The City of Palo Alto has reached a settlement with a group of environmentalists who had filed a lawsuit challenging a proposal to build a waste-to-energy facility in the Baylands.
The lawsuit filed by environmental attorney Tom Jordan sought to overturn Measure E, which the voters approved a year ago and which "undedicates" a 10-acre site at Byxbee Park, allowing it to be used for an anaerobic digester. The facility would convert food waste, yard trimmings and possibly biosolids into energy.
Under the settlement, Jordan agreed to dismiss his lawsuit, and each side would pay for its own attorney's fees without admitting any wrongdoing. The city, meanwhile, has agreed to perform an environmental review before issuing any regulatory permits "for the purpose of identifying significant environmental impacts and imposing appropriate mitigation measure." The settlement commits the city to conduct the environmental review process "in a manner that will permit the public to review and comment on the City's environmental work before the City issues a permit for the Facility." It also commits the City to adding Jordan to its email distribution list and continue to send him communications pertaining to public outreach for the facility.
The settlement is the latest milestone in the city's multi-year effort to revamp its waste-management operations an effort that gained urgency with last year's closure of the city's landfill in Byxbee Park. The closure of the landfill, which housed the city's composting operation, has forced the city to export its yard trimmings to Gilroy, much to the dismay of many local environmentalists. A coalition led by former Mayor Peter Drekmeier, attorney Walt Hays and environmental consultant Bob Wenzlau have been pushing for the city to keep composting local and have been lobbying the council to pursue the new anaerobic digester. Opponents, including Jordan and conservationists Enid Pearson and Emily Renzel, have argued that dedicated parkland is the wrong place for a waste-treatment operation.
Jordan's lawsuit, which was filed shortly after voters approved Measure E, claimed that the City Council violated the City Charter in pursuing the undedication of parkland. It stated that city law requires the council to declare that it's considering a vote on undedication and to hold a public hearing that would give the protesters a chance to state their objections. Jordan requested a writ of mandate "prohibiting the City from implementing or enforcing Measure E."
Proponents of the measure countered that the city had a long series of public hearings in which opponents of the measure had a chance to express their views.
According to City Attorney Molly Stump, Jordan approached the city about a potential settlement before the case was taken up by the court. She said the parties "engaged in productive discussions and reached a mutually agreeable resolution."
Even with the settlement, the city is still more than a year away from settling its compost dilemma. Under an action plan the City Council approved last summer, the city will proceed with various state-mandated economic and environmental analyses in July 2013 and have them completed in January 2014. The council is scheduled to consider in February 2014 whether the city should pursue the composting plant.