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Clean energy or open space? Baylands debate forces city to weigh competing goals

Original post made on Mar 30, 2023

The future of Palo Alto's most disputed piece of open space will once again be up in the air next week, when the City Council considers two competing visions for sustainability.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, March 30, 2023, 8:28 AM

Comments (16)

Posted by DebbieMytels
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2023 at 11:37 am

DebbieMytels is a registered user.

Thanks for this thoughtful article. We should expect the Council to be as thoughtfuI, since there is no need to hurry in making a decision. The City staff should be asked to do more research, since it's clear that there are now some options to be examined in light of current needs and newer technology, such as the pyrolysis plant in Redwood City.

Posted by Nancy Levy
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2023 at 12:12 pm

Nancy Levy is a registered user.

Ten years is a short amount of time when we're talking about climate change. Let's explore the pyrolysis plant and keep this site available for at least 10 more years.

Posted by Calius
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 30, 2023 at 12:42 pm

Calius is a registered user.

Byxbee Park and surrounding environs is one of the most crucial wildlife corridors along the San Francisco Bay because it links up all of the wildlife corridors from the Facebook Campus through to Moffett Field. If the area in question were to have that digestor built, the construction of it would wipe out all of the cover between Byxbee and the water treatment plant. In order for the trucks to come and go, the dirt road that leads from Embarcadero Way to this proposed 10 acre site will become the main "highway" for the trucks to move in and out and that will further wipe out the ecosystem. (This was a part of the original Measure E.) If this plant were to be built, it would destroy a large part of the baylands ecosystem, thus negatively impacting the biodiversity of the baylands. It is the loss of biodiversity that is causing the ongoing 6th Mass Extinction, i.e. Monarch Butterflies, numerous bird populations and it's effecting the decline of all mammals, both at the baylands and globally. You can double check everything I've written here as my comments are scientifically based. Sincerely, Bill Leikam, aka The Fox Guy

Posted by TuppenceT
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2023 at 5:31 pm

TuppenceT is a registered user.

The Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control PlantBiosolids Facility Plan Update (2019) shows that Pyrolysis requires drying of the biosolids (even after dewatering) using natural gas. How is that consistent with Palo Alto's efforts to phase out natural gas as an energy source?

Posted by greg schmid
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 30, 2023 at 7:50 pm

greg schmid is a registered user.

This is a real dilemma for all serious environmentalists. It's always good to have good information. LA County puts out a good regular newsletter that tracks conversion experiments around the country--those that work and those that don't.
Check it out:

Posted by hilary
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 30, 2023 at 8:09 pm

hilary is a registered user.

Agree that this is a tough issue for the environmental community, however, I support the use of this land for the higher environment cause of converting the communities organic waste to green energy. Especially, considering that Measure E land is only 10 out of over 200 acres on the industrial edge of the wastewater treatment plant - the least appealing part of what is an old landfill.

Posted by TuppenceT
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2023 at 11:31 pm

TuppenceT is a registered user.

The 2019 study shows that drying/Pyrolysis had the highest GHG emissions of all alternative studied due to the need to dry the materials. It was also more expensive than the other alternatives. And more risky. Does not seem like a viable solution to me.

Posted by Bruce Hodge
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 31, 2023 at 9:59 am

Bruce Hodge is a registered user.

The 2019 study on pyrolysis is dated, contains huge flaws and is no longer relevant today. In fact the drying required by the pyrolysis is powered by the thermal energy obtained from the pyrolysis process and after a small initial energy input, the entire process is net energy neutral, and generates negative carbon emissions because the carbon content is sequestered in biochar. Pyrolysis is a win-win both on greenhouse gas emissions, the elimination of significant pollutants such as PFAS and micro-plastics. The current process that Palo Alto uses allows both farm workers and farm land to be exposed to these potent pollutants. PFAS in particular has just been regulated in drinking water by the EPA and is a significant concern due to the fact that they are bio-accumulators and work their way up the food chain just like DDT. This is the future of sewage treatment.

Posted by PA resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 31, 2023 at 10:09 am

PA resident is a registered user.

