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Council approves pared-down sustainability plan

With a goal of cutting greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2030, Palo Alto prioritizes carbon reduction, water protection

Trying for a leaner, meaner approach to its sustainability goals, the Palo Alto City Council approved a four-pronged revision to its 2018-2020 Sustainability Implementation Plan on Monday night, which will initially focus on reducing carbon dioxide and protecting potable water sources.

By a vote of 8-0, with City Councilman Adrian Fine absent, the council adopted the changes and also directed staff to return in early 2018 with a discussion on fossil-fuel divestment.

The city's overall goal, which the council unanimously approved in April 2016, is to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2030. The 2018-2020 plan presented Monday came out of a more detailed one that city staff had presented on June 5, which included more than 40 new programs and policies.

Staff estimated the narrower focus on four actionable areas -- energy, mobility, electric vehicles and water -- could enable the city to reduce greenhouse gases to about 40 percent below the 1990 base year by 2020 and by about 54 percent if natural gas offsets are included. The city's goal far exceeds California's reduction goals of 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050, staff noted.

About 66 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions in the city are from transportation, Palo Alto's Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello said. Targeting that area of pollution, the pared-down sustainability plan would reduce the number of people driving solo in the city by providing incentives to change behavior, would build out the city's bicycle network and increase pedestrian and bicycle safety. The staff plans to bring bike-share regulations forward early next year and to expand its shuttle programs, he said. Staff would also start tracking public-transit ridership and the rate that employers participate in alternative-transportation programs.

The city would also try to increase people's purchase and use of electric vehicles. In 2015, more than 15 percent all vehicles bought in Palo Alto were electric vehicles, staff noted, adding that 4,000-6,000 electric vehicles will be purchased in the city by 2020. To support the shift, the city will have to figure out how to accommodate those changes. Staff will focus on expanding its electric-vehicle charging stations on public property and in private spaces. The need is already being addressed through additional charging stations and solar panels in public parking structures this year, for example.

But the city must also look at costs associated with building that infrastructure; leveraging private sources for expanding the network could also be part of the strategy. Staff recently became aware of a program by the private sector to approach multifamily property owners about adding electric-vehicle charging stations, for example.

Mayor Greg Scharff said that forcing multifamily housing complexes to install charging stations would allow residents to plug in their electric vehicles at home overnight -- a key incentive. Staff said they would look at ways to encourage the addition of electric-vehicle stations when buildings are upgraded.

Staff said that emissions from natural gas represent about 25 percent of the city's remaining carbon footprint. The plan focuses on improving energy efficiency in new and existing buildings, for example through mandatory energy efficiency and pilot programs for efficient appliances. It would encourage building owners to convert from natural gas to electric equipment and continue the city's own power conversation from natural gas sources to electricity. Staff said a goal is to complete construction of a replacement facility for sludge incinerators, which consumes the most energy of all city facilities.

Multiple members of the public implored the council members to divest the city from fossil fuels. Councilman Cory Wolbach moved to pass the pared-down sustainability plan, but said the council should direct staff to prepare for discussion of divestment from fossil fuels early next year.

"It is time to move that conversation forward," he said, adding that he wanted staff to identify a timeline for that divestment.

More than a dozen public speakers also asked the council to legislate an end to groundwater pumping. In its list of water-conservation goals, staff identified protecting groundwater in creeks and the San Francisco Bay, but it did not specify ending groundwater pumping in its list of "key actions." Instead, staffed focused on developing programs and ordinances related to water efficiency and use of grey water, stormwater and recycled water and on finding ways to capture stormwater and restore it to the natural ecosystem.

In presenting the slimmed-down implementation plan as directed by the council, city staff is not dropping the remaining areas in the previous iteration of the sustainability implementation plan: zero waste; municipal operations; climate adaptation and sea level rise; regeneration and natural environment; financing strategies; community behavior, culture and innovation. Those would be included in future plans, staff said.

In the presentation, staff asked the council to accept the revised plan now with the understanding that if future funding requests are not approved some of the actions won't be undertaken. The overall sustainability plan's progress will be evaluated every three years beginning in 2020.

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Comments

21 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2017 at 11:49 am

Annette is a registered user.

I was at CC last night and after listening to all that was said about this issue I was struck by a cynical thought: our sustainability guru has built-in job protection for the life of the plan. Also, Palo Alto takes some intrinsically contradictory positions. CC approves commercial development that increases jobs and, since there's a housing shortage, traffic while at the same time imposing sustainability requirements on residents and businesses. CC lists groundwater conservation goals but leaves de-watering off that list. The city wins an award for being a healthy city, but continues to approve development at a rate that results in more harmful emissions b/c of traffic congestion. At the proverbial end of the day, how is this not akin to going in circles?


10 people like this
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I am thankful to those who made the initial call to action to divest the city from fossil fuelishness, to everyone who signed the petition for divestment, to those who came out to speak last night in support of divestment, and to all who spoke in support of sustainability, or for ending excessive ground water pumping.
I'm thankful to the staff and committee members who prepared and will implement the sustainability action plan.
Finally, a big thank you to Councilman Cory Wolbach who made the motion directing staff to prepare for discussion of divestment from fossil fuels early next year, to Mayor Scharff for seconding, and to the rest of Council for supporting the motion.
It's not a done deal, Council will need to discuss and approve a specific plan for divestment from fossil fuels, and more generally for aligning the city's investments with its values, but the process is now in motion.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2017 at 12:37 pm

When it comes to transportation there seems to be no mention of how Palo Alto will coordinate with other neighboring cities to implement shuttles and other forms of public transit. For many in Palo Alto for example, the nearest Caltrain station may be at San Antonio. For many who work in say Sunnyvale or Redwood City, because of the zone pricing, those who ride Caltrain to Sunnyvale pay less than those that ride to Redwood City although the number of miles or the number of stations may be less.

If public transit is something to be taken seriously, then we need better methods of implementing this than we are doing now. As much as I hate the idea of having more City Hall staff, it occurs to me that having one city official who is in charge of public transit and spends time with our neighbors to talk to Caltrain, VTA, SamTrans and get us better options would help. The fact that trying to get to any one of our airports by public transport takes longer than some of the flights we take, means that getting to SFO and SJC needs much better alternatives. For those of our local employees who cross the Bay or come from the coast, the only choice is by car. To really take public transit seriously it has to be done as a regional issue but at the same time it has to be an efficient, reliable and affordable option.

I spoke recently with someone who commutes from Gilroy to Mountain View on a daily basis by private car. It is cheaper and more reliable to drive than to depend on the limited and expensive Caltrain service. I found this completely wrong. It has to be City officials who put pressure on the region to sort these things out. Unless we can get public transportation to be better utilized by offering better options we are not going to make a dent in the number of cars on our roads.

We could be a leader in all this. Instead we are treating Palo Alto as an island with the idea of keeping outsiders out and no thoughts to those who commute out of town each day. We have to do better.


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