The Green Enterprise: The City of Mill Valley, California
Smart Planet takes a look at green practices in the City of Mill Valley, such as a solar-powered pizzeria, an eco-friendly water treatment plant and a lumber program that re-uses wood from the city's fallen trees for bridge projects around town. He also talks with Mill Valley's green evangelist, Linn Walsh about the city's eco strategy.
Dan Farber: Hello I'm Dan Farber from ZDNET. Today I'm in Mill Valley, California. It's a picturesque city just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a town of about 14, 000 people with a reputation for being an artsy community.
Well, today they want to add another element to that image, that of a green city. And I'll be speaking with some Mill Valley City officials about their eco innovations and how they're making their city more environmentally responsible.
All that next on the Green Enterprise.
Dan: From high tech water irrigations systems to energy efficient traffic signals, to solar powered speed monitors, the city of Mill Valley is working on green strategies to make itself more eco friendly. We'll take a tour of these sites and see these technologies in action. But first meet Lynn Walsh. She head's up Mill Valley's Green Committee and tells us about the town's green strategy for this little city by the San Francisco Bay.
Lynn thanks for joining me.
Lynn Walsh: Thanks for coming and welcome to the city of Mill Valley.
Dan: Now you are in charged of the green strategy for the city and also head of the Green Council. What is the Green Council about and who's on it and what do you expect to get out of it?
Lynn: The City Green is a committee of people from all different departments within the city and our job is to basically research, look at different environmental initiatives and to vent them, talk about them, research them and then to make recommendations to the city council and city manager to implement them.
Dan: What are some of the green technologies that you've implemented within the city?
Lynn: We have a couple of things that we're really excited about. One is our solar speed monitor. They basically help the people out there driving by to know how fast they're going and flash their light them. And those are totally solar paneled. We also are looking at getting into solar panels for behind the Public Safety Building. We are really excited about pursuing that.
We've also done a lot of things in terms of lighting efficiency. We switched from the T12 florescent lights to the T8 florescent lights. All of our stoplights in the city are powered by LEDs instead of incandescent lighting. And we've phased in a lot of energy efficient appliances so that every choice that we make whenever it's time to change a stove out of a kitchen or what have you we'll choose an energy efficient appliance.
We've also turned out a couple of things with our...like little things like our bathrooms, basically when you walk in a light turns on instead of the light always being on because we have these motion sensors. And our city lighting all around the city that is basically they've got a photocell so they can sense when it's dark and the light comes on.
Dan: When you're dealing with all these new kinds of technologies, you're also dealing with a budget for the city. So how do you reconcile expenditures on some of these environmentally friendly technologies with the city's budget?
Lynn: So every choice that we make in the maintenance of running the city, which is a municipality, we try to make that an environmental choice. And sometimes there is a cost to it but I think in the long run energy savings are going to...they're going to pay off.
I did a little research to find out if we have any hard numbers on any of our energy efficiencies and we couldn't really find anything because energy costs have gone up and down so much in the last couple of years.
But we know when we go solar on our Public Safety Building; when we go solar on our Community Center and when we get solar water heating on our Community Center that that's really going to offset some of the costs and it's well worth the investment up front.
Dan: In terms of the building codes for example, are you doing anything or potentially legislating anything from the city's point of view in terms of how people build these days and use of reusable of recyclable materials?
Lynn: Yeah, we have a couple of things. One is an incentive program. Mill Valley's one of the easiest places and cheapest places to get a building permit to do solar on your house or on your business. So that's one of our incentives.
And we also have some things that are restrictions such as building within the creek set back; any construction project has to recycle at least 50% of their waste or reuse 50% of their waste.
And we also restrict building within the real sensitive, environmentally sensitive time of the year. So during the winter in the rainy months we restrict building during that time to protect the local waterways.
Dan: Now looking into the future, Mill Valley in the year let's say 2015, how do you think the city will look from our environmental perspective at that point?
Lynn: It's a step by step process so slowly one choice at a time we're going to start phasing these things in. And we're hoping to see our city fleet be alternate fuel vehicles, we're hoping that all of our energy will be either efficient or generated here in the city; we're hoping that to get the community more and more involved with taking care of the storm water, pollution issues and really taking care of their community.
So we're hoping as more and more issues grow around climate protection we can offer more grant opportunities; we'll be able to really just move forward in leaps and bounds. But also take these baby steps too that we've done.
Dan: Well, now that we've discussed some of the green technologies you're working in we're going to take a look around your city and see how it works.
Lynn: Great, well I hope you enjoy your stay.
Dan: The Mill Valley Police Department decided to implement solar speed monitors six years ago to save on fuel costs and to reduce energy consumption. Jim Whitcom is a Captain with the Mill Valley PD.
