Recycled water, community engagement and clean energy: State Senate candidates weigh in on ideas to tackle climate crisis | News | Palo Alto Online |


Recycled water, community engagement and clean energy: State Senate candidates weigh in on ideas to tackle climate crisis

District 13 candidates discuss environmental issues at forum

Moderator Dave Pine, a San Mateo County supervisor, introduces state Senate candidates to the audience during a forum held on Jan. 15 at the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center. They are, from left: Sally Lieber, Shelly Masur, Alex Glew, Josh Becker and Michael Brownrigg. Photo by Kate Bradshaw/The Almanac.

Five of the seven candidates running for state Senate in District 13 vied to win over Peninsula voters by showing their passion and knowledge on a range of environmental topics at a panel held on Jan. 15 at Menlo-Atherton High School.

Before a crowd of an estimated 500 people, candidates answered a series of questions posed by the moderator, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine. They touched on the overall climate crisis, as well as energy conservation, water quality and availability, waste management, and PG&E's future for providing energy in the state.

The candidates are competing for the District 13 state Senate seat, now occupied by Jerry Hill, who will be termed out this year. The district runs from South San Francisco to Sunnyvale and on the Coastside from Pacifica to the Ano Nuevo State Reserve. About 82% of residents in the district reside in San Mateo County.

Participating candidates were Democrat Sally Lieber, a former Mountain View councilwoman and state Assembly member; Democrat Shelly Masur, a Redwood City vice mayor, nonprofit executive and former school board member; Republican Alexander Glew, an engineer and Los Altos Design Review commissioner; Democrat Josh Becker of Menlo Park, a philanthropist and former venture capitalist and CEO; and Democrat Michael Brownrigg, a Burlingame City Council member and former diplomat.

Absent from the forum were Democrat Annie Oliva, who sent a message saying she could not be there due to a friend's death, and Libertarian John Webster.

Candidates were asked to give an opening statement about their position on environmental concerns, and then answered questions that came from some of the environmental nonprofits that organized the event — such as Citizens Climate Lobby, Acterra, Sustainable San Mateo County and 350 Silicon Valley — before providing closing statements. More than 20 additional environmental organizations supported the event.

"There's no more important issue than facing the climate challenge, and sadly, we've put so much carbon into the atmosphere," Pine said. "We're seeing the effects of that every day around the world, and the future could be much worse, depending on the types of policies we implement here in the state and around the world."

Lieber, who served in the Assembly from 2002 to 2008 and ran against Hill in 2012, said she wants the region to be a model for energy and natural resources conservation in the state.

Masur talked about being raised in Alaska with young parents, and how she learned from her grandparents, who grew up during the Depression, which helped her develop a conservation mindset. "It was about doing the things we could do individually to make a difference," she said, adding that she thinks systemic change is also needed. When she was a school board member, she supported the installation of solar panels at the school district she helped oversee, she said, and she supports Redwood City setting "reach codes" for stricter environmental requirements than the state mandates for new buildings.

Glew said he is a proponent of H.R. 763, a bipartisan climate proposal supported by the Citizens' Climate Lobby, which imposes a fee on fuel producers or importers, based on the carbon content of fuels that emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

"I will listen to anything that works," he said. Energy sources, he asserted, need to be more renewable and energy generation must produce fewer emissions.

Becker quoted a Native American proverb: "We don't inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."

"And let's be honest, we're not being very good stewards right now," he added.

Becker noted that he started a clean energy investment fund and ran for state Senate in 2010 as a green energy entrepreneur. In addition, he announced an environmental policy platform the day before the forum, saying he would push to make state agencies carbon neutral by 2030; propose incentives to buy the cleanest electric vehicles and disincentives to buy the worst polluting vehicles; support bike lanes; protect community choice energy programs; support annual reporting of greenhouse gas emissions among cities of more than 75,000 people; and promote cleaner alternatives to freight transportation, which he said is the single largest contributor to diesel particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions in California.

"California is the fifth-largest economy in the world, so what we do matters here and also beyond our borders," he said.

Brownrigg said his environmental priorities would be to attain zero carbon electric energy, eliminate plastic going to landfill, provide 100% clean drinking water for everyone in California, invest $100 billion in Bay Area transit, and restore150 billion gallons of water to aquifers by 2030, at the latest.

"Those aren't easy targets, but they're realistic with courage and conviction," Brownrigg said. He added that he's worked with the South Bay Waste Management Association, and based on the environmental priorities he's helped set there, "we could be one of the first net-zero-carbon garbage facilities in the state."

He talked about the work he's done on the Burlingame City Council to help a city that hadn't built new housing in decades develop plans to build a new neighborhood.

Sea level rise and what to do about environmental hazards — such as wildfires and the new challenge of power shutoffs imposed by PG&E — were also points of discussion.

On sea level rise, Lieber said planned retreat, or the managed relocation or abandonment of properties at risk of being harmed by erosion or sea level rise, should be considered. Brownrigg talked about how Burlingame's bayside businesses, which generate one-third of the city's revenue, would be impacted by 24 inches of water due to sea level rise, as well as the importance of communities lobbying together for infrastructure funds.

