Portola Valley signs up for greener energy


The Portola Valley Town Council recently took action on two environmental fronts -- irrigation efficiency and options for greener sources of electricity.

On a unanimous 4-0 vote, with Councilman Craig Hughes absent, the council on Jan. 27 updated its 2010 landscape watering efficiency ordinance to comply with recent and more restrictive state rules on conserving irrigation water.

The new rules do not apply to existing landscaping or to simple replacement of existing landscaping. They also do not apply if the landscaping is new but less than 500 square feet.

The rules do apply if the landscaping is new and 500 square feet or larger and, if a replacement, is 1,000 square feet or larger and involves significant grading or the need for a permit or review from Town Hall.

Also on a 4-0 vote, the council joined Peninsula Clean Energy, a collective that would give electricity users in town alternatives to PG&E that provide more energy from renewable sources.

Greener electricity

Membership in Peninsula Clean Energy is open to every city and town in San Mateo County. If the collective begins operations in October 2015 as planned, it would purchase electricity on the open market, with a preference for renewable sources and a goal of reducing member communities' greenhouse gas emissions while not raising rates significantly.

Joining the collective at this early stage gives a community a seat on the governing board. Councilman Jeff Aalfs will represent Portola Valley, interim town manager Debbie Pedro told the Almanac. Already included on the board: the cities of Menlo Park and East Palo Alto and the towns of Atherton and Woodside.

Water efficiency

About half the water used in urban California goes to landscape irrigation, according to the state's Department of Water Resources. In a bid to cut water use on landscaping by 20 percent, and water use on commercial landscapes by 35 percent, the department revised its water-efficient landscaping rules as of December 2015.

The revision includes incentives to limit the portion of landscapes planted with high-water-use vegetation and the capture of rainwater, and sets new standards for irrigation-system efficiency.

The Portola Valley council was required to revise its regulations following the state's revisions, but had an option to be more restrictive, which is what it did. The council adopted the somewhat tougher ordinance prepared by the regional Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency.

Under the new rules, water-efficiency measures must be taken for new residential, commercial, industrial and institutional landscaping projects of 500 square feet or more and that require a permit, plan check or design review. Regulations also apply to rehabilitated landscaping projects of more than 1,000 square feet that require a permit, plan check, or design review.

The new rules do not apply if irrigation is needed only to get the new vegetation established.

The ordinance requires covers for new pools and spas.

If the landscape does not include lawns or high-water-use plants, and if the vegetation planted is 80 percent native low-water-use species, the ordinance relaxes the requirement for drafting a water budget.

Go to this link and turn to Page 39 for the full staff report.

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