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Acting locally on global warming

Original post made by David Boyce, Almanac staff writer, on Dec 11, 2006

In September, the Town Council of Portola Valley unanimously approved a resolution to sign the U.S Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

The agreement commits Portola Valley to meet or beat the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals of the Kyoto Protocol -- lower emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 -- through methods such as land-use policies, tree canopy protection and outreach campaigns.

Participating town officials are also supposed to encourage state and federal governments to adopt emission reduction practices as if the United States had signed the Kyoto Protocol, and urge Congress to show bipartisanship and establish an emission trading system for the nation.

At this week's meeting, the Portola Valley Town Council is expected to formally name some 20 to 25 community members to an in-town Climate Protection Task Force.

Informally, the task force has set up a web site at Cool PV (Web Link and is investigating ways to set benchmarks, conserve energy in homes, buildings and transportation, and educate the community on the topic.

Meanwhile, the City Council of Atherton -- in a 2-2 tie with Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen absent -- voted Nov. 15 not to sign the U.S. Mayors Agreement as proposed by Mayor Charles Marsala.

Feel-good measures are to be avoided, said Councilman Jerry Carlson, who opposed the resolution.

For local stories on this topic, go to Web Link and Web Link

For the Almanac's opinion, go to Web Link and Web Link

Please add your own opinion at Town Square.

Comments (11)

Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Dec 11, 2006 at 2:52 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

The Atherton-related story on the City Council's action is located at Web Link

-- David Boyce

Posted by MPworkingMom
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 11, 2006 at 5:35 pm

I would certainly love to see hybrid or clean-energy vehicles phased in to replace all official vehicles -- city public works trucks, county buses, even police cars. I applaud public transit and everyone who uses it, but those horrible diesel-belching buses and trains aren't minimizing pollution as much as they should.

Posted by Cynic
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 11, 2006 at 10:40 pm

Is this really how we want our local council members and city staff to be spending their time? What's next, a public debate on our Middle East policy?

Our cities have plenty of problems of their own, and I think our local governments need to focus on managing those.

Posted by Danna
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 12, 2006 at 11:40 am

A first step for Cynic in Menlo Park would be to rent "Inconvenient Truth" which is out on DVD or better yet try to hear Gore and Carl Pope speak at Sierra Club this Thursday in San Francisco. Take a look at the Bay area graphic and maybe you will get in contact with your Council to start the dialogue in Menlo Park. We in Portola Valley are literally on higher ground.

Posted by Cynic
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 12, 2006 at 12:57 pm

No need to condescend, Danna. I saw Inconvenient Truth in the theater. I drive a hybrid. I seriously believe our planet is in imminent peril. However, because I am not an idealogue, I understand that we can only attempt to avert this disaster by modifying our national policies, and I doubt that self-important proclamations from small California cities are going to make a whit of difference.

Our city councils can best spend their time and energy attacking local problems, including those of energy misuse and pollution, where their efforts can have some real impact.

Posted by Mr. Man
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 12, 2006 at 3:17 pm

Dear Cynic - I'm curious about how you can drive a hybrid and believe that the planet is in imminent peril -- both small but unmistakable proclamations of your own -- while discounting an organized effort by cities and towns to encourage residents who may not be as alert as you are to climate change.

You're taking steps. What's so bad about town officials taking a bit of their time to take steps, too?

Posted by Green Is Good
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 12, 2006 at 3:32 pm


Did you know that the federal law governing handling and reporting of toxic chemical substances had its origins right here in Silicon Valley, rising up the chain from local to state to federal? Things do actually spread from the bottom up sometimes - that's why they call it "grassroots" efforts.

And unlike Middle East policy, we actually CAN do something at the local level to make an impact. And guess what - green choices often end up generating cost savings, saving taxpayer dollars!

And with the Bush administration dead set against doing anything, public pressure from both whole states as well as a large collection of cities - both small and large - is desparately needed to force them to DO something because every day we wait to take action, the action that will ultimately need to be taken grows in size (and thus cost). We simply can't afford to wait any longer.

Posted by Steve Toben
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Dec 12, 2006 at 3:43 pm

I understand Cynic’s argument that local governments should concentrate their attention on local problems. What may become apparent in time, though, is that global climate change is a local problem. Cynic’s home town of Menlo Park faces the prospect of widespread inundations from sea level rise if current trends continue. I appreciate Cynic’s desire to see policy reform at the national level, but there is little evidence that bold solutions are likely to come out of Washington.

By contrast, tremendous innovation on CO2 abatement is emerging from local governments across the nation. More than 275 cities representing 40 million Americans have signed on to the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in just the last two years. Each city that joins holds only a fraction of the nation’s population, but collectively these municipalities comprise a potent network for climate protection.

Here’s an example of how the network functions. The Town of Portola Valley, where I am the outgoing mayor, joined the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement in September. Since then we have received outstanding assistance from the City of Palo Alto, which signed the Agreement several months ago and whose Green Ribbon Task Force has just published an action plan for reducing CO2. At no cost, Portola Valley can use a great deal of what Palo Alto has produced in the way of metrics analysis, CO2 reduction measures, and public education strategies.

