Environment

Post image for Chris DeCardy reflects on his eight years on Menlo Park’s Environment Quality Commission

Recently, I ended two terms on Menlo Park’s Environmental Quality Commission. I wanted to serve to ensure the environmental amenities of our town — trees and clean air and water — are respected and enhanced, and that our inevitable growth and development are managed thoughtfully. What I didn’t expect has been the opportunity to see, again and again, neighbors — volunteers, citizen activists, business owners and government leaders — doing their best to thoughtfully, collectively serve the community.

Here is an example. One role the EQC plays is advising the City Council on disagreements among neighbors about removing mature, sometimes iconic, trees on private property. We’ve had rainy Tuesday nights when 40 or 50 neighbors still showed up to take part in a review hearing, which included property owners on why they believe a tree needs to come down, from the city arborist with the assessment of the tree’s condition, and sometimes a dozen or more comments from others who are concerned.

People care and people get mad — and there is often no ‘right’ answer. It is a good lesson in humility to realize it is your responsibility to interpret the city’s heritage tree policy and to do that consistently. Bringing down a tree can be the difference in hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements an owner can make to their property. And, of course, bringing down every tree would leave all property much less valuable — with shade, beauty and habitat (think of our gorgeous old oaks) gone.

One lasting memory will be of a resident involved in a review who ended up on the losing side. She took a minute before leaving to thank us, the commissioners, for our service and the time and care we took in doing our job. Who does that? It was a wonderful gesture, and I hope I have been able to pay it forward.

This year the City Council is reviewing the heritage tree policy. It’s important that the policy — many years old — is updated so decisions are faster, that it is applied equally and that it is enforceable. A clearer, stronger policy would go a long way toward limiting friction among neighbors and frustration with city government.

Another important role for the EQC is advising the City Council on appropriate targets for reducing climate change pollution, which in our town is mostly from the energy to heat and cool buildings or fuel vehicles. The EQC helped provide key information and potential options as the Council adopted its first ever climate emission reduction target in 2013. The goal was a 27 percent reduction by 2020 from 2005 levels and, since then, the EQC has played an important role in encouraging specific building and development policies to be successful.

My role on EQC helped me realize that what I found to be dedicated and thoughtful city staff responsible for development and transportation simply don’t have enough capacity for all of the needs and opportunities in front of our community for addressing climate change. Fellow commissioner Mitch Slomiak and I determined to help. We organized and launched a community initiative called Menlo Spark to foster partnership among government, business and residents; procure best practices from other towns; and conduct specific analyses to give the city more timely and targeted information about options on important policies under consideration. In the past five years, Menlo Spark and its supporters have helped advance clean energy, green building standards and many other sustainability measures that have virtually assured that, at least for now, that 2020 goal is within reach.

That’s good news. This progress also shows our city is ready and able to continue on a path to future growth that not only reduces climate change emissions, but eliminates it. The next step is for our City Council to build on this success and put in place a strong next phase target for 2025.

Serving on the EQC has taken time — late nights, some weekends — and, sure, it can be frustrating and hard to work when members of the community are at loggerheads. But, more than that, serving has deepened my connection to neighbors, sparked me to try to do more across the community, and been a welcome anecdote to cynicism about government bodies, which permeates the national political discussion these days.

So, if you want renewed faith in democracy, serve. Apply for a vacant seat, on EQC or any other commission. Get to know and work with city staff. Mostly, get to learn from and be impressed by the commitment and passion of your neighbors.

Menlo Park resident Chris DeCardy served on the Environmental Quality Commission for eight years.

{ Be the first to comment }

City of Menlo Park is recruiting volunteers to review & update the heritage tree ordinance

Thumbnail image for City of Menlo Park is recruiting volunteers to review & update the heritage tree ordinance

A new advisory task force is being formed to review and recommend updates to Menlo Park’s heritage tree ordinance. The new group of at least seven volunteer members is expected to make recommendations in several areas including the definition of heritage trees, development-related heritage tree appeals, permit fees, unpermitted removals and enforcement of tree replacements. […]

Click to read more →

Menlo Spark recognizes students, teachers and residents who support sustainability in Menlo Park

Thumbnail image for Menlo Spark recognizes students, teachers and residents who support sustainability in Menlo Park

