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As Palo Alto lags on climate change goals, residents urge bold action

Original post made on Dec 14, 2021

Five years after Palo Alto adopted a goal of cutting emissions by 80% by 2030, the city continues to lag well behind its target. Eager for progress on building electrification, city officials are looking at Ithaca for inspiration.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, December 14, 2021, 12:16 PM

Comments (30)

Posted by d page
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2021 at 1:50 pm

d page is a registered user.

In 2005(?) Palo Alto convened a "green ribbon" panel with various local leaders. They came up with an extensive and well thought-out document on this same (pollution-related) topic. There's no need for more commissions or committees; simply dig up the panel's recommendations - and then IMPLEMENT them.

I agree with Ms. Chamberlain, and have repeatedly urged the council and our utility to do this: send out an explanation of how Palo Altans create pollution via the utility bill inserts (as well as online). A household pollution-footprint calculator already exists at a website sponsored by California Air Resource Board -

If you want further information, consult the Palo Alto Weekly's wonderful blogger Sherry Listgarten.

David Page

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2021 at 4:10 pm

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Let me count the ways how Net 80/30 is off grid to success:
2017, 71 unit Mayfield Place's warm water flats are a safety risk for renters/families: It's a very very low-income, limited space for the poor. Its amenities are so lacking that where every stakeholder won (Stanford, City of Palo Alto, Related California, Baker and Associates, Klaus Lifts), except where the tenants lose every day of their lives and lifting themselves up and out is absorbed with trying to keep the paint on the walls.
--Electric stoves are so cheap they are failing, fire hazards
--Refrigerators are breaking down -- literally the plastic is breaking down -- cracking, glass interior shelves fall out of frames
--The exterior fire exit doors are made of heavy iron. kids younger than 10 can't push them open during an emergency.
--Solar panels cells don't jive with the boilers, water never get above 80 when its 30 degrees outside
--The electric car robot breaks down often and goes off grid when power is down (emergency power shut offs)
--Fob keyless entry to the building goes down when the grid goes down -- total safety risk for kids and families
--Electric wall outlets pull so much Ac/Dc appliance cords quickly get stiff and brittle
--The fiberglass bathtubs are so narrow and slippery -- installed so wheelchairs can spin around 380 degrees -- anyone over two hundred pounds can't climb in or out the tub.
--Stairwells so drenched, slippery and pooling water everywhere, no one can use them in a semi strong storm, let alone a disabled abilities person trying get to their apartment when the elevator is stalled because of power outages
Mayfield Place is not safely built for kids to grow up or for other living families either.
So as far as going all out electric... Take more care next time when agreeing to swap soccer fields for housing . . .

Posted by TimR
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 14, 2021 at 5:16 pm

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As we all should know by now, especially here in CA, switching to electricity does not mean "decarbonization."

Posted by Hinrich
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2021 at 6:08 pm

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Palo Alto reaching all of it’s goals would have ZERO impact on global warming. China could impact global warming, Palo Alto eco-activists cannot. Palo Alto has so many urgent things worthy of local government’s focus - global warming is a waste of time.

Posted by Eeyore (formerly StarSpring)
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 14, 2021 at 7:46 pm

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And if the Thwaites Glacier fractures in the next three to five years, as a recent paper suggests, most of Palo Alto will flood.

Palo Alto would be at the forefront of collecting scrap metal for the WWII war effort, to similar effect. Perhaps they were? That would be ironic.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I am a widely read technologist, and it surely looks like the planet is facing an existential threat while we are busy shutting down Diablo Canyon to save (until the planet dies) a few acres of clams, removing subsidies for solar panels, and complaining about the noise heat pumps make.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 14, 2021 at 9:42 pm

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@Eeyore, fortunately for us, any flooding of Palo Alto would not happen for many hundreds to thousands of years -- it's a very slow process. For me, it's sort of like Romans worrying about the effects of the Americas and Old World learning about each other's existence a thousand years in the future -- significant in the end, but meaningless for the next 500 years at least.

It's always amusing to me that the first impulse of (entitled?) city leaders is to take an all-expenses-paid carbon-spewing airplane junket to somewhere else to "learn" things that others find out using Zoom and internet research:
"Larry Klein, ... urged the council to "act boldly" and to send city officials to Ithaca to learn more about the program."

Burt notes that Palo Alto's 80x30 goal was seen as "aspirational" 5 years ago; I think the current lack of progress and lack of even a path to achieving it is clear evidence that it remains aspirational and will likely do so until we miss the target in 2030. I'm reminded of Seattle's infamous 10-year plan to end homelessness that ended in 2015 with even more homeless than when it began in 2005!

Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2021 at 9:58 pm

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Our needs for climate action as well as focus on water resources is urgent. I have critiqued without much impact the current organizational and project management design to our SCAP implementation. The criticism is that a small leadership team holds meetings, and ostensibly generates community presentations, and ultimately is listening to themselves. Any community engagement is bound by the three minute rule which ultimately leads to the only input coming from staff and consultants. The current model concentrates implementation across a few city staff, and has not enabled the impact we need now. I anticipate another year of the same, and we will fall way short of our goals.

A shift needs to occur to a working model - a new model has the community working, business working and city staff working. The City needs to facilitate, not perform, the steps of climate action. I urge approaches that decentralize and empower community and business members, rather than holding these same members just as attendees of bi-weekly calls.

One might say, what can the community do? Community members and associated business should be tasked with different elements of the SCAP. The community members and associated businesses should be granted some budget to enact their program. These members can report back to staff, and coordinate with staff. We should explore tools like Jira or Slack for those at work to create effective community teams. Silicon Valley made these collaboration tools, let's use them to address climate change.

Addressing climate change is as much an organizational engineering as technical and policy considerations. Staff and council should take bold steps on new organizational and community collaboration approaches to broaden and enable the parties at work. Many in our community are all ready to work and serve, we just seek meaningful engagement which seems missing now from the process.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 14, 2021 at 10:03 pm

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@Bob Re:"Addressing climate change is as much an organizational engineering as technical and policy considerations. "

Sure, but isn't the underlying issue money? I don't see our household making any changes to our gas forced air and water heating, nor our gasoline-powered lowish-MPG cars, while the marginal costs of continuing to use these already-paid-for systems remains low.

Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Dec 15, 2021 at 12:23 am

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Why does Palo Alto have to be on the bleeding edge? As guinea pigs for the rest of the country, we will be spending our money to show everybody else what doesn't work.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2021 at 8:33 am

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Exactly. Not everyone in PA is rich. Nearly 20 years ago, we replaced our cars from an inheritance. Demand (and $$) for the relatively new Toyota Prius was high so we ended up with shockingly low mileage cars for almost the ensuing two decades. We need to replace a car but can’t afford a hybrid that meets our needs. One exists but cost difference is more than we can absorb. Rebates don’t make up the difference and seem confusing/uncertain, frankly. Ditto on replacing our furnace system with electric around then, so we have gas.

I’ve lived in solar homes much of my life but we not only can’t afford solar now, even if we could, it would take a really strong guarantee and referrals I could trust to be willing to risk a poor installation job (based on past nightmares).

I’m just being honest if anyone cares about what keeps a family who really wants badly to switch over to switch. We had an energy audit with Acterra who found almost nothing we could improve on without major outlay. We eat a plant-based diet, don’t waste much food, but big steps we could take are out of reach; when we have to make decisions about purchases, it means another 20 years.

I can’t help editorializing here: we would have had the funds/made other choices, in fact, be on the order of 8figures wealthier/wealthy, if as ordinary Americans we could have realistically enforced contracts such as health & fire&casualty(disaster) insurance, rather than predatory economics having free rein. Plutocracy has had far-reaching impacts on our society (as have one political party’s M.O. of lying for plutocracy). Look at Pew Research “income inequality” and see how income&wealth funneled up over the last 40 years. Millions of middle class & poor have far fewer resources than they would have under different laws/policies. So investments come from/mainly benefit the wealthiest. Why help MC families afford hybrid cars when you can invest in putting people out of work with robots?

Posted by BobH
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 15, 2021 at 8:58 am

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It seems to me that the city of Palo Alto needs to lead by example here. I can think of a lot of things the city could be doing that it has control over. For example:

- All city vehicles are electric
- Solar on all city buildings
- Install electric car chargers on all public parking spots (garages, streets, etc.)
- Streamline the permitting process for solar installation and electric car chargers.
- Reports on the how green the city government is? Include administrative, utilities, police, etc.

I just looked at the web pages for the cities new Public Safety building, I don't see any solar on the roof. Is this new building all electric? Is the city doing what it wants everyone else to do?

If by some magic, all buildings switched to electric (that is, no gas), and all cars were replaced with electric cars, will the city power grid be able to support it? Is there a plan to upgrade the local power grid? Why not?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 15, 2021 at 10:00 am

Online Name is a registered user.

If the city wanted ti lead by exanple, it might think about getting its act together and learning what is and is not happening here. PAU sends out messages trumpeting the new Fiber-to-The-Home project and telling us to watch for workmen checking the poles and wires.

