Election season is in full swing across Palo Alto, where campaign signs are becoming more noticeable across town.
To assist local voters in their decision at the ballot box, the Weekly asked this year's seven City Council candidates to fill out questionnaires about their qualifications, vision for the city and priorities if elected. They also explained where they stand on housing, climate change, rail crossings and policing and crime, among other topics.
The candidates' answers on all these topics will be published as separate articles, one per day, through Sept. 19. Here's what they had to say to the following question: What are specific next steps should Palo Alto take to address climate change?
Palo Alto has an opportunity to be a regional leader with several greenhouse gas reduction strategies. We need to move ahead with policies that remove barriers to adoption of electric options, such as heat pumps for space and water heating. In addition to financial incentives the city should streamline permitting and inspection, and consider providing installation assistance.
To support this conversion to clean electric power, Palo Alto's utility needs to rapidly upgrade our local electric grid to handle the increased load. We also need to remove restrictive permitting and inspection processes for solar panels and battery systems. In addition to incentives, we should consider policies that phase out natural gas in commercial buildings, residential remodels, and outdoor spaces. New housing development should be electric only.
We should provide options to automobile travel, including the crosstown shuttle and an on-demand shuttle, as well as better ties to regional transit, better bicycle routes, and lots of additional bicycle parking.
We should continue to incentivize electric vehicles, mainly via access to EV charging in public parking lots, close to workplaces, and in apartment complexes. We should electrify city-owned vehicles wherever possible.
We should enforce Palo Alto's existing ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, which are a surprisingly significant emitter of CO2.
Palo Alto also needs to adapt to climate change. Next steps to take include:
• Incentivizing conversion to low-water landscaping, while continuing to care for the tree canopy.
• Undergrounding power lines in the foothills to reduce wildfire risk.
• Hardening our low-lying infrastructure against sea level rise, including utilities facilities and the Regional Water Quality Control Plant.
• Building a horizontal levee in the baylands to absorb storm surges and improve animal habitat.
• Widening bridges on some of our creeks to protect against flooding.
The major environmental and conservation issues facing our city are the water crisis (which has many manifestations: drought, flooding, and sea level rise) and the growing risk of wildfires, which can be devastating for the city and the environment. There is concern about climate issues, but not HOW we will fix them! I will look at the organization model and how the city interacts with businesses. I will then look into making it more efficient; we need an Economic Dev Staff, and I will look for resources w/ support from the business community. Also, I will research incentives for creating new programs.
I support developing environmentally friendly units with a smaller footprint, closer to transit hubs, so we can reduce land waste, have less expensive units, and reduce traffic.
We are truly blessed to have such a variety of parks & recreation options and open spaces, and I think preserving what we have is a wonderful thing we must do for the future of our city and our kids. I would support the addition of bike lanes to connect the parks and the open space, and definitely SAFE BIKE ROUTES for our kids.
I will look into WATER STORAGE as a concept, including stormwater and water supply. I believe about 25% of our water demand falls on our roofs, so instead of letting it go into creeks/bays, we could store it for future use. City Water Smart = Water Storage, as rainwater is about the same quantity as our drinking water. We are dealing with cycles, and just like the battery model, we need to store water/energy for future use.
The biggest damage to the wildlife habitat is the rising risk of wildfires. This should be one of the city's priorities going forward.
Electrification is one of my priorities — we need to mandate electrification of new construction and encourage electrification for renovations. In the short run, we need to upgrade our local grid and ensure that there is sufficient green energy available to support the needs of increased electrification. During the transition to a fully electrified future, we need to consider the costs and benefits of transforming existing gas heating and appliances to electricity. I do not currently support forcing residential transition from existing gas where it would be highly costly, and our grid is currently highly stressed.
Palo Alto needs to continue to nurture our urban canopy and the protection of parks and open spaces — we do not want to become a "heat island". We also need to invest in ecologically sustainable methods such as the horizontal levee to deal with the inevitable rise of San Francisco Bay.
Climate action is the most urgent existential issue we face as human beings, and cities around the globe have tremendous power to stave off catastrophe and prepare for the changes already afoot.
