Portola Valley signs agreement, looks to cut CO2 emissions
- Published Wednesday, November 1, 2006, by the Menlo Park Almanac
Cooling it -- Official Portola Valley is preparing to cut CO2
emissions. Is the specter of global warming on the radar yet in
Atherton, Woodside and Menlo Park?
By David Boyce
If there's any comfort in knowing that heat-retaining gases such as
carbon dioxide are building up in the atmosphere and changing the
climate of the planet, it may be in the common expectation that the
really significant impacts are 50 or 100 years off.
The ice cap at the North Pole is shrinking, but scientists have
said that higher sea levels won't be a serious issue as long as the
deep and massive reservoirs of ice accumulated over millennia in
Greenland and Antarctica remain intact.
Maybe it's time to worry. The polar ice is melting and it's moving.
In Portola Valley, with the urging of some 400 Sierra Club members
who reside there, a unanimous Town Council recently joined some 320
U.S. municipalities large and small in signing the Mayors Agreement
on Climate Change.
The agreement, which echoes the international treaty known as the
Kyoto Protocol, commits the council and staff to a plan to lower
greenhouse gas emissions from town operations to 7 percent below
1990 levels by 2012. Residents and local businesses will be
encouraged to participate.
Mayors in Menlo Park and Woodside have told the Almanac that they
will seriously consider the agreement. The mayor of Atherton says
he was unfamiliar with the agreement, but senses a concern in the
community over global warming.
Midway through Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," are
before-and-after satellite images of the San Francisco Bay Area
showing the effect if sea levels rose 18 to 20 feet. The water
advances well inland in the vicinity of Menlo Park and Atherton.
Water could rise to that level if half the ice on Greenland and
Antarctica were to melt, Mr. Gore says.
Is that likely? In Antarctica, scientists expected a century to pass
before the melting of the Larsen-B ice shelf a 4,500-square-mile,
700-foot-thick mass estimated at 12,000 years old. The Larsen-B is
now history, Mr. Gore says. It collapsed and disappeared over 35
days in 2002.
Meanwhile in Greenland, ice is melting at an accelerating rate and
the massive ice sheet there is getting restless.
Concern in Portola Valley
Portola Valley's Mayor Steve Toben says he signed the climate change
agreement because the scientific opinion "is increasingly settled."
Although the town already uses green practices, Mayor Toben says
he "really wanted to extend the town's commitment to environmental
Indeed, another green commitment is hardly novel. The new Town
Center complex incorporates so many green-building practices that
it may meet the top green-design standard. Town Hall also has a
purchasing policy favoring green products.
This year, the town's Architectural and Site Control Commission
began requiring residents with remodeling or rebuilding plans to
answer a detailed checklist on how they might make their projects
What else can a town of 4,600 do? Ideas may come from the town's new
Climate Protection Task Force, a brainstorming group hosted by Mayor
Toben and composed, so far, of about 25 residents who met twice in
October. Former Planning Commissioner Craig Breon is a member, as is
Shelley Sweeney, who initiated the town's bike-to-school day.
Ms. Sweeney says she hopes to expand bike-to-school to a monthly
routine to get parents used to the idea and out of their cars.
In a Sept. 5 memo to the council, Planning Manager Leslie Lambert
suggested running some town vehicles on bio-diesel, a so-called zero-
emission fuel. The recycled vegetable oil used to make it emits CO2
absorbed by recently living plants, unlike the ancient CO2 released
in fossil fuel combustion.
Residents might also think about buying more green products, making
bulk purchases, carpooling and switching to hybrid cars, Ms. Lambert
To measure progress, the town may enlist the Toronto-based
International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. For a
$600 yearly fee, ICLEI offers to any city or town with a population
of less than 50,000 an energy audit of the community and long-term
Will Portola Valley's progress involve inconvenience, the theme of
Al Gore's movie? Mayor Toben called the climate-change agreement
secondary to matters such as street repaving and field maintenance.
"I will unequivocally state that people will see no cost to other
programs in the town as a result of this," he says. "I would say
that this issue is kind of woven into the fabric of the community in
ways that don't interrupt the business of the day."