HELLO!! What about those of us with underground wiring that's been there for a few decades?? I've written to ask about that and gotten no response.

It's laughable. Almost as funny as their $20,000,000 ANNUAL utility "over-charges" that were found to be illegal.

Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 15, 2021 at 10:36 am

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Hinrich and chris have it exactly right. Nothing Palo Alto does on its own will have an affect on climate/global warming. Nothing. What a waste of taxpayer money. Unless, of course we build a dome around the city and totally control the environment for those living here (sarcasm intended).

Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2021 at 11:09 am

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Being a leader in decarbonization shows other what is possible. Folks need to be practical about mitigation which means unfortunately, nuclear power is necessary in the short-term and should probably be expanded.

Posted by KOhlson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 15, 2021 at 11:25 am

KOhlson is a registered user.

Palo Alto seems an ideal situation for action, which for me is all the more reason it's frustrating to see essentially no progress. Consider all the city-owned land that is free from solar panels, and that this cost-effective electrical has the infrastructure and capabilities using it right here - city utilities. The city also has the financial means, with the ability to float muni bonds backed by the utility.
If the city has a 3:1 jobs:housing imbalance, workers who used to buy gas to get to their jobs here will want to use (daylight) electricity to top up their EVs. This is completely and wholly new demand.
PA's residential rooftop solar initiative is a non-starter. SunShares has installed 100 rooftops in 5 years.
The city should be lobbying hard *against* NEM-3.
Anything else is just posturing.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 15, 2021 at 11:31 am

Richard is a registered user.

Reducing carbon footprint is an admirable goal, but the idea that Palo Alto can make a difference is laughable in the face of China, India, Russia and other nations not making major changes. Also, a fair amount of electricity is generated using carbon fuels. Also, as some have pointed out, not everyone can afford wholesale upgrades to solar, new cars, replacing appliances etc. So in the name of moral posturing Palo Alto forges ahead tilting at wind mills. Let me know how much Berkeley and Menlo Park reduce the climates warming with their newly adopted policies before Palo Alto indulges its holier than thou fantasy

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 15, 2021 at 11:36 am

Online Name is a registered user.

If the city really cared about solar, it wouldn't have let that solar permitting employee alienate so many solar energy companies that they refused to work here and that cost residents tens of thousands of dollars when their contractors pulled out.

It was only after Palo Alto Weekly did its in-depth expose of how she alienated the contractors until refused to work in PA, leaving residents with huge bills and incomplete projects.

How did the city belatedly respond? It said it was going to double-team employees so they could learn from each other! Pay no attention to the doubled cost of permitting.

Did they say anything about making the residents whole for out-of-pocket costs? Of course not.

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 15, 2021 at 2:09 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

This is what happens when politically, economically, and technically ignorant, well-meaning people set totally arbitrary goals only to have to revise, and re-revise them in the future. And of course, they never admit that they were ignorant and wrong. They only blame someone else, like maybe the permitting process, a favorite bugaboo of such people. Let's face it. Most people strongly resist changing what works very well for them, especially when it is more complex and unreliable than what they already have, and ESPECIALLY when they're forced to pay for it out of their family and business budgets. Welcome to the REAL world. The road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions.

And TimR is absolutely right. "Electrification" does NOT mean "decarbonization". Nor will it mean anything remotely close to that anywhere in the near future. It will take decades and huge amounts of money and capital intense construction to replace carbon emissions with carbon-neutral alternatives.

Posted by Since_1978
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2021 at 4:01 pm

Since_1978 is a registered user.

Any "decarbonization" - particularly with taxpayer dollars - should be weighed against current carbon offset prices. If a project has a present value greater than $20 per tonne of CO2 emitted, it should be abandoned.

The big and obvious decarbonization payoff for Palo Alto would be to increase its housing density tenfold or more so people can afford to move out of Buffalo and Minneapolis and other necessarily high-CO2 locations to our favorable climate. People living in highrises use less energy for heating, less water for landscaping. Turn Palo Alto into Manhattan if you're serious about decarbonization.

Of course, all of this is insane. Assuming that estimated forcing factors are right, there will be no measurable effect on global temperatures within a century even if the US achieved zero emissions immediately. Making a real dent in CO2 emissions requires condemning the developing world to desperate poverty. Your great-grandparents could not imagine the wealth you enjoy today, with home refrigeration, electric lights, automobiles, jet travel, the Internet, gigantic flat-screen color TVs - would you have had them sacrifice so your air conditioning bill would be slightly lower?

