Palo Alto made an emphatic statement last week when it joined dozens of other cities in repudiating the White House's decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and renewed its vow to fight climate change.
On Monday night, the City Council began the hard work of turning the rhetoric into action.
In a wide-ranging discussion that came four days after President Donald Trump announced his plan to pull the United States out of the landmark climate agreement, council members considered more than 40 new programs and policies that aim to bring Palo Alto closer to its goal of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2030. The long list included everything from bike sharing, a local carbon tax and encouraging a "fuel switch" from natural gas to electric heaters.
These ideas, and many others, are included in the Sustainability Implementation Plan, a document that staff put together to guide the city's climate-change efforts over the next three years. The council generally agreed that many of these programs make sense and should be pursued. The big question that did not get answered on Monday night: Which ones?
Local residents and environmentalist activists brought their own ideas to the discussion. Dozens came to City Hall to wave "Dive$t Silicon Valley" signs and urge their elected leaders to stop doing business with banks that finance projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline. Melanie Liu, a Palo Alto resident who had traveled to Standing Rock to protest the pipeline, urged the council on Monday to pull its money from institutions that bankroll such projects.
"Unless we align our money with our values, it's equivalent to trying to swim with a ball-and-chain around your torso," Liu said.
Just before the meeting, Liu joined about a dozen other residents and activists for a rally in front of City Hall. Dr. Maria Michael, a Lakota/Navajo elder who had made four trips to Standing Rock, asked the council to follow the example of Davis, Seattle and Berkeley and pull its money from Wells Fargo and other banks that back the major pipeline projects.
"Set the stage so the children can follow your lead," Michael said. "Let them understand the seriousness. Please take this into your heart."
The divesting policy was not included in the new list, though Chief Sustainability Officer Gil Friend told the council Monday night that the idea is being considered. Friend told the council that Chief Financial Officer Lalo Perez has been consulting investment experts about such a policy.
Others urged the council to do more to promote a switch away from cars. Lisa Altieri said the city should do whatever it can to promote electric vehicles and other modes of carbon-free transportation. Marianna Grossman spoke in favor of biking, though she argued that improvements should be considered on a regional scale.
It should be easy for bikers to get from Mountain View to the Facebook campus in Menlo Park through Palo Alto, Grossman said. She pointed to Copenhagen, a leader in biking despite frigid weather.
"Silicon Valley should be a Mecca for biking and we're not," Grossman said.
For the council, the implementation plan is the first of several that will propel the city to its "80 by '30" goal (reducing emission levels by 80 percent by 2030, with 1990 levels as the baseline). Because the city already boasts a carbon-free electricity portfolio, reduction strategies will largely focus on transportation and natural gas.
On transportation, the list of ideas includes new shuttle programs, encouragement of electric vehicles through group-buys and an expanded bike share program. On natural gas, the city would reduce barriers for people looking to switch from natural gas to electric appliances.
On Monday, council members agreed that most of these ideas are reasonable, even as they acknowledged that the city doesn't have the resources to implement all 49 programs. By an 8-0 vote, with Vice Mayor Liz Kniss absent, the council directed staff to further refine the plan, consider the costs and benefits of each program and come up with a shorter list of programs that can be immediately pursued.
"This feels more like a 20-year plan that you have condensed to a three-year plan," Mayor Greg Scharff said.
Councilmen Eric Filseth and Adrian Fine agreed and directed staff to winnow down the broad document into something more practical and manageable -- something that can actually get done.
"We need to put some fire underneath this," Fine said.
Greg Tanaka asked staff to compute the estimated cost of reducing carbon through the various programs in the plan. Others also said they favored pursuing those programs that allow the city to get the biggest bang for its buck.
Councilwoman Karen Holman proposed a new list of items that should be considered in the plan -- things like calculating and offsetting the impacts of construction and demolition; promoting building designs that support multiple uses; considering ways to expand open space; passing an anti-idling ordinance and encouraging "meatless Mondays" (an idea proposed by one of the many speakers).
Holman's proposal to add these ideas faltered by a 3-6 vote, with Lydia Kou and Tom DuBois joining her. The majority favored giving City Manager James Keene and his staff the latitude to evaluate the different programs and come up with a concise priority list.
That, however, was the only disagreement. There was general consensus that the urgency of fighting climate has been heightened by last Thursday's news from Washington, D.C., and that the city needs to be very deliberate in how it uses its limited money and staff time to lead the way on climate change.
"If everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency," Holman said. "If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority."