involvement from the tech center and, most importantly, residents, she said.

"It's the choices you and I -- we -- make every day in how we live our lives," Slater said.

The council ultimately agreed to endorse the program, which will feature nine neighborhood meetings in the 10 selected blocks between now and August. The second phase, with 20 additional blocks, would launch in the fall under the tentative schedule. Though some council members were initially hesitant, they were encouraged by Keene's insistence that the program would not require too much staff effort and by an endorsement from Ken Dueker, director of the city's Office of Emergency Services.

Vice Mayor Greg Scharff, who voiced concerns about the program sucking up staff time and diluting the message of existing emergency-preparedness programs, ended up making the motion to move ahead with the pilot program.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss said she was satisfied that all the community concerns have been addressed and likewise endorsed the program.

"As a city we are used to being in the lead. We're not used to being followers," Kniss said. "This is a good chance for us to be in the lead."

The Cool Block program may also prove to be a stepping stone to a broader citywide program known as Cool Cities. If Palo Alto opts to participate in the latter program and is selected to do so, it would be able to access close to $3 million over three years for its efforts to fight climate change. Under the current schedule, the Cool Cities program is slated to kick off in January 2018.

Comments

18 people like this
Posted by Barry Soetoro
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 1, 2016 at 2:00 pm

If the City of Palo Alto bought every person in these 30 blocks a Tesla, Volt, or Prius, they could offload the emissions these vehicles create out of Palo Alto back to the out-of-area coal plants where their electricity is created.

Interesting to note that some big Climate Change heavies like Michael Mann have recently acknowledged that a "pause" is taking place in temperature rises. That's got to confound their climate models!


10 people like this
Posted by @Barry Soetoro(?)
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 1, 2016 at 2:14 pm

"Interesting to note that some big Climate Change heavies like Michael Mann have recently acknowledged that a "pause" is taking place in temperature rises. That's got to confound their climate models!"

So, Barry (or is that you, Craig?) -- not understanding how science works something you take pride in?


17 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 1, 2016 at 2:46 pm

"Interesting to note that some big Climate Change heavies like Michael Mann have recently acknowledged that a "pause" is taking place in temperature rises. That's got to confound their climate models!"

Yet the 15 warmest years on record were recorded after 2000. Not much pause apparent there. Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 1, 2016 at 2:53 pm

And how much is this going to cost us in present and future rate increases?


3 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 1, 2016 at 3:02 pm

"Participants will be able to access a web portal where they can simply click on their area of interest -- whether it's water conservation or energy reduction -- and get instant information about city programs in this area."

Is this special web access limited to the residents of the select blocks? If so, why?


5 people like this
Posted by Sign Me Up
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2016 at 8:43 pm

Where do we get details about the plan and how to sign up for it?


13 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 1, 2016 at 11:46 pm

The carbon emissions concern should be aimed at all of the people driving into our city daily and using our neighborhood streets as cut throughs. My street has become a freeway of noise and exhaust. I can't even open my windows anymore because of the constant parade of cars, buses, trucks, and motorcycles. I can't believe that huge Sysco and Costco semi trucks use our neighborhood streets instead of using Lytton Ave.


2 people like this
Posted by Annette Isaacson
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2016 at 11:17 am

I hope Webster St., south of Oregon Expressway is included in the 20 block area. Sign me up.


13 people like this
Posted by Juan olive
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Some film maker should make a documentary about how the city council lives. Do they practice and live what they preach?
This sounds like a lot of $$$ over time for some lucky fellow or lady.


11 people like this
Posted by Tim Buck Ii
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 2, 2016 at 12:38 pm

"I can't believe that huge Sysco and Costco semi trucks use our neighborhood streets instead of using Lytton Ave."

I can. Lytton has all those stop lights. Mere stop signs are easier to ignore.


5 people like this
Posted by Sandra Slater
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 2, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Roger, The website will be for the participants of the Pilot as we're testing all this out. The website is a companion to the workbook we have that lists the actions that people choose to take.

Juan, We came to the city will funding, the city isn't paying for this (other than a bit of staff time to put in the city's programs that support the actions people take).

Annette, Love to have you join us, let's talk!


12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 2, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Another sidetrack by Palo Alto.


