Los Altos City Council Candidates Respond to Sustainability Questions
GreenTown asked Los Altos City Council candidates their thoughts on the following four questions related to sustainability. Candidates were asked to respond to each question in 100 words or less. You can find their responses below:
The GreenTown team thanks the candidates for their time and commitment to public service.
1. What do you consider the greatest environmental challenges facing our community?
Reduction in water usage, reduction in car travel, good ways to increase bicycle and pedestrian safety, access, reduced energy consumption via renewables (domestic hot water, solar photovoltaic for both residential and commercial buildings).
The effects of climate change are challenging all communities. We need to strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiencies, increase landfill diversion, reduce vehicle trips, and improved air and water quality. We must do this in a way that encourages people to do the right thing so as to provide long-term economic, social and environmental prosperity.
The greatest environmental challenge for us all is climate change. This is serious business and I have personally seen some of the early impacts in my international travels. More locally, are the related issues of: air and water pollution, landfill overuse, fossil fuel over use and urban and suburban sprawl. For example, many residents have expressed distress about poor water quality and a lack of public parks and green spaces or “parklets” downtown. I want to work on all of these issues as part of a larger sustainability plan.
First is the high reliance on cars for transportation, even for short trips. Getting people to bike or walk for short trips is a challenge we can meet. We can facilitate this through better and safer bicycle routes throughout town. Second is decreasing our energy use, through increased energy efficiency and utilization of renewable energy, such as rooftop solar systems. If people know they can save both energy and money, we can get more people interested. Third is reducing water use. As 50% of water use in Los Altos is for outdoor irrigation, we can make a big impact here.
The greatest environmental challenge facing the state is water. We are fortunate that Los Altos is already conserving and is ahead of target for a 20% reduction in water use. For Los Altos, I think the greatest challenge is building a culture that values the environment and makes choices to reduce-reuse-recycle. Our new garbage contract gave us some additional tools, but we still need to maximize their use. We also need to continue to find ways to enable more children to walk and bike to school and provide information on the numerous options and solutions.
a. Conserve fuel and reduce CO2 emissions by increasing effective intersection capacity. Install an Integrated Traffic Management System (ITMS) for our signalized intersections. This would network these intersections saving CO2 emissions and reduce fuel consumption by more than 1 million gallons per year.
b. Reduce sprawl. Using Charette planning techniques develop a community based visioning for our downtown including the Civic Center. It would be designed to build a consensus that is likely to increase densities and vibrancy downtown. Together with properly managed parking, form-based codes and Original Green concepts, downtown will return to the vibrant center that it was in the 60’s, reducing emissions and fuel consumption as well.
2. What will you do to promote sustainability in our community? Be specific on what you will push for.
More and better pedestrian and bicycle safety and access-initially with school, downtown. Look at requiring more green efficiency in new construction and major remodel (menu of options, reduced water, solar domestic hot water for residential, range of options for commercial properties-solar pv, etc.)
Re-evaluate the Planning and Transportation Commission organization
Empower and leverage the expertise and passions of our Commissioners– Environmental, Pedestrian & Bicycle, etc.
Advance the development of a Climate Action Plan and integrate into our planning documents and practices
Implement code/ordinance changes to encourage energy efficient, sustainable developments (all phases–deconstruction, construction, operational)
Work collaboratively with experts and organizations such as GreenTown (what we were able to achieve with our garbage contract is a testament to power of collaboration)
Vehicle trip reduction – support pilot projects, examine bicycle parking solutions in business districts
Awareness and education
I intend to promote best practices recommendations of 8-80 Cities, Age-Friendly-Cities, New Urbanism, Grand Boulevards Initiative, and Project for Public Places. This means priority given to pedestrians, bicycles, public transport and automobiles in that order. I mean this! I have worked in this area for years and the evidence is clear. I intend to push for a sustainability plan that holds up every development (including infrastructure) against these stated priorities. For example, residents have expressed wishes for continued green building standards, pedestrian malls, quality bike racks and sidewalk repairs and upgrades in neighborhoods.
Engage the enthusiasm and expertise within GreenTown and the Environmental Commission to help develop and implement strategies to meet the city’s environmental goals.
Increase bicycling throughout Los Altos by 1) implementing the bicycle transportation plan, 2) adding more conveniently located bike racks in all commercial areas, 3) continuing work on safe routes to school.
Tighten the Build It Green requirements for new and remodel residential and commercial construction.
Adopt a construction and demolition waste management ordinance.
Implement the Single-use Carryout Plastic Bag Ordinance.
Complete and implement the Climate Action Plan.
As a planning commissioner, I recommended the Green Point Rate It system for residential buildings, 15% greater energy efficiency requirements on commercial buildings and LEED certification for City buildings as well an expansion of the City’s tree protection ordinance. As a Councilmember, I have advocated for an Environmental Element to the General Plan and supported numerous pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements, a garbage contract which has increased our diversion rate to 71% ahead of schedule and more recently a reexamination of our green building ordinances to see if more could be done as well as completing the Climate Action Plan.
I will push for the downtown visioning process, and would like to also push it for our other commercial districts. Each of these is an opportunity to create much more environmentally friendly spaces and places. I will scrap the existing civic center plan that focuses on government offices sprawl and parking rather than the community facilities and park spaces. I will push for a conversion to natural gas for our city vehicle fleet. I will push hard for an ITMS system as it has the opportunity to have the greatest environmental impact immediately. A downtown based on great streets, would significantly contribute to the environment using Original Green concepts. Cities are walkable, have significant green space, and parking is public and shared rather than private.