Anyway, the current focus on Palo Alto's most expensive marginal CO2 reduction is particularly crazy. There is low-hanging CO2 reduction opportunity all over the world.

Posted by Online Name's mom
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 15, 2021 at 7:34 pm

Online Name's mom is a registered user.

@Hinrich We're already had a measurable impact on GHG emissions in the City b/c of the clean energy. Web Link

"Deep carbon emissions reductions" is the only way that the world will make an impact on climate change (as described in the IPCC report). CA is one of the first states in the world proving how an emissions reductions pathway can work and, as our policies shift markets (like EV pricing and supply chains, cost and contractors for installing electric stoves, etc.) will likely scale to other areas. This is particularly true as the world is moving to do policies like the EU and set carbon boarder tariffs or carbon taxes, etc. Web Link

Carbon emissions are simply an unaccounted for market externality that is unaccounted for and as its effects become more visible and deadly on humans, correcting for it is the only way forward.

Posted by Deborah
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 15, 2021 at 7:57 pm

Deborah is a registered user.

My neighbor Sven has been working on the city for FOUR years to try and get an electric car charging station set up in the parking strip in front of my house. The lag on providing charging stations for cars is so bad that activists have resorted to getting public charging spots set up in front of private properties with the property owners footing the electric bill as a contribution to the greater good. City has been making it as hard as it possibly can for Sven. It's unreal. They are such a bunch of hypocrites.

Posted by Deborah
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 15, 2021 at 8:09 pm

Deborah is a registered user.

The deal with electrification of homes is not so much that electricity is carbon neutral or all that much less of a source of greenhouse gasses. The real problem is the degree to which methane, natural gas, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, mostly through leaky pipes. It is a huge problem and methane is something like 30 times more potent in its heating effect than CO2. Also, the new electric heat pump AC/heating systems are several orders more efficient that the natural gas furnaces. Same goes for heat pump dryers. And people are NOT educated about this. All the city has done is add some watered down notes in the flyer that comes in our utility bill.

The city has an expert at their disposal: Sherry Listgarten. She even writes a blog for Palo Alto Online: Web Link . They could hire her and she'd make sure everyone in the city understood.

Posted by Virginia Smedberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 15, 2021 at 10:53 pm

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Some others have made this point, but I make it from my personal state: I would love not to be using natural gas, now that I know its bad effects. However: changing over my old gravity feed octopus heater, with its asbestos-insulated ducts, in my 85-year-old basement is beyond my means. I would even (not happily) put up with the noise of a blower - a furnace man pointed that out to me years ago (when the big flood forced many to completely decontaminate their basements) - gravity feed is wonderfully quiet. I don't know if new technology can achieve that. But I'm even willing as I said. Somebody just has to come up with the $ to pay for it.

Posted by tmp
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2021 at 11:33 am

tmp is a registered user.

We can stop adding to the problem by the city requiring all new building to be zero net energy. That would mean that these huge new developments would have to figure out how to produce all the energy they need on site and use it there. We will never fix the environment if we keep adding more and more people in giant buildings that continue to use our natural resources. Where is discussion of what population Palo Alto can support and the need for all citizens to limit population so that people can stop destroying the planet. People use energy and the more there are the worse our consumption is.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 16, 2021 at 1:13 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"Where is discussion of what population Palo Alto can support and the need for all citizens to limit population so that people can stop destroying the planet."

Maybe you can ask ABAG, the pro-development politicians, big tech and the YIMBY's how they think the new densification housing laws that add almost 1,000,000 to the Bay Area will help. They can explain how there's an unlimited amount of water so existing residents and existing businesses have no need to conserve.

Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2021 at 2:02 pm

Sunshine is a registered user.

Let's start by outlawing ALL leaf/debris blowers. They contribute to bad air quality both from the engine--either electric or gas--and the debris that is pushed into the air.
Eliminate all lawns. Lawns lead to pollution from blowers and mowers. Use a ground cover that does not need to be watered or cut.
After that--use low water plants and keep them well mulched sp that they need less water

Posted by Moctod
a resident of University South
on Dec 18, 2021 at 9:59 am

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From the article:.

"The city's new Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, which the City Council unanimously endorsed on Monday, lays out a three-year strategy in which the first year or two are focused primarily on education, community outreach and voluntary action."
Note that the first two years will call for voluntary action by our homeowners. Guess what the very like-minded members of this ad hoc committee have in mind for 2025 to 2030? In listening to the committee it sounds like they are planning to terminate natural gas service to all single family residents and force them to spend tens of thousands of dollars to implement this symbolic gesture. However, it looks like the City of Palo Alto, industrial users and the big apartment owners will not be held to that complete conversion.

