Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 26, 2012

Palo Alto rises to the 'Cool Cities Challenge'

City signals its intent to combat carbon footprint one block at a time

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's next green program won't rely on tough energy standards or strict building codes but on hundreds of volunteer teams preaching the gospel of conservation to their friends and neighbors.

The City Council on Monday, Oct. 22, voted 7-2 (Vice Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Karen Holman dissenting) to join a small pool of cities vying to take part in the Cool Cities Challenge — a three-year program that sets ambitious goals for carbon reduction and relies on widespread grassroots support to meet these goals.

The brainchild of the Empowerment Institute, the challenge would launch at three California cities and at three neighborhoods of Sao Paulo, Brazil. It aims to draw participation from between 25 percent and 75percent of residents of each participating community. The goal for the participants would be to reduce the community's carbon footprint by 25 percent. The effort also aims to get at least 40 percent of the residents to retrofit their homes and to "stimulate green economic development around heightened demand for low-carbon goods and services."

In July, the council heard a presentation about the Cool Cities Challenge from David Gershon, CEO of the Empowerment Institute and author of the book "Low Carbon Diet," which offers tips for green living. These include turning off the car engine during stops longer than a minute; washing laundry loads with cold water; and hand-washing dishes if there isn't a full load for the dishwasher.

Other partners in the Cool Cities Challenge are the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, World Wildlife Fund, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, and University of California at Davis.

Gershold told the council that the effort would entail engaging around 16 partner groups, including businesses and faith-based organizations, whose members and customers would be encouraged to organize the program on a block-by-block basis. Gershon called this the "whole system approach."

"It has to engage the whole set of civic groups, local businesses and local governments," Gershon said.

The point of the Challenge is to fully develop a program that could then be scaled up and spread to other parts of the country and the world. Palo Alto would be one of the "early adopter" cities. Other cities that have expressed interest in participating are Davis, San Rafael, Sonoma and a part of San Francisco.

With its vote Monday, the council authorized City Manager James Keene to sign a "letter of intent" signaling the city's interest in participating in the Challenge. The council majority agreed that the goal of the Cool Cities Challenge is consistent with the city's own commitment to carbon reduction and its history of sweeping green programs. These include the recent adoption of a carbon-neutral electric portfolio and PaloAltoGreen, a successful program that allows utilities customers to pay extra to support renewable energy sources.

But while those programs, like most of the city's other green efforts, are top-down initiatives orchestrated by City Hall, the Cool Cities Challenge would lean heavily on residents. Participating cities would aim to achieve the carbon-reduction goals within three years.

"Part of the intention is to have a large-scale, community-wide, multi-year project aimed at changing behaviors and practices at a very direct personal household level that by its nature calls for a very sustained effort," Keene said.

Councilman Larry Klein was among those who spoke in favor of signing up for the Challenge. Klein said the city's existing green programs tend to target "low-hanging fruit" but do little to encourage changes in individuals' behavior. He acknowledged that getting an individual to change his or her behavior is a tall task but said that the world will not meet its critical carbon-reduction goals without these sorts of changes.

"It may not succeed, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try it," Klein said. "If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it without any problems."

Councilwoman Gail Price concurred and called the opportunity to participate "very exciting."

"This kind of a program really identifies and articulates a lot of the beliefs and values that we espouse," Price said. "It's a really critical opportunity."

Vice Mayor Greg Scharff disagreed and characterized the goals of the Challenge as unrealistic. Scharff said the Challenge will likely "distract from things that can actually get done." Getting more than 25 percent of the community to participate is an impossible task, he said, and even getting 15 percent to sign on would be a great accomplishment.

"I don't think the community will step up with those kinds of rates. It's not going to make sense at the end of the day," Scharff said. "I think this is too ambitious and too unlikely to occur, so I can't support this."

The letter of intent from Keene touts the city's "track record as an early adopter city," its "desire to take on big challenges," and its "can-do community culture."

