With the completion of the incredible new Town Center and Library, a new chapter is beginning for Atherton. The next City Council will determine the next priorities for town staff.
Climate change is the biggest threat to our town. While our neighboring cities are setting ambitious climate goals, Atherton is not on pace to hit its state-mandated 2030 emission reduction target. Atherton can and should do more. As Chair of Atherton’s Environmental Programs Committee, I know how delayed action would impact both Atherton and the planet, and what steps the Town can take:
Climate Action Plan
Atherton should be working towards carbon neutrality. California is expected to adopt a goal of economy-wide carbon neutrality 2045; with no industry in Atherton, achieving carbon neutrality is comparatively straightforward and can therefore be more ambitious. The latest science says we should end large scale distribution of fossil fuels by 2030 - I would love to see Atherton get serious about setting a climate goal. If San Jose and Half Moon Bay can do it, so can Atherton!
Reduce Our Emissions
Nearly 90% of Atherton’s emissions come from our fossil fuel-burning cars, home appliances and gardening equipment. Fortunately, modern electric alternatives exist, and they provide better performance, energy efficiency and cost-savings than their outdated gas-powered counterparts. I would encourage the electric transition in two parts: by requiring electric appliances + EV chargers for new builds and renovations through reach codes, and evaluating local incentive programs to make it easier to replace gas devices when they expire with electric (or sooner!). I do not support fines, mandates or penalties. My goal is to support electrification where it becomes the obvious choice.
Net Zero Town Operations
Once solar panels are added to Atherton’s new Town Center and Library, it will be one of the first net zero municipal buildings in California. We should establish a plan to achieve net zero for all town operations: electrifying the Town’s vehicles, updating Holbrook-Palmer Park facilities and more. Funding the energy retrofits in the park will have both environmental benefits and cost savings.
The police were called on us while our moving truck was pulling into our driveway, and they arrived before the first box could enter our new home. Impressive response time! Once the police established we were the new residents, they returned with a welcome packet outlining their myriad services. Atherton residents are lucky to have such a close, cooperative relationship with our police department. Menlo Park Fire District is the best quality fire protection service for the Town.
Undergrounding Power Cables
Investigate whether Menlo Park Fire District’s surplus funds could be used to establish a pilot program to off-set the costs of undergrounding power cables in Atherton, with the goal of undergrounding all power cables within our fire district. This would reduce our region’s fire risk and increase the reliability of our power grid.
Energy Resiliency & Emergency Preparedness
Atherton should be preparing to support its residents in the event of a major emergency. Atherton’s Town Center has a generator to support town operations and emergency services. We should investigate creating a solar/battery-powered microgrid at Holbrook-Palmer Park to support an additional emergency hub for residents. Many Atherton residents already have, or plan to, install solar + battery storage in their homes; we can connect them to ADAPT’s (Atherton’s Disaster and Preparedness Team) emergency network to serve as neighborhood resources in the event of a major emergency.
Much of Atherton is not safe for pedestrians or bicyclists, particularly for children and disabled people. We need bike lanes, crosswalks and ADA-compliant pedestrian walkways across the busier streets in Atherton. Not only will this make our roads safer, it will reduce our traffic and carbon emissions.
Bike Master Plan
The Town created the Bike Pedestrian Master Plan in 2014, but much of that work was sidelined while the Town Center and Library project was underway. It’s time we got serious about executing that plan.
Town staff has not had the bandwidth to undertake the time-consuming process of applying for local, state and federal grants to pay for capital improvement projects, but that should no longer be the case. There might also be funds available through public-private partnerships, fundraising, partnering with local agencies/schools/neighboring towns, lobbying our elected officials and more.
State law requires every municipality to zone for denser housing. I support the Council’s efforts to comply. The consequences of noncompliance are significant: fines and lawsuits could destroy the Town’s already tight budget, and the Courts could ultimately decide to remove the Town’s planning authority.
With careful planning, we can preserve and enhance Atherton’s character while adding more people to our community. To support this process, I would prioritize:
Proactive Community Outreach & Transparency
Many residents were caught by surprise by the Housing Element process this year, and that should not have been the case. With more than 15 years communications experience, I would work with Town staff to modernize its communication efforts to make it more effective.
Making it easier to travel without cars will reduce traffic. We should invest in bike and pedestrian safety, particularly surrounding neighborhoods zoned for denser housing.
For my detailed thoughts on the Town's current housing element draft, visit my housing page.
Transparency & Community Outreach
Most residents are unaware of the Town’s many excellent services or ways to get more involved. As a 15+ year communications professional, I will prioritize modernizing Atherton’s communication channels to increase transparency and accessibility.
Modernize Atherton’s Communications
Atherton’s communication channels need an update: the website is difficult to navigate, and it is too complicated to access the Town’s news alerts and newsletters.
As we return to normal from COVID, our residents are hungry for community! Hundreds of Atherton residents attended and/or participated in our Earth Day Festival, and for many of them it was the first Town event they’d attended. The Town Center, Library and Holbrook-Palmer Park could be utilized even further to bring people together.