Here's a well-kept secret: Palo Alto residents bathe their neighborhoods in air pollution. And they pay money to have it done. The dirty deed is done weekly by their gardener. In just 30 minutes, the gasoline-powered leaf blower produces as much greenhouse gas as does driving a Ford Raptor truck to Alaska.
California has the world's toughest vehicle-emission regulations, enforced by annual Department of Motor Vehicles smog checks. As a result, automobile engines today emit only a trace of pollutants. In contrast, the gasoline leaf blower escapes these regulations.
The respected website edmunds.com pitted leaf blowers against automobiles (www.edmunds.com, search for "Emissions Test: Car vs. Truck vs. Leaf Blower") and measured several gases (carbon monoxide, non-methane hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen). The tests were conducted by the AAA research laboratory. The results are in: One half-hour of the tiny gasoline-powered blower spews out as much pollution as if you drove a truck to Alaska.
The Palo Alto ordinance mandating that leaf blowers be electric is widely ignored, and it excuses commercial property anyway, so you'll see gasoline blowers in use outside restaurants, offices, schools and hospitals. What ever happened to rakes?
The only way this will stop at your home is if you enclose a two-sentence note in the monthly payment sent to your gardener: "At our home please use an electric leaf blower or a rake. If you cannot, then I must find a new gardener."
The problem stems from lack of awareness. You can change that.
Glenn D. Rennels
Harriet Street, Palo Alto
As my community recovers from the recent suicides, the Palo Alto Unified School District has begun to pursue programs that promote teen mental health. The strategies discussed in the district range from traditional talk therapy and family-wellness programs to walk-in yoga sessions facilitated by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Although I commend the district for its immediate response to the recent events, I believe long-term solutions to today's teen mental health issues aren't going to be found in traditional therapy or new-age yoga lessons. Our community should tackle teen depression at its source, by providing at-risk youth with alternative spaces (outside of school and away from home) that provide opportunities for us to recuperate from the pressures we confront on a daily basis and serve as creative outlets for stress in ways that breathing and stretching cannot.
As a student, founder and longtime user of MakeX, a student-run, public makerspace in Palo Alto, I've experienced the profound relief of having a space not only to relax in but to train my mind on projects that are not school-related. Because MakeX provides educational tools and resources (lasercutter, 3-D printer, design software, etc.), visitors naturally gravitate towards hands-on, creative projects when they visit our space. The amazing focus and incredible calm that settles over a person who is deeply involved in creating something is an incredible thing to watch unfold and an amazing antidote to stress.
While traditional therapy may be effective when individuals muster up the courage to seek assistance, casual environments like MakeX that provide shelter from stress are comparably therapeutic, easily accessible and don't carry the stigma of "getting help." I hope Palo Alto continues to fund similar student-run spaces in the future.
Bryant Street, Palo Alto
All a little nuts
The recent news that San Mateo, like Palo Alto, is hospitalizing large numbers of teens with suicidal thoughts is surely as troubling as reassuring.
What qualifies as "suicidal thoughts" in this context? Aren't they somewhat common to the normal anguish of adolescence? What about our students' pained, macabre jokes these days to friends ("I've got so many tests tomorrow I might as well kill myself")?
Who among us is competent to select for a mental health "watch list"? What are the criteria? Might a substitute teacher, noticing a girl with her head down, notify a vice principal out of simple uneasiness? Might the girl's fear or resentment, then, under official questioning be misread as "dark thoughts"?
We need to be careful. The Weekly's May 22 article on teen hospitalization told the story of a girl frightened out of her wits by the ambulance ride but also the story of a girl who enjoyed her time on the psych ward because it was so much happier than her school!
We have trouble "de-stigmatizing" mental illness because the concept itself is a stigma. Aren't we all a little nuts? We see only part of reality; we engage in wishful or magical thinking; we wildly misperceive ourselves.
Mark Twain said: "Let us consider that we are all partially insane. It will explain us to each other; it will unriddle many riddles." And "mentally ill" is always a relative concept — slave-owners slapped the diagnosis on their runaways.
To be shadowed by a "watch list" for having "suicidal thoughts" is precisely a reason for a high schooler to want to keep his mouth shut about what he's feeling.
A saner approach would be to change some of the school conditions that, both for teachers and students, too much feel like slavery.
For proposals for such change, see savethe2008.com.
Los Robles Avenue, Palo Alto
Your June 12 article "Flooded with red tape," about obtaining flood insurance, was only part of the story. When the disaster comes, will the insurance company pay? A story on 60 Minutes on June 7 investigated how victims of Hurricane Sandy were twice victimized when the insurance companies associated with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) failed to pay for severe damage. An adjuster came in each of these cases and noted that the homes, some of which were swept off their foundations, suffered "severe structural damage." Later, in the office, this was modified to "no structural damage," and the settlement was pitifully inadequate. Unethical companies that FEMA contracted with were not interested in healing homeowners' lives or speeding communities' recovery from disaster, but profits, period.
Government ought not require homeowners to participate in a scheme to defraud themselves. Any person exempt from the requirement and who knows about this scandal will drop their insurance, shrinking the risk pool, making it harder for insurance to protect everyone against flood losses. I foresee disillusionment with FEMA's ability to manage disasters and a further erosion of trust in government.
An extra-large El Niño event is predicted for next year, possibly causing flooding. As a homeowner who almost got flooded in 1998 and anticipating the next one, I take this quite personally. I hope others will join me to complain to Congress and the Office of Inspector General at Department of Homeland Security, 245 Murray Lane SW, Mail Stop 0305, Washington, D.C. 20528-0305, or [email protected] You can also sign my petition here: petitions.moveon.org (search for "FEMA flood insurance fraudsters").
Moreno Avenue, Palo Alto
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