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Local news, information and analysis
Palo Alto eyes major reforms to permitting process City initiative aims to remove surprise, frustration from the ‘Palo Alto Process’ by Gennady Sheyner
alo Alto’s ambitious plan to strike the derisive phrase “Palo Alto Process” from the local lexicon is surging ahead this month, as the city prepares to launch a series of reforms aimed at making it easier for builders to ob-
tain city permits. City Manager James Keene and the city’s leading planning officials told a group of business owners and downtown professionals Wednesday morning that reforming the city’s permitting process is now one of the
city’s highest priorities. The goal is to radically improve customer service in the city’s Development Center and to give applicants wanting to renovate, remodel or construct buildings a one-stop shop for all of their needs. The bold initiative was prompted by years of complaints from developers and homeowners about the unruly nature of the process. Some of the members in the audience Wednesday complained that differ-
ent city inspectors have different criteria, which makes code compliance difficult, if not impossible. Others complained it takes too long to get through the city’s approval process. A few pointed to the recent example in the historic Professorville district, where it took the homeowner about three years and $500,000 to attain the city’s permission to tear down a single-story house on Lincoln Avenue and build a new home. To tame the bureaucratic beast,
the city is reforming its entire organizational structure, instituting a series of benchmarks to measure customer service at the Development Center and encouraging local builders, developers and homeowners to point out problems and help the city resolve them. Keene announced his ambitious campaign to reform the planning process in late July, when he held a (continued on page 8)
Palo Altans: ‘Why didn’t PG&E warn of gas purge?’ Two schools evacuate after PG&E releases gas from mains by Jay Thorwaldson, Nick Veronin and Chris Kenrick
Back to the future With the campaign signs of past Democratic candidates behind him, San Mateo Supervisor Rich Gordon talks to supporters Tuesday at Democrat headquarters in Palo Alto after voters in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties elected him to replace outgoing Assemblyman Ira Ruskin in the 21st District.
City voters snuff firefighters’ Measure R Measure would have required an election to reduce fire staff by Gennady Sheyner
proposal by Palo Alto’s firefighters union to freeze staffing levels in the Fire Department went up in flames Tuesday
after local voters overwhelmingly defeated Measure R. Seventy-four percent of the city’s voters opposed Measure R, which
would have required the city to hold a citywide election any time it wants to reduce staffing levels or close a fire station. The measure was placed on the ballot by Palo Alto Firefighters Union, Local 1319, which is in the midst of negotiations with the city over a new contract. Former Palo Alto Mayor Dena Mossar, who led the campaign opposing Measure R, said she wasn’t surprised by the election result. Mossar had characterized the firefighters’ proposal as a power grab that would give the firefighters’ union unfair powers over other labor groups. Her campaign, which was sup-
ported by a broad coalition of former mayors and civic activists, raised more than $60,000 to fight Measure R. “Palo Alto voters are a pretty smart lot,” Mossar told the Weekly Tuesday, after early results indicated the win. “Three to one is about as good as it gets.” Firefighters claimed the measure is needed to protect residents from reckless staff cuts by the City Council. The union gathered more than 6,000 signatures to place the measure on the ballot and had loaned $35,000 toward its campaign. (continued on page 7)
alo Alto residents and city and school officials Thursday were asking why Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) didn’t warn them it was about to purge a major natural-gas line in Mountain View late Wednesday morning. The strong gas smell drifted through parts of south Palo Alto and Mountain View about 11 a.m. Wednesday, evoking fears of a San Bruno-like explosion and causing the evacuation of two Palo Alto schools: JLS Middle School and Palo Verde Elementary School. Scores of residents went outside their homes to try to sniff out where the smell was coming from. Palo Alto firefighters parked along Middlefield Road and Oregon Expressway and were also trying to detect the source of what was described as a strong smell of natural gas. Palo Verde Principal Anne Brown said students followed procedures they had learned just weeks ago in a mock earthquake drill and were evacuated for about 25 minutes. “Once we got a report from (the school district) that it was a (gas) release and that the gas was gone we went back inside,” Brown said. “We opened up doors and windows and were ready to go. Not one student even had a headache. “It was a good test of our disaster preparedness.” Co-Chief Business Official Bob Golton said the district’s source of information about the release came (continued on page 11)
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK
450 CAMBRIDGE AVE, PALO ALTO, CA 94306 (650) 326-8210
Palo Alto voters are a pretty smart lot.
â€” Dena Mossar, who led the campaign opposing Palo Altoâ€™s Measure R, which was defeated. See story on page 3.
Around Town A GIANT VICTORY ... When Palo Alto officials met Monday night to discuss the top recreational issues of the day, it was clear they had other things on their minds. The clues were everywhere â€” from Councilman Larry Kleinâ€™s orange sweater, to Park and Recreation Commissioner Sunny Dykwelâ€™s San Francisco Giants T-shirt, to the iPad on City Manager Jim Keeneâ€™s lap flashing baseball stats, to the frequent glances staff shot toward the muted TV screen. The Parks and Recreation Commission, which advises the council on topics relating to local sports fields and recreation, experienced â€œGiants Tortureâ€? in the worst way possible â€” their annual meeting with the council fell on the same evening as Game 5 of the World Series between the Giants and the Texas Rangers. Though heads frequently swiveled toward the TV, discussions remained largely on point, spanning such topics as bike improvements, youth programs and new amenities at El Camino Park. Councilman Greg Scharff was talking about El Camino Park when Giants shortstop Edgar Renteria whacked a three-run homerun, giving the Giants a 3-0 lead and prompting an excited Keene to interject with an update. â€œItâ€™s clear where our priorities are,â€? quipped Commissioner Paul Losch. The meeting was scheduled to adjourn at about 7 p.m. so that the council could get to its regularly scheduled Monday meeting, but no one seemed to be in a rush. Minutes before the hour approached, one commissioner asked how much time the group had before adjournment. â€œAbout an inning,â€? Mayor Pat Burt replied. The council ultimately managed to stretch out the joint discussion and the subsequent intermission until past 7:30 p.m. Council members lingered in the small conference room to watch the Giantsâ€™ freakish, fuzzy-bearded closer Brian Wilson finish off the Rangers, giving the Giants their first World Series since the team moved to San Francisco and giving the council a chance to high-five and congratulate one another before proceeding to their regular meeting.
