Guest Opinion: Got enviro fatigue? On dawn of Earth Day, City working to help you get over it | April 15, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - April 15, 2011

Guest Opinion: Got enviro fatigue? On dawn of Earth Day, City working to help you get over it

by Sid Espinosa

I worry that some of my friends are contracting environmentalism fatigue. Sure, they're environmentally focused (they've already converted their light bulbs, replaced their lawn with native plants and bought a Prius), but they are also becoming tone deaf to the constant drum of environmentalism. I am worried about this trend.

Climate change is such a monumental and complex issue that it is easy to throw up our hands in hopelessness, but the reality is that we've only just begun addressing the issue and all of us — across every sector — will need to make changes and sacrifices that we haven't yet imagined or internalized. There is not a more critical issue facing our planet. I won't go into the doomsday tales, but the latest sea level rise predictions alone should be alarming enough to get every Palo Altan's attention.

While it is sometimes hard to comprehend the causal correlation between our individual everyday actions and a global crisis, we need to make that connection. And while leadership is needed at international, national, state and regional levels, we must do everything possible here at home too.

Environmental sustainability is a top priority for the City of Palo Alto. During April (when we celebrate Earth Day), we are reminded that Palo Alto is striving to be an environmental leader in four critical areas: energy and water supply and conservation, natural and built environments, transportation, and the handling of waste and related materials.

Our city government has set aggressive goals for itself. For example, last year, after surpassing previously set greenhouse gas (GHG) municipal emission reduction goals, we established a new target: by 2012, we will reduce municipal emissions 20 percent below the 2005 baseline. We are moving quickly and aggressively toward this goal through building upgrades, employee commute programs, waste reduction and other measures.

We are also exceedingly proud of our citizens. PaloAltoGreen, which asks Palo Altans to pay slightly higher utility bills in order to support renewable energy purchase programs, has the nation's highest participation rate at 21 percent. Unfortunately, these participation rates are starting to level off. Help us buck this trend at

Businesses are also stepping-up, transforming their products, supply chains and facilities to be more green. WaveOne, for example, is a nonprofit organization that is assisting 250-plus Palo Alto businesses in completing energy and water reductions of at least 20 percent by implementing "best practices for waste stream management, and generating renewable energy." The results have already been extraordinary.

Technology continues to rapidly revolutionize the environmental arena. Across our city government, we are focused on finding and implementing innovative green and clean-tech products and services. We also want to serve as a test-bed for new technologies. Through partnerships with Stanford, our Public Works Department is focusing on innovative approaches to wastewater treatment and our Utilities Department has launched a pilot demand response program.

Equally impressive is the leadership at the K-12 level, with "Green Teams" launching recycling programs, wildly successful bike-to-school initiatives, and ensuring sustainability instruction. Last week at Castilleja I was overwhelmed by the student-led work in this space, and it left me hopeful that young people are internalizing the direct connection between their actions and the planet's crisis.

There is no better example of cross-sector collaboration on sustainability than CEAP (pronounced "keep"), Community Environmental Action Partnership. This citywide initiative includes neighborhood associations, businesses, city government, Stanford, nonprofits, schools, and the medical and faith communities — all working together to create and implement sustainable environmental solutions. Get engaged: A few more highlights to follow this year:

Energy and Water: In May, the city will launch a Demand Response Program to encourage limiting electricity usage during peak periods. Later this summer, the city will complete the installation of 600 LED streetlights, a program that will eventually spread across the city. In the fall, the City Council will consider new renewable energy contracts so that by 2015 33 percent of the city's overall electricity needs will be provided by renewable energy with a rate impact of no more than .05 percent per kilowatt hour. The city also continues to promote its Stormwater Rebate Program ($1,000 for residential and $10,000 for commercial) for measures that reduce stormwater runoff. This year we granted our first rebate for a green roof.

Natural and Built Environments: Through a Comprehensive Plan update this year, we are working to ensure that environmental sustainability is integrated into all aspects of our long-term city vision. The city also has a number of energy efficiency projects underway at city facilities. Palo Alto will soon review whether and how to require energy performance reviews of buildings across the city. Another exciting project this year is the creation of Palo Alto's first Urban Forest Master Plan.

Transportation: Palo Alto is currently working on a major update of its Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. Additionally, several new electric vehicle stations will pop up in Palo Alto this year, and staff is working to streamline the permitting process for home and business charging stations. We are also working with Caltrain and the Save Caltrain movement to ensure that this vital public transportation resource continues.

