Winter Solstice Night Ride Recap

img_1294Our second annual GreenTown Winter Solstice Night Bike Ride was a great success!

We had 28 riders, including a few who by serendipity saw our colorfully decorated bikes and decided to go along for the ride with us. Literally.

Starting off from Peet’s on State Street, we rode to Christmas Tree Lane in Palo Alto, checking out a lot of beautiful lights along the way. Riding at night is a great way to see the lights as long as you are bundleimg_1296d up against the cold, and it was c-o-l-d. Wearing heavy duty ski gloves, wool socks and thermal underwear, this rider had no problem.

This was a family-friendly ride and our youngest rider was Audrey, only 8 and she rode the entire way, all 14 miles, still going strong at the finish. Her brother Nolan, age 10 enjoyed it so much that he’s ready to sign up img_1303for our next night ride. And why not, it’s exciting and there aren’t many cars on the road.

We made it back to Peet’s for hot chocolate and after our ride, it tasted really, really good!

A big thank you to Scott Vanderlip for helping to lead the ride, Tim Kelly for being our stalwart sweeper, Suzanne Ambiel for supplying some extra lights for folks, and Maddy McBirney for the hot chocolate.

Such a nice holiday treat. Hope we see you next time!

By Gary Hedden

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Zero Net Energy? What’s That?

Zero net energy is already in action in Los Altos at the Packard Foundation Building.

GreenTown attended a Zero Net Energy Workshop recently and learned that ZNE is coming our way by 2020 for new residential construction and by 2030 for new commercial construction and 50% of existing commercial construction. What does that mean?

Simply put, a ZNE building produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year. The idea is not to load up on solar panels, but first build the most energy efficient building possible. Then you add enough renewable energy to match the demand.

Has it ever been done? Yes, and California is leading the nation in this new green building trend with 21 verified ZNE buildings and 139 more underway. They are being seen around the country in 45 states covering all climate zones and all building sizes and types. We even have one in Los Altos – the Packard Foundation on Second Street.

Los Altos’ Packard Foundation building is Zero Net Energy and looks beautiful.

Is it expensive? It adds 0-15% to the cost for design and construction, but that cost is offset by lower energy bills.

Is there more than cost savings? ZNE buildings are just better buildings – healthier, more comfortable and less costly to operate. Locally sourced energy makes us more resilient in the event of storms or natural disasters. Businesses see a marketing edge that attracts customers as well as attracting and retaining employees. Property owners see an advantage with longer tenant retention and faster leasing. Importantly though, the ZNE choice demonstrates a commitment to a clean energy future.

Sounds good, how do I do it? A key is to start with a solid design that includes consideration of passive heating and ventilation, window locations to take advantage of natural light, and the use of the latest control technology. The architects and contractors must understand ZNE. The banks involved must understand the added value that comes with a ZNE building.

The verdict on ZNE buildings is that they save energy and they save money. There are operational considerations. Overriding the controls will cut into the energy savings, but a well designed building minimizes that temptation, leaving us with a final thought, ZNE buildings work.

For more information, including case studies, visit here.

By Gary Hedden

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Safe Streets – GreenTown “Completely” Likes That!

by Gary Hedden and Arnold Ambiel


Arnold Ambiel, Gary Hedden, Ryan McClain, Lauren Ledbetter, Sarah Peters and Cedric Novenario at the talk on Complete Streets.

On Nov. 16 at the Los Altos Library, GreenTown hosted a talk “What’s a Complete Street?” Four speakers addressed the state of complete streets in Los Altos, Santa Clara County and the Bay Area and Cedric Novenario with the City of Los Altos had an answer, “It’s a street that encourages more walking and biking.”

It’s more than that of course, and Sarah Peters with the transportation consulting firm Fehr and Peers made the point that complete streets must address all modes and all users and not be based on just strong riders and fast walkers. There are children and seniors as well as environmental concerns to be considered. Importantly, there is never enough space for everything so there will always be trade-offs.

Novenario brought that home with three examples.

  • On Truman Avenue by simply adding shoulder striping, the narrowing of the lanes slowed the traffic and provided more space to walk and ride bicycles. Some neighbors objected to the loss of the rural look, but most approved.
  • On Covington Road at Blach Intermediate School, there is not enough space for both a bike lane and street car parking to coexist 24/7. A creative solution is timed parking. The kids have a safe bike lane when they need it, and the residents have street parking for most of the day and at night.
  • On Loucks Avenue, a local street with significant traffic volume, the solution was speed humps and shoulder striping which was accomplished through the city’s Neighborhood Traffic Management Program. This slowed traffic and gave some separate space for cyclists and pedestrians.

