Guest Opinion: Vote no on Measure E | October 7, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - October 7, 2011

Guest Opinion: Vote no on Measure E

Save Byxbee Park for future generations

by Enid Pearson

Parks are the most valuable and vulnerable lands anywhere. Park dedication protects parkland from government and developer confiscation. It saves parklands for recreational use. Measure E undedicates ten prime acres (eight football fields) of Byxbee Park to construct a huge anaerobic digester (AD). We should not undedicate park land for some unknown future use like "option holding." If we do the public then has no control over what may be built there at the park entrance. Once undedicated, these 10 acres are gone forever.

Parks are Palo Alto's most valuable assets. The Baylands Park was dedicated in 1965. It included a small landfill expected to close in 1968. Palo Alto continued to fill wetlands, illegally, and then got approval. The state Lands Commission claimed these filled wetlands. Palo Alto agreed to lease them from the state, promising that when the landfill was completed, the area would become a park. That promise must be kept.

Our Baylands are an unprecedented asset. Right now, within 15 minutes of our frantic urban lives, we can be in a calm, serene park that renews and enhances our lives. Even our weather is modified positively by the Baylands. With the closing of the landfill, Palo Altans have the gift of a lifetime — 126 acres of sculpted hills with miles of trails, rest areas, and unbelievable views. Don't let a big intrusive factory ruin this.

People are rightfully frightened by climate change and are searching for ways to reduce our impact. It's difficult to understand that we can have a big impact by saving and protecting open space, parks and undeveloped lands. It is easy to get seduced into false solutions. "Climate Change" is shamelessly being misapplied to sell us a waste processing factory in our Baylands Park, the same way high-speed rail was used to sell us "low cost" transportation. Like high-speed rail, this proposed project will have unforeseen environmental impacts and escalated costs.

Measure E is loaded with misleading information. We can't afford it. It's too expensive. The consultant ARI's feasibility study gives some insight. Dry anaerobic digestion costs from $111 million to $268 million, whereas our current regional plan would cost $77 million to $94 million. Our Refuse Enterprise Fund is in debt $24 million. Add the AD costs and refuse rates will continue to escalate along with the rest of our utility rates.

The proposed dry AD technology is experimental, risky and costly. In May 2009 and March 2011, an AD vendor, Harvest Power, said Palo Alto would be better off sending yard trimmings to an existing composter and that the proposed dry AD could handle only a portion of our sewage sludge, but not all. Dry AD has not been used anywhere in the world for sewage sludge. Proponents' economics ask us to take a costly risk to be the guinea pig for an experimental technology and to subsidize it with free park land.

Greenhouse gas savings are exaggerated. All the cases studied generate greenhouse gases. The differences are minimal, with one regional case saving 1,134 tons of CO2 a year over AD cases.

Truck trips are vastly exaggerated. Destroying our park for this is a travesty. The Compost Task Force found transportation green house gas emissions a minor issue. Our waste hauler will take yard trimmings six miles to our regional SMaRT station in Sunnyvale. Food scraps go 12 miles to San Jose. Less than three trucks a day would go from SMaRT to Gilroy.

Claims of AD profits to develop the park are false. California Proposition 218 allows only the actual cost of services — not park improvements — to be charged to rate payers.

Environmental issues have not been reviewed. To use this site, over 3.5 million cubic feet of old garbage would have to be dug up and spread on our remaining park, emitting huge quantities of methane, and incurring unknown costs. It would delay opening the remainder of our park for years. Noise, odor, dust, and truck traffic will have huge impacts on park users. Experts warn that food waste and sludge are notoriously stinky and require a 1,000 foot buffer that would engulf all of Byxbee Park, making the entire Park inhospitable for recreational use. These nuisances cannot be contained.

We already have an approved cost effective regional solution. We don't need to destroy our park. Since 1992, over 84 percent of our refuse has been processed regionally. That will continue. Less than 16 percent of our waste will be processed by this proposal. Our own waste hauler is building a regional food waste processing facility just 12 miles away. Why spend scarce public funds and sacrifice park land for a redundant facility?

