Natural and Urban Environment and Safety Element

The Natural Environment Element in the Comprehensive Plan addresses the management of open land and natural resources in Palo Alto and the protection of life and property from natural hazards. It is one of the broadest elements of the Comprehensive Plan, satisfying the requirements for four of the State- mandated General Plan elements:

  • Open Space—with policies describing the use of open space for the preservation of natural resources, the managed production of natural resources, outdoor recreation, and public health and safety.
  • Conservation—with policies to protect creeks and riparian areas, wetlands, the urban forest, water resources, wildlife, and air quality; to regulate and limit the use and transport of hazardous materials; and to minimize solid waste disposal and promote clean energy.
  • Safety—with policies describing how exposure will be reduced to natural hazards such as earthquakes, flooding, and wildfires.
  • Noise—with policies to decrease exposure to undesirable levels of noise in the community.

The Current Plan: A Solid Foundation

Palo Alto has vast open space resources for a city of our size. The Natural Environment Element seeks to protect the 29 neighborhood and district parks, large holdings in the Baylands, Foothills Park, Montebello and Arastradero Preserves, and Barron, Matadero, and San Francisquito Creeks. All of these areas provide important habitat, scenic, and recreational value.

With more than 300 tree species, Palo Alto’s urban forest is an extension of the natural woodland and grassland plant communities and provides a bridge for wildlife between the foothills and the Bay. The Element supports this resource both for its biological benefits and contribution to the aesthetic appeal of Palo Alto.

The Natural Environment Element has also proven effective in protecting the health and safety of our community by limiting noise and exposure to hazards. Most of its policies will be carried over into Our Palo Alto 2030, including:

  • Seeking opportunities for adding open space, including connections between Skyline Ridge and San Francisco Bay.
  • Re-establishing riparian and other natural features that have been diminished by development, and protecting surface and ground water from pollutants.
  • Expanding the urban forest, including by requiring development to provide landscaping and street trees.
  • Conserving water and energy, and securing long-term water supplies and renewable, clean energy.
  • Reducing waste, recycling construction materials, and encouraging reusable, returnable, recyclable, and repairable goods.
  • Protecting the community from noise, air pollution, hazardous chemicals, and natural hazards.

Our Palo Alto 2030

To better describe its importance and, in light of new issues and trends that have emerged subsequent to the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan, Our Palo Alto 2030 is expected to feature a renamed Natural and Urban Environment and Safety Element, with added major concepts, including:

  • Monitoring and adapting to impacts caused by climate change.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • Emphasizing and supporting community emergency preparedness.
  • Protecting sensitive habitat from human threats.
  • Balancing conservation with improved open space access and encouraging low impact recreational use.
  • Addressing State regulations requirements for transportation noise generated from roadways, airways, and railways, and limiting construction noise around sensitive receptors.

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Vision Statement

Palo Alto shall preserve its ecosystems, including its open space, creeks, habitats, and air quality while working towards a sustainable urban environment of urban forests, water quality, waste disposal reduction, emergency preparedness, community safety and a plan for climate change mitigation.


Click here to view the current Natural and Urban Environment and Safety Element.