Novenario mentioned some other innovations such as bulb-outs to slow traffic, provide a better line of sight and shorten the crossing distance for walkers. In addition, the use of green paint is planned in areas where cars and bikes are in conflict along Foothill Expressway.


Zebra stripes like these are a bold statement about commitment to safe streets.

Lauren Ledbetter with the Valley Transportation Authority reported on her work on the first ever Pedestrian Access to Transit Plan. Since 71% of the people using transit services walk, safe access is essential. She described the effort to set priorities by using mapping tools to identify physical barriers, locate housing density and locate major destinations.

Armed with these facts, they walked the likely target areas and looked at actual conditions. They also did surveys to find out what people like, don’t like and want. The final plan will guide grant making. Remember, she cautioned, the VTA doesn’t own the land for these projects, it is up to the cities to apply.

Peters offered some additional good ideas – changing crosswalks from two stripes to zebra stripes to make a stronger visual impact, changing on/off ramp angles to ensure better line of sight, and changing signal timing to give pedestrians a small head-start.

Ryan McClain, also with Fehr and Peers, described pop-up events to try out improvements. These one-day experiments, often on Bike-to-Work Day, let engineers and the public try changes without a lot of cost. One in El Cerrito resulted in adding permanent barriers and moving a crosswalk to make a challenging situation much safer.

That’s the innovation that GreenTown likes, changes to allow safer street use by all – that’s how we make a complete street. GreenTown will continue these discussions and talk about the impact of Measure B in Los Altos during Bike Month next May.

Farm To Table: A Community Gathers To Support Sustainable Living

On Oct. 22nd, an impressive crowd gathered for GreenTown Los Altos’ 3rd annual Farm to Table Dinner and Auction held at the beautiful home of Bart Nelson and Deb Hope in Los Altos.

Food was prepared and served by Justin’s Catering, which specializes in local and seasonable food right up the sustainable alley of GreenTown’s mission. Many businesses and community members donated generous gifts from vacations to private parties to gift certificates and guided hikes in local open space. We had an amazing and huge Northern California raffle basket, as well as wine donations from many local vintners.

John Roy Zat Music played perfect background music throughout the evening. Margie Suozzo as Master of Ceremonies gave an overview of GreenTown’s mission and goals. Sam Pesner was the auctioneer.

Honoring Environmental Heroics

The night wouldn’t have been complete without honoring our 2016 Environmental Heroes. Two honorees were selected this year Mary Clark Bartlett and Karl Danz.

Mary Clark Bartlett for her work in support of a sustainable food system and waste reduction in the food services industry.

Mary founded Los Altos based Epicurean Group, a sustainable food service management company. Using sustainable management practiced preparing food in an environmentally responsible manner both central to the company’s mission. Epicurean Group also earned certification as a Green Business, under the Bay Area Green Business Program. No small feat. In addition, Epicurean Group supports the communities they serve by buying food from local farms and ranches, in season, avoiding thousands of pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mary initiated the GreenTown business co-op in 2009 to help businesses and others shift from plastic and styrofoam to compostable packaging. The coop offers 100% compostable packaging at highly competitive prices. Mary has also been eliminating food waste and moving her clients toward zero waste through reusable china, glasses and silverware.

Mary also works on GreenTown’s Finance Committee and we are always impressed with her boundless energy and the new ways she is implementing positive changes in her business and at home: reducing waste at the source, promoting local, healthy foods, reducing water use, and creating a fair and healthy work environment.

And Karl Danz, for his leadership in shaping climate policy locally and nationally.

Karl co-leads the local chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). As a CCL volunteer, he advances a bipartisan carbon fee and dividend approach to carbon policy. He does so tirelessly and, in fact, with infectious enthusiasm.

A key opportunity to address climate change in our community came with the potential for Los Altos to join a community choice energy program. Karl contributed to the GreenTown team that successfully advocated for Los Altos to join Silicon Valley Clean Energy. And that means 100% carbon free electricity in Spring 2017.

Karl has also served our community as a member of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission. He has been a dedicated advocate of better infrastructure for bicyclists and for using the bicycle as a clean mode of transportation. As an avid cyclist, he participates in the Climate Ride annually to raise money for groups working to combat climate change.

And we’re not alone in finding Karl’s approach impressive. Steve Levin a fellow CCLer recounted: “Karl seeks to engage business leaders to support climate change policy. It’s not easy and requires tremendous persistence to build a relationship. Karl is the kind of guy who will send 4 emails to request a meeting. Then he finally gets a reply that says, essentially, “No, no way, we don’t have time and we don’t care. Go away.”  Karl starts grinning ear to ear and says, “This is fantastic! I got a personal reply, and we are really building a relationship!” And sure enough he has the talent and determination to transform a “No” into a “Not yet and then into a “Maybe soon” and finally into “Sure, let’s try it!”

