Who Knew A Bike Tour Could Yield Such Fun?

This year’s Lawn-Be-Gone Bike Tour was a great success. Our group of almost 30 riders made seven stops to learn about drought-tolerant landscaping from local homeowners and designers.

This year’s GreenTown Lawn-Be-Gone Bike Tour was a great success. Our group of almost 30 riders made seven stops to learn about drought-tolerant landscaping from local homeowners and designers.

This is the 4th year with our first stop the always popular Living Classroom demonstration garden at Egan Jr. H.S. GreenTown’s Margie Suozzo told us about the program, pointing out the little signs with plant names and descriptions. This is a great place to see the beauty of mature plants.

Our next two stops revisited 2015 Tour stop, allowing us to see the year to year change. Both yards still look first rate.

First was Emily Thacker, who likes to keep her landscaping neatly trimmed and gave us some good pointers. Next was Debby Ruskin (ruskingardens.com) who discussed important design features including Netafim, a drip irrigation system.

Then we hit some new territory.

Look at those veggies!

John McShane showed off his property, pointing out that he has something in bloom 11 months of the year. Designer Bonnie Brock (bbrockdesign.com) showed off his extensive raised-bed vegetable garden.

Next stop was a brand new installation by Jeff Sheehan (confidencelandscaping.com) explaining the importance of leaving space for the plants to grow minimizing the need to do much pruning. The less pruning the better as it stresses the plants and they end up needing more water.
Then it was on to Redwood Grove Nature Preserve. Acterra has done a huge amount of work to restore the Preserve in the past seven years. More than 2600 volunteers, 2/3 of them students, have helped and the efforts clearly show. And guess what?

Thanks to the rainfall, there’s water flowing again in Adobe Creek! Next stop, University Ave. to meet Janet Wilson with a very full yard filled with variety and color, she says next year it could look completely different because she likes to keep trying new things!

Margie Suozzo describing the Living Classroom program to eager listeners.

Final stop? Lunch at the History Museum.

Yearning to go native in your garden? Here are some links for more information. Yes, there is a lot of information out there!



Good luck and have some fun.
Gary Hedden, Native Garden Tour Lead

Capture This: Rainwater & Greywater Save Energy Too.

Drought. What to do? You can cut back on your water use, of course, but there are two sources most people don’t try to use – rainwater and greywater.

John Russell, President of WaterSprout, told us about both at a GreenTown Los Altos sponsored talk organized by GreenTown Water Chair, Linda Ziff, held at the Los Altos Library Feb. 29.


John Russell from WaterSprout.

Rainwater can be collected in barrels, a fun and low cost approach that will help you during dry spells in the winter, but they go empty in the summer just when you need it the most.

A better bet is greywater capture. You have water from your washing machine all year, so capture it to be reused elsewhere, such as for irrigation. It can be a simple DIY system without a pump, or something much more elaborate. Russell can help with that. He cautioned that greywater should not be used with root vegetables or leafy greens like lettuce, but there are plenty of other places that make sense.

Visit greywateraction.org  for more information.

There is one more very good reason to capture rainwater and greywater: energy savings. Pumping, cleaning and treating water is the biggest single use of electricity in the state.


Linda Ziff, Water Chair at GreenTown Los Altos.

Using less water helps fight climate change in more ways than one!

Gary Hedden | Energy Chair

Slide Presentation

Clean Energy: The Road From Impossible to Inevitable.

From “impossible to inevitable,” says Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, speaking of Community Choice Energy at “The Business of Local Energy Symposium” held March 4 in San Jose. That’s how he describes the difference between today and 2010 when Marin Clean Energy was started.


Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power

For starters, by 2020, 60% of the State’s population may be enrolled in a CCE (Community Choice Energy) program, the hybrid approach of supplying clean energy purchased by a local non-profit agency and delivered by PG&E.

Closer to home, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills have just joined Silicon Valley Clean Energy, our local Santa Clara County CCE. GreenTown Los Altos applauds our elected leaders for making that possible.

Symposium speakers described the major transformation underway as we move from fossil fuels to renewably sourced energy – solar, wind, biomass and geothermal. Carla Peterman, Commissioner with the California Public Utilities Commission told us the CPUC is committed to more renewable energy but the variable supply requires careful management and we need better storage and smarter use of electricity.

GTLA graphic for wordpressCommunity Choice Energy plays a part by fostering innovation. Craig Lewis with Clean Coalition described a vision of community microgrids and the economics that make it possible. Andrew Cameron with Energy Producing Retail Realty described a real estate arrangement, bank approved, that allows commercial property owners and tenants to share the energy rights of rooftop solar. Jason Simon with Enphase Energy described the next generation of inverters that will allow smarter use of solar power. These were just three of many examples given to prove clean energy’s inevitably in our lives.

Costs are down and switching to clean, renewable energy is realistic, but it is more than that. Mark Ferron with the Board of Governors, California Independent System Operator put it in one word, “Decarbonize.” That means using clean electricity to heat our homes and power our cars. That’s how we tackle climate change and renewables are just one step along that path.

Gary Hedden | Energy Chair

Burning To Bike To the “Burning Ice” Exhibit, But Nope!