SILVER LINING ... Democrats took a political pummeling across the nation Tuesday, but things looked a little brighter in Palo Alto on Election Day. At the Democratic headquarters on El Camino Real, local politicians and operatives gathered late Tuesday to celebrate the election of Jerry Brown to governor, the political survival of Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate, and the election of San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon to the state Assembly. Gordon and Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, both gave the group a pep talk celebrating the partiesâ€™ victories, at least in California. â€œWe have achieved some incredible results in California,â€? Gordon said. â€œWeâ€™re unlike the rest of the nation and thank God!â€? Attendees also cheered the votersâ€™ rejection of Proposition 23, a proposal funded by Texas oil companies Tesoro and Valero that would have suspended Californiaâ€™s law governing greenhouse-gas emissions. â€œJust as our beloved Giants beat Texas, we gave the boot to Texas oil companies and defeated Proposition 23,â€? Gordon said to loud cheers. FIXING THE CITY ... Palo Alto officials agree that the city is full of aged and damaged infrastructure that urgently needs to be repaired or replaced. In September, the City Council appointed an 18-member task force to go through the cityâ€™s $500 million infrastructure backlog and think of ways to fund the needed improvements. Now, the city has a new problem â€” getting 18 volunteers to attend a meeting. After more than a month and a half, the task force has yet to hold a single meeting because of scheduling conflicts, the council learned this week. Its first meeting is now scheduled for December. This bit of news frustrated Councilman Larry Klein, who hoped the committee could complete its work next year and pave the way for a bond measure on the November 2011 ballot. â€œIf people canâ€™t make the meetings, they ought to not be on the committee,â€? Klein said.
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Referrals of students to free mental health services jump Suicide prevention, ‘asset’ promotion also offered to help teens’ well-being by Chris Kenrick
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his school year has seen a near doubling over last year of students being referred to free mental health services, according to the Palo Alto Unified School District. Since school began in August, more than 60 students have been recommended by school counselors for treatment under a program offering a minimum of three free sessions with local mental health providers, according to the district’s Coordinator of Student Services Amy Drolette. In 2009-10, 35 students were referred under the program. Those numbers do not include students referred to the Health Care Alliance for Adolescent Depression (HEARD), a health-care-provider group that formed to offer free services following five public suicides of Gunn High School students in 2009 and 2010. Statistics and trends on the number of students served by the HEARD Alliance were not immediately available. Referrals to the free services are made for problems such as anxiety and depression, Drolette said. Referred students were fairly evenly distributed throughout the K-12 age groups, she said. She attributed the increase in referrals to confidence among counselors that ongoing funds will be available for the program and that — at a family’s discretion — in-
formation would “circle back” so school counselors would know that a student is getting help. The service is “strictly confidential,” she said. “Once we make the referral, the families have the opportunity to contact the agency or provider. “The hope is that as we support them with the mental health piece, they’re healthier individuals and able to be more successful in the day-to-day school setting.” Drolette is in the midst of applying for a $250,000, 18-month grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools to help fund the program. Earlier this year, the district received a $50,000 grant from that agency. Though it has existed for seven or eight years, the free mental health referral program gained a higher profile last year following the five student deaths. It is one of several mental-healthrelated commitments made by the district to Palo Alto Project Safety Net, a community-wide coalition formed in response to the suicides. Other mental health-related commitments include suicide-prevention training of teachers and staff members at all middle schools and high schools. (continued on page 11)
Public Agenda A preview of Palo Alto government meetings next week CITY COUNCIL ... The council plans to hold a study session with the Library Advisory Commission Commission; amend the building code for compliance with the state’s green building standards; and adopt a new requirement in the fire code for photoelectric alarms. The meeting with the Library Advisory Commission will begin at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8, in the Council Conference Room at City Hall (250 Hamilton Ave.). Regular meeting will follow. BOARD OF EDUCATION ... The board plans to vote on proposed school calendars for 2011-12 and 2012-13 that will shift the academic year to begin earlier in August and the first semester to conclude before the December winter break. The board also will hear updates on the district’s three-year pilot Mandarin Immersion Program, and view “conceptual designs” for renovations to Hoover Elementary School. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9, in the board room of school district headquarters (25 Churchill Ave.). POLICY AND SERVICES COMMITTEE ... The committee plans to discuss Project Safety Net, the city’s public-private partnerships and electronic management for city agendas. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9, in the Council Conference Room at City Hall (250 Hamilton Ave.).
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PLANNING AND TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION ... The commission plans to continue its discussion of the Housing Element chapter of the city’s Comprehensive Plan and consider a colleagues’ memo about city policies on commissioners’ ex parte communications. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, in the Council Chambers at City Hall (250 Hamilton Ave.).
