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Palo Alto's climate change goals may be out of reach

Original post made on Apr 12, 2022

Despite making some recent gains on their climate-change goals, Palo Alto officials confronted on Monday a harsh reality: their aim of reducing emissions by 80% by 2030 may hinge on technologies that don't yet exist.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, April 11, 2022, 11:32 PM

Comments (21)

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 12, 2022 at 7:55 am

Annette is a registered user.

Another reason Palo Alto might not make its goal: exceptions for projects or parts of projects that contribute greatly to GHG. In February 2019, City Council voted to not build the downtown garage on Hamilton. Liz Kniss cited Council’s then recent adoption of climate change and the environmental impact of building a facility that encourages driving. As she said, times have changed and “the climate and our commitment now to climate change, to sustainability, is very real.” So the promised garage was voted down. Will the City stand by its goals and tell Castilleja NO to building a garage?

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2022 at 8:20 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Getting public shuttles returned should really help, particularly for getting students to school. Not talking about school buses, but shuttles that serve the schools for students, teachers and others. Get some park and ride parking lots near highway off ramps and a system of shuttles that work efficiently.

Getting electrical service underground so that wind, rain, geese, balloons, etc. do not cause outages and make for expensive overtime for line workers, etc.

Improve walkability by opening the creek paths to bikes and pedestrians.

Improve parking so that less vehicles are circling looking for somewhere to park.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2022 at 10:06 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Both of you above make excellent points re shuttles. I've never understood why Casti students need a garage when the Casti teachers have to shuttle in from the Baylands.

Posted by d page
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2022 at 10:54 am

d page is a registered user.

I believe a possible summary would say something like following: Our City government -

May continue to talk about reaching 2030 goals (without using words such as “pollution”)
May implement “on-bill financing” (if so, thank you!)

Will continue to claim we get “carbon-free” electricity from the regional grid (when the mix of sources for P.A. electricity is, mostly, the same as the rest of the state)
Will boast about residents purchasing electric cars (when city staff/officials have had almost nothing to do with this)
Will “encourage” residents to switch off of methane gas (but not mention extreme weather deaths)
Will ignore the death rates of third world people due to OUR pollution
Will explore how it may upgrade the local grid/transformer system

Won't educate residents (i.e., using utility bill inserts) about pollution footprints (which might show the biggest sources of P.A. resident’s CO2e production comes from purchasing cattle/cow products and/or airplane tickets)
Won't put solar panels over every parking lot (like at Paly) and every government building rooftop (one of the Cal Ave parking garages has this above the top floor; thank you!)
Won't educate residents about the “moral imperative” written about in the Palo Alto Green Ribbon Task Force report of 2005
Won't implement the recommendations of the Green Ribbon Task Force
Won't ban gas stations within city limits...

It’s easy to be a critic, and there are many people involved who're doing their very best in a difficult situation.

But let’s face it - the political will to do the “heavy lifting” won’t come about by tweaking the usual programs. Residents don’t want to make financial sacrifices, nor significant life-style changes, unless given extraordinary reasons to do so. Without a thoughtful educational/awareness campaign (connecting our pollution to traumatic consequences) Palo Alto’s “sustainability effort” will continue to merely limp along.

Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2022 at 11:05 am

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

When and until the rest of the world (particularly China and India) gets on board with making change, nothing the City of Palo Alto does will make a difference. Nothing. Doesn't mean the effort needs to stop but it's futile at the very least.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 12, 2022 at 11:46 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Cities state goals to show they are "onboard" with the current administration. That is a nod to show support. Reality is this is a very small city that has no major energy producing industry. Our industry is people sitting at computers. WE are further exacerbated by our major business entities are sitting at SRP - that is SU land.
Any big improvements on their land will have to be financed by them. NOT LIKELY TO HAPPEN.

People sitting at computers make a lot of political noise but now they are sitting at home doing it. Our major concern now is WATER - lack of. That is a climate issue we have no control over at this city level.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2022 at 1:39 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Last night's meeting was maddening. According to City Staff's presentation Web Link vehicles on the road are the largest contributor to emissions, as well as the factor whose marginal share of emissions is growing (in 1990, vehicles contributed less than half, and now contribute almost 2/3rds).

Yet, CC barely mentioned this. Rather, they bragged of our high percentage of electric cars -- even though many believe that the harm of manufacturing a new electric car may not outweigh the benefits once manufactured for several years. Frustrating.

