First up, the council debated whether to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 27 percent by 2020 as recommended by the Environmental Quality Commission. Implementing that policy could cost the city $250,000 to $400,000, according to staff, although the cost could be reduced through grants.
Three of the five council members supported the target. Council members Peter Ohtaki and Andy Cohen weren't ready to aim that high, at least partly over budget concerns. Mr. Ohtaki noted that surrounding cities are at 15 percent and questioned the wisdom of pushing so far ahead of Menlo Park's neighbors; he suggested 17 to 20 percent as a more comfortable goal.
More contentious, in the eyes of city residents at least, was the council's direction to proceed with supporting a proposed countywide ban on single-use plastic bags and styrofoam takeout containers. Some residents pointed out that plastic bags are actually "multiple use" bags. Hank Lawrence said his family re-uses bags for other tasks, such as wastebasket liners and lunch bags. Another resident said he found plastic bags much easier to carry than re-usable or paper bags.
However, the council's unanimous direction to staff was to move forward with drafting a policy supporting the county's proposed bans. San Mateo County, which is conducting an environmental impact report to assess the impact of the ordinances, has said it will enforce the bans in incorporated areas if local cities hold community outreaches to inform residents. Menlo Park staff estimated the outreach will cost about $10,000, far less than if the city implemented similar bans on its own.
The greenhouse gas reduction target and the bans will return to the council for approval once staff has incorporated the feedback.
Even if all three initiatives are approved by the council, there are still plenty of topics to tackle from an environmental perspective. For example, using less paper. At least one resident would like to see the city take that step by adding wireless Internet access to the council chambers.
Wi-Fi is the norm in other cities, said Adina Levin, who serves on the environmental quality commission. "One of the costs saving measures proposed in response to the loss of (redevelopment agency) funds was the elimination of paper staff reports, which saves money and waste," she wrote in an email to the council on March 13. "If Council Chambers and other meeting rooms had wifi, more members of the public would be able to utilize electronic staff reports during public meetings. This would make the elimination of paper staff reports more reasonable and fair since it would be possible to access the staff reports without paper."
She told the Almanac that as of yet, no one at the city has jumped on the Wi-Fi train.