Last year’s Environmental Hero award went to Vicki Moore, founder of Living Classroom.

It’s people like Mary, Karl and Vicki that inspire us to keep making progress in our community towards sustainability at all levels. We’re already looking forward to next year’s event!

Special thanks to this year’s Farm to Table event committee: Pat Hedden, Laura Teksler, Debbie Torok, Jana Schlansker, and Margie Suozzo.

Welcoming Kris Jensen Our New Executive Director.

We’re rather pleased that we’ve found a perfect match!

Please join Greentown Los Altos in welcoming Kris Jensen as our new executive director.

Kris comes to us as an environmental activist and nonprofit executive eager to engage with our community around GreenTown’s work in making Los Altos and Los Altos Hills more sustainable.

kris-photo-brick-wallA South Bay native, Kris is intimately familiar with the environmental issues we face in Silicon Valley and has been advocating for solutions since he was young. In fact, one of his first signs of having activism in his blood was writing President Reagan protesting his decision to remove the solar panels from the White House.

This passion for sustainability began by learning how to garden from his grandparents which led to him becoming a certified permaculture designer almost eight years ago.

When not at work, Kris is most at home cooking a good meal for family and friends, getting his hands dirty in the garden, working in his woodshop or settling down with a good book.

We’re looking forward to working with him!

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Save the Arctic Fox? These Kids Think So

by Gary Hedden

A Lego challenge team to the rescue of what?

Lego, the Danish toy company we know so well, sponsors an annual competition that calls for building a Lego structure to solve a problem. This year the theme is to help our animal allies. When the team of five 4th grade boys at Cumberland Elementary School, who call themselves Cougariosity, learned that climate change is harming the arctic fox they concluded that we need to stop burning so much fossil fuel. But how?

Their light bulb idea was to harness lightning given it’s clean and free. The idea is to use a lightning rod to direct the lightning bolt to a thermal system that heats water, run the hot water through thermoelectric pipes and generate useful electricity for the grid. They call this the Water Bolt Tower.


Team Cougariosity – Andrew, Soham, Parsa, Carmel and Declan.

When they asked GreenTown, “What do you think?” we were honest.

There are some practical matters to consider before getting starstruck on the idea. Lightning is powerful, so there is a risk of injury or damage. It is only available when we have storms, so it is not very reliable, predictably available or available in large “quantities”. Finally, it all sounds a bit complicated.

Undaunted, they asked, “Why do you think it hasn’t been done before?” Our answer, we have always had cheap fossil fuel so there was no need for innovative systems like the Water Bolt Tower. In a world where we need new ideas, we should consider everything!

GreenTown then asked them, “Do you know that we will have clean electricity next April?” They had not heard about Silicon Valley Clean Energy, so we explained that starting next year, our electricity will be 100% fossil-fuel free. The team of burgeoning scientists thought that was pretty cool.

Keep up the good work boys, the planet needs your creative help now more than ever!

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Students To The Rescue!


Benji, Joe, Aaron, Aidan, and Mehran, First Lego League team Picky Piranhas, ready to save our animal allies.

by Gary Hedden

Alarmed by the plastic litter on our beaches, much of it plastic, and much of it destined to end up in the ocean, a group of Bullis Charter School’s 4th graders want to save our animal allies by cleaning up the litter. They have a plan and are sticking to it. The plan? Build a robot.

The robot will be electric, of course, and solar powered. It will charge by day and work all night. It will pick up trash, sort it then recycle the “good” plastic into something useful. It’s more of a Re-Bot (Recycling-Robot) whose concept we hope gets reused (pun, intended!).

How They Got The Idea

They got their ideas by talking to family, friends and researching the internet. They also asked GreenTown for advice, and GreenTown delivered.

  • Margie Suozzo told them the best plastics are #1 and #2 because these can be recycled over and over, so the robot needs to be able to sort plastic by type.
  • Linda Ziff pointed out that while recycling is good, not using so much plastic in the first place is even better.
  • Barbara and Kevin O’Reilly had fun telling them about Mike O’Reilly, who grew up in Los Altos and was on the team that built a boat, Plastiki, that used 12,500 plastic 2-L soda bottles for floatation. In 2010 it sailed from San Francisco to Sydney, to call attention to the Pacific Gyres where so much plastic debris ends up.

Finally, we suggested they really need to take a field trip and look at the beach. Observe obstacles that the robot will face – rocks, driftwood and kelp, and count the amount of “good” plastic that is out there.


Plastiki sails in the Bay.

That basic research will make sure their robot idea will work.