From my first hand observation, local government efforts to address climate change tap into a strong desire by citizens to take action in their personal lives and in their communities. Our Portola Valley effort is powered entirely by volunteers who are convinced that constructive change begins at home. They are making a small but meaningful difference.

Posted by Gail Slocum
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 12, 2006 at 9:40 pm

Taking action locally to address climate change by setting a target, doing an inventory and putting together a plan for how the City, its residents and businesses can reduce GHG emissions to measurably meet the target is NOT a "feel good" thing to do.

It will save us MONEY.

It is well established that taxpayer dollars get saved when Cities systematically implement best practices for energy efficient operations if City buildings, streetlights and traffic lights. Reducing emissions in our city fleet vehicle use cuts down on gas consumption that we are all currently paying for.

So things as simple as doing a complete energy audit of city operations and looking at our fleet maintenance and purchasing practices to reduce our dependence on foreign oil not only saves money but also cuts GHG emissions and improves air quality. And it will also save us money to consider how we can mitigate impacts expected on our cities such as reductions in drinking water supplies as sierra snowpack has already diminished by 10% in the past decade and is projected to potentially be 90% reduced by 2100 if we don't take meaningful action now.

A sea level rise of just 3 feet, combined with intertidal action, would affect many California communities, including low lying areas all around the Bay. THis would appear to include Menlo Park's Bayfront area, the Sun Microsystems campus and Belle Haven neighborhood.

Heat waves like last summers' unprecedented July "heat storm" that got our area up to 105 degrees and broke records for 6 days straight are expected to happen with greater frequency in the coming decade. And there will be increased risk of fires. This not only relates to emergency preparedness, but also affects planning decisions that Cities make every day.

ABAG is focused on it, our Republican Governor is focused on it, and many many Cities are too. This is NOT just about signing a resolution, it is about starting a process of evolving our systems of operation to take cost-effective actions that each of us can take -- including Cities -- so we each do our part to be part of the solution.

Oh and, by the way, - there is a great opportunity for our City and area to build on our great beginnings on Clean Tech business attration/incubation -- that has already started with Tesla Motors EVs in San Carlos, and NanoSolar in San Jose -- companies that provide the clean tech products the world needs to comply with Kyoto targets! And their products are often big ticket items that can bring sale tax DOLLARS to our cities.

VCs like our own John Doerr support cap and trade approaches to GHG reduction. This is bipartisan and multifaceted. There are 328 Mayors from 46 states and both political parties that have already embarked on such a process -- and there is a good reason -- it's a strategic move that is going to well position those cities who take early action.

This site does not seem to support attachments, but if anyone wants it, please email the city clerk, Silvia Vonderlinden ( get a copy of the power point presentation I made to Mayor Fergusson and the Menlo Park City Council tonight going over these points in more detail, and asking them to being to move forward in a more systematic way on these front.

The tipping point may be reached in as little as 10 years - so the time for all of us to act is NOW.

Posted by Craig Breon
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Dec 12, 2006 at 10:05 pm

Cynic et al,

I would have to start with Helen Caldicott's words about never doubting that a small group of people can change the world. Think, for example, of the campaign to ban land mines, which won the Nobel Peace prize. A small group of people, using email to a great extent, leading to a world compact (which, unfortunately, the U.S. has not signed). Of course Portola Valley is not going to be the spearhead, but if we are part of the shaft, that's fine with me.

With the use of almost exclusively volunteer effort (as I well know from nine years on the PV Planning Commisssion), Portola Valley has the chance to make a small difference, lead by example, think innovatively, teach our children and adults, believe in eachother, and enjoy the process of change. Even if very little came of this effort, the attempt says good things about us as a town (sorry, Atherton).

As for the dissolution of Council Members' efforts--ridiculous argument. Our roads will still be striped, our town staff paid and busy, our permits processed, our parks serving the community. There is no distraction--only augmentation. What we can do in addition to running our town is only to our credit, so long as it is done wisely.

Join us in our efforts! We could use your ideas. That's the way our town works.
Craig Breon

Posted by Gail Slocum
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 4, 2007 at 7:12 am


The quote you cite is one of my favorites - and it's a true principle, though the originator of the quote was Margaret Mead, not Helen Caldicott. Here's the exact quote:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

--Margaret Mead
US anthropologist & popularizer of anthropology (1901 - 1978)

California communities have often been the incubator of great ideas -- California;s actions caused the catalyticalytic converter to be standard in every car, and California energy efficiency requirements on appliances like refirgerators has kept our per capita energy use flat over the past 25 years compared to a nationwide doubling, but many manufacturers are now making only one version of their appliance the more efficient one that meets the CA standard because our market is big enough to make that economical for them. These changes happened because of movements of small groups, including Cities. This is encouraging! We must do more this same local leadership and innovation on the broader issue of climate change, as California is already becoming a leader on that issue with the Governor and our legislature moving forward on a bipartisan basis.

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