21 people like this
Posted by The Real Problem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2016 at 1:30 pm

The excessive water use, excessive pollution and carbon emissions, are NOT caused by Palo Alto residents.

Most residents work elsewhere, and drive very little when in Palo Alto. Most Palo Altans are very green-minded. Besides that, most residents do the bulk of their shopping/dining here in Palo Alto.

The problems of water use and carbon emissions are caused by the employees, who outnumber residents vastly, of the large companies doing business in and very near Palo Alto.

It is Palantir, Google, etc who should be monitored in this experiment, not the residents!


9 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 2, 2016 at 3:35 pm

"Roger, The website will be for the participants of the Pilot as we're testing all this out. The website is a companion to the workbook we have that lists the actions that people choose to take."

Presuming the website contains information that would help lessen our climate change impact, wouldn't it be beneficial to share it with a broad audience? I think it would.

On the other hand, if this is yet another empty feel-good exercise, never mind.


Posted by Steve
a resident of Green Acres

on Mar 2, 2016 at 5:16 pm


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14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2016 at 6:47 pm

Best thing I ever did, in understanding the issue of climate changes, was to read former television meteorologist Brian Sussman's two books, Climate-Gate and Eco-tyranny.

Both are excellent reads, available at the library, and provide data going back further than just when more recent weather documentation began.


4 people like this
Posted by Steve Levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 2, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Thanks Sandra. Sounds "cool".

I know Nancy has helped organize a lot of green activities in our building so I know there is a lot residents can do.

Bravo.


2 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2016 at 7:03 pm

Humans as a race are imperfect and have evolved into an industrial and prosperous species. Pollution is a necessary consequence of our advancement.
Al the polluting we do is not inherently bad because it is part of the grand scheme of our evolution and how it relates to the Earth. Morality and science are mutually exclusive.

So the Earth will inevitably become uninhabitable and the best and only way to really fight this is space exploration.

I suspect that when government interferes with industry to "fight climate change" they are indirectly making pollution worse because restricting human liberty is unhealthy and it ultimately stunts innovation.

Once again: the one and only solution to climate change which doesn't involve stepping over your fellow humans is SPACE EXPLORATION.


6 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 2, 2016 at 8:28 pm

"...read former television meteorologist Brian Sussman's two books, Climate-Gate and Eco-tyranny."


Sussman falls short of authority on a couple of levels.

First, TV "meteorologists," even former ones, are not always professional meteorologists. Anyone with a decent smile who can read a script can do that job.

Second, meteorologists are not climatologists. Meteorology and climatology are not at all the same thing. For example, Sussman climatology will tell you his politics are 95% to 100% likely to be off the deep right end. Sussman meteorology will attempt to predict if he will get up on the wrong side of the bed on a particular morning.


7 people like this
Posted by @Johnny
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2016 at 8:29 pm

If that was satire, it was pretty bad.

If you're actually being serious, you need help.


3 people like this
Posted by Commentator
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 2, 2016 at 8:33 pm

"If that was satire, it was pretty bad."

Apparently some people take WALL-E seriously.


4 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2016 at 5:37 am

I was dead serious. Didn't see WALL-E. Forgive me for sharing some original thought. I don't buy climate change. All this activism is madness.


29 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2016 at 7:12 am

Palo Alto is to the world as a grain of sand is to a very large beach. It's efforts to affect the climate are null.

Enough with this public narcissism and search for relevance while the surrounding city decays!


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 3, 2016 at 7:27 am

A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single grain of sand.


19 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2016 at 7:53 am

Once again, I urge the City to stop these feel good issues and get on with dealing with some of the real issues. Find places for working people to park. Start talking to neighboring cities and get some real transport solutions. Fix the pot holes. Fix the traffic roadblocks. Give us better garbage collection options (we don't have any). They should put some effort into what we pay our taxes for and less of our tax money into boutique efforts.


9 people like this
Posted by It's just not that hard...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2016 at 10:39 am

If you want to help with climate change, DRIVE LESS. Auto emissions are the top GHG source in the Bay Area.

Statistically, many Palo Altans often drive for trips that are less than 3 miles--in a community that is FLAT, with a temperate climate. It actually takes longer to drive and park that kind of distance.