Last month, Menlo Spark honored environmental leaders in schools with Menlo Green Challenge Awards. Menlo Park Mayor Peter Ohtaki recognized the outstanding achievements of students, teachers, and residents who took initiative to support sustainability in Menlo Park. Jerry Griffith, for winning the Menlo Green Challenge, with the Climate Actions taken to reduce his household carbon […]

Click to read more →

Hillview Environmental Club works to stabilize banks of San Francisquito Creek

Thumbnail image for Hillview Environmental Club works to stabilize banks of San Francisquito Creek

Hillview Middle School’s  Environmental Club was out in force last month bioengineering the banks of San Francisquito Creek, building structures out of natural materials. They used willow tree stakes to stabilize the Creek banks. Willows grow well in creeks, making them the perfect plant to prevent erosion. They are also an important food source for […]

Click to read more →

Menlo Park celebrates Earth Day in numerous ways and places, thanks to Menlo Spark

Thumbnail image for Menlo Park celebrates Earth Day in numerous ways and places, thanks to Menlo Spark

Menlo Spark is doing some fun events this week in Menlo Park for earth day. Last Tuesday, we helped students at Oak Knoll Elementary School make pledges for one thing they’ll do for Earth Day this year, posting those pledges, making a paper tree (below left).  Oak Knoll faculty and parent volunteers have done an […]

Click to read more →

Come join Cheeky Monkey Toys, and celebrate at two upcoming events

Thumbnail image for Come join Cheeky Monkey Toys, and celebrate at two upcoming events

Cheeky Monkey Toys in Menlo Park (640 Santa Cruz Avenue) invites you to two upcoming events: our Earth Day Celebration, and our May Day Celebration. On Sunday, April 22, from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, join us outside the store for Earth Day, and paint Kindness Rocks to share with your friends and family. Be […]

Click to read more →

Atherton celebrates Earth Day on April 21 by screening “The New Fire”

Thumbnail image for Atherton celebrates Earth Day on April 21 by screening “The New Fire”

The 2018 Atherton Earth Day celebration will be held on Saturday, April 21, 2018, from noon to 4:00 pm at the Menlo-Atherton High School Performing Arts Center. This will be an educational event on current topics related to climate change and how technology may help to solve this crisis. With support from the town’s Environmental […]

Click to read more →

Commute.org invites San Mateo County commuters to go green this spring

Thumbnail image for Commute.org invites San Mateo County commuters to go green this spring

Commute.org announced the 2018 Commuter Challenge for people who commute to, from or through San Mateo County. Between April 1st and May 31st, people who join the challenge and use alternative modes of transportation will be eligible to winprizes. Now in its 10th year, the Commuter Challenge encourages people to use alternative methods of transportation […]

Click to read more →

Human Rights Watch screens documentary at M-A PAC on March 20

Thumbnail image for Human Rights Watch screens documentary at M-A PAC on March 20

There will be special screening and discussion of the documentary film, Atomic Homefront, organized by Human Rights Watch, on Tuesday, March 20, from 6:45 to 9:00 pm at the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center. Recently released, Atomic Homefront examines one community’s activism and the need for government accountability in the wake of decades of radioactive waste contamination […]

Click to read more →

Mid-Peninsula cities and Facebook are receiving 100% renewable electricity

Thumbnail image for Mid-Peninsula cities and Facebook are receiving 100% renewable electricity

Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside are among the 14 cities in San Mateo County that are receiving 100% renewable electricity that is Green-e certified. Also included are the County itself and Facebook, according to a press release issued by Peninsula Clean Energy. As of 2018, Peninsula Clean Energy’s (PCE’s) ECO100 option is now […]

Click to read more →

Spark Green 2018 climate action campaign runs from Jan. 29th through March 2nd

Thumbnail image for Spark Green 2018 climate action campaign runs from Jan. 29th through March 2nd

Today is the launch day of Spark Green 2018, which aims to double participation in the Menlo Green Challenge, an online program that empowers residents to take climate actions. “Last year, almost 400 households signed up for the Green Challenge and they have reduced over 100 tons of carbon emissions!” emailed Menlo Spark Executive Director Diane Bailey. […]

Click to read more →