Jim: This is one of our radar traffic displays that we have that we use to educate the drivers of they're speed when they're driving down the main roadways. It picks up the speed of the vehicle as it comes toward the unit and that speed is displayed on the display screen right here.
There are currently batteries inside the unit that powers up the display. That is charged by a solar panel that we have installed on top of the radar trailer. As you can see right now, its collecting the sun's rays and charging the unit as we speak.
If we didn't have the solar power, the batteries would be drained really fast. Virtually every four hours, we'd have to bring the unit into our office and recharge the batteries. With the solar array on top of the unit, we can keep this thing out for up to 24 hours if its fully charged, and it'll operate completely.
Dan: Business owners are also embracing solar. One of Mill Valley's claims to fame is the first and only solar powered pizzeria in the U.S. Bob Valentino is the owner of Stefano's Pizza. He's using renewable energy every time he puts a pizza in the oven.
Bob Valentino: What we did was cover the roof with solar panels. It generates 26.5 kilowatts of power up there, and it powers all the electrical needs we have in this restaurant. As soon as we put in the solar panels, the electrical bill dropped from $1000 per month to $6.75, the amount that it takes to generate the bill.
The good thing about this system is it has no moving parts. The system is guaranteed for 25 years, probably has a shelf life of 40 years, and the system will pay for itself in nine years. We're not putting out any emissions into the atmosphere. Its really a good move on our part. Everybody comes up to me on the street and they really appreciate the fact that we're being proactive because we put in the solar system.
Dan: Water: its the life blood of any municipality because clean water is essential. In the city of Mill Valley California, they are working with innovative technologies for waste water collection, reclamation and treatment practices to ensure that they're environmentally responsible.
In Mill Valley, the city is treating water as a scarce, protected resource. Its developed a strong prevention program that helps control pollutants from getting washed and dumped into the city's five creeks. This is done by educating the community.
Jill Barnes: We have a fish stencil, and it says, "No dumping, drains to the bay." That is a real direct way to let people know that these drains go into the creeks and they're going to impact the fish.
Dan: The city is also making sure its water irrigation processes are environmental sustainable as well, reclaiming its water for irrigation in its public parks and dog runs throughout the city. The plant is an important resource to the city, providing recycled water as an alternative to wasting fresh water.
Stephen Danehy runs the waste water treatment plan in Mill Valley.
Stephen Danehy: This is essentially the raw water that's coming into the plant. Everything that's gone down a drain from homes and businesses. This is what continues on through the rest of the plant. Some of the water is reclaimed for irrigation. We also have an equalization pond that's used during the wintertime for high flows. In the summertime, we maintain that as a wildlife pond.
This is the reclaimed water storage tank, the large galvanized tank. The water from the secondary clarifiers is processed through the sand filters here, gets stored in the reclaimed storage tank, and from here it goes to the irrigation pump station and out to the park land. I can show you a sample of the final product water. You can see the quality and clarity of the water that's used for the irrigation systems.
Anything that goes down a drain in your home, restaurants and your businesses, that sort of thing. Its all the water that you've used and don't have any use for it. Its got all the dirt in it, human waste products, trash, that sort of thing. We've taken that water it comes into the plant looking rather greenish grey color then again, a lot of debris in it. Through our processes, we've been able to get it to this quality.
Dan: Finally, the city is incorporating some low tech green ideas to help preserve the environment. For instance, fallen trees are brought to this recycled lumberyard where the wood is chopped and milled and used to build new structures around the town. Rick Misuraca is the park superintendent for the city of Mill Valley, and in charge of the recycled lumber program.
Rick Misuraca: There's about 50 or 60 thousand trees in the city of Mill Valley that we take care of. The wood that we get is really high quality. We can use it for all kinds of projects that we wouldn't ordinarily be able to do, like Eagle Scout projects or volunteer projects, community gardens, that sort of thing.
This is a piece of wood that I'm getting ready to chain mill. What we do is we put this guide on the top so it gives us a nice straight surface to work off of. Then we take this machine here this is a chainsaw miller, an Alaskan mill, and we set the depth and that makes the first pass. When we get a nice flat surface like this piece of wood over here, what we do is we adjust the depths to the size lumber we want and off we go cutting.
This is a piece of redwood that we've already milled in two sides, so its at a nice right angle. We just set the depth. Right now its at two inches. We're going to be building a bridge with this for some Eagle Scout project, and it comes out pretty nice.
Dan: As you've just see, the city of Mill Valley is using green technologies to become more environmentally responsible. Stay tuned: in the coming weeks, you'll see how other organizations are using these technologies to green their enterprises.