Menlo Spark

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 antidote 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.

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

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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Facebook switches to 100% renewable energy through Peninsula Clean Energy’s ECO100 option

Thumbnail image for Facebook switches to 100% renewable energy through Peninsula Clean Energy’s ECO100 option

Facebook switched all electric accounts at its Menlo Park headquarters to Peninsula Clean Energy’s ECO100 option, making Facebook the largest participant in Peninsula Clean Energy’s 100% renewable energy option. “Facebook is committed to being a good neighbor and that includes reducing its potential impact on the environment,” said Lauren Swezey, Facebook Sustainability and Community Outreach […]

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Two Menlo-Atherton High School students are “climate heroes”

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Emails Diane Bailey of Menlo Spark: “Two students at Menlo-Atherton High School, Tyler Lewis (pictured) and Henry Marks, have shown how youth can lead the way to a more sustainable future, winning the Menlo Green Challenge this Spring. We are delighted to award them Eco Reco electric scooters for their climate action efforts! The Menlo […]

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Menlo Spark celebrates second anniversary, Menlo Green Challenge continues

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Diane Bailey, Executive Director of Menlo Spark, reminded us that the non-profit just celebrated its second anniversary and that people who take the Menlo Green Challenge, an online climate action tool to help you find out your carbon footprint and take actions, might win an electric bike or scooter. She emails: “Carpooling and swapping out old […]

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Love the Earth is part of pre-Valentines program offered by Menlo Spark

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Diane Bailey, who is Executive Director of Menlo Spark, let us know about a fun art project called “Love Your Earth” her organization sponsored yesterday at the Boys & Girls Club in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park as a prelude to today’s Valentine celebration. She emails: “[The] BGCP has been integrating environmental themes into some of their programs.[Yesterday] Jonathan […]

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Menlo Green Challenge launches at Facebook to further goal of carbon neutrality in Menlo Park

Thumbnail image for Menlo Green Challenge launches at Facebook to further goal of carbon neutrality in Menlo Park

M-A student Giselle Martinez managed to surprise a roomful of environmentally-conscious people last week at Facebook when she performed a beautiful song about greenhouse gas emissions that she had written. As one Menlo Spark board member said after her performance, it is not common to hear a song that includes the words “emissions” and “dot-org.” But perhaps […]

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Menlo Spark salutes Climate Action Heroes for Earth Day

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Emails Diane Bailey, Executive Director of Menlo Spark: “We’ve just finished a fun project for Earth Day [April 22] called Local Climate Action Heroes to celebrate all the wonderful things that our local leaders, youth, families and businesses are doing to become more sustainable and lower their carbon footprint. You can see all of our Heroes […]

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Belle Haven resident goes solar with help from Facebook, Menlo Spark, Grid Alternatives and the City of Menlo Park

Thumbnail image for Belle Haven resident goes solar with help from Facebook, Menlo Spark, Grid Alternatives and the City of Menlo Park

Working in partnership with Menlo Spark, the City of Menlo Park and Grid Alternatives, Facebook installed a solar installation system at the home of Menlo Park resident Gloria Williams yesterday afternoon (3/7). Gloria received a 1.9kW (CEC-AC) solar system, calculated to cover about 90% of her electric bill, saving her $465 over the year. She is the first of 10 […]

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