Deliver on the Compost Promise or Return to the Parks -- Part 2

Dear residents that want to make sure that this project is responsible to Planet Earth and our pocketbooks:

The project's hypothesis is that the waste-to-energy plant on the 10 acres of Bixby Park will be less expensive than shipping waste elsewhere.

Let's stand together and protect the integrity of this evaluation by making sure that the City's enthusiasm for being Green doesn't ignore the green of the budget.

I attended the meeting Wednesday, and know that the City staff is diligently working on the analysis, so we cannot yet discuss details. However, there are a few simple principles that must be followed:

1. The City's cost of preparing the ten-acre site must be fully accounted for. (This is a major earth-moving exercise, and possibly involves moving many truck loads of landfill to another dump site.)

2. State law requires that the use of City property and resources be compensated at fair market value. The feasibility study must include a lease payment for the ten acres based on the fair market value of a $100 million valuation.

3. While Bixby Park was used as a dump, the Refuse Enterprise Fund paid "rent" to the Parks fund. That ended, so now each day that the Compost project delays the conversion to Park Land must be accounted for as a start-up cost of the project. This is simple accountability.

4. The City costs, as described, will be matched with savings from not having to pay to have the waste to a regional facility.

Palo Alto needs to quickly quantify the above items and have them clearly stated in the request for proposal (RFP). The lease needs to reflect a commercial rate, vs. any attempt to use the City's tax-exempt bond rates.

If the above reasonable expectations cause our Green inspirations to be in the red, then we need to move on and get our waterfront ready for the recreational destiny that has been held in check for 50 years.

As a note, the City staff I talked with at the meeting indicated a sincere desire to present an economic evaluation performed in a very judicious manner.

Let's get it done sooner, rather than later.

Timothy Gray


Tim Answers "Why Charge for the Land"

Community members have asked why charge a market rate for the land when the City does not charge the Library for use of City land.

The key is really the historic purpose that the land was originally dedicated. That provides a big part of the answer to this question. For example, the libraries and parks are dedicated to specific purposes, and are assets held in trust for those specific purposes. The same is true for the airport. They are legacy uses that comprise the nature and fabric of our town. The City is the Trustee and must comply with the intended designated use.

On the other hand, the Compost proposition is a make or buy business analysis that has to stand on its own. If the refuse enterprise fund had land, then it would be an entirely different equation. In this case, the City Council has a fiduciary responsibility to the Parks and Recreation to handle the use of park assets for the purposes of recreation, or in cases like this where the voters have agreed to potentially allow an outside use, the full market value of the lease must be collected and dedicated to recreation, to mitigate the reduced recreational asset.

Back to the make or buy business decision. We are issuing a request for proposal for companies to provide on-site composting services as a substitute for trucking the materiel away. If it turns out that it is cheaper to haul the sludge and compostable materials to a regional facility, we will be obligated to follow that path.

What about the carbon emission saving we might ask? Well, that is value that will have to brought into the equation. Carbon Footprint of onsite composting vs. carbon footprint of hauling will give the answer, once multiplied by a reasonable value of each ton of carbon emissions. Then the analysis gets interesting, but we must pledge ourselves to objectivity and do the arithmetic committed solely to the scales of justice.

As a side note, when we get to the topic of Carbon emissions and remediation, we must keep in mind that CO2 gas is related to its impact on the whole planet, not just the skies of Palo Alto, so we might end up using some money to buy open space in the Palo Alto Hills to be less expensive in reducing our carbon footprint, vs. having an expensive Green trophy that really only delivers bragging rights vs. having the greatest benefit to Planet Earth. Let's take it all one step at a time and honor an objective discovery process, vs. starting with the desired outcome, and then finding the numbers that support our desire.

In this equation, we are providing land to a outside enterprises that want to compete with companies that will perform the service on a regional basis. Therefore, State Laws that Prohibit Private Inurement simply require a market value payment for use of City assets. It is the law. Now we may choose to pay more for a service that has a better environmental outcome, but we can really pay no more than the price that the City is receiving from the Cap and Trade system for carbon reductions. You see, the variables are knowable, and we can find an expedient answer, as long as we are loyal to objectivity. We can't expect anything less.

Thanks for following the reason and logic to this approach. By the way, the value of these kind of discussions is not in being right, but being willing to advance the discussion for the betterment of the CIty. We can all welcome new and better information as the conversation progresses.

Timothy Gray