If you loved biking as much as Scott Vanderlip and Gary Hedden, you’d organize bike rides too, to share your love of the sport and have some fun, literally, along the way. The duo has organized bike tours in the past (and will in the future) but on a rainy day in February, the planned event was cancelled due to rain, while the fun still happened.

The plan was meet at Peet’s then bike to De Anza College to see an art exhibition, with artwork from GreenTown leader Linda Gass among others. Rain spoiled the ride but not the fun. Here’s Gary’s write up on the subject:

Scott Vanderlip and I organized a bike ride to DeAnza College to see, “Burning Ice”, but Mother Nature said, “No, no, no.” A blustery wind and heavy rain spoiled that grand idea. Instead, we drove.

The name Burning Ice comes from our current burning interest in climate change as the earth’s ice melts. The exhibition of environmental art is in collaboration with Silicon Valley Reads, and their theme for 2016 is climate change.


Some of the pieces were strikingly beautiful such as the waterfall coming from three industrial strength pipes. The “water” is plastic wrap of all things! One of the student interns making this piece has a part time job at Home Depot, and an endless supply of plastic wrap.



The masking tape applied to the floor (right) to create a pathway is another student effort, and elegant for both its simplicity and attractive look.


Linda Gass (pictured left) showed her beautiful work called stitched paintings. The art depicts the the fate of wetlands and the impact of sea level rise in San Francisco Bay. Wetlands act like a sponge to absorb rising sea levels, worrisome in this age of a worsening water crisis.


A final piece worth a closer look, by Barbara Boissevain, is an artistic take on a tragic event, the fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond in 2012 that sent 15,000 people to the emergency room. Her photographic images projected into two barrels of oil make a powerful statement.

Linda and Barbara have studios at Cubberley and will be hosting an Open House May 14-15, 11AM-5PM at Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA. Stop by!


Category: Bicycle & Pedestrian, Events, Water use · Tags:

Get Drenched With Know How! Moving Toward A Water Wise World

On Feb. 29, 2016 get ready to be drenched with information.  Because John Russell, an expert on the subject will expand your horizons on the topic.

Imagine a world where water is not only used smartly but reused wisely. Where systems clearly measure and monitor the amount of water we have aWaterwise bannervailable in our homes and community. Where laundry water is directed to the landscape. Where rainwater is captured and stored.

Come to the Los Altos Library on February 29 to hear directly from John Russell, a longtime leader in the field of water systems design and founder and principal designer at WaterSprout, Inc., a design/build/maintain greywater and rainwater systems company based in Oakland, California.

So far from its 180 projects, WaterSprout, Inc., has helped save 2.5M total gallons of tap water, helped get 1.6M gallons of greywater reused, and helped collect 738K gallons of rainwater. Are their methods the answer to preserving water in our Mediterranean climate?

WaterSprout offers rainwater, greywater, and water-use monitoring—from simple laundry-to-landscape systems to more comprehensive automated designs. The company provides consultations, water assessments, design, permits, installation, maintenance, and contracting and subcontracting.

Event co-sponsored by GreenTown Los Altos and the Los Altos Library. Pre-register at meetup.com.

By Malar Ganapathiappan

Adventures with Water



Adventures with Water
By Malar Ganapathiappan

Wednesday, January 27, 2016, GreenTown Los Altos and Acterra presented Adventures with Water at the Los Altos Library for children in first through sixth grades. About thirty children came to explore interactive topics like water pollution, water bugs, and how much water it takes to produce food and to enjoy an art lesson of coloring and drawing water birds!

A scale lit up measurements of hidden water usage in common foods, teaching attendees the number of gallons of water used to cultivate those foods. Guesses were hazarded for the number of gallons each pound of food required.

Beef turned out to be the highest culprit at 5,000 gallons of hidden water usage; vegetables and fruits (lettuce, apples, and tomatoes) were the kindest choices at only 50 gallons. Which uses more, the chicken or the egg? Upon pondering this question, the scale revealed the answer to be chicken at 1,000 gallons, tied with a pound of cheese. Both popular choices for favorite foods. Do you prefer oranges or orange juice? Brown or white rice? While our taste buds might have a preference, the environment prefers pure fruit and brown to white rice.

Dog poop, fertilizer from lawns, factory waste—what do they have in common? The EnviroScape, contributed by Acterra, displayed through a realistic map model how these pollutants gather in the environment. While storms aren’t so fun to weather through outside, they’re fun to create, especially during the drought! Make it pour! But uh-oh, all the rainwater washes these pollutants into the creeks and bays—a good reason to pick up after dogs and stop using chemical fertilizers.

Bugs? Eww. But not these babies! These water bugs are valuable for telling us about a creek’s health. Participants had fun catching them in troughs of water supplied by members of Acterra, direct from Stevens Creek. Identifying these little invertebrates lets us know if they are pollution tolerant, resistant, or in-between. The existence of a variety of those little bugs is a sign of a creek’s good health. Thanks for being there, bugs!

