Resident's anti-idling efforts fueled toward clean air

Courtesy of Cheryl Weiden
Los Altos resident Cheryl Weiden is on a mission to curb air pollution through an educational anti-idling campaign.

Cheryl Weiden has a good reason for wanting to curb air pollution through her anti-idling campaign in Los Altos.

“The reason I did all of this is because I’m a mom,” she said. “I didn’t know when they were little what they were going to be facing if we don’t get control on the climate. (Our) kids are not looking at a very happy future.”

The Los Altos resident launched the educational campaign in the spring in an effort to limit drivers from leaving their car engines running while not in motion.

Weiden said she was inspired by Shelly Gordon’s anti-idling campaign in neighboring Palo Alto. Gordon, who like Weiden is a member of the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club, recently spoke with the Palo Alto City Council about establishing an ordinance against idling. Gordon emphasized how it is already illegal to idle in other states, and the need for adjustments at a city level.

“Behavior change – that’s at the root of all of this,” Gordon said. “We don’t want to give up the luxury of running our air conditioners while we’re sitting in our cars.”

Weiden hopes Los Altos would consider a similar ordinance that targets parents, trucks and ultimately anyone who gets behind the wheel. She said she plans to present her proposal, which includes a “light touch” in terms of enforcement, to the Environmental Commission Aug. 14. However, if the city council decides against an ordinance, she said she at least hopes to secure its support through a resolution.

In the meantime, Weiden has collaborated with GreenTown Los Altos, a grassroots group focused on sustainability, to educate residents about the harms of idling. Weiden met with GreenTown members July 26 and was told they would not support her ordinance but agreed to help with the educational aspects of the campaign. The group has funded fliers that Weiden said she plans to hand out to drivers in idling cars in school parking lots.

“You don’t need to reconfigure the parking lots, you don’t have to buy an electric vehicle, you don’t have to change your streets,” Weiden said. “All you do is have people turn off the car.”

Weiden said she intends to get Los Altos schools involved, similar to what students at Hoover Elementary School in Palo Alto have done. They made an anti-idling video, distributed informational cards to parents in idling cars in the parking lot and sent home a newsletter to educate families.

“This is especially important as idling spews toxic pollutants into the air which the kids are breathing,” Weiden wrote via email.

Detrimental effects

Idling has damaging effects on the Earth and energy reserves, according to the Idle-Free California website. In comparison to the 6 billion gallons of fuel misused every year in the U.S., the organization noted that parked vehicles in California waste approximately 375 million gallons of fuel per year, emitting approximately 3.75 million tons of carbon dioxide.

“These toxins are so small that they actually get into our bloodstream and can have detrimental health effects,” said Troy Tournat, health programs educator for nonprofit Breathe California.

By working with people like Weiden throughout the Bay Area, Tournat said she has seen a huge improvement in the idling problem.

“One person idling might not have as much of an effect, but when you start educating more people … then that can really save our environment,” Tournat said.

In terms of economic concerns, Weiden noted that not only is idling more harmful than turning a car on and off, but it is wasted money out of the exhaust pipe. She also urged parents to look out for their children’s health and livelihood.

To volunteer, email Weiden at [email protected]

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