Electric Equipment for Schools | Councilmember Cacciotti Urges SPUSD to go Green

In his role as a board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Michael Cacciotti, the longtime South Pasadena City Council member and current mayor pro tem, is urging in a letter to the South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education to transition to non-polluting commercial lawn equipment for maintenance at school district facilities and schools

PHOTO: Bill Glazier | SouthPasadenan.com News

There’s no real secret to it, insists Michael Cacciotti. It simply makes sense, the idea that everyone deserves to breathe clean air.

“Isn’t that something we all want?” asked the man who advocates for it daily in his role on the South Pasadena City Council and as a board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, representing 34 cities in Los Angeles County’s eastern region.

There was a time as a frequent visitor to Garfield Park, centrally located for recreational use in South Pasadena, that Cacciotti would shake his head while walking his two dogs as gas-powered equipment, including mowers and leaf blowers, would emit environmental toxins in the same area where kids were running and playing, not knowing it was affecting their body’s immune system and could lead to fatal illnesses one day.

Moved by what he saw, using his seat on the council, Cacciotti took action and in 2016 the City of South Pasadena adopted an all-electric, zero-emission equipment standard for maintaining local parks. The milestone was recognized by the American Green Zone Alliance, which certified it as the first AGZA Green Zone (AGZA) city in the United States. As explained by its founder, Dan Mabe, AGZA Green Zone City certification ensures that grounds maintenance on municipal properties – mowing, hedging, edging, trimming, sawing, and blowing – are serviced exclusively with low-noise zero-emission battery-electric machinery and manual hand tools.

PHOTO: Bill Glazier | SouthPasadenan.com News

“We’re proud of the efforts made in the city five years or so ago, but more can be done,” said Cacciotti, currently the mayor pro tem.

Taking the effort one step further, he’s now urging the South Pasadena Unified School District to make the same concerted effort by going green, using 100% battery-powered equipment to maintain its district property and five public schools in the city.

In his capacity as a SCAQMD board member, Cacciotti recently wrote a letter to the local Board of Education, urging them to consider improving air quality, reducing district operating costs, “and most important, protect public health by transitioning to non-polluting commercial electric lawn equipment for maintenance of your school district facilities and schools.”

In his message, he noted that SCAQMD currently has an Electric Lawn and Garden Equipment Incentive Program that exchanges older, polluting gasoline or diesel-powered commercial lawn and garden equipment. The program, as noted in the letter, allows participants to select from a wide variety of available makes and models of commercially grade electric gardening equipment.

Cacciotti further explained that school districts are now eligible to take part in the program. Among those participating include: Westside Union School District, Eastside Union School District, Compton Unified School District, Los Angeles Unified and Viewpoint High School – all in California.

PHOTO: Bill Glazier | SouthPasadenan.com News

Last Wednesday, Cacciotti, shared what he calls SCAQMD’s “unique opportunity to advance public health and support local schools,” during a morning presentation at South Pasadena’s Arroyo Vista Elementary School, as a variety of electric equipment, including handheld blowers, hedge clippers and ride-on mowers, were on display.

Doing much of the talking was Mabe, representing AGZA, as he spoke to a small gathering – Dave Lubs, the assistant superintendent of business services; members of Brightview Landscape Services, the vendor currently maintaining South Pasadena Unified School District school sites; Natural Resources Commissioners from the City of South Pasadena, Cacciotti and other SCAQMD officials.

Following the presentation, Lubs said SPUSD is “exploring moving as much equipment as possible, hopefully all equipment to electric. We care about the environment and it’s the right thing to do. There’s a cost that comes with that, so that’s going to have to be examined so that we do it in a responsible way.”

Lubs pointed out that the district is already taking major steps to protect the environment with the installation of HVAC units in schools and through an energy management system to maximize efficiency during evening hours and non-school days. Much of the district campuses have transitioned to 100% LED lighting, including the high school stadium where an archaic main electrical system has been completely upgraded. A new energy-efficient boiler has been installed at middle school and quad areas at the local high school and middle school have been converted from grass to artificial turf. In addition, energy is also saved with a new motor and heater now in place at the high school swimming pool.

Mark Haines, the director of operations for Brightview and longtime South Pasadena resident, represents a company that is, according to its website, one of the nation’s largest users of zero-emission landscaping equipment, including electric line trimmers, electric blowers and a fleet of electric mowers.

“Some of the smaller (electric) equipment, we can switch out right away,” he said following Wednesday’s meeting. “We’ll be in discussions with the district to do that. Some of the other equipment, we’ll need to figure out what the parameters are, and you know, what’s available and what we need to do. I don’t know what all the obstacles are. But we’ll get together with the district and come up with a plan.”

Coming away from the hour-long session, Haines said he and his crew already knew much of what was presented. “There was not a lot of new information for us,” he acknowledged, adding he felt it was more for school district officials and commissioners on hand. “There were some good questions that came from folks. I think we’re still in the kind of preliminary stages. We’re trying to figure this out.”

There are some “easy wins” continued Haines, like moving to the smaller electric equipment. “So we’ll do these right away. And the ones that are a little more complicated will take a little bit more time, but we’ll get it done.”

Mabe showcased the clean technology model used by the City of South Pasadena with the hope that the local school district will adopt the same practices. “Hopefully, they’re going to go back and have a meeting of minds and see if they can at least meet the minimal criteria for an AGZA Green Zone which is phasing out all two-stroke lawn and garden equipment. The two-stroke, is where you pour the oil in the gas. You shake it up and then you pour it into the gas tank and burn it. It’s the most egregious as far as noise, the two stroke, and is obviously for the pollution.”

Cacciotti likes to go back to the idea of having the South Pasadena school district going all-electric with its landscape maintenance efforts because it simply makes sense.

“This is part of our Climate Action Plan in South Pasadena,” said the mayor pro tem. “Our community really cares about health and the school district coming onboard is another big step in that effort. We want to continue to look out for the health of our residents. Through the efforts at our city facilities, we’ve reduced our carbon footprint dramatically and with our great program at the SCAQMD we’re urging the school district to covert to all-electric equipment. We want the school district to look at this and make the conversion. It doesn’t take a lot. We’ve got the electric equipment to make it happen. It’s been proven it works. It’s up to the school district to make that decision. I’m hoping that we can protect the health of our students, our teachers, our staff and our residents.”