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The Town COWncil held their regular meeting on June 24th, with all COWncil members present (albeit with some a little late).

The COWncil approved the consent calendar, including $150,000 to pay for an outside company to do engineering consulting work in Town, to examine all of the over 200 culverts and inlet structures of the Town storm drainage system. In past rainy seasons Town-maintained storm drains have failed and flooded, requiring costly repairs. As the majority of these drains are over 60 years old, the Town is concerned that more will start to fail, and it could cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars if they fail in the more catastrophic ways. It is better to fixed them before they fail. The report is due back in October. We will see what sort of bill we will be on the hook for in order to make the repairs.

Then it was time for another exciting episode of Tree Court! The Town COWncil, for the fifth time in three years, heard from a resident who cut down significant trees without a permit, and appealed to the COWncil to reduce the hefty fine. As always, the resident plead ignorance of the law, stating that he had been told that the Bay Laurel trees he had cut down were bad for oak trees since they carry and spread Sudden Oak Death and did not realize he needed a permit. The mitigating circumstances this time were the obviously well-maintained state of the resident’s forest, the fact that he had sprayed his oaks for SOD, and that the area was still well-forested and that the tree removal had not opened up any views or building sites for the homeowner. What would YOU have decided?

The COWncil reduced the fine by 50%, as it has in the past, but not until after a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth. The COWncil was vocally upset that they keep seeing these cases, although Town Manager Kevin Bryant provided some context, reporting that more than 100 tree-removal permits were granted in the first six months of this year, suggesting only a 1% scofflaw rate. Several of the COWncil members – notably Ron Romines - were in favor of charging the full fine to the resident, seemingly out of frustration for the fact that they keep seeing these cases. COWncil members Shanahan and Gordon noted how the COWncil had acted in previous cases. They have reduced the fine by taking circumstances into account, so it would be improper to act differently in this case. He eventually convinced the majority of their colleagues.

As a member of the public pointed out, however, the impression the COWncil leaves is of deciding these cases on a whim. Mayor Burow pushed back on this, saying it wasn’t, but in a hearing when COWncil member Kasten stated that there “were days when you feel kinda cranky” (about seeing these cases) and other COWncil members, upset by previous go-rounds, pondered throwing the book at this resident, it’s hard to seriously argue with the whim label. But one wonders why so many COWS don’t seem to know the tree removal rules which are certainly not intuitive. Staff should do period out reachto make sure the all COWs were aware of the rules.

One good thing did come out of this case, with the COWncil having a discussion on the purpose of the tree ordinance – what is it for? Is it to save every significant tree (as is indeed written into the law, as Ron pointed out), or is to stop wholesale clear cutting, or to create a healthy forest and canopy? As several COWncil members pointed out, the ordinance has been very successful in stopping the clear cutting rampages of a decade ago. The COWncil then decided to have a joint meeting with the Sustainability and Conservation Committee (who originally created the language for the tree ordinance 8 years ago), to learn more about the origins of the law and to discuss possible changes to it.

The COWncil then moved to approve the 2014-2015 Town budget, after a short discussion.

After that came the fun part of the meeting, with PG&E requesting a permanent easement under part of Barkley Fields for the movement of a big gas transmission pipe that runs all the way up the Peninsula. The pipe was laid in 1935 (!) and isn’t wide enough for modern in-line inspection equipment, and runs under neighborhoods in Woodside and Redwood City. While the COWncil was generally in agreement that the easement had to be granted, they were apparently shocked to discover at the meeting that a second big gas transmission line ALSO runs under these neighborhoods, with no plans to move it. The COWncilmembers claimed no knowledge of this prior to the meeting, while Staff has been negotiating with PG&E for weeks or months on the issue so who knew about the second line, and when?

The discussion turned into a bit of interrogation, with COWncil members and residents bringing up the San Bruno disaster and other recent woes like the hydro-testing leak in Woodside a few years ago, and the panic in San Carlos recently. There was stark disbelief over a claim that PG&E had recently been recognized as an industry leader in safety from Lloyds of London, though apparently it is true. As Council member Barbara Gordon pointed out, however, it’s going to take a long time to rebuild trust in PG&E, and all the critical infrastructure replacements identified after the San Bruno explosion have yet to be finished.

With corporate representatives from PG&E present trying to gracefully defend themselves. It is definitely worth watching on MooTube. Two residents (one who’s bedroom window is four feet from a 24” gas line) implored PG&E to move both lines at the same time, but PG&E made it clear they had absolutely no plans to do that, stating that the second line is safe and had been inspected. Since the COWncil did not really have any leverage to demand both lines be moved, they granted the easement.