Upfront ELECTION 2010
Palo Alto voters choose even-year city elections Saving money, increasing voter participation cited as reasons for shift by Gennady Sheyner
alo Alto’s century-old tradition of holding city elections on odd years came to an end Tuesday when voters approved Measure S, which shifts elections to even years. The measure, proposed by Santa Clara Supervisor Liz Kniss, won in a landslide, with 76 percent of the vote. Measure S would bring the city into line with national, state and county elections and reduce costs by an estimated $1 million over the next decade, Kniss estimated. Kniss and other proponents of Measure S argued the proposal would also increase voter participation. They pointed to the fact that
the last four even-year elections had an average turnout of 71.25 percent, compared to 43.2 percent for oddyear elections. Councilman Greg Schmid and former Mayor Gary Fazzino both opposed Measure S, arguing that it would force local issues to compete for voters’ attention with national and state elections. Schmid also said there would be less media attention paid to city-level issues and candidates if the local election were held concurrent with the national one. But Measure S generally stayed under the radar in the months leading up to Election Day and did not generate broad opposition. “It boiled down to a simple deci-
sion,” Mayor Pat Burt said. “Not too many people had strong passions about this measure.” Councilman Greg Scharff, who proposed placing Measure S on the ballot, told the Weekly he wasn’t surprised by the measure’s easy passage. “We’re increasing voter participation and saving money,” Scharff said. “It seemed like a no-brainer.” By switching elections to even years, the measure also extends the terms of each council member by a year. Burt, Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa and councilmen Yiaway Yeh and Schmid would have seen their terms expire next year. Now, they will serve until 2012. N
Community college measure falls short of two-thirds vote Support is there, but taxes are ‘toxic’ this year, campaigners say by Chris Kenrick
majority of local voters favored a six-year, $69-a-year parcel tax to support Foothill and De Anza community colleges, but the tax — Measure E — fell short of the two-thirds approval it needed to pass. In the end, 58.1 percent of voters were in favor of the measure, with 41.9 percent opposed. Supporters had hoped revenue from the tax would offset $20 million in state cuts sustained by the colleges, allowing them to restore classes and labs for more than 10,000 students on wait lists this fall, supporters said. Polling last spring indicated more than 70 percent backing for the measure, but a second poll two weeks ago indicated support had dwindled, proponents said. Campaign chair Betsy Bechtel, a former Palo Alto mayor who now sits on the elected board of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, noted that measures requiring a two-thirds majority went down across the county and state in Tuesday’s election. “We really do have strong support
for our community colleges and will continue to work hard to keep them effectively providing services for the students,” Bechtel said Thursday. Foothill College has been the destination for 14 percent to 16 percent of the Gunn and Palo Alto high schools’ graduating classes in recent years, according to the college. Bechtel discounted press criticism of district salaries as being responsible for Measure E’s failure to pass. The district has defended its faculty salaries — on the upper end but not the highest community college salaries in California — as necessary to attract and retain top talent. At a campaign gathering at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse in Cupertino Tuesday night, students who had worked phone banks and gone door-to-door for Measure E said voters they spoke with generally supported Foothill and De Anza. “Most people wanted to further young people’s education and have it available for future high schoolers,” De Anza student Vanessa Rosas said. But the nation’s anti-tax mood made it tough for Measure E, said
Foothill student Etienne Bowie, who grew up in East Palo Alto. “The word ‘tax’ is just toxic right now,” Bowie said. “I made 400 phone calls — maybe more. Most of the voters I talked to said ‘Yes,’ they supported it, but there were a lot of undecided people and they were scared of the word ‘tax.’” Bowie criticized the salary argument. “The faculty makes the school,” he said. “Our opponents used that (salary argument) very well against us.” De Anza student Arvind Ravichandran said, “We’re going to miss this campaign. We had a routine, and it was a good opportunity to learn about civic duty.” Palo Altans were well-represented at the gathering of about 50 campaign volunteers. Besides Bechtel, Foothill-De Anza board Chair Bruce Swenson is also a Palo Alto resident, as were a number of campaign volunteers. N Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
concerned about the larger issue of employee salaries and benefits. Tuesday’s election suggests that the voters approve of the council’s recent efforts to reduce spending on employee compensation, Burt said. “The vote does not surprise me,” Burt said. “The sentiment I heard from the community was strong opposition to Measure R and strong
support for the reforms the City Council recently made to pensions and benefits. “Voters know we have to control costs.” The topic of staffing levels is expected to resurface in the next month or two, when the city completes a study analyzing the Fire Department’s staffing levels. N
(continued from page 3)
Tony Spitaleri, the union president, couldn’t be reached for comment. Mayor Pat Burt said the voters’ overwhelming defeat of Measure R indicated the community is
Election results As of Thursday, Nov. 4
Measure R (Forces voter approval for firestation closures and staff reductions) No 13,125 74.43%
Yes 4,508 25.57%
Measure S (Switches city elections from odd years to even) Yes 13,018 76.01%
No 4,109 23.99%
East Palo Alto City Council (two seats open) Ruben Abrica (incumbent) 1,334 39.4% David E. Woods (incumbent) 1,225 36.1% Douglas J. Fort 831 24.5%
Measure E Santa Clara County (Foothill-De Anza Community College District parcel tax, twothirds majority needed to pass)
State Assembly, 21st District Rich Gordon (Democrat) 33,329 56.80% Greg Conlon (Republican) 22,413 38.20%
Yes 50,021 58.08%
No 36,101 41.92%
Ray M. Bell (Libertarian) 2,931 5.00%
Santa Clara Valley Water District, District 7
U.S. Congress, 14th District
Brian Andrew Schmidt 20,910 55.97%
Anna G. Eshoo (Democrat) 58,412 67.53%
Louis E. Becker 16,447 44.03%
Dave Chapman (Republican) 25,589 29.58% Paul Lazaga (Libertarian) 2,502 2.89%
CityView A round-up of
Palo Alto government action this week
City Council (Nov. 1)
Ameresco: The council authorized the city manager to decline a proposed power purchase agreement from Ameresco. Yes: Unanimous High-speed rail: The council discussed California’s high-speed rail project, including the recent federal grant for high-speed rail and the upcoming rally in Burlingame on Nov. 7 opposing the project in its current form. Action: None
Finance Committee (Nov. 2)
Benchmark study: The committee discussed the Water Utility Benchmark Study recently completed by the Utilities Department. Action: None Water rates: The committee discussed the rate structure for the city’s water and wastewater services. Action: None
Historic Resources Board (Nov. 3)
Joint session: The board discussed potential topics for discussion at its upcoming joint study session with the City Council on Nov. 8. Action: None
Utility Advisory Commission (Nov. 3)
Gas and electricity: The commission approved staff proposals to change the Compressed Natural Gas Rate Schedule and to implement the Long-Term Electric Acquisition Plan. Yes: Unanimous
High-speed Rail Committee (Nov. 3)
High-speed rail: The committee discussed recent correspondence between Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority and approved drafts of letters from the city to the authority pertaining to a proposed high-speed rail station and the authority’s Supplemental Alternatives Analysis Report. Yes: Unanimous
Architectural Review Board (Nov. 3)
El Camino Commons: The board discussed a proposal for a 45-unit, three-story, senior-assisted housing facility at 4041 El Camino Way. The facility would be an expansion of Palo Alto Commons. The board approved the plans and added a series of conditions pertaining to color of materials, elevation and third-floor balconies. Yes: Lew, Malone, Prichard, Wasserman, Young Absent: Lee
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TALK ABOUT IT
(continued from page 3)
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press conference to talk about what he called the “Blueprint for a New Development Center.” Since then, the city has hired consultants to lead the restructuring effort; created a new “staff action team” composed of representatives from all city departments involved in permitting; and appointed a new “Development Customer Advisory Group” consisting of architects, developers, builders and residential activists. Keene said one of the biggest challenges in reforming the permitting process is the sheer number of departments involved. The staff ac-
A resource for special events and ongoing religious services. To inquire about or make space reservations for Inspirations, please contact Blanca Yoc at 223-6596 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Weekly’s Oct. 29 article about a proposed cell-phone tower, the height of the tower was incorrect. It is 50 feet tall and 8 feet square. Also, William Hammett was incorrectly paraphrased. Hammett said studies of electromagnetic fields often reveal that the towers easily meet FCC safety guidelines by an extra margin, not that companies add an extra margin. To request a correction, contact Managing Editor Jocelyn Dong at 650-223-6514, jdong@ paweekly.com or P.O. Box 1610, Palo Alto, CA 94302.