"We have to get ahead of this," he said.

When it comes to PG&E, none of the candidates is pleased with the way it's been run, but each has different ideas about how to address its future.

PG&E officials, Lieber said, have been "errant and moral-less in the way they've approached business."

Brownrigg said he favors making the investor-owned utility a public one. Masur was skeptical of the idea, since making it publicly owned would require the public to take on the debts and liabilities of the utility. But she talked about the need to upgrade the power grid.

Glew said he thinks PG&E should have competition and "go out of business in a miserable sort of way. ... That's how business works."

Becker said that local community choice nonprofits, like Peninsula Clean Energy or Silicon Valley Clean Energy, for instance, have served as examples of transparent and community-serving players in the utility field. He added that he supports microgrids and the state effort to analyze the details of the power shutoffs in 2019 and how the territory of future shutoffs might be narrowed.

On the topic of water and its preservation and safety, Lieber said she favors more water recycling and restricting intensive uses of water.

Becker said his priorities are to reduce lead levels in water where children are exposed, require water metering across the state and figure out how to reduce water use in the agricultural sector.

Brownrigg said he supports returning water to rivers and aquifers.

Glew said he favors dams for water storage and hydroelectric power, more efficient systems for watering crops, and separating systems to use potable water only where it's needed.

Masur talked about recycled water systems, which have been developed in Redwood City, and said she supports infrastructure and technology to use more recycled water.

The candidates also tackled questions about how to make environmental protection and energy conservation efforts more tenable for lower-income residents, as well as how to better include people of color in discussions about the climate.

Glew asserted that only 29% of U.S. residents think the threat of climate change is a problem, so engaging in public outreach to make that number larger is a priority. One cost-effective way to be more energy efficient and use less heat is to install triple-paned windows, he added.

Becker talked about his past efforts in workforce development to promote green jobs.

Masur discussed how racism has in some ways kept people out of the environmental movement, and spoke of the importance of promoting leaders of color and her plans to hire a diverse staff if elected.

Brownrigg talked about the yellow jacket movement in France, a grassroots pushback to gas taxes, and the importance of understanding the needs of middle- and low-income earners.

Candidates also responded to several quick-round, yes-no questions. Should the high-speed rail project move forward? That got a no from everyone except Masur, who gave it a "maybe."

And: Should nuclear energy be part of California's future energy mix?

That earned a yes from Glew, Becker and Brownrigg and a no from Lieber and Masur.

And finally, each candidate was asked to talk about what personal attributes they would bring to the job to be effective.

Becker spoke of his ability to bring people together to solve major public problems and accelerate ideas into initiatives.

Brownrigg talked about his skills and ethics as a diplomat as well as his track record in moving projects forward in Burlingame that had been mired in lawsuits.

Lieber discussed her experiences in the state Assembly, and how she found success by being helpful to other Assembly members and building goodwill as a collaborator.

Masur talked about her experience and knowledge in the areas of public health and education, and how she's worked to build diverse coalitions. Glew brought up his education and his ability to listen and solve problems without having an ax to grind.

Related content:

Blog: Local pols debate climate by Sherry Listgarten

The full candidate forum was recorded on video by the Midpeninsula Media Center, which typically posts videos several days after the events it records. We'll post the link here when it's up.


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

Kate Bradshaw writes for The Almanac, the sister publication of

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13 people like this
Posted by Demand-side solutions anyone?
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 21, 2020 at 10:43 pm

Yawn. Wake me up when you find a politician willing to firmly grab that third rail that is the demand-side of the equation, rip that thing out of the ground, and throw it in the trash heap where it belongs. I’d like to see a single politician willing to offer up a comprehensive set of zero (or negative) population growth policies to enact at the local, regional, state, and national levels. That single change would address every one of these issues simultaneously.

Here are a couple of suggestions to kick things off:
1. Eliminate child tax credit or better yet invert it so those having no or fewer children get a tax credit
2. National net zero population growth standard. Total immigration capped such that when combined with the reproductive rate it results in a maximum of 0 national population increase (i.e. immigration allocation goes to zero when reproductive rate is >=2 per female and increases to up to that gap if <2).
3. Net zero combined commercial and office space development (i.e. to build new you must demolish equivalent space in terms of the number of employees that space supports - warehouse and office space are not equivalent in terms of employees/sqft).
4. Net zero housing development. Cap and trade housing, anyone?

And... fight!

18 people like this
Posted by Sensibility
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2020 at 11:50 pm

For me, their views on SB50 are a litmus test.

SB50 is a false trojan horse that isn't going to produce any of the promises.

