News

Lisa Forssell: Seeing green

In Palo Alto City Council race, 7 candidates vie for 3 open seats

Lisa Forssell in Palo Alto on Sept. 14, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Check out Palo Alto Online's City Council Voter Guide for comparisons of all seven candidates' views on housing, rail crossings, sustainability and public safety.

Lisa Forssell sees a direct connection between rising rents, power outages and the cost of sandwiches and haircuts.

Forssell, a member of the city's Utilities Advisory Commission since 2016, has spent years advising the City Council on ways to make Palo Alto more sustainable, whether by moving people away from using natural gas and toward carbon-free electricity or by encouraging greater adoption of electric cars. She has also helped oversee the Utility Department's $300-million budget and has wrestled with the practical issue of making sure the city's utilities are operating smoothly.

One trend that she noticed as a commissioner is the increasing difficulty that Palo Alto has in attracting and retaining linespeople. Over her six years on the commission, Forssell said the utility went from being about 10 linespeople short to up to 20 short. There are also shortages in system operators and engineers.

"We have linespeople who commute from Central Valley and they commute 100 miles to get to Palo Alto," she said. "It's kind of hard when you have an emergency to call in that crew."

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The issue, like many others, is directly linked in her mind to the city's housing shortage. Palo Alto's lack of affordable housing also drives up other costs, including the price of haircuts and sandwiches. Businesses have a hard time finding workers because there's no housing for them in this region. Some shut down. Others raise prices.

"If they had enough staff and they were paying the staff enough to live actually close by, the sandwich could be $50 instead of $18," Forssell said. "I don't think I can make a $18 sandwich come down in price, but at least if I can keep it from turning into a $30 sandwich, then it's moving in the right direction."

'The polar ice caps are melting and not just Palo Alto but a much, much broader swath of society needs to be taking huge steps like this.'

-Lisa Forssell, candidate, City Council

To create more housing, Forssell supports higher density for infill developments downtown, near transit and along El Camino Real and San Antonio Road. She also wants to smooth out the process by creating "area plans" for neighborhoods that the city deems ripe for redevelopment. These plans would spell out the city's vision for housing, green space and transportation. The city would also "make it clear that proposals that meet the area plan will be approved," she wrote in response to a Palo Alto Neighborhoods questionnaire.

Forssell, who currently works as a producer in the design studio at Apple, is no stranger to technically complex and politically thorny issues. The Utilities Advisory Commission's work has only become more central in recent years as the pandemic forced people to rely ever more on high-speed internet and accelerated the council's discussions about expanding the municipal fiber network. At the same time, the council has begun to accelerate its stalled efforts to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2030, with 1990 as the baseline.

When Forssell applied for a second term on the commission, she cited the major challenge of balancing the competing priorities of keeping utilities safe and affordable while pursuing the city's sustainability goals. In her interview, she cited the statewide trend toward more renewable energy as a good reason for Palo Alto to move ahead with urging people to switch from natural gas usage to electricity.

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"While it's true that at this moment in time we can buy offsets for the gas and we can buy renewable energy credits on the electric side, which is how we neutralize the carbon footprint of the electric utility, long-term the electric grid is going to get cleaner and cleaner and more legitimately completely carbon neutral and renewable," Forssell told the council. "If we've changed our appliances to be electric, then we're along for the ride as the California grid gets really clean. Whereas if we're still burning natural gas, we're not able to participate in that transformation."

As the ranking utility expert in the seven-member field of City Council candidates, she wants to play a more active role in the balancing act of keeping utilities both clean and reliable. She told the Weekly that she had decided to run out of "a desire to instead of being advisory, to have a real vote on the real council."

"And to grow beyond the utilities issues, which run the gamut from keeping the lights on, keeping water running, very operational things, to aspirational policy around climate change," Forssell said.

She's made that pivot in her personal life as well. After graduating from Stanford University in 1995 with a degree in computer science, she spent 17 years at Pixar Animation Studios and held several managerial roles, including technical director (her credits include "Up," "Finding Nemo," "Toy Story 3" and "Cars").

In 2015, Forssell made the switch from working on animated cars to dealing with real ones. She returned to Stanford to earn a business degree and a master's degree in energy and environment. For a graduate school project, she consulted with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, where she gathered data pertaining to electric vehicles. The following year, the council appointed her to the Utilities Advisory Commission. In 2020, she won a second four-year term.

If elected, she would favor providing residents with financial incentives for adopting electric appliances such as heat pumps for space and water heating. She also would support requiring new housing developments to be all-electric and phasing out natural gas in commercial buildings, residential remodels and outdoor spaces, according to her response to a Weekly questionnaire.

She has no illusions about the difficulty of the task, particularly when it comes to convincing residents to give up their gas appliances. She said she would support these residents through provision of subsidies, on-bill financing and installation assistance.