What ideas do you have for improving “The Palo Alto Process”? Share them on Town Square, the online community discussion forum, at Palo Alto Online.
tion team includes representatives from the Public Works, Utilities, Fire, and Administrative Services departments, as well as the city manager’s office. “One of the biggest issues that we have to deal with is breaking down the silo-style structure and barriers between departments,” Keene said Wednesday at the meeting, sponsored by the Palo Alto Business Improvement District. The team held its first meeting Tuesday night, said Tommy Fehrenbach, the city’s economic-development manager. The goal, he said, is to remove the element of surprise out of the notoriously convoluted system. “Customer service is our key objective,” Fehrenbach said. “We want the customers coming through the Development Center to have the best possible experience with the process and the system.” The city is also encouraging critics of the “Palo Alto Process” to step forward and help resolve the systemic problems. The 20-member Advisory Group is charged with pointing out the flaws in the city’s system and working with the city to fix these problems. Its members include local ar-
chitects John Barton, Jim McFall, Joseph Bellomo and Tony Carrasco; Stanford General Manager John Benevenuto; Facebook Director of Real Estate Jim Merryman; College Terrace resident Doria Summa; and construction manager Chris Sigler, among others. The group is scheduled to hold its first meeting later this month. Palo Alto also plans to kick off a series of pilot projects in February in which applicants are teamed up with a staff member whose job would be to shepherd the application through the municipal maze of permit approvals. “Instead of having a customer going to the Development Center and then perhaps going to different locations for different pieces of the application, we’ll have the customer sitting in one chair and having all the resources and staff coming to them,” said George Arimes, of the firm Horizon Centre, Inc., the city’s system-design consultant. Keene said the new initiative aims to make the permitting process less suspenseful. “We want to have predictability, where someone comes in and knows what the expectations will be and knows the rules of the game and is able to chart it out and plan and not have a lot of surprises,” Keene said. N Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@ paweekly.com.
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Palo Alto Historical Association presents a public program
News Digest â€œBusmanâ€™s Holiday: Edward Durell Stone and Palo Altoâ€?
Man lying down on University Avenue hit by truck A bread truck hit a man who was lying in the middle of University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto at 2:29 a.m. Wednesday morning, police reported. Ralph Ortiz, 53, of San Jose walked into the westbound lane of the 300 block of University Avenue and lay down behind a cement planter box that someone had pushed into the middle of the street, a male witness told police. Police Lt. Sandra Brown said the witness reported that Ortiz appeared to drink a beer in front of the Medallion Rug Gallery, then walked into the street and lay against the planter box, hidden from view of the oncoming van driver. The witness tried to warn the van driver that a man was lying in the road, but the van crashed into the cement box and ran over Ortiz, Brown said. Police do not know who pushed the box into the street but assume it was Ortiz, Brown said. He was taken to Stanford Medical Center with head injuries and was in stable condition as of Wednesday afternoon, communicating with his doctors, she said. There is no indication that Ortiz was attempting suicide, Brown said. Police have not determined whether the man is homeless, she said. The van driver was not injured. N â€” Sue Dremann
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0RESENTER "OB 3KOLMEN Edward Durell Stone (left) City Hall Dedication
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L U C I L E PA C K A R D
C H I L D R E N â€™ S H O S P I TA L
City to add amenities to El Camino Park When Palo Alto officials set out to build a massive underground reservoir at El Camino Park, their goal was to give residents an emergency water supply, not to provide new play spaces and park amenities. But city recreation officials are now trying to use the voter-approved project as an opportunity to reinvigorate the park â€” located across from Stanford Shopping Center â€” by adding lacrosse striping, a scoreboard, a grassy nook for picnics and a dog-exercise area. While funding remains a major obstacle, the City Council agreed with the Parks and Recreation Commission on Monday night that park improvements at El Camino should be a high priority. The council agreed that the opportunity for park improvements should not be squandered, though members acknowledged that finding the funds to make these improvements could prove tricky. The reservoir is funded by a voter-approved bond, and city officials are prohibited from using the bond funds for projects not relating to water improvements. City officials estimate that the construction of the reservoir will commence in the middle of next year and will take about two years to complete. The reservoir would have the capacity to store 2.5 million gallons of water. The council asked for more information about the estimated costs of the commissionâ€™s park projects. Once these estimates are in, the council will decide whether to fund the park projects through a bond or through the cityâ€™s capital-improvement program. N â€” Gennady Sheyner
Ballot shortage causes frustration at EPA polls Angry voters in East Palo Alto left in frustration without casting their votes after a shortage of paper ballots created long lines that went out the door on Election Day, poll workers said. Others stuck it out so their votes would be counted. The line snaked through the City Hall lobby for hours after the ballots ran out and voters had to use electronic machines to cast their votes. The problem was exacerbated by voters who were reading the ballot for the first time on the machines, each person taking 20 to 30 minutes to vote, Ethan Frantz, a San Mateo County election official, said. â€œAn insanely long ballotâ€? also added to the long voting times, he said. The ballots ran out about 3 p.m. and workers scrambled to accommodate voters by getting in two additional voting machines, but those machines did not arrive until 6 p.m., he said. â€œWeâ€™re seeing a lot of irate voters,â€? he added, noting that some voters felt the lack of ballots was meant to disenfranchise voters in the heavily Democratic and minority community. But Frantz said the problem appeared to be countywide. Precincts in Portola Valley were just as affected as East Palo Alto, he said. Frantz said voter turnout in many places was much higher than anticipated. In East Palo Alto, the City Hall precinct had 40 percent more voters than in any of his six years serving as an election official. N â€” Sue Dremann