Ruddy-Nosed Gutter Flooder. Waterlogged Tub Soaker. Double-Breasted Sudsucker. Have you heard of these flashy birds? Stop them—they’re water wasters! These birds waste water through faucets, hoses, and washing machines. We aren’t like them! We turn off faucets and fix leaks! Ingenious attendees even drew their own water birds, complete with impressive wings and colorful water-wasting beaks.

Category: Drought, Water Stewardship, Water use · Tags:

The Winter Solstice Night Bike Ride Success.

By Gary Hedden

Several adventurous GreenTown members gathered in Los Altos on December 22, for our first ever Winter Solstice Night Bike Ride.


Ready to ride!


Scott Vanderlip and Gary Hedden led the 12 mile bike ride to Palo Alto.

Riding from Los Altos to Palo Alto to check out the holiday lights was the night’s expedition. Impressively, the group of 15 adults and kids made it all the way to “Christmas Tree Lane,” the famed street loaded with bright Christmas lights.


Using back roads picked out by event organizer Scott Vanderlip, the group avoided most of the car traffic though couldn’t avoid the rain. That didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits one bit!


Enjoying a well deserved hot chocolate to charge up for the ride home!

The hot chocolate stop at Starbucks helped warm everyone up for the leg back.  Along the way a stop at our friend Sven Thesen’s house to sing a happy rendition of “Jingle Bells” was an energizing and welcome treat.

Fearless riders Margie Suozzo and Maddy McBirney insisted, “Let’s do this again next year.”  Scott opined, “Why wait, how about next month?” which is now under consideration because we’re always up for a fun biking adventure. Won’t you join us next time?

WoW! You Did It Again! Another reCYCLE Bike Giving Success!

It happens every six months. Our reCYCLE Bike Drive. The last one was November where we collected a record 74 bikes, the next one will be May 2016.

It’s your chance to give away the bikes that aren’t used, collecting dust or need a tweak here or there to get going again, literally.

So a team of bike geeks get together to clean and fix ’em up to give to someone in need. Someone who appreciates it. Will use it. And thanks you! (As do we). For a glimpse of the behind the scenes process, pictures speak louder than words.

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A Building That Blows Away City Codes. On Purpose.

Hillhouse Construction Company lives and breathes sustainability. And that purpose pays off.

Kevin Bates with Sharp Development Company explained that their latest project is built far beyond city code requirements. Property owners and their tenants in Silicon Valley look for sustainability and because of their business ethic, they get beyond what they ask for. They get long term economic benefits, improved health and increased productivity of their employees.

The building, at 415 Indio in Sunnyvale, was an old tilt-up, last used as a racquetball club is now repurposed as a very modern, successful retrofit. The concrete walls and floors were largely saved, providing the thermal mass to smooth out temperature swings. Kevin described a recent day when the temperature outside was 94, while inside it was only 69. Almost chilly! When the building is occupied, equipment and human heat warm things up.

The building is all-electric, no natural gas, using all solar photovoltaic panels. One twist, recent demand for high efficiency panels has dried up the supply and Sharp had to settle for less efficient panels, but they made it work. For Kevin, net zero means net zero bill, not net zero energy. PG&E simply doesn’t pay enough to justify overproduction of electricity.

Kevin delved deep into the details:

  • There are temperature sensors in the concrete, CO2 sensors and rain sensors. All these sensors are connected to a system that opens and closes windows to bring in outside air as needed.
  • They used fabric to finish the industrial looking ceiling. It is fire rated sail cloth, with light reflective and sound deadening properties. It looks great, though a bit unusual. A team of upholstery workers eventually nailed the technique, and it is now less expensive than conventional t-bar drop ceiling construction.
  • The building is so energy efficient that plug loads now account for 70% of the demand. That means owners and tenants really need to understand how to use the building. It’s not rocket science, just different.
  • The lights and fans have wireless control. There is so much wireless technology that the Fire Department was concerned their emergency channel would be blocked when needed. It wasn’t which saved the cost of a $15,000 booster.
  • The green plant wall is a hugely dramatic, beautiful, punctuation point that will improve air quality, and connect employees to a very natural element. How will it look next year? We’re optimistic its beauty won’t fad.

In fact, we are optimistic about the whole project. This really is the look of the sustainable future!

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WoW! School’s In Session & So Are Biking Rules!

images-3 copyWith school in session our Walk or Wheel (WoW) program masters are touting rule safety. If you haven’t seen this info, read it and pass it on.


1. Protect Your Noggin!
Make sure your helmet fits properly (See the “Fitting a Helmet” attachment below).

2. Know the Rules of the Road
See attached “Bike Safety Basics” from GreenTown.

3. Be Visible and Predictable
Wear light colored clothing, reflective vests and/or backpack reflectors and consider a rear blinking light on the bike, helmet or both (the vests, reflectors and lights all make good WoW! prizes!). And we can’t emphasize enough the importance of riding predictably.

For those of you with kids riding to school, please ride with them a few times so you know both the route and the pitfalls of the path they’re taking and can remind them to follow the rules.

Also, encourage them to do a weekly (if not daily) ABC Quick Check. One goofy video that shows the ABC Quick Check is here.  Or you can check out the League of American Bicyclists’ video here.

Happy biking!

Margie Suozzo

GreenTown Schools Initiative

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