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  • Susan Chamberlain and Debbie Mytels

Palo Alto Council Candidates Talk Climate

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

Watch the video of this event here.

Nine candidates for Palo Alto City Council showed a diversity of experience and perspectives in a Forum organized by the 350SV Palo Alto Climate team on Oct. 6.  Over 260 people signed up for the Zoom session, moderated by Pastor Kaloma Smith, head of the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission and minister at the AME Zion Church in Palo Alto. Well known for his leadership on racial justice in Palo Alto, Pastor Smith demonstrated a gentle but firm hand in facilitating the discussion — skills that should be copied by moderators in national debates!

All ten candidates were invited, but candidate and current Councilmember Lydia Kou declined to participate, citing lack of time to participate in all the community election activities.  Since this forum was sponsored by 18 environmental and faith-based groups, her low priority for participating was striking.

Issues discussed were low income housing, business tax on carbon, getting people out of cars by incentivizing work from home, programs in schools to educate the next generation on carbon neutrality, electrification of existing buildings as well as new ones. Some good ideas were proposed to deal with social equity issues, among them subsidies for transitioning to renewable energy

One candidate wrote: “I think the forum last night was really well done - and very well attended as well.  I loved the large sponsor list because it shows how we all MUST join together on climate issues to be successful. “

Focused on climate and justice issues, the candidates were asked to share their opinions on four major questions: 

  • Opening Statement: Do you support the City’s 80% carbon reduction by 2030 also known as the "80 by 30" goal, yes or no? If yes, given our budget shortfalls, as a Council Member, what would be your top 2-3 programs, specifically in electrification and transportation, to meet our 80x30 goal?

  • Question #1: We’re interested in how you view the issue of social equity in regard to the City’s Sustainability and Carbon Action Plan, also known as the S/CAP. How will you ensure that Palo Alto’s S/CAP will result in an equitable transition to a clean energy economy? For example, credit score limits, which are tied to systemic racism, are often barriers to loans for efficiency and electrification. Will you commit to looking for anti-racist financing mechanisms and what would that investigation look like?

  • Question #2: Vehicle emissions are our biggest source of carbon emissions in Palo Alto. Are you willing to change our local zoning laws to allow for higher density housing to reduce vehicle emissions? Changes could include allowing for duplexes and triplexes in R1 single family zoning, raising height limits and reducing parking requirements, for example.

  • Question #3: What ideas do you have to get people out of their cars to support more carbon free mobility and reduced traffic congestion in Palo Alto?

Some candidates showed their creativity and experience through their answers, while others demonstrated that they might learn more by additional time serving the community in other ways before attempting a Council run in the future.

All candidates were unanimous in their one-word answers to four “lighting round” questions, putting themselves on record with “Yes!” to the following questions:

  • Lightning Question #1: Will you direct the utilities department to enable an 80% reduction in natural gas use in the next 10 years by enabling residents and businesses to convert from gas to electrical appliances as their gas-powered appliances fail?

  • LQ #2: Measure RR is a 1/8 cent sales tax that would provide dedicated funding for Caltrain, preventing it from shutting down, funding more equitable access and future improved service, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Are you willing to publicly endorse Measure A?

  • LQ #3: To date, implementation of Palo Alto’s Urban Forest Master Plan has been severely underfunded. Covid-19 has imposed additional budget pressures on the city. Last May, Canopy supported adjustments to the Public Works Urban Forestry tree pruning budget in exchange for a commitment to fully fund Urban Forestry programs at the first opportunity. Will you make restoration of Urban Forestry funding one of your highest priorities?

  • LQ #4: Will you support some form of a carbon fee or tax on natural gas by Palo Alto Utilities to fund electrification of cars and homes, particularly for lower or limited income residents?

  • LQ #5: Will you support more generation and storage of renewable energy in Palo Alto –by both the City Utilities as well as by residents -- so we can become less reliant on PG&E’s grid and more resilient if there is an extended power outage?

The groups who co-sponsored the event with 350 Silicon Valley were:  

  • Citizens Climate Lobby, who generously provided the Zoom webinar account and tech staffing that made this forum possible

  • Acterra

  • Canopy

  • California Interfaith Power and Light

  • Carbon Free Palo Alto

  • Cool Block Palo Alto

  • First Congregational Church of Palo Alto

  • First Presbyterian Palo Alto, Cool Planet Working Group

  • Friends of Caltrain

  • League of Conservation Voters

  • Mothers Out Front

  • Palo Alto Forward

  • Peninsula for Everyone

  • Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action

  • Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition

For those who would like to learn more, we will soon have a recording of the 2-hour event, and a written transcript posted on our website.

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