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OP-ED: San Mateo’s sustainability advocate
July 15, 2013, 05:00 AM By Sue Lempert

Kelly Moran recently retired from San Mateo’s Planning Commission. She served there for seven and a half years following six and a half years on the Public Works Commission. In those 14 years, she has been the outspoken and effective champion for good development. Or as she calls it, sustainability.

What does that mean? According to Moran, it means the project doesn’t pollute; it minimizes greenhouse emissions; and it will be a safe and attractive place for children to live. On the other hand, if elected officials don’t keep their eye on the ball, our cities could become inhospitable — not good places to live or work. You would have to drive everywhere, an expensive proposition with higher and higher gasoline prices. The air and water quality would be bad and there might not even be enough water to meet future needs.


To date, San Mateo has made progress in approving sustainable projects, but much more remains to be done. Here’s the good news and Moran deserves much credit for the results. Every residential building at the new Bay Meadows development will be green-energy efficient and with good indoor air quality. On the Planning Commission, Moran pushed for increased set-backs, a little bit of green in front of each building and the use of more natural materials (wood). Each residential neighborhood within the complex will have its own suburban look and, above all, the design will be high quality. This was very important to every member of the Planning Commission. The complex will be connected by bike paths with easy and quick routes for grocery shopping and other errands, and easy access to the Hillsdale Caltrain station.

Many of the residents are expected to use Caltrain to get to work. There will be sufficient bike parking to accommodate the cyclists. At Station Park Green by the Hayward Park Caltrain station, Moran convinced the developer to remove the fence between the station and the project. She has not always been the developer’s favorite, but she has shown a willingness to listen and get the job done. Despite complaints she might have held up projects because of her questions and concerns (the late John Lee, the city’s former mayor and councilman, tried unsuccessfully to stop her reappointment to the Planning Commission), Moran says she has probably approved more developments than any other commissioner.


Moran’s environmental advocacy is in her genes. Her father, an engineer, founded one of the first solar energy labs in Colorado. She worked there as a teen and decided to become a chemist. She received an undergraduate degree at Stanford University and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley. She started her career writing environmental impact reports, then was hired by the city of Palo Alto as manager of its water pollution prevention program. Now she has her own consulting firm. She has been a longtime member of the Sierra Club, active in the local Loma Prieta chapter, and a member of its state legislative commission. And of course, a major player in Sustainable San Mateo County.

She has left her mark in several interesting ways. Originally, the new San Mateo library was to have a copper roof but Moran convinced the city that copper led to water pollution — dangerous for fish if not for humans. Moran was an expert on this as a leader in the brake pad partnership. It was discovered that brake pads were lined with small bits of copper so the brakes wouldn’t squeak. But that amount contributed to bad water quality. Moran and others worked on legislation to change this and today most brake pads are made without traces of copper. Then there was ant spray, the kind contractors spray around one’s property to get rid of ants. This caused runoff water to be toxic. It was found that contractors were spraying 7 feet around a building’s perimeter while only 2 inches was needed to remove the ants. New legislation resulted which should end water pollution problems from spraying.


Moran is no longer on the Planning Commission but she is working behind the scenes to see that the city of San Mateo implements a Sustainability Commission. The council has approved this in concept but has yet to fill in the details. According to Moran, the city needs to implement its climate action plan and make sure our water supply is sufficient for years to come. She’s planning for the future to make sure her city remains a place in which it’s good to live and work.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at



Tags: moran, water, commission, planning, mateo, there,

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