For anyone to be concerned about drought but invite in wanton development while asking people to let their yards die to save water; for anyone to claim density will help climate change when it creates urban heat islands, increased danger of loss of life in forseeable emergencies, increased need to bring in resources from further and further away, and the congestion significantly increases pollution that we can SEE; for anyone to claim that it will bring housing prices down when we can see plain as day that further serving up the demand side and redevelopment increases prices and is bad for the environment (construction waste coming and going) and bad for low- and middle-income residents (especially people of color) --

anyone who supports SB50 is either misleading the public (like Adrian Fine) for their own selfish ends or is just an idiot who is easily led around by false utopian promises that serve no one but developers.

I don't want to see overdevelopment become to Democrats what religion became to Republicans: a way to lead the electorate around by the nose while they do exactly the opposite of what they claim to believe.

10 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2020 at 12:33 am

It is really hard to take these environmental hypocrites seriously when Dave Pine, and Party leaders like Nancy Pelosi, Jackie Speier, and Zoe Lofgren continue to push airport expansions in San Carlos, San Francisco, and San Jose.

San Francisco owned and operated SFO is the worst with plans to spend $587,000,000 building a giant steel and concrete seawall around the perimeter of SFO so the bay area's biggest polluter can continue to spew greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere even as sea levels rise and flood the airport.

"SFO to surround airport with 10-mile wall to protect against rising waters"
The Mercury News ~ October 10, 2019 Web Link

7 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2020 at 12:49 am


Good luck getting any of these politicians to do anything to limit population growth or immigration. Those people are all potential new home buyers and air travelers!

8 people like this
Posted by SB50 Litmus
a resident of University South
on Jan 22, 2020 at 1:10 am

I agree that SB50 is a litmus test (strange that the article doesn't mention it). Any candidate who doesn't support it isn't serious about climate change. Apartment bans next to multi-billion dollar investments in infrastructure isn't climate action. Exclusionary zoning isn't climate justice. Thanks Shelly Masur for making it easy for us!

Shelly also "gets it" on population growth. She supports women's access to education and reproductive healthcare!

3 people like this
Posted by Corporate Take-Over
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 22, 2020 at 1:15 am

Glew will make the top-two runoff as the lone Republican. He will then lose to a Democrat. So - which one? I received one mailer from the Oliva campaign and another for her from a realtor group. She is a realtor. Forget her. Masur says she supports SB 50. Bye-bye Masur. Other candidates - not counting no-show John Webster - claim to be against SB 50. But it will be signed into law before November 3. So then the issue will be just where to put high-density housing and what to do with the high tech corporations that want to expand where gorillas sleep: ANYWHERE THEY WANT.

9 people like this
Posted by Sensibility
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2020 at 12:36 pm

SB50 Litmus,

"Apartment bans next to multi-billion dollar investments in infrastructure isn't climate action."

You say things like this, but the reality is that SB50 enables developers like those who displaced all the residents of the President Hotel who were already in a tall apartment building, or the developer who almost got all the residents of BV evicted (who only departed when it became clear from referendum that they couldn't bust zoning right there).

The fact is that apartment dwellers have to get resources from further and further away, and they cannot in a crisis generate their own power right there, or grow their own food. People like you make assumptions based on what you want the answer to be, like claiming high rises are more efficient energywise when actual analysis of how people use them shows the opposite. Or claiming that building densely near transit will reduce energy use, when experience in places like Hong Kong shows otherwise -- in a place with the best transit on the planet, people still have commute times equal to those in greater Los Angeles because it's just not a realistic assumption that people can live near their jobs, or that living near transit will mean they don't use cars. In the NY area with their far better transit than ours, people use to transit to live further and further away so they can have single-family homes. There are still supercommuters because people want to live better for their means.

People can only claim SB50 is better for the environment if they lie or ignore reality. The fact is that anything we do can be better for the environment. The point is to focus on making whatever choice better, not on making blanket and deceptive pronouncements like you have.

SB50 is going to be the Democrats' undoing -- pushing for something that is demonstrably going to result in the opposite in order to enrich the wealthiest should remain a Republican M.O.

2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2020 at 1:10 pm

If I understand the positions of the candidates correctly, only Masur directly supports SB50. That probably disqualifies her. On top of that, Masur has been endorsed by Scott Wiener. Definitely disqualifies Masur.

Of the remaining candidates, Lieber appears to have pretty good environmental and climate change credentials. I have the feeling that she is too close to public employee unions, but, overall, pretty good on a broad number of issues. I would like confirmation that she can actually do budget arithmetic, and, is not sympathetic to office space developers. (Does such a candidate exist?). But, at this (still early) point, Lieber looks like the best candidate.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 23, 2020 at 11:56 am

Right now the City of Oakland is in a legal battle to keep coal trains out of the port system. That coal is being mined in Utah. The city of Richmond has some of the coal being shipped from their location. then they want to take an oil train through San Jose on it's way to Central California where it will be shipped out. Imagine an oil train going through San Jose and the busy residential area. Jerry Brown initiated this during his term. So Mr. Climate Change is in fact creating a climate mess.

Your next mess is allowing people to flood across the border when you do not have enough money to support the homeless people who are already here.

And don't forget the water issue - farm vs fish vs Southern California growing population. We have our hands full right here - solve our problems now.

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