Palo Alto already has an award-winning reputation for leadership in environmental sustainability. Now is the time to solidify and accelerate our 80/30 efforts. I would convene our academic partners at Stanford and PARC along with our entrepreneurs and innovators in the valley to design the environmentally sustainable city of the future that could be a road map for others to follow, so that Palo Alto continues to be seen as a beacon on the hill.
If elected, I will place a heavy focus on evolving our transit behaviors so that humans can get from here to there under electric power, bicycle, and walking. For example, it's absurd that hundreds of parents drive hundreds of cars to and from our schools each and every day, creating greenhouse gas emissions and traffic buildup and preventing them from being at work, tending to family at home, or simply enjoying life. A green shuttle taking our kids to and from our schools would address these issues in one fell swoop. Big-picture and longer-term, I'm extremely excited about the "Seamless Bay Area" concept whereby the Bay Area's entire public transit system would be integrated and led by a single governing body.
I will also lead by example by sharing my personal story. Whereas once I was recalcitrant about climate action, we now have solar panels, an electric heat pump furnace, and a hybrid and electric car. I'd like to see the city mandate that gas/natural gas will no longer be in use by 2035, and with on-bill financing plus subsidies for low-income residents, we can do it.
• Palo Alto should continue to invest in renewable energy sources such as solar.
• The city should continue to reduce the use of natural gas. It should offer financing to help ensure that gas-utilizing appliances aren't being replaced with other gas-utilizing appliances, thus ensuring another 20 years of reliance on using natural gas.
• Palo Alto should continue to explore ways to reduce its reliance on cars, such as electric bike/scooter share programs and electric vehicle charging stations.
• Palo Alto should continue to advocate for state and federal policies that address climate change.
Palo Alto has an aggressive Sustainability and Climate Action Plan based on achieving 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. But the city has fallen behind on its goal. To leverage our innovation culture and ensure greater progress toward reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, we should pursue several things in parallel, including:
• Let's expand Palo Alto's successful pilot that transitioned home heating from gas to electric heat pumps in a below-market-rate multi-family building. The pilot demonstrated that we can retrofit existing units for electrification; and the heat pumps resulted in lower heating bills for residents of the affordable units.
• Palo Alto has the highest Electric Vehicle adoption rate in the country, and it's expected to increase, so let's make EV charging more readily available throughout the city.
• Let's enhance our green building Reach Codes to include pathways for transitioning commercial buildings from gas to electric. In fact, let's set a date when we discontinue use of gas in Palo Alto.
Because this will require an electrification workforce that is in short supply, we should advocate for electrification workforce development, including electrification contractors, high voltage line workers, and power supply engineers to enable state and local climate plans.
And, even as we fight climate change, we also need to adapt to the changing climate, and its effects such as sea level rise, the risk of megafires in our foothills, and severe weather events. Palo Alto has an Adaptation Policy and completed a Vulnerability Assessment this summer. We are developing an Adaptation Plan, which should accommodate the projected 50-year average sea level rise and include updating building codes and addressing the salination of groundwater.
Palo Alto has a tradition of leadership on the climate front. Let's put bold ideas into action and stay that way.
+ Adopt an updated reach code to expand requirements that go beyond state minimums such as:
• All-electric for new residential and nonresidential construction, including ADUs.
• Expanded EV charging infrastructure
• Require installation of a heat pump water heater when an existing water heater is replaced as part of a residential addition or remodel. Create a program that provides incentives and partners with contractors to make purchase and installation of heat pump water heaters an equitable and appealing option for existing homes.
• Low-carbon concrete standards for new construction
+Address capacity issues with the electric grid to support increased demand:
• Upgrade transformers
• "Right-size" home EV chargers to reduce unnecessary panel upgrades and capacity burdens
+ Create robust standards and penalties for Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs and continue to invest in safe, accessible, non-SOV infrastructure. Expand Transportation Management Agency (TMA) efforts beyond "transit pass" focus to include partnership with city, PAUSD, and major employers to fund an effective local shuttle system.
+ Complete an actionable Sea Level Rise (SLR) and Groundwater Rise Adaptation Plan and take advantage of increasing SLR grant funding availability to support implementation.
+ Implement the Foothills Fire Management Plan to balance conservation of natural resources with reduction of fire hazards especially in open space areas. Work collaboratively with other jurisdictions and agencies to reduce wildfire hazards in and around Palo Alto, with an emphasis on effective vegetation management and mutual aid agreements.