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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Jumping on a bandwagon that ends up breaking down

Uploaded: Oct 21, 2021
This is the environmental way to go. This is the solution to managing our traffic problems. This is the appropriate way to use -- and save -- energy in our community. Jump on our bandwagons! Ours is the right path to our future.

Is it the right path? Sometimes yes, and occasionally no. We leap onto our bandwagon -- and hope. And hope for a better future is important. We need to hope.

But here are a few issues where our hope is dwindling, because our dreams are not -- or can't be -- fulfilled.

A friend of mine predicted a couple of years ago that we will no longer need our cars, because we can use Uber and Lyft, and soon self-driving cars will come along that we can beckon to come take us somewhere, just as our own cars do now. These hired cars will enable us to save energy, because they will keep on the go, serving many of us during a day, not just ourselves. Plus, they will consume less fuel, because starting up our own cars a couple of times a day uses more gas. And as this fleet of cars serve us all, there will be less need for parking spaces downtown and our highways will be emptier. Yes, that's all good.

According to the NYT, "Lyft reported a loss of $911 million last year, up from $688 million in 2017. Uber earned $997 million last year, much better than its $4 billion loss in 2017, but that profit included income from the sale of some assets. After backing out those one-time items, Uber lost $1.8 billion last year."

Their future is uncertain, as rates keep on rising. It now costs $15 to $18 to get from Palo Alto to Redwood City one-way. San Jose airport is about $30 away.

And a lot of Uber and Lyft drivers wanted part-time jobs, like evening and weekends, to boost their income. About three years ago I was in NYC and our taxi driver pointed out all the Uber and Lyft cars cruising the streets, which were jammed. And the influx of these fleets hurt the taxi industry dramatically.

Another bandwagon is getting people to buy electric cars or plug-in hybrids. So far about 3 percent of Americans have electric cars. The clamor for cars (electric) in the U.S. comes from places where temperatures are temperate (like Palo Alto). Part of the usage problem is that in states where the weather is very warm or very cold, it takes a lot of electricity to keep an electric car air-conditioned or heated, so the car's range sharply decreases. I'm all for EVs, and hope they are the future, but I once lived near Chicago with minus 30-degree a.m. temperatures. But I kept my car in the garage, would plug it in each night to keep it warm, and easily used my heater and car to get to work. I can't imagine driving an electric the daily 15-mile daily trip to work clad in gloves and heavy scarves because I can't use my heater.

How about transit-oriented housing? A really quick-to-grasp program the state started in2008 to induce the public to use the then-less-used buses and trains in the state. To lure them, the state helped finance more affordable housing. The plan presumed if people lived near public transit, they would use it to get to work, and may not even need a car at all!

We have built lots of transit-oriented housing the past decade-plus. Who knows if people who use public transit actually live in this housing? Years ago, I asked Palo Alto's the planning director if there are any studies to see if occupants really used public transportation. She did a thorough search, she said, and could not find any studies or data indicating whether occupants actually used these nearby buses and trains.

I did a quick search this year and could not find any data either. But my "search" was very limited. Maybe people in such housing actually used it, and maybe they didn't. Does anyone more knowledgeable on this topic actually know?

I have lived in my non-transit-oriented home in Palo Alto for a couple of decades, like three. During that period, I have worked in Palo Alto, San Francisco, at Stanford, and in San Jose. I tried taking light rail to San Jose, so took my car to park in Mountain View, got on light rail, and got off near the center of town. Total time: one hour and 10 minutes. If I drove to work, it took 18 minutes. And when I worked in San Francisco, I walked to the train station, took a train, and then a bus to get to work by 8:45 a.m. Time spent: 80 minutes, since my office was miles away from the SF train station. If I drove: 45 minutes.

I am not saying the concept is a bad idea. It is a good idea. But we've been on this bandwagon for years, and apparently have little data to assure that it has fulfilled its purpose

There are other bandwagons that we jump on that didn't work out. Like high-speed rail. The PA City Council immediately supported the $9 billion ballot measure in 2008 to approve the rail system. A year or two later, it withdrew its support. Some years later, it has been an expensive failure ($$$$ billion). The HSR Authority's report stated in late 2021,
"The Authority currently has 119 miles under construction within three construction packages. Design-builder contractors Tutor-Perini/Zachry/Parsons, Dragados." While this project is America's first high-speed rail project, and still has its supporters, nevertheless I would label it dead in the tracks.

This week the council jumped on the wagon supporting "smart meters" in Palo Alto, a new meter installed on every home and unit in town that would tell people how much electricity, gas and water they were using and what the peak time rates were. It's an effort to get people to use electricity at lower rates (like after 9 pm, or mid-morning). Cost now: an estimated $18.2 million. Advantage to consumers: more frugal use, perhaps. Will it help save our environment? TBD.