Some people say it's not safe to bike because of the CARS. We ARE the car traffic. Help reduce the safety problem by getting out of your car.

Also, bicycling and walking is good exercise. I have a neighbor who daily drives less than two miles to the YMCA (which has excellent low traffic bike routes from our neighborhood) where he gets on an exercycle for an hour. How ridiculous is that? These are the kinds of choices we are making about how to use fossil fuels. What will our children and grandchildren say about our choices when they are faced with the repercussions?

Get out of the car and discover our beautiful community! This is a problem EACH of us can help solve by making some simple daily changes.


3 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2016 at 11:02 am

On weekends, I prefer to walk long distances instead of drive. My reasons are exercise and avoiding putting extra mileage on my car. Somehow, "climate change" doesn't influence my decisions at all. Does that mean I'm ignorant and morally corrupt?


2 people like this
Posted by @Johnny
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 3, 2016 at 11:40 am

"On weekends, I prefer to walk long distances instead of drive. My reasons are exercise and avoiding putting extra mileage on my car. Somehow, 'climate change' doesn't influence my decisions at all. Does that mean I'm ignorant and morally corrupt?"

YES.


10 people like this
Posted by Steve Levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 3, 2016 at 12:16 pm

You can view this as about climate change and get all wound up about debating the science OR you can see it about saving money, beING more conscious of resource use OR just as neighbors exchanging information and supporting each ohher. Sounds good to me, all voluntary. Thanks Sandra


8 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 3, 2016 at 12:39 pm

"I don't buy climate change."

Sure you do. You buy climate change every time you gas up your car. Every time you flip a light switch on. Every time you turn up the thermostat in winter or turn it down in summer. Every time you do your laundry. Every time you cook a meal.

You are a major buyer of climate change. But denials change nothing.


1 person likes this
Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 3, 2016 at 10:37 pm

Does the course teach how to use a Kill-A-Watt?


10 people like this
Posted by Wait just a minute...
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2016 at 2:04 am

I applaud the goal of reducing our carbon load, but I have a viscerally negative reaction to this kind of block-by-block proposal. First of all, if a gathering of neighbors were called, I don't think global climate change would be the kind of thing I would want to discuss with them; my neighborhood concerns and goals would be much more local, if you will.

But my major reservation about this proposal is the Big-Brotherish way in which it comes across. Within a small group of people such as the residents of a single block, one could easily see who is on board with this, and who isn't; how would the true believers feel about those people who are not so enthusiastic about this program? How might this be reflected in relations between neighbors? Or is the whole idea to shame people into having a smaller carbon footprint than the next guy?

I would feel just fine about receiving a mailing with a large list of practical ways to reduce carbon load, though I feel like I get quite a lot of information on this topic through both national and local sources, and do incorporate some of it into the leading of my life. I pick and choose, according to what I feel makes the most sense for me and my family.

BUT. In this block program, would the neighborhood commissar be checking up on people to see just how well each of us was following the Party diktats?? Could I opt out of this? Because I'd like the information, but I don't want anyone following my actions, comparing me to my possibly-more-dutiful neighbors, and telling me how I ought to be living my life instead.

Make the suggestions base be accessible by anyone. Let those of you who AS INDIVIDUALS want to sign up to this effort do so, and you can meet among yourselves and compare your own actions and accomplishments to one another, if you feel this would be helpful. But don't make the rest of us engage in an exercise of show-and-tell.

A few comments to others. @Johnny: I am a science-fiction fan and very much believe in space exploration and development, for a whole host of survival-based reasons. I do not think, however, that one of them is that we will inevitably foul our own nest to such a degree that we will all need to migrate off-planet. That IS avoidable, though I grant that we may not avoid it, and we certainly won't if everyone feels they have a right to live their life in absolutely any way they want regardless of its impact on others.

@Not That Hard: If you can walk (or run) three miles in less time than it would take you to drive and park, then you should let the U.S. Olympic running team know of your existence, because you'd probably be able to win a gold medal. Plus, as often or not when I shop, I'm coming home with a 20-lb. bag of cat litter, or multiple 12-packs of diet soda (that's how you get the good deals), or giant packs of toilet paper. Not to mention, like many people of my age, I'm not exactly hale and hearty, and in fact any walking hurts me. Please don't be so quick to assume that just anyone can walk or bike everywhere, or even anywhere.