3. Describe your vision for a more sustainable downtown, e.g., would you support mixed-use development, buildings taller than 2-stories, more green space, etc.?
I have been part of the task force that recommended increased height limits on the perimeter of downtown, while maintaining lower height limits in the core. I favor mixed use projects and supported zoning changes that made that possible on the perimeter of downtown. I do not favor changes in the downtown core of State and Main Streets that would endanger the pedestrian friendly village feel in those areas. I do support increased green spaces throughout town where feasible as well as innovative ideas such as parklets as we secure more parking for both cars and bicycles.
My vision for a more sustainable downtown begins with a “sense of place” that identifies us as an engaged community. It has an attractive and efficient land use pattern that meets a myriad of needs that modern life generates. Mixed-use developments are encouraged because they offer efficient land uses and can help turn retail and restaurant areas into attractive, vibrant spaces where pedestrian traffic and sidewalk activities can safely flourish. Green, landscaped space invites you into the downtown and encourages you to stay; spaces that enable community building. Circulation patterns are such that the pedestrian and cyclist feel safe and welcomed. Bike “parking” is abundant (not just a rack here and there) and walkways are wide and family friendly (baby buggy to wheelchair). Greater than 2-story buildings are considered when and where they support our vision, goals, objectives and provide substantiated benefit.
Absolutely! I support mixed-use development, taller and green building design as per the width of the street; and even taller buildings in the Civic Center in particular. I strongly support bike paths, improved sidewalks, bike racks, better street lighting, a shuttle bus and underground parking. I strongly endorse people-friendly city design. Please see my work on Age-Friendly Cities. I am promoting these values and have been for many years. I come at this from the perspective of a social scientist, but the values are the same and the outcomes will be the same and better.
Los Altos can become a leader in environmental sustainability, starting with the Packard Foundation’s net-zero energy building. Downtown we need to add EV charging stations, a plentiful number of bike racks, more recycling and composting, and continue to experiment with pedestrian malls, and parklets as was done on Park(ing) day last month. We already have buildings taller than 2-stories downtown. With active community input, I would support a limited number of tastefully-done 3-story mixed-use buildings, that are designed to reduce bulk, preserve daylight, and are aesthetically compatible with adjacent properties which include public spaces/mini-parks or underground parking.
My vision is a downtown that serves our residents. This includes having a grocery store(s), a farmer’s market and retail and restaurant choices we want. I voted for zoning changes that would increase the opportunity for additional residences or office space. I support mixed-use development and maintaining a tree canopy and open space.
A Great Streets vision for Downtown. Buildings based on form-based codes that relate to the width of the streets. We need to increase our parking capacity, but make that capacity primarily shared public spaces rather than private spaces. We can make our parking plazas far more efficient in terms of their lay-out. We can add up to 300 stalls in the existing system without shrinking the size of the stalls. Currently, we have four drive aisles when we only need three. This would allow us to convert portions of the central plaza system into areas that currently are parking into parks or parklettes, with bike racks.
4. What specific improvements would you support to encourage and enable more residents to walk and bicycle for more trips?
All the above plus identification and marking of good/safe routing for people to walk/bike around town. In the short term I think there continues to be huge value in increasing walking and bike usage at our schools.
If you want residents to change their behavior in ways to reduce car trips, then you must engage them. Residents need to have a voice in defining the goals and improvements that affect them. That said, I would encourage a neighborhood-focused pilot that would allow the residents to explore what it would take for them to walk and/or bike to their neighborhood school, park, and business district (grocery, coffee, ice cream, etc.). Identify barriers, potential solutions and actions plans. Focus on short trips, that encourage the next generation, then expand by connecting the web of neighborhood solutions.
Specifically, best practices recommend safe street crossings, including roundabouts, below grade street crossings, upkeep of sidewalks and street lighting. In addition, protected bike paths and bike racks that can be public art like the arcs. Lets experiment with closing streets and creating pedestrian malls (like during Farmer’s Market). I love the idea of a park behind Peets Coffee. Lets buy permanent bike valet equipment for events too! It is an intention in policy and planning, an attitude and willingness to make changes and promote walking and biking. I want Los Altos to become a leader and hub for cycling culture.
We need to make it safe to walk and bike in Los Altos: – Adopt and implement the Bicycle Transportation and Pedestrian Master Plans. – Continue to apply for Safe Route to Schools grants to encourage walking and biking to school. – Install many more bike racks in all of our commercial areas. – Continue to fund bicycle safety education. – Explore bike boulevards and “blue bike lanes” to encourage safe cycling from one end of Los Altos to the other. – Create more destinations, public spaces, and experiment with pedestrian malls to encourage walking around the entire downtown area.
Focusing on safe routes to schools and routes to destinations such as parks, libraries and commercial areas, we can add additional bike and pedestrian features while still keeping our semi-rural character. We also need to look at adding bike parking at all destinations.
Candidate Anabel Pelham, did some great work to identify problems with our downtown. These covered everything from changing the direction of drain grates, to lighting, fixing damaged or uneven pavement, etc. we need to address all of these small issues to make downtown pedestrian and bicycle friendly. I would work to incorporate as many currently private parking stalls into public access stalls to facilitate a park-once strategy.