I have a few other questions:

• Palo Alto wants to go all-electric. It is now requiring that new construction must not use natural gas. City officials are also talking about residential conversion of water heaters and stoves from gas to electric. But will our electricity system really handle the increased load? Or will we be using so much electricity because we will have to depend on only that? The new smart meter system claims it will be better able to control blackouts? True? And what if we will find we really don't have the capacity for an all-electric city. I know the issue has been studied for years, and city officials say they are confident it will work, but things do go bump in the night. Yet if we don't try it out, and then have blackouts, that's not good either.

I also have well-intentioned environmental friends who insist that our future will rely almost solely on solar, wind and nuclear and will furnish sufficient energy for our future. They are jumping on a new bandwagon! Or is it a wonderful politically correct bandwagon filled with wishes and dreams?

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Eric+C, a resident of Willowgate,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 9:03 am

Eric+C is a registered user.

Conserving electricity from 4-9pm doesn't make sense to me. That's when people come home from work, make dinner, watch TV, turn on lights, run the heater, etc. Unless you want to live in the dark and cold, and eat cold food for dinner, you're not going to save money. It's an attempt by PG&E to convince you to wash clothes and run the dishwasher outside of those times, but I do that anyway.

I got the info from PG&E last year and it told me that at my present usage/times I would save $25 a year on the time-of-use plan. I opted out, figuring why worry about $25 a year every day?

Posted by Russell Young, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 9:10 am

Russell Young is a registered user.

The ‘environmental bandwagon' has good intentions but most of the ideals being promoted are impractical to fully initiate at this time and we have enough divisiveness as it is.

Gasoline-powered cars are not going away anytime soon if the petroleum industry has its way and there are EVs readily available for those who wish to soothe their environmental conscious.

Climate change is real and has periodically taken place during the entire tenure that Earth has been a planet. The Ice Age is a good example and who/whatever remains boils down to natural selection and survival of the fittest.

The ROI on going all-electric is a long-term amortization and will also require a radical shift in global economics.

And when it comes to the transportation of consumer goods, a battery-operated cargo ship or jet airliner is absolutely ludicrous from the standpoint of safety, reliability, and time constraints.

The key of course is to have a keen awareness of adverse environmental contributors but to also be realistic when it comes to addressing and resolving them.

The green bandwagon and its assorted fanatics is an EV full of pipe dreamers.

Posted by Hinrich, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 9:14 am

Hinrich is a registered user.

Thousands of years ago, and since, people gathered around the campfires to share stories of their experiences and their collective understanding of how things work. These stories informed the young, improved their collective skills, and most importantly, ensured survival. Those shared stories and combined knowledge is culture. Culture is the glue but most importantly - vitally important - it is the catalogue of our shared values and agreements. Culture has been the means that has enabled us to manage change and evolve. Culture has been denied, abandoned, and misinterpreted since the 60's - at the core, it is why there is no agreement and far too much bitterness between us. It is why something so simple as immigration or global warming or crime in the streets can't be managed - shared values have left public discourse and behavior. A new iPhone release or sale at the mall is not going to fix that. It is true that public policy has been adrift for some time and our citizens - convinced by slogans and the lure of a better world through social re-engineering keep us voting again and again and again for the same deceits. $3.5 trillion for a so-called 'infrastructure' bill that just spreads far too much of the public treasure - and debt- to poorly defined goals. And yet most seem to support this. Our culture was once much more solid, more practical, more anchored in shared values. We don't share anything anymore except Netflix, food stamps, and iPhone addiction. Ultimately, the problem is us. We need to be better people, better citizens, and rediscover a culture. Everyone can't be rolling along on the bandwagon without a collective sense of where it is going

Posted by Erin Jacobs, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 9:57 am

Erin Jacobs is a registered user.

"and rediscover a culture."

With America becoming so 'multi-cultural' as of late, what particular culture are we trying to 're-discover'? The white man's culture?

And as far as improving environmental conditions, there are simply too many people on Earth drawing on its resources and polluting the world, especially in the more modern industrial countries.

Fewer people = fewer gas-powered cars, less consumerism, reduced housing needs, less need for massive amounts of electricity, and a lesser strain on the environment.

Back in the 1950s & early 60s, people drove gas cars and ran their AC units with minimal impact on the environment.

The difference today is more (i.e. too many) people now taking up space on the planet.

And for those who are overly concerned about leaving a polluted and troubled world to their offspring, simply don't have any children.

Posted by Hinrich, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 11:08 am

Hinrich is a registered user.

