Palo Alto's new anti-idling law unlikely to be enforced

Officials warn that the effort may be more effective in educating, rather than citing, offenders

As Palo Alto prepares to adopt a new law banning idling vehicles, city officials are warning that the new prohibition -- while broadly popular among the City Council -- is unlikely to see any real enforcement.

If approved, the law would make it illegal for drivers to run their engines without actually going anywhere for more than three minutes. The new law was pitched by activists from a local Sierra Club chapter earlier this year and later embraced by the City Council, with four council members authoring a memo in August that made a case for an anti-idling ordinance.

In advocating for the ban, council members and activists alike pointed to the health and environmental impacts of exhaust fumes emitted from stationary vehicles. The memo from Vice Mayor Liz Kniss and council members Eric Filseth, Karen Holman and Tom DuBois, also argues that there is no good reason for extended curbside idling.

The council members estimated that idling vehicles produce about 6.2 tons of greenhouse-gas emissions per year, with tour buses, tech shuttles, delivery vehicles and construction vehicles identified as some of the top culprits.

"A city ordinance requiring drivers to shut off their engines after the more feasible (time) of two or three minutes of stationary idling would make a modest but measurable contribution to our 80-30 goal and improve health conditions at a low cost," the memo states. The 80-30 goal calls for the city reduce emissions by 80 percent come 2030.

The council endorsed the memo by an 8-0 vote, paving the way for the creation of the new ordinance that will be based on similar efforts in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. On Tuesday night, the council's Policy and Services Committee is set to vet it before it goes to the full council for final approval.

But even as the committee prepares to sign off on a law that makes it illegal for drivers to idle for more than three minutes (barring special circumstances), city staff are warning that acknowledging that formal enforcement activity will be "challenging and of limited effectiveness," according to a new report from the office of City Manager James Keene.

"Code enforcement and police officers will rarely be available to respond to complaints of violations due to limited resources and the need to prioritize other health and safety issues," the report states. "And even when resources are available, violations typically would not be ongoing when enforcement officers arrive at the scene, making formal enforcement activity difficult."

Given these challenges, one of the questions that the committee will ponder is: Should the law include an enforcement mechanism at all? Or should the ordinance be thought of as an education tool -- a mechanism for nudging rather than punishing?

To date, staff has been agonistic on this question. The draft ordinance, which the city released last week, includes four possible options for dealing with the enforcement conundrum. One approach is to simply omit an enforcement section entirely. Another is to include an enforcement mechanism but specify that the city will use it until the City Council adopts a formal resolution requiring it to do so.

The other two options take more putative approaches. One would set a $100 fine for the first violation of the anti-idling ordinance, which would go up to $150 for a second and $200 for a third within the same calendar year. The most stringent alternative would allow the city to issue administrative or criminal citations for idling, with fines starting at $300 for the first violation and then going to $450 for a second one and $600 for a third.

The law includes about a dozen exceptions. These include instances where a vehicle has to stay still because of traffic congestion or traffic signals; when the driver has to operate a defroster, heater or air conditioner to prevent a health emergency; when the temperature is cold enough (below 40 degrees) or high enough (above 85 degrees) to warrant heat or cooling; or when a vehicle has mechanical problems.

The law also makes exceptions for emergency-response vehicles, private-security providers and armored vehicles that idle while in the course of their business.

The enforcement challenge is unlikely to deter the council from pursuing the anti-idling law. In August, several council members argued that the campaign would be worthwhile even without enforcement. The memo proposes installing signs in "idle-rich places" such as schools, truck stops and employee bus stops. It also suggests a "community education and outreach" campaign to raise awareness.

During the August discussion, Filseth said the proposal has "very little dependency on enforcement."

"It's just getting people to think differently -- like separating our food scraps," Filseth said.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.


59 people like this
Posted by Twiddling
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 6, 2017 at 10:53 am

It was a do nothing, feel good distraction that the city can come up with instead of tackling real issues like traffic and the motor homers.

37 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 6, 2017 at 10:59 am

Online Name is a registered user.