Waste and Materials: As the city moves forward with its zero waste goals, in 2011 our green purchasing efforts will focus on reducing plastics from the supply chain, increasing recycled content and reducing toxicity levels. We are also studying the most environmentally responsible and cost-effective way to manage our compost as well as update the Regional Water Quality Control Plant. Finally, we continue to roll out Palo Alto's plastic bag ban in local stores.

There's a lot happening on the environmental sustainability front in Palo Alto. Yes, the global crisis can be overwhelming, but now is the time to get energized and more deeply engaged. Yes, we need to continue to fight at national and international levels to ensure large-scale impact, but all of us need to be involved locally. This Earth Day, let's all think about how we can live differently in order to help the environment. The city is tackling this issue in every way imaginable -- and it is making a positive difference. Join us.


Posted by Carroll Harrington, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

Kudos to Mayor Espinosa for highlighting just some of the sustainability programs and projects in Palo Alto! When I helped start Palo Alto Business Goes Green for the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce in 2006, I was astounded to learn about all that is happening in the PAUSD with the Sustainable Schools Committee Web Link and to discover the many-layered City of Palo Alto programs as outlined by Sustainability Coordinator Debra VanDuynhoven at the April 11 City Council meeting. (There is a problem with the PDF of this report so I will post the link later.)

If you don't already belong to PaloAltoGreen, sign up today! Web Link

See you you on Earth Day, April 22, at the Palo Alto Clean Green Street Scene centered at Lytton Plaza with more activities around downtown.! Web Link

Posted by Doing my best to drive a little less, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2011 at 12:20 pm

REALLY great work is being done by the Safe Routes to School Partnership. Together over the last decade, they have significantly reduced school-commute related car trips, bucking a national trend the other direction.

School-bound PAUSD high school bicycle commuters are beating last year’s record bike counts. At Gunn High School, volunteers counted 671 bikes (that is 36% of Gunn students) on the campus in October 2010, more than three times the 180 bikes (11% of students) counted in 1999. At Paly 741 bikes (40% of Paly commuters) were reported at Palo Alto High School in October, up from 220 in 1999. With bike counts at Jordan and JLS Middle Schools close to 50% and climbing, the trend is expected to continue. Student choices are fueling change. Besides exercising their foot power, students also are trying to carpool and ride transit more.

Our kids get it. 38% of California's total CO2 emissions come from transportation and 72% of that comes from Passenger Vehicles. If you want to make a REAL difference, try to use alternatives to driving whenever possible. The average Palo Alto household generates about TEN car trips per day (TEN!). The majority of those trips are less than TWO miles. We can do better. Each time we leave the house, instead of automatically picking up car keys, let's consider the options: "Can I walk, bike, carpool, ride transit?" We can't eliminate every car trip, but we can try to be more thoughtful about burning fossil fuels.

My grandmother used to say that "the value of thoughtful conservancy of resources seems to have been lost." Too bad, I think. Let's use our resources, especially cars, more thoughtfully. Our ecosystem depends on it.

If you are interested in logging your commute miles to try to drive less, check out the where you can log your miles and be eligible to win prizes. They have some great information on their site about alternatives to driving that may be helpful.

Posted by Bret Andersen, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Mayor Sid,
Thanks for highlighting our green goals and all the community action being taken to meet it. As for local transportation, getting another 10-20% reduction in emissions will be fun and healthy for our residents. People who consider taking an alternative to their car (bus, bike, train or walk) for one out of 5 or 10 trips can make it happen. Thanks for supporting the Drive Less Challange as a way for anyone to have fun greening their travel habits. I'll see you starting on Earth Day with many of our fellow residents on the leader boards and winning prizes at

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 15, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Mayor Sid,

Do you think plasma arc is superior to anaerobic digestion, as a solution to our waste pile in our baylands?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I think it is fair to say that we are getting enviro fatigue.

On the one hand, we have banned plastic bags so that many of us have to buy bags to line our trash cans.

We recycle as much as we can and we end up having our garbage rates increased due to lack of volume of trash.

We aim to take public transit but Caltrain and VTA services are constantly being threatened.

We aim to shop locally to buy our regular groceries, clothes and household needs, but Palo Alto provides fewer affordable options and what we have is spread out, so we have to drive in our cars to neighboring cities for our one stop shopping trips.