The 'white man's' culture, as you say - Europeans - had a great culture which we, America, have greatly benefitted from. It's okay to acknowledge that. Those who tear down the statues and now would be quick to raise the history with native Americans or slavery think they are discovering something new - history (ALL of it) is fraught with conflict and injustice. There really wasn't anything wrong with our approach to race, for example, until the race peddlers took over. We were doing quite well as a country and most Americans are quick to support things that make us '..a more perfect Union'. Multi-culturalism isn't new, it wasn't invented in some ethnic studies program, it was part of the fabric of everyday life in places like NYC. What culture? A culture that decides to demand safe streets and balanced public budgets would be a good starting point. A culture that protects children from trans reading hours and CRT and teachers who want to fill young minds with propaganda would be a good start. Any culture that understands the need to protect the young from what is going on in schools, from broken homes, from Facebook, with drugs, and crappy hip hop would be a good start. If we could pull together on demanding our virtuous Democrat mayors make SF and downtown PA safe rather than nonsense about defunding police - that would be a culture worth supporting. Let's get a few adults back in the room and support those things

Posted by Erin Jacobs, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 11:45 am

Erin Jacobs is a registered user.

Due to a coal shortage in China, millions of Chinese will be enduring a cold, harsh winter.

And given that the PRC seems to care little about the environment or global warming/climate change, perhaps they too will learn a valuable lesson...that having too many people along with unchecked environmental destruction is detrimental to the long-term survival and success of its nation.

In the meantime, let's focus on America as what goes on in China stays in China providing we do not become slaves to buying their cheaply-made consumer goods.

And while we are at it, the eco-green types should also refrain from buying Apple products which are also manufactured in China lest they be accused of being eco-hypocrites.

Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 12:35 pm

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

The traditional 'white man's culture' does not embrace/promote diversity or equality towards those who are 'non-white'.

And there are some who'd prefer that CA be more like the red states where non-scientific, conservative Christian (aka white racist mentalities) call the everyday shots.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Hinrich, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 12:51 pm

Hinrich is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 1:05 pm

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Peter Scobby, a resident of Mountain View,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 1:13 pm

Peter Scobby is a registered user.

After watching Afghanistan fall again to the Taliban, I believe that the same thing could happen in America. I see American white Christian nationalists acting just like the Taliban with flags waving behind pickup trucks armed with guns sweeping through rural America. The rest of us, like most Afghans, would roll over in fear.

The police are supported by the people flying defaced blue-line American flags. Local sheriffs have vowed to oppose laws passed by the federal government. In other words, the police would likely join the march of the white nationalists or at least let them terrorize without enforcing the laws.

That leaves the National Guard which many Republican governors have refused in advance to deploy against white mobs opposing the federal government. Would the Guard allow themselves to be nationalized against the state government and local police? I don't see anyone with the will or means to stop an American-style Christian Taliban from sweeping through our country.

Most of us just want to live a normal life without all the anger and religious opposition to the government. We have seen the screaming violence over public health measures. When the guns come out, our country will be overrun by our own Taliban equivalent. That's when religious liberty becomes religious terrorism. Christian nationalists with signs and crosses were part of the insurrectionists that stormed our nation's capital building on January 6.

Pete Scobby

Posted by Tal Shaya, a resident of Rengstorff Park,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 2:02 pm

Tal Shaya is a registered user.

What's the point of this article other to mock environmentalism?

Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Oct 22, 2021 at 4:16 pm

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

Back to topic...later down the road, this innovation could resolve the environmental issue being discussed.

A win-win for a multitude of practical applications.

Recyclable and it will last for 28,000 years.

Environmentalists and grid-hungry electrical consumers can now join hands and leave the lights on.

Web Link

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 23, 2021 at 4:47 am

Resident is a registered user.

Peter Scobby... I'm not even gonna try. Please spend less time reading the "news".

I find this topic interesting, and what I'm always seeing is a lot of compromise, corruption, and hypocrisy. It seems the bandwagoners have tunnel vision and think the environment will be saved *if only* we obliterated plastic from the face of the earth, *if only* we could force 100 percent of the population to comply. Its unworkable. "Environment" is all-encompassing, its not just the trees, its not just carbon, its not all about greenhouse gases, to every action there's a reaction and the reaction to "altruistic" arbitrary government policies is not always gonna be positive, and is often destructive. When we enact sweeping draconian restrictions we need to see the big picture and whether these directives are causing more harm than good. A healthy economy is part of the environment too. Crushing people's livelihoods, causing inflation and paralyzing supply chains all in the name of "climate change" or "public health" is missing a lot of nuance. There must be ways to progress and "save the planet" that aren't so destructive. Its pagan thinking that we need to "sacrifice" so much to save the planet, because believe me at some they will one day be sacrificing humans to combat climate change. I'm not seeing altruism, I'm seeing a scorched-earth approach. Illogical, puritan, regressive ways of thinking have taken over the public discourse and I blame big tech and social media.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 23, 2021 at 5:08 am

Resident is a registered user.