Your Childâ€™s Health University Lucile Packard Childrenâ€™s Hospital offers classes and seminars designed to foster good health and enhance the lives of parents and children. HEART TO HEART SEMINAR ON GROWING UP Informative, humorous and lively discussions between parents and their pre-teens on puberty, the opposite sex and growing up. Girls attend these two-part sessions with their moms and boys attend with their dads. - For Girls: Mondays, December 6 & 13: 6:30 â€“ 8:30 pm - For Boys: Tuesdays, November 30 & December 7: 6:30 â€“ 8:30 pm
SIBLING PREPARATION CLASS This class for children two years of age and older will help prepare siblings for the emotional and physical realities of the arrival of a newborn. - Saturday, December 4: 10:30 am â€“ 12:00 pm
CESAREAN BIRTH CLASS This two-hour class is taught by a labor and delivery nurse/childbirth educator who helps prepare families for cesarean delivery. Information about vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) will also be discussed. - Wednesday, December 8: 7:00 â€“ 9:00 pm
COMFORT TECHNIQUES FOR LABOR For couples who have already completed Childbirth Prep, this class provides additional tools and practice for relaxation, breathing and comfort measures for labor. - Wednesday, December 15: 6:30 â€“ 8:30 pm.
Call (650) 723-4600 or visit www.calendar.lpch.org to register or obtain more information on the times, locations and fees for these and other courses.
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C H I L D R E Nâ€™S H O S P I T A L LETâ€™S DISCUSS: Read the latest local news headlines and talk about the issues at Town Square at www.PaloAltoOnline.com
V I S I T W W W. L P C H . O R G TO S I G N U P F O R C L A S S E S *>Â?ÂœĂŠÂ?ĂŒÂœĂŠ7iiÂŽÂ?ĂžĂŠUĂŠ ÂœĂ›iÂ“LiĂ€ĂŠx]ĂŠĂ“Ă¤ÂŁĂ¤ĂŠU Page 9
Audrey Rust named 2010 Athena Award winner Environmental leader to be honored for excellence, creativity and mentoring by Sue Dremann
udrey Rust, longtime leader awardees, Rust said, “It’s quite an of Peninsula Open Space honor to be among them.” Trust (POST), will The most meaningreceive this year’s 2010 ful aspect of her tenure Athena Award, the Palo at POST is that which is Alto Chamber of Commost obvious, she said: merce has announced. “It’s the one of saving Rust will receive the incredibly important and award at a Chamber lunvaluable pieces of land cheon Nov. 17 at the Garand making them availden Court Hotel in Palo able” to the average perAlto. son to enjoy. The award honors “It’s helping to create women who demonstrate a landscape that sustains excellence and creativthis region,” she said. Audrey Rust ity in business and who In other parts of the contribute to the quality country, land is not conof life in their communities and help served with the same sense of public other women realize their leadership ownership as in the Bay Area, she potential. said. Considering the caliber of other “The concept that everyone has
access to that land is not as prevalent as we have here,” she said. Rust has led POST since 1987. Under her leadership, the Palo Alto nonprofit has protected 63,000 acres of open space land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. She lives in Menlo Park. “Audrey Rust’s achievements in more than two decades as president of Peninsula Open Space Trust are as magnificent as the natural spaces she has worked so hard to preserve,” Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said in a letter supporting her nomination. “These lands have become parts of the National Parks System, the National Wildlife Refuge System, California State Parks, county and city parks, regional open space preserves and private farmland.”
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 11th, 2010 The Ethics of Violence in War 7 p.m. / Annenberg Auditorium Richard Rhodes (Pulitzer Prize winning author) Richard Rhodes is the author or editor of twenty-three books including The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which won a Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction, a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award; Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, which was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in History; Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race; and The Twilight of the Bomb (Aug 2010).
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Prior to her tenure at POST, Rust worked with the Sierra Club, Yale University and Stanford University. She has served on numerous local, state and national organizations, primarily in conservation and housing. Over the years, a larger public consciousness about land conservation has emerged, she said. But there is a caveat. The commitment to local concerns that major corporations and individuals in the valley have felt in the past has not transferred to the next generation. Many business leaders now focus on the global environment and social issues. “It’s a concern for the future,” she said. As money leaves the Bay Area to
support causes in other countries, Rust also hopes leaders with deep pockets won’t take the local and regional environment for granted. “Understanding the importance of our natural environment in its diversity ... and its importance in the protection of the air and water is an essential thing,” she said. Athena International established the Athena award in 1982, a professional businesswoman’s organization dedicated to woman’s leadership. Various host organizations, including chambers of commerce, administer the award annually. Tickets for the luncheon are available by calling 650-324-3121. N Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
Online This Week
These and other news stories were posted on Palo Alto Online throughout the week. For longer versions, go to www.PaloAltoOnline.com/news or click on “News” in the left, green column.
Ohtaki, Keith, Cline win in Menlo council race Incumbent Heyward Robinson and educator Chuck Bernstein are reflecting on their unsuccessful bids for Menlo Park City Council, as the three incoming councilmembers appear to be Peter Ohtaki, Kirsten Keith and incumbent Rich Cline, who edged out his colleague. (Posted Nov. 4 at 8:57 a.m.)