The letter does not, however, guarantee that the city will participate in the Cool Cities Challenge. Fundraising for the Challenge is still in progress, and cities will not formally apply until the funds are secured. Three cities would then be selected from the pool of applicants.

Talk about it

Should the city participate in the Cool Cities Challenge? Share your opinion on Town Square, the community discussion forum, on Palo Alto Online.


Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 23, 2012 at 7:28 am

PA Online is the online arm of the PA Weekly, which in the last couple years has become a massive advertisement for 2500-5000ft2 $4-20M homes each with carbon footprints the size of a small town.

I think it only appropriate, then, that the PA Weekly immediately stop taking advertising dollars from real estate agents advertising homes bigger than 2000ft2, or impose a 2-4X advertising surcharge, fees from which are applied to Cool Cities Challenge outreach. Maybe if we stop putting images of global warming-inducing McMegaMansions in front of our community, we can start to get advertising from energy efficiency solutions.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2012 at 7:30 am

Wish the City would strive to top the "most improved infrasture and facilities" challenge.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2012 at 8:23 am

These politicians are joking, right? Have you tried to get a rooftop solar permit from the City of Palo Alto?

Posted by Enez, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:09 am

Zaharias, dont cast live in a 2200sf home. Isnt that the pot calling the kettle black? LoL

Posted by J99, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:09 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Judith Schwartz, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:17 am

It's great that our Palo Alto civic leaders want to be perceived as early adopters but when it comes to leading-edge energy practices, we are laggards. It would be good to just catch up to what is happening across the country and around the world.

Palo Alto has had a fiber optic ring for over 20 years but don't use it to enable a smart grid. Take a look at what is happening in Chattanooga, TN and how their municipal utility, EPB is on the cutting edge.

Silicon Valley Power in Santa Clara is well-ahead of Palo Alto in terms of grid modernization to support their many data centers. They've offered free wi-fi as part of the smart meter installations to residential consumers.

Salt River Project in Phoenix, AZ (another municipal utility) has a 30 year track record of successful time of use pricing programs and excellent methods to allow people to choose the plans that work for them. While Palo Alto doesn't have the extreme weather and AC load of Phoenix, we are likely to be one of the epicenters for electric vehicle adoption.

It is wonderful the City Council is embracing a green grassroots program. However, a little modesty and willingness to learn from others might be warranted here.

Posted by YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:36 am

YIMBY is a registered user.

First the council takes away an exemption allowing reduced parking for downtown developers [News - Friday, October 19, 2012: Palo Alto beefs up rules for downtown parking - City halts parking exemptions for new developments downtown, near California Avenue, by Gennady Sheyner
Web Link]
- requiring developers to provide more on-site parking which will result in more driving for the buildings' occupants, and now we rise to the "Cool Cities" challenge. Does anyone besides me see the irony?

Posted by No change, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:38 am

"However, a little modesty and willingness to learn from others might be warranted here."

Not our city council-- we are the leaders not the followers. Everyone has to learn from us. We have to become the leading biking city in the ciuntry, for example, therefore we need a $100 million bridge over 101. Costs be damned.
Otherwise how will our city council be able to stand around patting each other on the back and congratulating themselves foir a job well done. No point in dealing with infrastructure and finance needs--leading the world is more important.

And don't think that things will change after this election--two incumbents will probably be re-elected and Liz Kniss will probably regain her old seat (and I fail to understand how a person like herself can get re-elected to the council). Plus we are still stuck with Klein, Holman and the rest of the self-congratulaters.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:52 am

Don't ring my doorbell with this. Let our bloated Utility Dept. work on infrastructure and cutting utility rates.