PACC's solution: as usual, mostly "committees." Where is the sense of urgency?

Palo Alto CC should know that reducing cars on the road is both possible & good for everyone! Here are two ways that could make an impact from day one:

1. As others have mentioned, we had ELECTRIC SHUTTLES before PACC defunded them, and we should bring them back immediately, and expand the program. If commuters and residents had free and convenient electric shuttles to ride from homes, workplaces, train stations, and ideally from parking lots near highway exits, we could dramatically reduce car usage in our town, because free shuttles save money for drivers and eliminate the need to find parking! A robust shuttle program also could reduce noise, danger to children/seniors, and parking in residential neighborhoods. A win for everyone. (And yes, Castilleja could use them too; shame on them for demanding a concrete garage.)

2. Protected, safe bike lanes and pedestrian bridges - to make walking & biking safe & convenient for all. PACC keeps defunding and delaying essential bike infrastructure projects, even as children are killed on their bicycles by traffic on roads. One death of a child is too many. We must prioritize safe bike infrastructure!

Car traffic can & must be reduced, for our children, city, & planet.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2022 at 1:49 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Let's recall that Palo Alto defunded the shuttles because they didn't coordinate with VTA and the county which then decided to cut PA's bus / shuttle service to avoid duplication! AND we're still paying the increased transit tax!

Re cutting vehicle emissions, I'm sure not a single vehicle owned by the 2,000,000 more people the Bay Area is due to accommodate will add to the problems, not will the gridlocked and backed up traffic. Nor will the vehicles unable to park near public transit stations since their parking lots are slated for more housing. Now will the fact that we'll all have to drive more do to our errands since the shopping centers are being converted to more housing.

But please, let's ignore these pesky li8ttle facts as well as the new state auditor report showing how bogus and unfair the new housing targets are.

Just keep on virtue signalling.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2022 at 1:50 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Speaking of which, I have a question for fellow fans of environmental sustainability. In the City Staff's presentation here:

Web Link

5.5% of emissions are said to be caused by "other transportation" -- specifically, transportation that is not "vehicles on the road." I missed if they explained this: is that 5.5% attributable to private airplanes? If so, that probably is something that is worthy of examination, because it was not a factor in the past (prior to 2019, at least according to the incomplete charts provided), so it might be new and increasing.

I was always taught in economics and statistics to focus on the factors that are growing the most quickly in order to prevent small issues from growing into large problems. Was there any attention to this particular segment? Thanks in advance for insight on this.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2022 at 1:57 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Online name, I encourage you to visit cities that have invested in robust local shuttles and safe bike lanes and examine the quality of life. Europe has many of these cities -- I recommend Berlin, my favorite! -- but there are some examples much closer by. Castro Street in Mountain View, for example. And San Francisco's Market Street near the clocktower. It is beautiful, fun, safe, and car-free! This is no pipe dream. We are just behind the times.

I also wonder about the term "virtue signaling." It is used a lot, sometimes to criticize advocates of positive change. By virtue signaling, are you saying that people propose ideas, including those that have been proven to work elsewhere, in order to look good, rather than in order to make those positive changes? That seems a lot to assume of others. I prefer to think that most people want to do the right thing; they sometimes just don't know how, or lack the courage to speak out against a vocal majority. I'm just wondering what you and others mean by that. It sounds like a criticism, and possibly an unfair one, but I don't claim to understand it.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2022 at 2:16 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

When I say "virtue signalling," I'm referring to our highly paid city staff that preaches a good game but fails to do its homework like coordinate the shuttles with the VTA and county. Then they spend a fortune telling US to get out of our cars but do nothing about the commuters who overrun us 4:1.

We dine regularly on Castro St. in Mountain View and have never seen a shuttle; we have seen reserved parking / drop off spots for Uber / Lyft. Where do the shuttles start and stop? Do they run on weekends and evenings?

Yes, European cities and Asian cities, too, are way ahead of the us in public transit but then again they're cities, not suburbs.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2022 at 3:18 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Online name - thank you for that explanation - and also for recognizing that I asked the question in good faith. :) I agree with your assessment.

As to Mountain View shuttles, not perfect, but any shuttle system is better than our non-existent shuttle system. Here is the Mountain View shuttle schedule:

Web Link

Finally, are we a city or a suburb? I grew up in an honest-to-goodness suburb. There were ZERO large companies located there, other than retail stores such as Gimbels (z''l) and Kohl's. I generally think of a suburb as a place where people live but other than teachers and other city employees, as well as folks who work at the restaurants and stores, where they do not work.