"The traditional 'white man's culture' does not embrace/promote diversity or equality towards those who are 'non-white'."

No, the way to fight racism is to stop fixating on skin color and making sweeping generalizations based on skin color. It bewilders me that people don't see the giant void in logic

Posted by Peter Gonsalves, a resident of Stanford,
on Oct 23, 2021 at 7:41 am

Peter Gonsalves is a registered user.

The ‘white man's culture' is one of both ethnocentrism and disdain for the environment.

They obliterated the buffalo from Pullman cars and left them to rot on the plains while traveling westward.

The Native Americans and Mexicans in early California on the other hand, made full use of anything they slaughtered whether for food, clothing, tools, or candles.

And the ‘Ugly American' label that was assigned to American diplomats and businessmen by other countries in the 1950s and 1960s remains true to this day as their exploitation of cheap production labor and manipulating third world countries continues.

The ‘white man's material world' is very eco-unfriendly and only serves to benefit wealthy white Americans.

End the global exploitation and graft and we will have a cleaner natural environment.

Or simply wear Patagonia outerwear and pretend to care.

Posted by Cale Jessup, a resident of Barron Park,
on Oct 23, 2021 at 10:10 am

Cale Jessup is a registered user.

The impact of modern-day environmental measures can easily be summed up by the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno in his answer to the question of how far is the actual distance to a wall. If you measure it by how far it is to the halfway point, the result is that you never get to the wall.

Environmental estimates and scare tactics are meaningless.

Posted by Carson Willoughby, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 24, 2021 at 12:19 pm

Carson Willoughby is a registered user.

Using nuclear wastes to power all of our devices, utilities, and automobiles might be the way to go providing some degree of consumer and environmental safety is ensured.

With a steady supply of nuclear by-products along with their 28,000 year usable lifespan, there will be minimal need to get overly hyperbolic about energy conservation, petroleum shortages, global warming/climate change, and any potential power outages.

Let's forget about inefficient wind power, smart meters, and environmentally unfriendly lithium auto/smartphone batteries and make recyclable radioactivity our ally.

Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Oct 24, 2021 at 12:49 pm

R. Cavendish is a registered user.

Current EVs cost more to operate than gas-powered vehicles.

Web Link

Posted by BruceS, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Oct 25, 2021 at 11:08 am

BruceS is a registered user.

Some of Diana's points make great sense, such as 'transit housing' owners not necessarily using mass transit. Also, one of the big problems here is that this isn't NYC where one big system covers a huge area. We have a number of badly connected systems here on the Peninsula, so being near one of them doesn't necessarily help you to connect to where you in particular are going.

But in other cases, she's postulating without researching, e.g.

On electric cars, a relative of mine in the Denver area owns a Tesla and is very happy with it, even using it to drive up into the mountains for skiing. It's true that it's mileage does go down in extreme cold or heat, but it's not like it's unusable at all. And not only can you run the heater in the cold, but since the heater and air conditioning are not connected to the engine (unlike gas cars), you can even preheat or cool your Tesla before you even get in and drive. I'll bet you wish you had that feature in Chicago.

And finally, on Palo Alto's power grid, of course future needs are being taken into account. Furthermore, you act like Palo Alto's grid is it's own stand alone system, which is definitely not the case. It's connected with California's grid, which is connected in turn with several other western states. I think that's big enough to handle most variations. Indeed, it's been doing a lot better than Texas' grid did last winter.

Posted by BruceS, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Oct 25, 2021 at 11:14 am

BruceS is a registered user.

A comment about the Town Square software: Is there any way you can get it to accept paragraphs? My just entered comment was rendered much more difficult to read because my paragraphing was deleted.

Posted by community member, a resident of University South,
on Oct 25, 2021 at 11:48 am

community member is a registered user.

I agree about "smart" meters. Perhaps data junkies will check those numbers but busy people will skip it.
Why not just publicize advice that people will understand and follow. We do want to conserve. But time-consuming detailed data is not helpful.

Advice like, do laundry at certain hours etc. is understandable and we can do it.
Huge waste of money for meters. Maybe IT folks want them.

Posted by Amyra Patel, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Oct 27, 2021 at 12:35 pm

Amyra Patel is a registered user.

> "the way to fight racism is to stop fixating on skin color and making sweeping generalizations based on skin color."

^ Very difficult to accomplish when people of all skin colors (primarily the lighter complexioned ones) are prone to racism, oftentimes towards their own people.

With the possible exception of rustic 3rd world countries, the majority of movers & shakers in the political and business realms tend to be lighter-skinned and educated.

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