Posted by janis , a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Would be wonderful if the Palo Alto Housing Corp made sure their properties that they are selling /renting for low income housing were eco friendly. Some are all electric and the winter bills exceed the rent or mortgae

Posted by Ken - Inhabiture, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 23, 2012 at 12:15 pm

We at Inhabiture are going to do our part. We designed our new store to use LED lighting, passive air and daylight harvesting. It is all about redesign and if business want help to reduce their carbon footprint we can help.

Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Enez - you're absolutely right. The thing is, I was trying to be ironic, in pointing out that the anti-global warming initiatives of our elected officials fly smack! in the face of the way we Palo Altans live. For my part, I already know that anthropogenic GW is a farce, which is why I like pointing out the irony here.

Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2012 at 1:21 pm

When we were planning to re-roof our house in 2009, we wanted to add rooftop solar. But the City gave our roofer such a hard time about the permit: they kept him waiting at City Hall all day every day for over two weeks-- coupled with the fact that it would take thirty years for it to pay itself off-- that we decided to go ahead and re-roof without it.

Solar needs to be easier to get a permit for, and cheaper to install so that a majority of homeowners can afford to do it. Only then will it make a real difference.

Posted by anecdote annie, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm

"they kept him waiting at City Hall all day every day for over two weeks"

I find this hard to believe for two reasons:
1) that the city would keep someone waiting all day for two weeks
2) that the roofer would actually sit and wait for two weeks, all day, every day.

An anecdote for every occasion

Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Well, they did. The roofer was furious but anxious to get started on the job so he could get paid. By the end of the first week he asked who he had to bribe at City Hall. The city workers went on strike for a month after that, including the building inspectors. So our roof, started in September, did not get signed off until early November.

I envy you, Annie, that everything goes so smoothly and perfectly in your life. So few people can achieve that.

Posted by anecdote annie, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 24, 2012 at 7:02 am

"By the end of the first week he asked who he had to bribe at City Hall. "
How do you know that he asked this? Did you report him to the police?

"The city workers went on strike for a month after that, including the building inspectors."
BAck in 2009???
Is this the strike you are referring to:
Web Link
"Just under 60 percent of the city employees represented by Palo Alto's largest labor union took an unpaid "furlough day" today, which the city administration is calling an illegal one-day strike."

Jan, don't you realize that when you tell us these "whoppers", that there are ways to check the accuracy???

Really, Jan.

Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm

No, Annie, that is not the strike. My roofer himself, who had never done a job in PA before, told me that the City Inspector told him about the strike when it was being planned. He was shocked at how difficult it was to get a permit for anything, compared to Los Gatos, Campbell, and SJ, and asked who he had to bribe. He told me he was only half-joking.

My roofer was not allowed to finish the patio roof until after the strike, when the inspector was back on the job.

Obviously, you have never had any construction work is a three-step process:
Inspection and permit, mid-project inspection, final inspection.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by anectode annie, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm

"No, Annie, that is not the strike. "
Then which strike was it. That was the only "strike" in 2009.
There was no month long strike like you originally stated,

"My roofer was not allowed to finish the patio roof until after the strike, when the inspector was back on the job."
Whoops, looks like you did it again, Jan--made up a story to bloster your latest tale of woe. but guess what, it is false. There was a one day strike in 2009. The city of Palo Alto went to court for an injunction barringtheunion from striking--so no 1 month strike, as you claim.

"Obviously, you have never had any construction work is a three-step process:"
That is irrelevant and you are off on one of your tangents/backtracks as you try to resist the fact that you have been exposed again

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Corina, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Rather than the piddling examples given, how about the city tell my landlord to insulate this place, or change the roof from dark to light, or put solar panels up there? But no, that would violate their sacred property rights. So the city will just keep nagging us about full loads in the dishwasher.

Posted by HelpTheAir, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2012 at 12:14 am

Solar options really should be the upmost need!
Our environment will not hold up if we don't.
Folks that do buy and use it, should be happy, AND should have some money off for solar.

Posted by ducatigirl, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2012 at 12:32 pm

ducatigirl is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by anecdote Annie, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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