On Nov. 8, Palo Alto citizens are scheduled to vote on Measure E, the Palo Alto Green Energy and Compost Initiative. Measure E would un-dedicate 10 of 127 acres in Byxbee Park, currently home to the Palo Alto Landfill, which will be closing in 2012.
As voters in Palo Alto have started to send in their ballots, the controversial measure has been receiving increased attention from both sides of the debate. Most recently, the Palo Alto Weekly endorsed the measure while the Daily Post wrote in opposition to it. Students for a Sustainable Stanford also endorsed the measure.
“I think policy-making is very often about compromising and finding middle ground about issues,” said Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa. “I’m a very strong supporter of composting. I think a regional approach does make sense. There are other options that we could consider. Before we even have that conversation, I just have to say on the bottom line that I don’t think we should un-dedicate park land, period.”
Espinosa responded to concerns that the park itself does not have an elaborate plan by emphasizing that it is not supposed to be manicured land, but rather a natural preserve.
“You have to weigh the fact that once parkland is gone in most communities it doesn’t come back,” Espinosa continued. “Voting ‘yes’ on this measure isn’t guaranteeing that a compost facility will be there. It’s just guaranteeing that it won’t be parkland.”
Meanwhile, proponents of Measure E focus on the potential environmental benefits of an anaerobic digestion operation and compost facility on land that they believe will be more useful as a waste management facility.
“It will never be natural because the natural state of the site out there was wetlands,” said Peter Drekmeier, former mayor of Palo Alto. “When you process [food and sewage waste] together, you get higher energy output than if you do them separately.”
Drekmeier clarified that biogas is considered a biogenic greenhouse gas rather than a fossil fuel because it is already in the atmosphere and is merely completing the natural carbon cycle. He also noted that Palo Alto should expect to see a lot of precinct blocking and mailing to voters in the next few weeks in favor of Measure E.
“There’s no technology. We’re just going to have the land set aside,” said former city councilwoman Emily Renzel. “The park has long been planned and designed. The park was supposed to be a natural open space, so the architects designed it to have a somewhat natural earth form.”
Renzel said she believes that the addition of a compost facility would be met with practical difficulties in removing a slice of the landfill for construction. She, like Espinosa, believes that in the same manner that waste management needs to adjust with the population, park space needs to be appropriately protected and increased.
“We view the installation of an anaerobic digester to replace an old incinerator, basically, as more beneficial than keeping those 10 acres out of the 150 for parkland,” said Will Troppe ’14, a member of Students for a Sustainable Stanford.
According to the Palo Alto Weekly, the Committee for Measure E currently has $18,773 in its campaign chest, including $500 and $1,000 contributed by downtown developers Charles “Chop” Keenan and Sam Webster, respectively. The opponents of Measure E have reportedly raised $11,231 as of Oct. 7, including $100 donated by Espinosa and $400 by Renzel.
“What’s interesting is it’s green versus green,” Espinosa said. “You have environmentalists on both sides. You have compost supporters on both sides.”