"I totally get it, if people like their gas appliances or have just made significant investments in gas appliances," Forssell said. "It's just hard because the polar ice caps are melting and not just Palo Alto but a much, much broader swath of society needs to be taking huge steps like this."

Read the Palo Alto Weekly's endorsements in this race.

City Council candidate Lisa Forssell talks about her views in this endorsement interview with the Palo Alto Weekly.

Palo Alto City Council candidates' debate, Sept. 13, 2022

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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

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Lisa Forssell: Seeing green

In Palo Alto City Council race, 7 candidates vie for 3 open seats

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Sep 30, 2022, 8:45 am

Check out Palo Alto Online's City Council Voter Guide for comparisons of all seven candidates' views on housing, rail crossings, sustainability and public safety.

Lisa Forssell sees a direct connection between rising rents, power outages and the cost of sandwiches and haircuts.

Forssell, a member of the city's Utilities Advisory Commission since 2016, has spent years advising the City Council on ways to make Palo Alto more sustainable, whether by moving people away from using natural gas and toward carbon-free electricity or by encouraging greater adoption of electric cars. She has also helped oversee the Utility Department's $300-million budget and has wrestled with the practical issue of making sure the city's utilities are operating smoothly.

One trend that she noticed as a commissioner is the increasing difficulty that Palo Alto has in attracting and retaining linespeople. Over her six years on the commission, Forssell said the utility went from being about 10 linespeople short to up to 20 short. There are also shortages in system operators and engineers.

"We have linespeople who commute from Central Valley and they commute 100 miles to get to Palo Alto," she said. "It's kind of hard when you have an emergency to call in that crew."

The issue, like many others, is directly linked in her mind to the city's housing shortage. Palo Alto's lack of affordable housing also drives up other costs, including the price of haircuts and sandwiches. Businesses have a hard time finding workers because there's no housing for them in this region. Some shut down. Others raise prices.

"If they had enough staff and they were paying the staff enough to live actually close by, the sandwich could be $50 instead of $18," Forssell said. "I don't think I can make a $18 sandwich come down in price, but at least if I can keep it from turning into a $30 sandwich, then it's moving in the right direction."

To create more housing, Forssell supports higher density for infill developments downtown, near transit and along El Camino Real and San Antonio Road. She also wants to smooth out the process by creating "area plans" for neighborhoods that the city deems ripe for redevelopment. These plans would spell out the city's vision for housing, green space and transportation. The city would also "make it clear that proposals that meet the area plan will be approved," she wrote in response to a Palo Alto Neighborhoods questionnaire.

Forssell, who currently works as a producer in the design studio at Apple, is no stranger to technically complex and politically thorny issues. The Utilities Advisory Commission's work has only become more central in recent years as the pandemic forced people to rely ever more on high-speed internet and accelerated the council's discussions about expanding the municipal fiber network. At the same time, the council has begun to accelerate its stalled efforts to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2030, with 1990 as the baseline.

When Forssell applied for a second term on the commission, she cited the major challenge of balancing the competing priorities of keeping utilities safe and affordable while pursuing the city's sustainability goals. In her interview, she cited the statewide trend toward more renewable energy as a good reason for Palo Alto to move ahead with urging people to switch from natural gas usage to electricity.

"While it's true that at this moment in time we can buy offsets for the gas and we can buy renewable energy credits on the electric side, which is how we neutralize the carbon footprint of the electric utility, long-term the electric grid is going to get cleaner and cleaner and more legitimately completely carbon neutral and renewable," Forssell told the council. "If we've changed our appliances to be electric, then we're along for the ride as the California grid gets really clean. Whereas if we're still burning natural gas, we're not able to participate in that transformation."

As the ranking utility expert in the seven-member field of City Council candidates, she wants to play a more active role in the balancing act of keeping utilities both clean and reliable. She told the Weekly that she had decided to run out of "a desire to instead of being advisory, to have a real vote on the real council."

"And to grow beyond the utilities issues, which run the gamut from keeping the lights on, keeping water running, very operational things, to aspirational policy around climate change," Forssell said.

She's made that pivot in her personal life as well. After graduating from Stanford University in 1995 with a degree in computer science, she spent 17 years at Pixar Animation Studios and held several managerial roles, including technical director (her credits include "Up," "Finding Nemo," "Toy Story 3" and "Cars").

In 2015, Forssell made the switch from working on animated cars to dealing with real ones. She returned to Stanford to earn a business degree and a master's degree in energy and environment. For a graduate school project, she consulted with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, where she gathered data pertaining to electric vehicles. The following year, the council appointed her to the Utilities Advisory Commission. In 2020, she won a second four-year term.

If elected, she would favor providing residents with financial incentives for adopting electric appliances such as heat pumps for space and water heating. She also would support requiring new housing developments to be all-electric and phasing out natural gas in commercial buildings, residential remodels and outdoor spaces, according to her response to a Weekly questionnaire.