If our CC had been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the REAL problems in PA, they would never have enacted such an absurd ordinance in their sad attempts to be "cool"and "pro-active."

Have they never ever driven down Middlefield, Embarcadero or any of our other gridlocked, backed up streets and roads that they're so gleefully making worse with all the stupid and expensive road "furniture" and barriers and posts??

Maybe they can console themselves by passing another feel-good revolutionary ordinance to make the Silicon Valley safe for tech or something.

30 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 6, 2017 at 11:03 am

Online Name is a registered user.

" The memo proposes installing signs in "idle-rich places" such as schools, truck stops and employee bus stops. It also suggests a "community education and outreach" campaign to raise awareness."

PS: Don't spend a dime on more signs for our "idle-rich streets" since they're confusing enough with all the paint, poles, bus stops, elimination of right-turn-on-red lanes.

Or better yet, put a No Idling sign at SB Middlefield @ Embarcadero now the city's eliminated the right turn lane to give people a good laugh,

42 people like this
Posted by Not going to be distracted
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2017 at 11:14 am

Seriously? This is what the Council is spending time and my tax dollars on?

Please, just stop. These representatives we elected need to focus on the important topics. Spend money on the huge debt we have in the pension fund and infrastructure that is failing. Adding signs (cost of study for where to place them, sign fabrication, installation, maintenance) is so totally unnecessary.

This little sound bite is not helpful in any way.

9 people like this
Posted by Chuck
a resident of another community
on Dec 6, 2017 at 11:22 am

On occasion I've seen cars, trucks and commercial vehicles idling with no one in the vehicle! People do that to dash in to pickup their laundry or whatever. State of California has a law against that to avoid stolen vehicles.

25 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 6, 2017 at 11:24 am

Online Name is a registered user.

I just told me partner about this and he snarked they should put one in the CC chambers.

[Portion removed.]

22 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2017 at 11:33 am

A law that's not gonna be enforced? So why make it a law?

Why does everything have to be solved by either raising taxes on an offender or endlessly creating new laws.

And now the 1-party state wants to ban gasoline cars by 2040.

“Until you set a deadline, nothing gets done,” Ting, who represents much of San Francisco, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s responsible for us to set a deadline 23 years in advance.”

But why force the issue? This will have repercussions that end up hurting the environment.

Punishing people isn't how you fight climate change. It's not gonna make a lick of difference. Punitive measures do not help the environment.

41 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2017 at 12:07 pm

The best way to stop idling in Palo Alto is to get traffic moving efficiently at all the bottlenecks.

26 people like this
Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 6, 2017 at 12:51 pm

"idle-rich places"

What if our idle rich don't want signs at their places?

16 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 6, 2017 at 1:15 pm

So glad (after 25 years) I left my PA home and moved to Mtn View!
Enjoy giving your tax dollars to these "people"!
I have watched time and again how they spend money on ridiculous studies. I think the best one was when they thought they should change Middlefield Rd (at the Mitchell Park library) to one lane with a turn week later, the line were right back where they started. What a waste of time and excessive money! HAHAHA, I won't miss that!

4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 6, 2017 at 1:25 pm

city as part of roll out for new unenforceable law
at least put up some signs near common parent
waiting zones for schools.

Drop-off / Pick-up parents = lots of exhaust.

28 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 6, 2017 at 1:32 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

Passing laws that there is no intention to enforce ultimately undermines trust in law and government. It's not just a waste of time, it is harmful.

3 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 6, 2017 at 1:32 pm

There is no reason to idle the car in warm-weather California. I'm guessing some do it when it gets too hot in the summer. Are they going to publicize this new rule so people turn off their cars at drive through restaurants? They should put signs at the drive through lane, next to the menu.

In cold weather countries, people do it more for the heat. The school buses would idle for 30 minutes (no kidding) prior to the end of school in Minnesota. So when the children would line up for the bus, they would breathe all the exhaust.

Why doesn't the City Council BAN USING FIREPLACES instead? That affects many more people. When the smoke comes into my house through our exhaust fan or from our windows while airing out the house, we have nowhere to get fresh air. The smoke fills my hair when I am outside. They banned smoking in restaurants for health reasons. Smoke in the air from fireplaces is a health issue too.