@Real Problem: No, most of us do not do the majority of our dining and shopping in Palo Alto. I do like a lot of downtown restaurants, but I live on the south side of town, and Castro Street is certainly more reasonably priced. I do almost none of my shopping here,, because of the limited selection and high prices of ordinary, everyday stuff. (Grocery Outlet represents far and away the bulk of my shopping in this town, and it's a pretty small and limited place.)


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2016 at 9:43 am

Thanks to the previous poster for voicing concerns that I felt but not able to put into words.

We all do what we do for reasons that are not always apparent.

As an example, we do laundry in our home for someone without their own laundry facilities who would otherwise have to use a Laundromat. It makes water economical sense for us to combine loads and use our water saving machine rather than the guzzlers at the Laundromat. It may mean that our household does two more loads each week, but it saves three loads at a Laundromat. The energy in driving to a Laundromat is about the same as driving to our house and we get to visit during that time.

In other ways we may appear to be more "green" than our neighbors and in some ways they may appear to be more "green". But someone watching our habits and being critical of the way we live our life is not something we should be doing to each other.

Bad idea.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 6, 2016 at 11:10 am

Someone is watching our habits. Local government knows how much water, gas and electricity is delivered to each address in the city. The individual billing is recorded and accessible to anyone legally allowed to see it. How long are these records allowed to be kept? What prevents these records from appearing in the newspaper the same way public employee salary lists appear? Does excessive electricity usage get reported to law enforcement? Does anything in the constitution prevent a majority of citizens from approving an initiative to make these records public? How robust is the firewall that prevents leaking of these data? Wouldn't opening this database be in the best interest of future generations? Is privacy overrated?


1 person likes this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2016 at 5:52 pm

"But my major reservation about this proposal is the Big-Brotherish way in which it comes across."

This isn't a government thing, except that the city blessed it and pledged "approximately" 40 hours of undefined staff time. The operator is some kind of private touchy-feely group.


2 people like this
Posted by Back to Basics
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 6, 2016 at 6:20 pm

If you are worried that climate change is too global or abstract then put your efforts into saving the local environment from the old and boring nemesis of pollution, population density and habitat destruction.

Here in Palo Alto, we have several endangered species that live in our creeks, parks and wetlands including the Red Legged Frog, Steelhead Trout and the California Clapper Rail bird.

Think global and act local. We can do both and our wild friends need our help!


12 people like this
Posted by Carlos F Gauss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2016 at 6:48 pm

It is patently obvious even to Warmists that this will have exactly bupkis affect on climate. But, not to worry - combating "climate change" is very low on the collective priority list, as well it should be, since it is simply mass hysteria generated by an industry of apocalyptic fear-mongering scientific frauds, aided and abetted by a media-generated availability cascade.

That being said, as an exercise in yodeling our moral superiority without actually doing anything beneficial, while wasting taxpayer money and creating much-needed opportunities for graft, it sounds like a winner. And when it comes to pointless virtue-signalling, the comrades of Palo Alto yield to no one.

Still, it's not as ironically entertaining as watching sanctimonious hypocrites like Leo DiCaprio fly off to climate conferences in their private jets, or seeing Al Gore, captain of the climate cult, sell his CurrentTV company to petro-state of Qatar for $500 million, and timing the sale to avoid Obama's tax increase on one-percenters. But it's a start.


1 person likes this
Posted by Eileen Wright
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2016 at 7:38 pm

"combating "climate change" is very low on the collective priority list, as well it should be, since it is simply mass hysteria generated by an industry of apocalyptic fear-mongering scientific frauds, aided and abetted by a media-generated availability cascade."

These forces will do anything for ther agenda. They raised the temperature with secret furnaces. They went back and changed all those rings trees make. They are pouring water into the pacific ocean at a secret island well to push up ocean water sea levels everyplace. Theyre goal is world government. Stop them before its too late.


7 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2016 at 10:07 pm

I hereby nominate Carlos F Gauss for PAOnline Say It Like It Is Man Of The Week. Well done, sir.


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

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