She has no illusions about the difficulty of the task, particularly when it comes to convincing residents to give up their gas appliances. She said she would support these residents through provision of subsidies, on-bill financing and installation assistance.

"I totally get it, if people like their gas appliances or have just made significant investments in gas appliances," Forssell said. "It's just hard because the polar ice caps are melting and not just Palo Alto but a much, much broader swath of society needs to be taking huge steps like this."

Read the Palo Alto Weekly's endorsements in this race.

Comments

Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 1, 2022 at 8:23 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 1, 2022 at 8:23 pm

Amazing candidate! Proven track record. She will bring needed balance and sound decision making for out city. Get out the vote for Lisa Forssell!


Anon123456
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 1, 2022 at 9:40 pm
Anon123456, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 1, 2022 at 9:40 pm

Of all the candidates, I believe Lisa is the only one with prior city governance experience and is pro-housing and anti-NIMBYism. She has the experience, the drive & passion, and the leadership skills to finally get things done in our city!


Reid
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 2, 2022 at 7:15 am
Reid, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2022 at 7:15 am

Lisa sees the connection between the cost of housing and the cost of local goods and services clearly. If you are concerned about the rising cost of living, inflation, and keeping the lights on, vote for Lisa.

Also, on-bill financing of electrification is a great idea. The city borrows at a much lower interest rate than consumers, especially low income consumers, and we should leverage that. Electrification should not be about asking regular folks to go into debt by taking out a HELOC at 7%.


SR
Registered user
Community Center
on Oct 2, 2022 at 8:57 am
SR, Community Center
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2022 at 8:57 am

Lisa joined the UAC in 2016. Since then, electric rates have ballooned by more than 30%. Water rates have continued their steady climb.

The green vision is great, but we need a ballpark time frame and cost. Utility upgrades for EVs and all-electric homes will take at least a decade and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. They will compel more upgrades for reliability, including storage and more transmission, All this will substantially increase rates. City of Palo Alto Utility is a lot of things, but innovative and fast are not in their DNA.

As an advisor it’s fine to be vague on the details. As a decision-maker it’s important to understand what can and can’t be done.


resident3
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2022 at 9:29 am
resident3, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2022 at 9:29 am

@Reid

"Lisa sees the connection between the cost of housing and the cost of local goods and services clearly. If you are concerned about the rising cost of living, inflation, and keeping the lights on, vote for Lisa."

There is no connection between the cost of housing in Palo Alto and inflation, or let's just say they are two very different problems. Ms. Forsell is not an economist, the article states "she spent 17 years at Pixar Animation Studios and held several managerial roles, including technical director (her credits include "Up," "Finding Nemo," "Toy Story 3" and "Cars")."

What scares me is that Ms Forsell was chosen to oversee the Utilities $300 million budget. She was not qualified. Unless she applied and was selected because of the fiber non-need. Ms Forsell mentions *pandemic* needs for high-speed internet, internet speed was not the problem during the pandemic and still isn't.

Sad, raiding Palo Alto to advance corporate politics and melding all the rest, housing, inflation, saving the planet, world hunger seems to be a sport at this point, and really people don't see through it? You wouldn't hire a car mechanic to sew a dress but wow, we seem to be really creative.


resident3
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2022 at 10:08 am
resident3, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2022 at 10:08 am

[Post removed; successive comments by same poster are not permitted.]


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 2, 2022 at 11:56 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2022 at 11:56 am

Another article profiled her as having a VC vc fund investing in clean energy and the environment etc.

That sure sounds like conflict of interest to me.

As a mere consumer of the CPAU monopoly, I'm tired of them overcharging us $20,000,000 each and every year, using OUR money to stall on paying us our court-ordered settlement for overcharging us, stalling for ano0ther 3 years in paying that refund unless we're over 65 or in ill health.

For many years CPAU's outage reporting system has been absolutely horrible. Not only do they not know how long the outage will last, its cause, often they don't even know where it's occurred.

Did the candidate respond to the recent Diana Diamond recent blog on the NON-answers to her questions about whether CPAU is ready for increased demand for eectrical grid? Did she pressure CPAU to start providing ANSWERS rather than non-answers?

Has she ever gotten panicky phone calls from friends caring for their 98-yr-old mother whose stair lift is out and who's now stuck downstairs wrapped in blanks wondering when/if power will be restored?

Has she ever dealt with CPAU staff that does NOT refer customers to the excellent County Water Wise program because they've never been told about it? Has she ever dealt with a CPAU staffer who sends out emails under different names on different days of the week?

Why are WE still paying staffers like this? What's her plan to get us refunds during increasing power outages and to cover US for spoiled foods which are worth LOTS more than $18 sandwiches! What's she doing to get us interest payments for the long delays in paying us our refunds? They should at least be comparable to our late payment fees available in her budget!

What's her plan for undergrounding wires so every7 balloon and bird doesn't cause outages? For upgrading the electrical grid??

Those are the questions I as a voter wants answered.


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