The COWncil did ask for the following, and hopefully PG&E will follow through:

• Safety data on all pipes in Woodside, that can be put on the Town website
• An open house with PG&E reps, where the citizenry can ask question
• An informational display at Barkley Fields about the project

The work at Barkley Fields will be done in July, in the part of the baseball field farthest away from the parking lot. We’re certainly glad that this aging gas transmission line is being moved, but we sure hope that PG&E’s records and testing are accurate with regards to this second line running so very close to Woodside homes.

The COWncil meeting wrapped up shortly after.

The Town COWncil held a meeting on Tuesday, June 10th, with Mayor Burow and COWncilmember Romines absent. With Mayor Burow absent, it was Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Shanahan’s first shot at the big chair. The meeting got a late start due to a prior special closed session where the Town was discussing an easement with PG&E.

During COW-munications at the beginning of the meeting, a woman asked the COWncil to re-extend a permit to her – apparently it had lapsed four months ago due to life circumstances. Town Manager Kevin Bryant of course said staff wasn’t in favor of doing that, and that the COWncil couldn’t vote on it that night anyway. Rather than just dying there, however, Shanahan asked if there were any objections to looking at the issue, leaving the other COWncil members on the hook. With COWncil members Tanner and Mason noting that there wasn’t any information presented on the circumstances, the Town Manager actually agreed to talk with the applicant and get a letter from her to the Town COWncil! Interesting times lately in the convoluted development process of Woodside.

The COWncil then took up the matter of Greenwaste Recovery, Inc. – the Town’s garbage, recycling, and compost collector – and it’s request to increase its fees to Town residents. Kevin urged the COWncil to pass a fairly standard 2.58% increase request based on the Consumer Price Index that is provided for in the contract. Greenwaste was also asking for another 6.42% increase on top of that, for a whopping 9% increase this year – and this increase would be the floor from which future CPI increases would be based.

Kevin (and later a representative for Greenwaste as well) explained that there is a clause in the contract that allows Greenwaste to ask the Town COWncil for a special increase if “regulatory changes, or other changes which cannot be foreseen” occur. He noted that it would be up to COWncil to determine if such a rate was warranted. The representative from Greenwaste made a presentation, stating that Greenwaste had lost money in Woodside for the past three years (!). While she said that they chose not to reduce labor costs during that time, but did put in place other efficiencies and tried to fix it internally. However, she said, it was only after they didn’t succeed in closing the gap that they were approaching the COWncil. She noted that the successful increase in composting in Town had led to people using smaller cans – which decreased fees to Greenwaste. She stated that the company did not foresee that, leading COWncilmember Mason to suggest that she was saying that “whoops we miscalculated, pay us more.”

To our COWncil’s credit, they pushed back fairly hard, demanding to know more information – about rate structures in neighboring Towns, how much off-curb service costs the company, the profit margin the company expects, and other facts. They got some response, but the company itself claimed not to know how much it costs them to fully provide the off curb – sometimes by hundreds of feet – service that they provide. The representative did state that they thought it was probably true that curbside service breaks even at this point.

After a fairly intense grilling by Woodside standards and a suggestion by the Mayor Pro-Tem that the Town consider ending the contract early, the COWncil moved to approve an additional 3% increase for a total 5.58% increase to everyone’s bill come July.

The COWncil noted that Greenwaste’s service was considered exemplary by Town residents, several of who spoke at the meeting, and the COWncil wanted to provide some relief to allow them to not lose money in the Town. However, they left the door open for Greenwaste to come back and ask for more money, if they did more research and figured out how much off-curb garbage service really costs. They hinted they would look favorably at an increase that would allow Greenwaste to charge the full cost of that service rather than a general increase on everyone.

So, off-curb garbage customers, prepare to see your rates skyrocket soon. Additionally, the COWncil talked about opening up the contract in terms of increasing its duration and getting Greenwaste to offer a manure pickup service, as they do in Portola Valley. The representative from Greenwaste said they were definitely interested, and interested in moving away from the “archaic” current model, and to a model that charges for everything they pick up, including garbage, recycling, and compost. The good news in all of this is that after for years trying, COWs seem to have to changed behavior and are composting more!

The COWncil then moved to discussing the next year’s budget, and it looks like the renovation of the library might finally be happening – though probably not until December at the earliest. Kevin also shared the bad news that a fourth bridge in Town may need to be fixed, with an unknown though likely large cost. The COWncil discussed the need to start budgeting for these large capital improvement projects that will be required in the Town over the next years and decades, with the possibility of a bond not ruled out if required.

The meeting adjourned at 10:35 pm.