Vote NO on Measure E! Save Byxbee Park for Future Generations.

Enid Pearson is co-chair of the Save the Baylands Committee, NO on E. She was a member of the Palo Alto City Council from 1965 to 1975 and was honored for spearheading the park dedication initiative at the Enid W. Pearson Arastradero Preserve.


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Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 7, 2011 at 10:07 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

As your read the above statements, keep in mind a few points.

- First, voting Yes on Measure E will not cause any money to be spent. The economics are projections, and no spending is authorized by the vote. Voting Yes on E permits use of the land, with wise financial choices to follow with the decisions made by our council.

- Second, had the community known, we would never have allowed our existing composting and drop off recycling to be closed by this park dedication. The dedication in the 1960s forced the closure this year of these two valuable services. While it may have been altruistic in the 1960s, the decision is felt today with lost of two great services. We would not have had this initiative, or vote, if the Council had the foresight to allow enough land for necessary infrastructure. Basically the vote corrects a an old Council decision that lacked proper foresight.

- Third, this is NOT A FACTORY that would be built. The Measure authorizes no construction. It is a nice campaign word for the opponents, but this on the land would likely be an enclosed composting system. No one ever called our sewage plant a factory. In fact the digestion system would be tidier than the current composting. The only factory-like part of Palo Alto could disappear by closing the sludge incinerator and its smoke stack.

I am energized by the forward looking Palo Altans supporting Measure E. This includes interest among our youth who will be in charge of the future. We are all respectful of parks, but the city has a history of adjusting park boundaries when compelling community issues force this. The City has a history of building pioneering programs in sustainability.

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Posted by small government is better
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Keep in mind that if yes wins the whole new building would require to hire dozens of city Employees to run it. I do not want to pay for more city employees. I am voting NO.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2011 at 1:38 pm

This makes a lot more sense to me than the pro-E editorial. That one has a lot of spin - I feel like I'm being sold a bill of goods.

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Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

If you are confused by "spin", then the simplest way to evaluate your vote is to read the initiative. There is quite a bit of "spin" in the above editorial.

The Initiative's enactments begin at Section 2. It is a short and simple.

Web Link

You will find that Measure D causes:
- No buildings to be built
- No spending to be enacted
- No noise or stick to be created

The Initiative only permits the use of the land for a biological conversion facility. If the project does not get built within 10 years, the land reverts back to park. Of course, I am confident that the City in the future will validate that this project makes sense economically, but again, the Initiative does not result in any outcome rather than allowing use the land toward a biologic conversion facility.

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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm

"You will find that Measure D causes:"
Maybe you mean Measure E

"- No spending to be enacted"
Except for the $300K for this election. Start worrying when people claim that there is no money being spent when there is.

"If the project does not get built within 10 years, the land reverts back to park"
Where does it say that

Vote No on E

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I find that the pro-Measure E cost-benefits analysis to be inflated for the following reasons:

1) Prior city actions has changed the building codes to reduce water consumption, which heavily affects the landscaping choices that owners can have in the future, which amounts to alot less compost per homeowner. Does anyone recall what's happen in the last few years as homeowners has recycled more, and how that made our utilities bills go higher because of the "fixed costs" built into the utility operation? I feel that establishing a big composting facility driving the fixed costs higher, while we all are doing more & more to reduce our composting needs.

2) Through incentives, the city could encourage each homeowner to do their own composting, reducing the composting even more.

3) More could be done to distribute the composting throughout the city at the parks, the community gardens, etc.

All of the above would reduce the amount of compost being transported in the scenario of keeping the land as a park; it would also reduce the amount of "power" generated if a compost facility were built.

The analysis by the pro-Measure E doesn't factor these alternatives in, and I'm afraid this big facility will just be another big fixed cost that ends up driving our utility bills even higher.

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Posted by Alex DiGiorgio
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Ms. Pearson's heart is clearly in the right place. Sadly, however, her assertions about the cost and risks of Measure E are unfounded.

The greatest threats to our parklands, environment, public health and financial future are exacerbated by preserving the status quo: trucking our waste to other communities, and incinerating our sewage at the cost of millions of dollars a year.