I could go on, but at the local level it is all talk and no practical action.

I agree that our kids are doing a great job on their bikes to school but I think that it is the PTA we should thank, not the City of PA.

Posted by TJ, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 9:59 pm

It's not environmental fatigue but the fact that people are figuring out things like global warming is a hoax. They've figured out that Prius batteries will pose a significant environmental hazard. They've figured out the mercury in CFL bulbs is a serious health threat. They've figured out that electric cars will be powered by coal burning plants in disadvantaged neighborhoods, essentially shifting air pollution from rich white communities to poor black and Latino communities. They've figured out that carbon offsets don't work and are easily scammed. I can go on, but much of the environmental movement today is based on fraud, and most people don't want anything to do with it.

Posted by Peter, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 16, 2011 at 10:00 am

Enviro Fatigue Sid??

I think taking out 11 huge Eucalyptus trees at Pardee park,
where each one sequestered 1K lbs of C02/year - for flimsy safety excuses.

That is enviro fatique.

Praising the new Mitchell Park library as a LEED building when 73 healthy trees were removed.

That is enviro fatigue.

How many other tree removals have you supported???

Posted by JC Mitchell, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 16, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Thank you Mayor Espinosa for your continued focus on environmentalism in Palo Alto. I appreciate your dedication to this city and to the thoughtfulness of the decisions you make, knowing that they are not always straightforward and that they do carry consequences. Keep up the good work.

Posted by David Greene, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 16, 2011 at 6:42 pm

The instant that our species moved off the solar cycle we became unsustainable. Truly, our species grows and thrives by "borrowing" hours of day by consuming fossil fuels to further our existence. Scientists suggest that the sun can support slightly more than 1 billion of us, and others predicts there will be 9.2 billion of us on the planet by 2050. And yet we don't have enough arable land to produce enough food for all these people. So if we all want to live happily together on this planet, we have to work on solutions rather than discuss problems. There is a balance between the consumption of non-renewable resources, economic prosperity, and lifestyle choice.  Be happy with the choices you make, be aware of the consequences those choices make to the planet, and respect with dignity the impact those choices have on the living things around you. Mayor Espinosa, the City, the School District, Acterra, Canopy, Transition Palo Alto, CSAs, and a huge number of volunteers in this city are working on solutions. Hooray for these global citizens who see the future, not ignore it.

Posted by the more the merrier, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Ooh, let's see: China has already overtaken the US as the world's worst polluter and biggest consumer of energy. India hot on their tails. With trajectories to further increase their greenhouse gas output over the next decade more than the US & Europe combined.
Yes, I'll go home and dig up my lawn. That will help.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Our bank account is experiencing quite a bit "enviro fatigue."

Posted by Millie, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 18, 2011 at 10:32 am

Watching what's happening to our utility rates certain gives me "enviro fatigue" when we can save money by NOT recycling.

Hearing incessant nonsense about "traffic diets" and how you're supposed to walk or bike bags of groceries home gives me "enviro fatigue" when I thought I was being oh-so-green by doing all my shopping in one trip.

And I'm SO sick of hearing about compost. How about fixing the traffic lights timing to cut down on exhaust???

Posted by Bob, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 18, 2011 at 10:35 am

"The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) are sponsoring meetings to inform the public of the Initial Vision Scenario for the PLAN BAY AREA effort, released earlier this month. The Initial Vision Scenario sets forth a potential land use pattern for development in the Bay Area to accommodate approximately 2 million new residents, 900,000 new housing units, and 1.2 million new jobs through the year 2035. The stated objective of the plan is to accommodate growth in ways that minimize greenhouse gas emissions and maximize benefits of infrastructure investments. "(The goal for Palo Alto is 12,000 new residences.)

READ CAREFULLY. THE ABOVE IS A RECIPE FOR 'ENVIRONMENTAL FATIGUE" BROUGHT ON US BY THE ENVIRONMENTAL DO-GOODERS WHO ARE HELL BENT ON PAVING OVER EVERY INCH OF LAND. And Palo Alto also has to justify and keep busy its expensive Environmental Czar well paid with pension and benefits and with an office, staff, supplies, trekking off to conferences - and adding to our budget deficit. Our recycling issues and costs are still a management disaster. Palo Alto did OK before we were forced to 'go green'. Public Works and Utilities should win a prize for generating the most 'junk mail'.