Palo Alto, on the other hand, is unfortunately more a place where people work than where people live.

Specifically, approximately 68,500 people live here Web Link but almost 100,000 people work here.
Web Link

In my perspective, that makes Palo Alto a city, even though I believe I speak for many when I say I wish it were not. If we replaced commercial buildings with housing, we could change that balance and improve our quality of life for all. As you mention, we are overrun by commuters, few of whom can afford to live here.

Yet, the COPA continues to welcome new office construction! E.g. 123 Sherman, a proposed office complex big enough to hold 731 employees (!) surrounded on 3 sides by lovely residential condominiums. Web Link PA's planning dept has been shepherding in this new job-creator, even though large employers still don't pay business tax, and the proposed defective tax won't change that. It will just overrun a residential area with more commuter traffic.

This is what our leadership keeps doing. It's wrong.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2022 at 3:30 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

One last thing - you will see that the Mountain View Shuttle is "sponsored" by Google because they are the biggest contributor to it, as well as by far the biggest payor of the Mountain View business tax, which taxes the largest employers at much higher rates than small businesses. (Palo Alto's proposed business tax will cause much harm to small businesses, while taxing Tesla, Palantir, VC firms and other huge employers and the most profitable businesses at a much lower tax rate!)

Mountain View is a great example of showing that a well-crafted businesses tax (like theirs, and not like our broken proposed tax) benefits both large employers and the community at large. Although Google is the single biggest financial contributor to the public shuttle, that shuttle is open to everyone, whether they work at Google or not. It helps Google to make it easier for their employees to be able to get to work. This is why Google also supports the use of the taxes they pay for affordable housing. It benefits Google when its employees are able to live closer to work!

Unsurprisingly, when the "Google Tax" was put on the ballot, Google did not oppose it! For them, a few million dollars in taxes barely registers a blip on their bottom line - plus I'm pretty sure it's deductible. Our large companies will think the same.

For these reasons and so many others, a robust, free, and convenient system of local transit benefits everyone, in addition to the planet. Here again is the MV Shuttle Schedule with the Google logo on the bottom.

Route Map:
Web Link

Web Link

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 12, 2022 at 4:21 pm

Annette is a registered user.

City: can you give an ETA for the return of the Embarcadero Shuttle? Or advise that it will not be reactivated? It was helpful for avoiding driving to work and I often saw several Castilleja students using it to go “the last mile” from the train station to school.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2022 at 4:33 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

1) Can I -- a non-Googler -- ride the shuttle to and from Mountain View and Palo Alto? Google also runs buses north past SF and south past SJ. They used to go north into Marin and maybe they still do. Can we ride those? You do recall the reaction in SF to the Google buses, don't you?

1A) Good for Google not opposing the business tax. Maybe they can suggest the same to the PA Chamber of Commerce which continues to oppose the business tax while shifting the costs from businesses to the residents.

Maybe ask PA small businesses how they feel about the Chamber of Commerce and whether it serves their needs. Where was the Chamber of Commerce when the Town & Country landlord wanted to kick out more of the small retailers to convert the shopping center to "medical/retail" just as the pandemic was ending? Several of us RESIDENTS helped Lydia Kou interview the retailers and compile evidence of how the landlord kept trying to oust them while the city staff and pro-development CC members went right along with it. Fortunately the evidence was overwhelming that staff couldn't even define the "medical/retail" it was pushing!

2) If the business tax is done fairly and small resident-serving businesses are exempt, it would be fine. But given the way PA works, they're trying to tax RESIDENTS who use PA Utilities -- instead of businesses. To paraphrase Mitt Romney, "Residents are businesses, my friend" in this the latest money grab.

If you're not furious that PA hired a full-time SENIOR CPAU staffer -- $250K?? -- to lobby us full-time to tax residential utility customers by sanctifying their illegal practice of overcharging us $20,000,000 each and every year, I am.

I have no faith in the city serving residents or playing fair! Do you? You're usually a very eloquent critic of PA government and waste. This should be right up your alley.

Posted by Larry
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2022 at 5:54 pm

Larry is a registered user.

Back to 80x30: The City would argue that 80x30's purpose is not to single-handedly reduce global warming, but to demonstrate how together with other communities we could reduce emissions at significant scale. But that logic is only valid if the actions the City undertakes can actually be applied to other communities. What good is providing an example that others can't follow?