Masked man robs Menlo Park Quiznos at gunpoint Police are searching for a masked man who robbed a Menlo Park Quiznos at gunpoint Tuesday night. (Posted Nov. 3 at 1:39 p.m.)
Things quiet at polls, but not as quiet as June The box of mail-in ballots at the Christian Reformed Church in Palo Alto filled to the brim early Tuesday afternoon, prompting poll workers at the precinct to place all new ballots into a canvas bag. The turnout at the church, which houses two precincts, was higher than it was in June’s primary election, workers reported. (Posted Nov. 2 at 8:58 p.m.)
Burglar makes off with liquor, laptop in Palo Alto An apartment in the 600 block of Waverley Street in Palo Alto was burglarized sometime Saturday night or early Sunday morning as the resident slept, Palo Alto police said. (Posted Nov. 2 at 11:55 a.m.)
EPA Kids Foundation raises more than $300K A foundation that raises funds for East Palo Alto schools did so well this year that it is expanding its reach. For the first time in its 17-year history, the East Palo Alto Kids Foundation (EPAK) reached $300,000 in annual donations, enabling it to make two rounds of “micro-grants” to teachers in the Ravenswood City School District. (Posted Nov. 2 at 9:41 a.m.)
Vehicle crashes into pizza parlor, pinning cashier A woman cashier was injured Monday when a vehicle crashed into the Avanti Pizza parlor in West Menlo Park, pinning the employee behind the cash register, a California Highway Patrol Officer said. (Posted Nov. 1 at 4:14 p.m.)
Cal Fire warns of phone solicitation scam The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is warning Bay Area residents of a telephone scam in which people are asked to donate money for firefighter training, a Cal Fire representative said. (Posted Nov. 1 at 2 p.m.)
School board asks city to link housing, schools With a nervous eye on crowded classrooms, the Palo Alto Board of Education formally has asked the City Council to keep school “capacity challenges” in mind when the city considers long-range housing plans for Palo Alto. (Posted Nov. 1 at 9:48 a.m.)
San Diego man killed by Caltrain Friday A man who was fatally struck Friday afternoon by a Caltrain approaching the Belmont station has been identified by the San Mateo County coroner’s office as San Diego resident Michael Turek, 40. (Posted Oct. 30 at 6:22 p.m.)
Crowd greets Piazza’s reopening Friday afternoon A crowd of nearly 30 people pushed through the front door of Piazza’s Market in Palo Alto when it was reopened at 3 p.m. Friday. The store had been closed since approximately 6:15 a.m. due to a major leak of refrigerant from the store’s cooling system. (Posted Oct. 29 at 9:57 a.m.)
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Good for Business. Good for You. Good for the Community.
Mental health (continued from page 6)
The first trainings in a method called QPR, which stands for “question, persuade and refer,” took place Oct. 13 at Gunn High School and Terman Middle School. In a session lasting one to three hours, people are taught “how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone for help,” according to the group’s website. Stanford University psychologist Alejandro Martinez, who has trained hundreds of Stanford students and staff members in the QPR protocol, led the training session at Gunn. The district’s farthest-reaching mental health commitment this year is to a system known as the Developmental Assets, encouraging “positive relationships, opportunities, values and skills that young people need to grow up caring and responsible,” according to local promoter, the nonprofit Project Cornerstone of San Jose. A high percentage of all Palo Alto’s high school students, as well as students in grades five and seven, took a baseline “Developmental Assets Survey” in October. Students answered questions about their relationships with their families and schools, and other questions aligned
with the 41 identified “assets,” such as “positive family communication” and “positive peer influence.” Results of the baseline surveys will be available in February or March, Drolette said. Parents had to give permission for their students to take the survey, which does not identify results by individual student, Drolette said. Elementary-school participation rates exceeded 90 percent; middle schools 85 percent and high schools 75 percent, she said. Drolette, a former high school history teacher and counselor, joined the Palo Alto school district in August from Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, a highachieving school ranked 36th in
the U.S. News & World Report’s 2009 list of America’s Best High Schools. “It’s quite an academically driven school but we brought on (the Stanford University-based) Challenge Success program to support our students in terms of the stress factors and ability to learn resilience,” Drolette said. “By nature, when you’re talking about high-achieving schools, Gunn and Palo Alto high schools are often part of the discussion, and I was quite familiar with the sites here before I came on board,” she said. N Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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from the city, and that PG&E had not contacted the district. City Utilities Department officials scrambled to find the source when reports and complaints started pouring in to the city’s dispatch center. Palo Alto Utilities Director Val Fong said shortly after noon that Palo Alto “received no notification from PG&E about the natural gas purging,” which was occurring near Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. “We’re doing some pipeline assessment work,” PG&E spokesman Matt Nauman said Wednesday when contacted by the Mountain View Voice, the Weekly’s sister paper. He said that at about 11 a.m. Wednesday crews opened up a portion of a gas main near Shoreline and flushed it of natural gas in order to send in a robot to examine the main for structural integrity. “After the San Bruno accident, we are obviously assessing our pipeline,” Nauman said, referring to the disastrous Sept. 9 explosion and fire. “This is part of that assessment.” Nauman said the utility notified some residents and businesses in both Mountain View and Palo Alto that they might smell gas, but the smell apparently spread out and lingered due to lack of a breeze. The gas did not pose a health or explosion risk, he added. Nauman said that during the gasmain assessment crews are sending a video camera deep into the line to look for damage. It is part of an examination of gas mains running up and down the Peninsula that PG&E has been conducting for the past few weeks. N
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Dousing Measure R sends strong message Firefighters’ union leadership made a strategic gamble with Measure R, but Palo Alto voters saw through it — as should firefighters
he astounding 3-to-1 defeat of the Palo Alto firefighters’ unionbacked Measure R should send a strong message to the union local’s rank-and-file members that voters are fed up with scare tactics and exaggerations such as those practiced by the current leadership of the local.