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 18, 2011 at 11:38 am

Easy answer to enviro fatigue: Don't but into the hype!

MAN MADE Global Warming is a hoax. We sit between to very hot fires. That is a fact. When we can fit EVERY VOLCANO AND FUMAROLE with a Catalytic Converter, THEN MAN MADE air pollution issues can be discussed.

From my inbox: #108 of 365 ways to drive a Liberal Crazy:

Celebrate Earth Day (April 22)
by reminding liberals of all the whacko predictions made by environmentalists in 1970, the year the event was founded: a new Ice Age (Newsweek); a world "eleven degrees colder by the year 2000" (Kenneth Watt); by 1985 air pollution to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half (Life magazine); by 1995 between 75 and 85 percent of all species to be extinct (Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson); mass starvation (Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes). Say: "Thank you, thank you, Earth Day! If those 20 million hippies hadn't taken the day off work, we'd all be dead by now!"


CCFLs were a dangerous scam.They don't last longer and break easier than the old bulbs. LED bulbs ( Mine were $ 2.590 each in bulk ) are safer and cost effective..

I can point to many other scams, but the majority of LEMMINGS have already made their minds up....And it looks like PA sits alongside of the " 10 Square Miles surrounded by reality " that Boulder has made famous....

BTW, I have had training in alternative energy solutions..FORMAL training.

The PIOUS and many of your " Earth - Friendly " items are not.....

Posted by Nonsense, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Global warming is real but Palo Alto's counter-productive and COSTLY "green" nonsense is just that -- nonsense. We pay more than surrounding towns and the "greener" we are, the more we pay.


Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I am concerned that Palo Alto has not shown a good faith effort in updating the 2007-14 Housing Element / General Plan to comply with the Association of Bay Area Governments (Palo Alto is a member city) Regional Housing Needs Allocation, a regional smart growth policy designed to minimize regional GHG and other negative externalities. I fear that Jerry Brown will embarrass Palo Alto, as he did to Pleasanton when he was Attorney General. Brown’s argument against Palo Alto will be that Palo Alto is "anti-climate."

In one scenario, the state could wrestle away control of Palo Alto’s local planning prerogative, to rapidly accommodate Palo Alto’s fair share of regional housing needs. Such a strong intervention by the state against the City should energize Council. Likewise, such an action should help focus Council’s efforts onto large sources of GHG, helping them to avoid smaller, photo op-friendly GHG items. Such a strong action would make the link between GHG and regional smart growth much more apparent.

Posted by Dan , a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Steve Raney said: In one scenario, the state could wrestle away control of Palo Alto’s local planning prerogative, to rapidly accommodate Palo Alto’s fair share of regional housing needs. Such a strong intervention by the state against the City ...

Would likely be illegal and would at least be tied up in the courts for a long time. You can pretend that ABAG and the state "knows best" and has ultimate authority over local planning decisions but I haven't seen any indication that local jurisdiction in zoning decisions has been or should be overturned. Central planners always know best and never fall victim to the law of unintended consequences...

Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 18, 2011 at 9:06 pm


The Association of Bay Area Governments (Palo Alto is a member city) regional smart growth policy is designed to minimize regional GHG. This is based on the geometry of all the daily trips that people take in the Bay Area. There is no magic or conspiracy to regional smart growth. It is straightforward geometry. Palo Alto planning staff are aware if this geometry and they even had ABAG present at City Hall evening event.

As far as legality, Palo Alto's General Plan is "out of compliance" with the Regional Housing Needs Allocation. Palo Alto is at risk at being found having an "illegal" General Plan / Housing Element. Multiple CA cities have been found to be "out of compliance" in the past and have had to implement remedies.

The challenge for the regional smart growth disputers is to come up with an alternate plan that produces the large driving / GHG reduction. The Association of Bay Area Governments is happy to model alternate plans. But no one is bringing forward an alternate plan.

Likewise, if Palo Alto Councilmembers were put in charge of the Bay Area's Regional Housing Needs Allocation, it is unlikely that they would come up with a different allocation method. "Regional smart growth" is the commonsense thing to implement to best protect the overall region.

I agree that it is controversial for Palo Alto to implement regional smart growth, but no credible alternative has been put forward. The conflict is basic: the region is growing but most cities do not want to grow as fast as the region. It’s hard to find a villain in this conflict.

Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson started as a Palo Alto Times reporter in 1966, has covered ABAG, and has encyclopedic knowledge of historical Palo Alto land use decisions. Jay wrote a 1968 article on Palo Alto's jobs/housing imbalance, with 2.4 jobs for every household in those days. Jay’s take on Palo Alto’s current jobs/housing imbalance: "Well-intentioned and environmentally conscious Palo Alto has restricted housing to create a terrible environmental situation with long commutes wasting fuel. It’s an insoluble situation. Long commutes damage the social fabric and create lower quality of
life. Workers are forced to commute from Manteca, etc. Palo Alto has a drawbridge mentality. Compounding the insolubility, objections raised by neighborhood associations are legitimate."

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2011 at 7:45 pm

No one says that energy laws are unnecessary. However, much of the legislation has come in sudden, tsunami-like waves. This has a major impact on the economy...and our bank account.

"Rome wasn't built in a day." In fact, 20% of it wasn't built in a day (or year) either. However, some legislators are trying to push California to a faux 20% "energy independence" by a stroke of the governor's pen.

That stroke of the pen will cost money (*to businesses, corporations AND consumers) and jobs.

I just wish that the legislators would have preferred a more logical approach to the government has done with gas mileage requirements. That way, the sudden increase in cost of energy (and subsequent inflation of most products) would not be as sudden in its impact.

Posted by proof, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 20, 2011 at 9:29 am

"However, much of the legislation has come in sudden, tsunami-like waves. This has a major impact on the economy...and our bank account."

Speaking of previous lege?

Proof of claim about impact?

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2011 at 10:05 am

Regulate pollution at the source.

Regulate breeding.

Posted by proof, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 20, 2011 at 10:14 am

Outside Observer:


Regulate? Which intrusive, big government political party wants to "regulate breeding"?

Oh, yeah, the "big governement party." A certain party wants to peek into your bedroom quite a bit to make sure you're doing it their way. No deviation, or you are a deviate!

And they really want to look inside a woman's body. Privacy be damned.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm

@ proof:

Are you seriously questioning whether environmental legislation affects us?


Secondly, the cost of goods and services has GONE UP!

Moreover, the cost of goods and services will GO UP once the impact of the latest 20% legislation is realized.

There are plenty of articles online about how such legislation affects consumers, jobs, and the economy as a whole. I suggest that you look it up yourself BEFORE questioning whether or not it has an impact at all.

As for the "big government party" that wants to peak at you:

Are you speaking about the GREEN POLICE who want to look into your garbage and check whether or not you are recycling properly? Are you speaking about the ANIMAL POLICE who wants to look at your dog's unspeakables and determine whether or not you can breed your own pooch? Are you speaking about the EMISSION'S MECHANIC POLICE who you must pay $50-100 to determine whether or not your car can be driven in the state?

Call some people "crazy," but they would prefer to save the life of an unborn child than to save the oceans from styrofoam. Of course, it is possible to do BOTH.

It is disappointing that some people are so fanatical that they are willing to dismiss the moral, religious and cultural views of some regarding abortion -- and then paint them as fanatics -- when they are just as much a zealot for the environment.

"Tolerance" and "respect" be damned.

Posted by proof, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm


I asked for proof, not hyperbole, screeching "everything has gone up!!"

The only factual thing you came close to is an apparent swipe at smog certs, at 50 - 100 bucks. They've changed it so new cars don't need certs every two years. Yes, it's corporate welfare to the gas station lobby.

Since you didn't offer and SOLUTIONS, I'm left to interpret your rant as preferring dirty air over regulation.

If that's your position, then I can't really debate you. I want my parents and my kids not to have asthma or other lung problems. Sorry, I can't debate that.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm

@ proof:

Wow -- you are quite an environmentalist, aren't you?

OF course, you are asking ME for proof -- when it is you who are making some sort of insinuation that environmental laws do not affect inflation, jobs, or other aspects of the economy.

You, and environmentalists like you, rant all about such thing based upon HEARSAY that you aren't even willing to research and test to ascertain the truth of the matter.

Yeah, you can't really debate...because you would prefer to stare at Plato's metaphoric shadows on the cave wall. But, in this case, the shadows are caused by a few environmentalists who rant about how things not only need to change...but change immediately (and the economy and our wallets are a distant second).

While you and your children enjoy air that you imagine is so much less asthmatic than it was last year (*cough delusion cough cough), many other families will be scraping change together to pay for the increases in cost of utilities, groceries along with other good and services.

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