23 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 6, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

How much staff and consultant and council time has been spent on this? How much has it cost? How much WILL be spent? How much do they plan to spend on education and awareness?

Want to start reducing the unfunded pension liabilities? Commission a study of idle-rich targets and then start fining the idlers!

Or make it easy and actually FIX something: Start with FedEX and UPS trucks. Send legal letters to their Corporate offices that fines will be imposed when violations occur. Efficient and potentially lucrative.

18 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

Meanwhile, nearly every gardener in the city continues to use gas-powered leaf blowers. The city could send out an "officer" through neighborhoods with the window rolled down and find 9-out-of-10 gardeners using gas-powered leaf blowers in residential neighborhoods each and every day.

13 people like this
Posted by jane
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2017 at 4:23 pm

The city doesn't even stop the commute traffic running the red lights at T&C and PageMill/Oregon intersections. Running stop signs, speeding, dangerously cutting other people off. Everyone must know by now that Palo Alto doesn't care about enforcing any laws involving automobiles and trucks.

4 people like this
Posted by sourpuss
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2017 at 5:37 pm

At least this one was cheaper than the new carpets in city hall.

17 people like this
Posted by RVs
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 6, 2017 at 9:07 pm

It would be nice if PAPD starting citing the ECR RVs that continuously run their generators, spewing out exhaust.

1 person likes this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 6, 2017 at 11:19 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

1) as mentioned already, fixing the flow of traffic to prevent gridlock and unnecessary stop-and-go traffic would be a MAJOR contribution to reducing exhaust pollution. When 15 to 30 or more vehicles are stopped for a light for 1 minute so 1 or 2 cars can go, that's as much as 30 minutes idling PER LIGHT! Count them on ECR or Middlefield; the numbers are scary
2) encouraging the switch to electric vehicles with rebates, lower taxes, parking priveleges, etc. will reduce exhaust pollution due to idling.
3) a hefty "carbon tax" on petroleum fuels would get drivers' attention. I'm thinking $1/gallon; funds to be used to promote electric vehicles.

2 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 7, 2017 at 2:49 am

None of you have any right to complain. YOU VOTED THOSE CC CLOWNS IN!

5 people like this
Posted by @All You can eat
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 7, 2017 at 6:51 am

"None of you have any right to complain. "

People always have a right to voice their opinion. It an actual right. You seem to be opposed to that right, but knowing the law, I know you're free to express it, just like the others. Now you know.

Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 7, 2017 at 9:17 am

@ - @All You can eat

I'm pretty sure All You can eat wasn't being literal! Everyone on earth knows you can say what you want. He/she was just pointing out the obvious...Get over yourself!
PS All You can eat is absolutely correct, which as I said before I got the heck out of PA.
Born and raised, left and came back, raised my 4 kids, watched all the ugly changes, and decided it was time to go. LOVING Mountain View!

Like this comment
Posted by @@@All You can eat
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 7, 2017 at 11:08 am

"He/she was just pointing out the obvious"

No, he was using a blanket illogical statement to essentially tell people to "Shut up". He has zero clue as to who the previous posters voted for. In fact many may have voted for all the current CC member's opposition.

He came off sounding like an angry troll, full of spite and venom for some imaginary group of people he has painted with a one bristle brush.
Was he just screaming Palo Alto sucks? Is that what you're doing? Keep living the dream. Yes MV is a great town.

6 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 8, 2017 at 10:02 am

I idled for 8 minutes yesterday and no one saw me... Hehehe.

6 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 8, 2017 at 6:21 pm

Hahaha just the lamest thing ever. What a total and complete waste of time. The Council really needs to check back into reality, and focus on fixing pot holes and making sure public services are provided. And get the disgusting, smelly RV’s out of town.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Family Matters: Caring for the Dying, and Their Loved Ones
By Aldis Petriceks | 2 comments | 1,360 views

Couples: The ABCs of Love
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 712 views

A birthday for the siblings
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 312 views