By setting its arbitrary 80x30 goal, the City has converted the global problem of planetary warming into a local problem of reducing just Palo Alto's emissions. For that, the City is considering lots of solutions, both ones that can be applied elsewhere at scale, and ones that cannot. Solutions that can't scale are purely symbolic; they waste precious resources and time, distract us from scalable solutions, and ultimately do little to reduce warming. IMO, compulsory residential electric retrofit and mass EV adoption are not scalable: only wealthy, entitled communities like ours can afford it.

HOWEVER, Palo Alto is unlike most cities because we own our own utilities. This makes us a perfect laboratory for innovation - innovation in ways that are virtually impossible elsewhere. I would much rather see CPAU be able to keep its Utilities Transfer money and “go big” investing in next-level, community-scale green solutions. Think micro-grids with neighborhood-scale storage, powered by local rooftop solar, etc, etc. Sure the storage has been slow in coming, but there is plenty of work to be done in the meantime: policy and financial work, PV installation work for when the storage becomes available, etc. Our innovation could become a blueprint for other communities to invest in their own utilities, ultimately going beyond what investor-owned utilities are willing to do. It may also mean that we might not need to completely rebuild our local grid, providing the micro-grids can supply the peak loads.

Then the City can go fund itself like other cities without a utilities enterprise do.

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 12, 2022 at 6:02 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

"Palo Alto's climate change goals may be out of reach." Really? What a surprise --- NOT. I knew the second I first heard of this ignorant debacle that these "goals" were scientific, economic, and financial pipe dreams. This is what happens when you have a govt run by scientifically, economically, and financially ignorant dreamers who are far more interested in being politically trendy and liberally fashionable than in being real-world PRACTICALS. We technically educated practicals are boring and not fashionable, but we know how and when to get things done. And, we have no political aspirations.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 12, 2022 at 6:45 pm

Annette is a registered user.

About that senior city staffer hired to lobby for the affirmation measure that would allow Palo Alto to circumvent the Court ruling that the transfer of funds from CPAU to the General Fund is illegal, can we get more information about that position? Surely the person is doing more than lobbying for a ballot measure. If not and Palo Alto has money to spend on lobbyists, why not hire one to work as a lobbyist for the various S-CAP goals, including NOT approving projects or portions of projects that are an affront to those goals? I am , of course, again thinking of that concrete Castilleja garage.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 13, 2022 at 10:29 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Annette, it would be great if the local media dug in more to the hiring of a new senior CPAU staffer which someone here posted about, having heard from his/her friend working in CPAU.

@William Hitchens, Thank you for that post! Practicality would indeed be special, as well as competence and absence of conflict of interest! I've long been amazed that never once have we seen a CPAU /PA mission statement that includes providing "cost-effective services efficiently." Instead we get unworkable/flawed contests and games comparising our utility usage with our neighbors that ignore factors like the difference in hoe size, number of residents, etc. We had a Transportation Czar who ignored everyone except bicyclists, who ran his own business pushing road signage etc. out of his PA office and who finally left to go on to greater glory pitching 24-hour blinking traffic lights in Los Altos, forcing some poor couple whose sleep he screwed up to sue!

You'll recall it took him 8+ YEARS to fix the traffic light timing on an unnecessary light! So what does PA do? It rewards him with a multi-million dollar contract to fix traffic light timing after he left with pension in hand! Does the light timing work yet? Of course not! You too can sit at an intersection and watch NO cars moving for 2 minutes.

Some practicality and common sense would be special. Let the city focus on making CPAU work -- no more outages for mylar balloons and a REAL workable outage response!

Posted by Resident11
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 13, 2022 at 8:41 pm

Resident11 is a registered user.

"Then the City can go fund itself like other cities without a utilities enterprise do."

@Larry, what makes you think that other cities don't get funds from utilities? PG&E paid out almost $140 million in franchise fees this past year. This is the structure that municipal utilities have been copying.

Posted by Larry
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2022 at 10:30 am

Larry is a registered user.

@Resident11: I was unaware of franchise fees, so than you for the education. But $140 million seems like a small amount per city, considering how many cities PG&E must serve. Any idea how much franchise fee revenue Palo Alto would receive from PG&E if it did not have its own utility? How would that revenue compare to the CPAU transfer tax?

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