How we can expect other cities, states, and countries to implement sustainable, self-reliant energy and natural resource policies if we are not willing to do so ourselves?

Many Palo Altans want to move beyond the status quo--and they too care deeply about parklands, the environment, and fiscal responsibility.

In addition to the thousands of Palo Altans who acted to put Measure E on the ballot, the following organizations have endorsed the 'YES on E' Campaign:

• Santa Clara County Democratic Party

• Green Party of Santa Clara County

• Peninsula Democratic Coalition

• Dean Democratic Club of Silicon Valley

• Silicon Valley Action Network

• Acterra

• Clean Coalition

• American Muslim Voice Foundation

• Students for a Sustainable Stanford

• The Climate Foundation

Measure E is the first step toward a more sustainable Palo Alto. The trade off is 10 acres of the dump adjacent to the regional sewage treatment plant for the opportunity to become a more self-reliant and ecologically responsible community.

Please join the above organizations, and thousands of your fellow Palo Altans by voting YES on Measure E.

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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm

"Sadly, however, her assertions about the cost and risks of Measure E are unfounded."

Really, Alex? How are they unfounded? What exactly is she saying that is untrue???
AS others pointed out this is another HSR-style boondoggle in the making.
Why are we letting out of town agitators tell us how to spend our money? Why are we even having this election now?
Money is no object to people like Alex and Peter.
Vote no on E.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm

The No on E campaign says: "Dont do anything, any time, anywhere to mess with our parks, regardless of the costs, financial or environmental!" That seems pretty extreme to me. When I read the Yes on E ballot initiative, I'm impressed by its foresight and balance, clearly crafted by reasonable people encouraging the City to explore sensible options for an important part of our utility infrastructure. I guess I'll be voting Yes on E.

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Posted by Karl Rove
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 7, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Be afraid!

If Measure E passes, subsequent feasibility studies and environmental review may reveal that a compost & renewable energy facility will profoundly reduce Palo Alto's energy expenses, waste disposal costs, and greenhouse gas emissions!

Opponents of Measure E are absolutely right--Palo Alto ratepayers should continue spending million$ a year to chauffeur their coffee filters, banana peels and grass clippings to neighboring communities. Oh, and of course the toxic ash from the sewage incinerator should get a publicaly subsidized one-way ticket to Kettleman City. Now THAT is smart fiscal policy (trust me, I know about all about smart fiscal policy).

Don't worry, diesel fuel prices won't go up in the future, and neither will conventional energy costs. And I'm sure the communities who accept your trash won't raise the prices once they realize Palo Alto has no other alternative.

The best long term plan for Palo Alto is to import its energy and export its waste. Energy independence and local self-reliance are far too risky to even consider.

Be afraid of Measure just might lead to energy security, a cleaner environment, and a waste budget that produces something other than pollution!

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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Karl Rove,

That's a funny post! I agree that we should not be exporting our trash to other communities. However, anaerobic digestion (AD) is a lousy solution. AD is inefficient, requires a very large industrial footprint, produces a 'compost' that is derived from human sewage sludge...that many organic gardeners/farmers are rejecting, and does almost nothing to deal with the toxics inputs. It is also unproven for dealing with sewage sludge. Other than that it is a good idea!

There is a solution to all these problems. It is called plasma arc, and I have discussed it in detail before, on this site. Are you afraid of plasma arc, Karl?

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Posted by No on E
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2011 at 10:55 am

I'm voting "NO" on measure E because I don't want to pay for a wet anarobic digester to be built and I certainly don't want the fees on my utility bill to go way up when we start operating it. If you don't want staggering increases in City taxes or utility bill vote "NO".

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Posted by Environmentalist
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 8, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Of the local environmental organizations that have taken a position on E, the MAJORITY OPPOSE Measure E! Measure E is NOT good for the Earth. Sadly, the Democratic Clubs that endorsed E did not even bother to hear from the opposition before they made their decisions - not very "democrat"ic. I am an environmentalist and a Democrat - and strongly oppose E.

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