The Measure E site covers about 1/2 of 1% of the 1,940 acres of the Baylands, which consist primarily of parkland and open space. It would be irresponsible to foreclose the ability to use this small footprint to treat our own organic waste in a more environmentally-friendly way. Palo Alto used to take care of its refuse and green waste at the landfill on 126 acres of the Baylands that encompass the Measure E site. Since the landfill closed, refuse (other than recyclables, which also go elsewhere) has been trucked to San Jose for burial – that’s not going to change. But we can do better with organic waste. Yard trimmings that used to be composted at the dump site are now also trucked to San Jose, along with food waste, which emits considerable greenhouse gases.
At least sewage is first processed at the Sludge Dewatering facility just north of the Measure E site. After dewatering, it is thickened and loaded into trucks that take it elsewhere for further treatment, and then converted for use in farming areas. But the sludge can contain harmful PFAS "forever chemicals" that are deposited in the fields, which pyrolysis processing could eliminate. Pyrolysis or other methods could also produce much less GHG than innumerable truck trips, which would help Palo Alto meet its goal to drastically cut GHG. Redwood City and Silicon Valley Clean Water began using pyrolysis several years ago, we can learn from their experience.
Why should the Parks & Rec Committee be solely empowered to recommend the fate of the site, when it has limited purview? Council has staff, the Utilities Advisory Commission, and consultants that can evaluate the advantages and costs of alternate ways to process one or more of the City’s organic waste streams. It should engage these resources before forfeiting this option, likely forever, since reversing a park dedication of the Measure E site would require voter approval.

Posted by tag
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 31, 2023 at 10:16 am

tag is a registered user.

Keeping options open while alternatives can be studied seems the only prudent choice----which means not ceding the 10 acres to parkland now. Climate change as a stimulus for action is only now getting broader traction. It will take time to provoke and then test proposed solutions. Finding another local suitable site for waste to energy conversion will be almost impossible if these 10 acres are taken off the table now.

Posted by Dave Warner
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2023 at 12:29 pm

Dave Warner is a registered user.

Please don't overturn measure E and return the 10 acres to parkland. A 65% majority voting in favor of measure E is a big majority. It seems risky to overturn the will of the voters particularly when there is no urgency.

I am an avid environmentalist, nature lover and bird lover and am a member of the California Naturalist community. I've also been a Palo Alto resident for 35 years.

While the specific details for how the measure E site was going to be used have not occurred, the spirit of the measure was to improve our sustainability, which still has significance for the site. Sending our sewage sludge back into the food supply in ways that create methane and that don't address such things as PFAS, is not a great practice.

Voters decided in 2011 that setting aside a small amount of newly available parkland in order to help sustainability was the right choice. Let's not make a decision to release this small plot until our sustainability concerns are behind us.

Posted by BettyG
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2023 at 1:31 pm

BettyG is a registered user.

The quote regarding who would want to have a picnic there encapsulates the entire problem with this argument. Who would? Our threatened birds and other wildlife who have lost most of their habitat. That is who. Not everything is about humans in this human-centered society.

We are in the midst of a mass extinction event which is only partially caused by climate change. We need to address both and taking away habitat that could easily be restored is not the answer. Let us explore other ways to fight climate change that do not remove essential wildlife corridors and vital habitat from those with whom we share this planet.

Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 2, 2023 at 1:23 pm

PA Resident is a registered user.

Palo Alto needs to take care of its own waste rather than shipping it off to San Jose and other places. Perfect example of NIMBYism. The Measure E won overwhelmingly and resident wishes should be maintained.

Posted by staying home
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 4, 2023 at 11:30 am

staying home is a registered user.

How like Palo Alto to generate waste and ship it to somewhere else for others to deal with. If we have an opportunity to "own" our waste and take care of it locally, we are obligated to do so. I see this as the price we have to pay.

Posted by David Bubenik
a resident of University South
on Apr 5, 2023 at 4:17 pm

David Bubenik is a registered user.

A dozen years ago Palo Alto voters bought the promise of making clean energy from garbage on this site, via the purported miracle of Anaerobic Digestion. But for various good reasons nothing was built.

The atmosphere lucked out big time. The CO2 emissions of an anaerobic digester fueled electric generator are whoppingly huge: 140% of the CO2 emissions of that benchmark of dirty energy, the coal fired generator. Building a coal burning generator would have been much "greener." The analysis showing this is quite straightforward. It is online at

The latest buzzword is Pyrolysis. What will the next bright butterfly be? I wryly wonder if our city could have afforded to follow these fads, remodeling an anaerobic-digester based electric generator plant into a waste pyrolyzer, and then into ... ?

Seriously, we must ask what the real greenhouse gas emissions of a pyrolysis operation might be, for various energy input options. Any takers? Be sure to show your work like I did.

Posted by Tom DuBois
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2023 at 11:21 am

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

As Greg Schmid said, its a real dilmena. While I respect what Peter Drekmeier and others are saying about the desire here, for me number one, I feel like there was a promise to the voters when this passed - we'd undedicate and look for a solution for 10 years. That time has passed.
Secondly, when this came to council a few years back, none of the technologies were viable - council and staff really tried. Third, operaionally and financially a regional solution was going to be more feasible that a small solution for one city of 70,000. For these reasons, I think we should be looking for a regional solution and revert this back to parkland. The biggest reason is because that's what voters said.

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