We enjoyed the enthusiasm and wish them nothing but the best.

American Meadows: Beauty and The Flower Feast

By Gary Hedden

There’s a new look in landscaping and it’s called the American Meadow.

At a recent GreenTown Los Altos sponsored talk at the library, American Meadow expert John Greenlee showed a packed house example after example of backyards filled with abundant beauty. With colorful displays that rotated by season, wildflowers in spring, flowering perennials in summer and beautiful grasses all year long, the audience was impressed.

The crowd is captivated listening to John Greenlee discuss American Meadow design.

What qualifies as a meadow planting? According to Greenlee, it’s the type of flowers that are planted. He loves bulbs and see the grasses as a framework for fields of iris, cornflowers and more.

And it’s about more than just colorful beauty. Each meadow is unique beyond just the beautiful striking colors.

Your meadow will be visited by hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators. Imagine no chemicals, watering once or twice a month, mowing once a year in the late winter and the sound of songbirds surrounding you. It can be done, and Greenlee made it look easy. Kill the lawn, plant inexpensive plugs of native grass, some bulbs, broadcast flower seeds, add a few trees and you are on your way. It’s a bit more than that, but not difficult. Greenlee has also published a beautiful book, “The American Meadow Garden”. Check his website for more information which is loaded with stunning photos and great information.

John Greenlee signing books, with GreenTown’s Kit Gordon. See grass planting ideas here.

Greenlee had a few parting thoughts for the audience

The ideal meadow grasses are 12-36 inches high. Anything higher is too wild, anything lower looks like an old shag rug.

Lawns do offer a place for the eye to rest. Lawns are calming. Greenlee gets that, but native grasses can provide that benefit as well.

Greenlee is not a fan of drip irrigation. The maintenance is too fussy. He prefers overhead spray watering using multi-pulse rotators.

In the three-county Los Angeles Basin, mowers, blowers, and edgers create 22 tons of air pollution a day.

Next time you visit Denver, go to the botanical garden. It is stunning and Greenlee asked – Why we don’t have anything like that here!
Fall is the time to plant a new meadow and the Santa Clara Valley Water District offers a rebate for replacing lawns with suitable plants, here.

A big thank you to GreenTown volunteers Kit Gordon and Linda Ziff for organizing this event, along with Grassroots Ecology, Summer Winds Nursery, Purissima Hills Water District, California Water Service Company, Open Space Committee of Los Altos Hills and the Santa Clara Valley Water District.


Wanting to Waste Less, Loyola Forges Ahead!

What do we want? Less garbage to landfill.

When do we want it? Now!

On Friday, September 16, Loyola Elementary School, with the help of the Boy Scouts and GreenTown Los Altos, embarked on a new waste reduction program.

Rashee Rohatgi, Loyola parent and chair of Green Loyola, spearheaded that initiative last year working with prospective Eagle Scout, Evan Marshall,

in designing and building good-looking and functional waste bins for the school. GreenTown worked

with Los Altos School District and district waste company, Recology, to create signs that clearly indicate which materials go in which bin.

Principal Kimberly Attell and GreenTown Leadership Team member, Margie Suozzo, kicked off the program at a school-wide morning assembly on the morning of September 16, helping the kids learn what materials go where.  GreenTown volunteers helped monitor the stations during that Friday’s lunch period.

“Helping kids learn to do the right thing for the environment is always rewarding,” said Gloria Geller,

one of GreenTown’s volunteers. Ms. Rohatgi organized teams of students donning “planet protector” t-shirts to monitor the bins during the following week. This is the first of a series of schools that GreenTown is working with to ensure a more robust waste management system and divert even more waste from being “landfilled”.

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Another Successful Creek Cleanup.


On the morning of Sept. 17, 2016,  GreenTown Los Altos volunteers contributed to the County’s Coastal Cleanup Day effort, organized by the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

From less than a mile of Permanente Creek behind Heritage Oaks Park, about 30 volunteers removed 8.4 pounds of trash, 13.4 pounds of glass, 3.4 pounds of mixed recyclables, and 4.2 pounds of compostable materials.

Special thanks to Christina Cerny, , Girl Scout troop leader, ascreen-shot-2016-10-21-at-10-34-35-pmnd Brownies of Troop 61172 for their efforts.

Countywide, in just 3 hours, a record number of 1,883 volunteers cleaned 60.75 miles of our local waterways and removed 55,010 pounds of trash. That’s the weight of 19 Prius cars! They also removed 6,442.7 pounscreen-shot-2016-10-21-at-10-34-23-pmds of recyclables that did not end up in landfill.

Special thanks to Joanne McFarlin of GrassRoots Ecology for the educational and engaging Enviroscape activity.

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