Asked whether push lawnmowers might be used on town property, Mayor
Toben says they would not. "The point here is not to go to some
immediate extreme measures," he says. "I say, give this a platform
and let (residents) see where they can take it."
What residents think
Mayor Toben says he's heard "a couple of (critical) voices here and
there." Among them is Bernie Bayuk.
"I think that Portola Valley has no place getting involved with what
the Berkeleyites would do and have done," Mr. Bayuk says. "'Let's
stop pumping oil, let's stop driving cars. Everybody stay home; the
planet's warming.' ... There was no vote, no poll. For (the council)
to take a position for Portola Valley is really off the track."
Ed Wells, noting the governor's Sept. 27 approval of a greenhouse
gas reduction law, says he was "very happy to have any Town Council
of mine support (Gov.) Arnold Schwarzenegger in an attempt to get
people to pay attention to global warming."
Steve Dunne sees the council's action as consistent with its green
emphasis on the new Town Center complex: "They're thinking globally
and acting locally."
The Berkeley council has indeed signed the climate change agreement,
as have councils in Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills and Fremont,
according to a list kept on the Web.
In Palo Alto, the seven-month-old Green Ribbon Task Force has
divided its 30 members into six subgroups with missions that include
outreach, transportation and waste reduction. The task force will
report to the Palo Alto City Council on Monday, Dec. 18, says member
The outreach group has categorized target audiences, including
businesses, neighborhoods and faith communities, says Debbie Mytels,
an associate director with the Palo Alto environmental group
Will Menlo Park take up the effort? Mayor Nicholas Jellins, who says
he was aware of the Mayors Agreement, has asked the city manager to
put it on the City Council's agenda. It could be discussed by
December, he says.
"Our city is actively pursuing any number of environmental efforts,"
he adds. "With that said, we can do more."
One step already taken is a new "cool roof" atop the senior center
at the Onetta Harris Community Center, says Public Works Director
Kent Steffens. The roofing material reflects sunlight to reduce the
air conditioning load. PG&E is currently offering rebates for
putting a cool roof on a home.
Menlo Park may also seek garbage haulers that use bio-diesel in
their trucks, Mr. Steffens adds.
Woodside, too, may be moving on the climate agreement. "It certainly
has been on my mind to look that up," says Mayor Deborah Gordon. "I
certainly see (global warming) as something that we need to address
now. We do have a responsibility to set an example to the emerging
Ms. Gordon sits on the county's Utilities & Sustainability Task
Force, originally formed to plan for the energy needs of San Mateo
County but now focusing on lowering CO2 emissions, she says.
The group is still getting organized, says task force member Jill
Boone, the county's Resource Conservation Program Manager. While it
will not have binding authority, it is likely to sponsor joint
emission-lowering efforts among cities and towns and offer
incentives, she says.
Asked for her views on global warming, Ms. Boone commented that the
pleasant Northern California climate makes it easy to ignore ominous
events elsewhere on the planet.
"There's a lot to be worried about," she says. "We are reaching a
point at which it will be very difficult to turn back. Certainly
when you understand what's going on in Greenland and some other
arctic ice floes, and see the melting that goes on there, and the
feedback loops ... if you really grasp that, it's a little
Feedback loops are self-reinforcing cycles. Permanently frozen land
above the Arctic Circle, when it thaws, sends stored CO2 into the
atmosphere, which raises temperatures and thaws still more land. A
similar effect is occurring at the North Pole as the white ice cap
melts and becomes dark water, which absorbs heat and melts more ice.
Governments at all levels need to act, Ms. Boone says.
In Atherton, Mayor Charles Marsala has taken steps. He renamed the
Waste Reduction Committee the Environmental Programs Committee to
give it a wider charter.
Six residents have offered to join, he says. "There is a big
interest in town to promote environmentally friendly programs,"
Mayor Marsala says.
He says he also tried to lower to $0 the town's fee for advice on
installing solar panels, but was outvoted on the council.
When informed of the emissions-lowering guidance available from
ICLEI, Mayor Marsala says it could be a possible next step.
Asked to comment on Atherton's large, energy-consuming homes, he
says residents use them in ways "that benefit the world,"
including "creativity in their businesses" and entertaining Silicon
"My vision of Atherton is that we should allow those types of
activities to happen in homes," he says.