Those tactics have resulted in a serious embarrassment to the union and a damaging setback to the union local’s credibility in the community. Measure R if approved would have required citywide voter approval for any reduction in Fire Department staffing or station closure, shielding the department from any reorganization or budget adjustment based on broader city needs. It was promoted by “every minute counts” messages, one showing a firefighter holding a baby, and implying that there was an imminent threat to timely responses in emergencies. There isn’t. And if one comes up in the future it should be dealt with in open debate using appropriate channels, and by holding our elected officials responsible for public safety. Opponents correctly argued that Measure R would have placed the Fire Department in an impossibly rigid and protectionist position at the potential expense of all other city programs and services — including a number of other important “public safety” services. The measure was opposed by a huge cross-section of Palo Alto residents and civic leaders, and the final tally was more than 75 percent of voters rejecting the proposal, one of the largest rejections of a Palo Alto measure in history. Rank-and-file firefighters need to take a hard and realistic look at how their union local has led them astray. Then they might take similar look at how they want to be perceived in the community, particularly in a time of hardened public attitudes toward wages and benefits of public employees in general and public-safety personnel in particular. Challenging times lie ahead for unions representing all public employees, as the unsustainable costs of pensions and high salaries become clear and significant cuts necessary. These will be difficult discussions, made more difficult by the tactics of the firefirghters union. If nothing else, the overwhelming rejection of Measure R should send a message that voters want and expect a more honest and constructive dialogue from public employees — one aimed at finding solutions rather than emotional posturing.
Rank-and-file firefighters need to take a hard and realistic look at how their union local has led them astray.
Palo Altans opt for even-year city elections
bandoning a century-old tradition, Palo Alto voters overwhelmingly opted for even-year elections in Tuesday’s election.
The move is expected to both increase voter participation and save money compared to odd-year elections. It will also add a year to council members whose terms are due to expire in 2011, when the change takes effect. Some opponents of the change cited tradition and the opportunity to explore local candidates and issues that a separate city election in odd years allows, not competing for space, time, attention, workers or funds with regional, state or national elections in even years. But the 77 percent approval of the change — initiated by Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss — shows that voters are ready to go for the change. And we believe that Palo Alto voters, with the plethora of communications now available that was unimaginable a century ago, won’t lose sight of the local issues and candidates in the larger even-years arena of politics and democracy.
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Spectrum Editorials, letters and opinions
The Cal Ave ‘project’ Editor, After volunteering for 20 years as the California Avenue Area Development Association (CAADA) president and working with nearly every city department, no city investigator asked for my recollections of the five years leading up to “The Project” on California Avenue. Having read the antics chronicled in the Executive Summary, it is revealing to read what was relayed to higher-ups. That report has errors, omissions and gaping holes in the timeline, appearing by design, and in a manner making all upper management and one senior engineer look faultless while casting blame on other lower level employees (people deserving of support and even thanks, not chastisement). If not for one conscientious employee, there would be no prior public notification at all. The report exhibits a continuance of no leadership; an outrageous whitewashing of responsibility; no vision; no accountability; no conviction or courage; and no common sense from the top rungs of city management, on down. This mentality results from years of weak, high-level city management covering one’s posterior, where employees with good skills are in fact, kept down or pushed out. Former councilman John Barton warned of this. He was correct. While a few departments are excellent (specifically Parks, Dept. of Homeland Security, and Community Services) one can safely surmise that no one is watching the city manager’s store. Nine well-meaning, but hands-off council members feed this problem. It would be a pleasure to see, for once, accurate reporting from the city manager’s office, not excusing top brass when things go wrong. Sadly, that appears unlikely with the current mindset of too many elected officials, and of the city’s top managers. Ronna Devincenzi Formerly of CAADA Palo Alto
School schedule shifts Editor, As a parent of two children in Palo Alto public schools, I wanted to point out several aspects of the proposed calendar change that have been overlooked by district leadership and the media. First, the comparisons cited by PAUSD to build its case for the new schedule do not provide a roadmap for how this proposal would impact Palo Alto families. Menlo-Atherton, one school often named as a parallel to PAUSD, is part of a high school-only district, so when it switched to an early start, the only students impacted were
those already in high school. Castilleja, a private school that is also referenced frequently by PAUSD, has a shorter first semester and its students don’t start school until Aug. 26, but still take finals before the holidays. PAUSD students, in contrast, would need to start school Aug.16, effectively shutting many children out of enriching summer programs and camps, not to mention family vacations. Second and perhaps more importantly, while pre-break finals may reduce stress for some high school juniors and seniors, I see this proposal as a ‘low-hanging fruit’ solution that doesn’t address the more urgent question of how to better balance the learning environment for students across all grade levels of our district. When Palo Alto students begin bringing home worksheets in kindergarten, have two to three hours of homework in middle school and survive high school through chronic sleep deprivation, it is clear that our high academic results are coming at a cost for the overall well-being of our children. I hope the PAUSD school board and leadership will step back from the calendar process and start a
deeper conversation about how we can help our children grow to be healthy, enthusiastic learners at all grade levels. Victoria Thorp Fulton Street Palo Alto
This week on Town Square Posted Nov. 3 at 8:11 p.m. by Another Wondering Resident, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood: I think that it is outrageous that PG&E did not inform our city about this planned release of gas (on Nov. 3), even though it occurred in a neighboring city. Gas being a gas will do what a gas does — travel. I heard that there is a gas main or station along Alma. Can anyone confirm this or explain where the gas-control system in this area (is)? This panic event to our residents, school staff and our city staff could have been totally avoided if PG&E would have communicated with the City of Palo Alto before proceeding with the purging.
YOUR TURN The Palo Alto Weekly encourages comments on our coverage or on issues of local interest.
What do you think? Did the natural gas smell in south Palo Alto Wednesday alarm you or cause you to think about emergency preparedness? Submit letters to the editor of up to 250 words to email@example.com. Include your name, address and daytime phone number so we can reach you. We reserve the right to edit contributions for length, objectionable content, libel and factual errors known to us. Anonymous letters will generally not be accepted. You can also participate in our popular interactive online forum, Town Square, at our community website at www.PaloAltoOnline.com. Read blogs, discuss issues, ask questions or express opinions with you neighbors any time, day or night. Submitting a letter to the editor or guest opinion constitutes a granting of permission to the Palo Alto Weekly and Embarcadero Publishing Co. to also publish it online, including in our online archives and as a post on Town Square. For more information contact Editor Jay Thorwaldson or Online Editor Tyler Hanley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 650-326-8210.