I doubt that many of our residents are aware of the expense that looms for them in the next few years. Perhaps our city staff should have started out by polling our residents if they would like to have their natural gass cut off to pull a bucket of water from the ocaen of carbon emissions? I bet that they would prefer voluntary conversions and paying for carbon offsets as we now do.

Did you notice what happened in Menlo Park when the termination of natural gas came up for a final City Council vote after the residents woke up to the expenses they faced?

Also, for those rushing to convert to all electric be aware that those new "smart meters" which we paid 13 million for in power over-charges will be installed about the time residents are forced to go all electric. The stated plan is to force our residents to use electric power when the grid prices are lower by charging significantly higher rates when you want to, for example, heat your home. So in 2025-2030 we will have all electric homes and crushing power costs.

But do not worry, the power of smug will keep you warm on those cold winter nights.

Posted by SteveDabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 18, 2021 at 3:11 pm

SteveDabrowski is a registered user.

It appears that only a few individuals pose the question as to the worth of all these costly and difficult efforts by Palo Alto, or the entire Bay Area, in actually effecting the course of climate change. It would be enlightening to know that by changing all our gas appliances to electric that it would reduce the rate of change by some measurable amount. However this is unlikely as it would probably tell us that it would not effect it at all, or it would be completely insignificant.

This is a problem that cannot be compared to scrap metal collection during the second world war (an effort that helped home front morale, but may not have been that significant) but rather needs major energy policy changes on national levels by all industrialized and agricultural based economies. Without that, and probably even with it, the change is going to take place and what Palo Alto, the Bay Area and even California does probably will have no real effect. Turning ourselves into pretzels to try to prevent it is just feel good work.

Posted by clear as mud
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2021 at 3:41 pm

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"I doubt that many of our residents are aware of the expense that looms for them in the next few years. Perhaps our city staff should have started out by polling our residents if they would like to have their natural gass cut off to pull a bucket of water from the ocaen of carbon emissions?"

I'm an interloper here from the airplane noise thread and my observation is that it's common for environmental issues to be handled with minimal outreach to citizens. The running assumption is that a group of experts knows it all and we shouldn't bother our pretty heads over it. The data and analysis to understand some of these topics are not exactly DIY "let me figure it out myself" and yet people sitting on these lofty committees, like two council members who are not even experts on the topic just go at it.

Then the burden, cost of what gets decided is shifted to the public with minimal explanations about trade offs and there's rarely reliable reporting of what is actually being accomplished (or not).The press can't report on issues that there's so little transparency about, so the level of information remains at these grand strategic levels which is very poor stewardship.

From the little I know about climate issues, how is it that Palo Alto Airport is not even a topic. I would want the City to be lobbying against subsidies for private jets. Looking into how the airlines' models work to just throw out umpteen flights to Hawaii to see which one sticks. Do we really need multiple jets out of multiple airports just to airlines can make some cash on each time a plane goes up in the sky?

Why doesn't the city sit us down to entertain our questions? This being said, there's also the issue that some know-it-all folks want to skip the simple stuff like hearing about what the regular public wants to understand.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 21, 2021 at 6:31 am

Annette is a registered user.

The push for conversion to electric is a constant S-CAP theme. Is there an estimate for how much energy is required for our current daytime population? And for one that is 30% larger as ABAG, the Grand Jury, and many developers and politicians envision? What are the sources of this energy? And what is being done to improve the reliability of the electrical grid?

Theory is great, but it doesn't warm a home or heat a meal.

And what about remedies being pushed down to the individual level? Palo Altans have a pretty good "Green IQ" but are individuals able to move the needle on climate change? I kinda doubt we can and I think there's a real risk that people will push back against incurring the inconveniences and costs associated with electrification if more isn't required of businesses. And higher standards placed on development. Why not reward re-purposing and attach fees to plans that are heavy on demolition? And why not develop a fee schedule for development that incentivizes and rewards projects that are carbon and water-neutral (or near to it) and, again, attach fees for projects that have a high environmental impact?

Who is monitoring the big picture? This is a generalization, but it seems politicians are more narrowly focused on supporting the preferences of donors who help them get re-elected than they are real problem solving. No issue underscores the need for big picture thinking better than housing. We sure do need it. But what about electricity and water? And other aspects of infrastructure?

Mother Nature repeatedly sends this clear message: we're blowing it. Continuing to address issues and proposed projects individually rather than holistically will likely only make many matters worse.

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