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Guest Opinion Rail debate becomes a push to ‘Save Our Caltrain!’ by Yoriko Kishimoto n 1851, officials of the brand-new State of California proposed a rail line to connect the first state capital, San Jose, to the emerging trading center of San Francisco. The three counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara financed the beginning of this railroad nine years later, according to records. After several changes in ownership and name for the commuter service (including many years as an unwanted stepchild of Southern Pacific Railway), the same three counties took over ownership of Caltrain in 1992 and govern it today through a joint powers board (JPB), watching its ridership increase substantially. In return, Caltrain has shaped the touch and feel of the Peninsula: The fine-grained walkable downtowns have developed as “pearls on a necklace” along its line — just as a century or more earlier Peninsula cities were called “knots on a string” as they formed along the tracks. Today, while billions of dollars pour in for high-speed rail, Caltrain is threatened with bankruptcy, or just as bad it could die a slow death by entering a downward spiral of reduced service and reduced ridership. That is why a number of stakeholders are pulling together to form “Friends of Caltrain.” The idea is to work toward developing a dedicated, permanent source of operating funds that are needed, with or without high speed rail, to keep Caltrain healthy and
running. The day-to-day operating deficit is the biggest threat. Next Tuesday, Nov. 9, we are having a public meeting to present the regional context for Caltrain’s serious challenges, both immediate and long-term. The meeting will be at the Menlo Park library from 7 to 9 p.m. (For more information, go to www. greencaltrain.com/event-saving-caltrainthe-bay-area-connection/). We are planning a kick-off “Caltrain Summit” for Jan. 29, 2011, to reach out to the interested parties, partner with cities, employers, elected officials, neighborhoods, and environmental groups — allies to help advocate for a financing and governance structure that will be constructive for all stakeholders, including Caltrain. Caltrain’s success is its problem. Caltrain has the second highest fare-box recovery of the 28 transit agencies in the Bay Area. In other words, it is among the most self-sustaining transit agencies operationally. This is thanks to the dramatic increase in ridership achieved when the Baby Bullet express trains were introduced and travel time was reduced for many riders. Unfortunately, service to most stations was reduced as a trade-off. Also, many Peninsulans may not know that year after year Caltrain must go to the three counties to get operating funds to supplement the 43 percent that comes from fares. The counties have been steady in providing support, but Caltrain is just one competitor for funding from the struggling state and counties and their transportation authorities. Thus it finds itself facing a “worst-case” budget gap of up to $30 million (on a 2009
budget of $91 million) in the next fiscal year as the counties warn they will need to cut back The time is right for us to create some dedicated and permanent funding for Caltrain. Caltrain recently reduced service to 90 trains as day, from a peak of 98 a few years ago and it has announced a further cut for next year. The good news is that demand is strong and steady for Caltrain. Our daily ridership is still close to 40,000 despite recent cuts in services and fare increases. The bad news is that state and county contributions to Caltrain face further, potentially dramatic cuts. We know that excellent public transportation is key, actually indispensable, for our “innovation economy” to grow. For example, Stanford University is dependent on a well-functioning Caltrain to allow it to grow in workforce and population without creating a burden on its neighboring cities or the environment. The federal government has just announced its $715 million for high speed rail in California is to go to the Central Valley. This should alleviate the rush to complete all the analysis and decisions about the Peninsula alignment to meet the 2012 deadline to get “shovels in the ground,” although no change in deadline schedules have been announced. Although this means there is no immediate funding from this source for electrification or a modern train-control system for Caltrain, the silver lining is that we have no excuse now: We now have time to “do it right.”
To serve the Peninsula of the future, Caltrain needs to deliver real service improvements: higher frequency of service, competitive door-to-door travel time, safety and integration with the communities along the line. No matter what long-term decisions are made, it’s clear that Caltrain is critical to our Peninsula’s future. We will need some sort of dedicated funding. At the Jan. 29 “Caltrain Summit” we will explore what type of new revenues might be supported by our voters, solicit more ideas for increasing ridership and improving service, talk about better integration of community and rail — and discuss our hopes and visions for our Peninsula’s future. Our steering committee is made up of representatives from neighborhood, transit, cyclist, and environmental groups, employers and cities. Join CARRD, BayRail Alliance, DriveLess, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter and Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizens Committee and join us next Tuesday to learn about Friends of Caltrain and the regional context for Caltrain’s challenges and opportunities. We believe Peninsula residents are hungry to support a great regional rail system that will support our walkable communities for generations to come. N Yoriko Kishimoto is a former Palo Alto City Council member and mayor, and cofounder of the Peninsula Cities Consortium to voice common interests in reducing negative impacts of the California High Speed Rail Authority plans for the Peninsula segment of the proposed state highspeed rail system. She can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
With daylight saving ending early Sunday, what would you like to do with your extra hour? Asked on California Avenue in Palo Alto. Interviews by Sally Schilling by Vivian Wong.
Retired Teacher Oxford Avenue, Palo Alto “I would like to dance in the street doing the Grand Jete.”
Unemployed Sheridan Street, Palo Alto “I would like to do some reading. I’m getting into science fiction.”
Director of Children’s Theatre Cowper Street, Palo Alto “I will sleep and catch up on some reading because I am so busy working.”
Counselor Ross Road, Palo Alto “I will sleep in. Getting that bonus hour really feels like a bonus.”
Entreprenuer De Soto Drive, Palo Alto “I will probably rejoice in some small way. I’ll definitely be awake at 2 a.m.”
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Answers to this weekâ€™s puzzles, which can be found on page 52
4 5 8 9 2 6 3 7 1
3 1 9 7 4 5 6 8 2
7 6 2 3 8 1 4 9 5
6 4 7 8 1 3 5 2 9
8 2 5 6 9 7 1 3 4
9 3 1 4 5 2 8 6 7
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