Vol. XXXIV, Number 44 N August 2, 2013
Inside this issue
Palo Alto Adult School fall program w w w.PaloA ltoOnline.com
Scientists seek personalized treatment based on your DNA PAGE 29
N News Palo Alto set to ban vehicle dwelling
N Arts Complexities abound in TheatreWorksâ€™ festival
N Sports Stanford swimmer splashes to a gold medal
CIT Y O F PALO ALTO PR ESE NTS TH E 29TH ANN UAL
TIME & PLACE 5K walk 7:00pm, 10K run 8:15pm, 5K run 8:45pm. Race-night registration 6 to 8pm at City of Palo Alto Baylands Athletic Center, Embarcadero & Geng Roads (just east of the Embarcadero Exit off Highway 101). Parking — go to PaloAltoOnline.com to check for specific parking locations.
5K WALK, 5K & 10K RUN Great for kids and families
COURSE 5k and 10k courses around the Palo Alto Baylands under the light of the Full Harvest Moon. Course is USAT&F certified (10k only) and flat along paved roads. Water at all stops. Course maps coming soon.
REGISTRATIONS & ENTRY FEE Adult Registration (13 +) registration fee is $30 per entrant by 9/13/13. Includes a long-sleeved t-shirt. Youth Registration (6 - 12) registration is $20 per entrant by 9/13/13. Includes a long-sleeved t-shirt. Youth (5 and under) run free with an adult, but must be registered through Evenbrite with signed parental guardian waiver, or may bring/fill out a signed waiver to race-night registration. Late Registration fee is $35 for adults, $25 for youth from 9/14 - 9/18. Race night registration fee is $40 for adult; $30 for youth from 6 to 8pm. T-shirts available only while supplies last. Refunds will not be issued for no-show registrations and t-shirts will not be held. MINORS: If not pre-registered, minors under 18 must bring signed parental/waiver form on race night.
SPORTS TEAM/CLUBS: Online pre-registration opportunity for organizations of 10 or more runners; e-mail MoonlightRun@paweekly.com.
DIVISIONS Age divisions: 9 & under; 10 - 12; 13 - 15; 16 - 19; 20 - 24; 25 - 29; 30 - 34; 35 - 39; 40 - 44; 45 - 49; 50 - 54; 55 - 59; 60 - 64; 65 - 69; 70 & over with separate divisions for male and female runners in each age group. Race timing provided for 5K and 10K runs only.
COMPUTERIZED RESULTS BY A CHANGE OF PACE Chip timing results will be posted on PaloAltoOnline.com by 11pm race night. Race organizers are not responsible for incorrect results caused by incomplete/incorrect registration forms.
AWARDS/PRIZES/ENTERTAINMENT Top three finishers in each division. Prize giveaways and refreshments. Pre-race warmups by Noxcuses Fitness, Palo Alto
BENEFICIARY Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund. A holiday-giving fund to benefit Palo Alto area nonprofits and charitable organizations. In April 2013, 55 organizations received a total of $380,000 (from the 2012-2013 Holiday Fund.)
FRIDAY SEPT 20 7PM A benefit event for local non-profits supporting kids and families
MORE INFORMATION Call (650) 463-4920, (650) 326-8210, email MoonlightRun@paweekly.com or go to www.PaloAltoOnline.com. For safety reasons, no dogs allowed on course for the 5K and 10K runs. They are welcome on the 5K walk only. No retractable leashes. Bring your own clean-up bag. Jogging strollers welcome in the 5K walk or at the back of either run.
REGISTER ONLINE: PaloAltoOnline.com/moonlight_run Corporate Sponsors
Local news, information and analysis
Palo Alto set to ban living in vehicles City Council prepares to rule on divisive proposal Monday night by Gennady Sheyner
alo Alto’s emotional two-year debate over whether it should be illegal for people to sleep in vehicles could reach its conclusion Monday night, when the City Council is scheduled to vote on the controversial ban. The ordinance would abolish Palo
Alto’s status as one of the few cities in the region that does not have any laws on the books barring vehicle habitation. Monte Sereno is currently the only city in Santa Clara County that does not have such a ban. In San Mateo County, only Colma, East Palo Alto and Portola
Valley don’t prohibit people from living in their cars. The proposal follows years of complaints from residents of College Terrace and other neighborhoods about car dwellers parking their vehicles on residential streets for extended periods of time. At the same time, Cubberley Community Center, on the southern edge of the city, has recently become what City Manager James Keene described as a “de facto homeless shelter” at
night. The number of complaints involving vehicle dwellers spiked from 10 in 2010 to 39 last year, according to Police Chief Dennis Burns. In early June, a homeless man was arrested in Cubberley for beating another man until the latter lost consciousness. Some area residents have complained that the situation is becoming increasingly unsafe for their families. Mary Anne Deierlein, a resident of Parkside Drive near
Cubberley, said she doesn’t feel safe walking with her dog anymore because of “too many weird encounters with people in bushes and behind trees, and a strong urine stench with toilet paper strewn about.” On several occasions, she said, she has been yelled at by two people regularly seen at Cubberley. “We are being impacted,” Deierlein wrote to the council in June. (continued on page 11)
Buena Vista residents seek to buy mobile-home park Federal and state funding could provide a low-interest mortgage by Sue Dremann
PMC Financial Services in Ashland, Ore., a consultant to residents wanting to purchase their mobile-home parks, have come up with a plan that they say could put the park property in residents’ hands. Loop has helped a number of residents in Santa Cruz County buy their parks; Sargent has helped residents in 50 parks in the Western U.S. Sargent said he doesn’t seek the parks out; he is usually contacted by someone at an endangered mobilehome park to help secure a buy. Attorneys for the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, which represents Buena Vista residents, referred the mobilehomeowners to Loop and Sargent. “It’s not easy. The hardest part is getting the owner to pay attention. I try to find out fairly early in the process if we can get the transaction closed,” Sargent said. Buena Vista’s chances “are remarkably high” — if they can get the Jissers to agree — and if they can buy the land for the fair-market value as a mobile-home park, he said.
But the Jissers “have 30 million reasons to beat on this process until somebody caves,” he warned. That’s how much the family stands to make from the deal with Prometheus. As affordable housing, Buena Vista’s value is estimated at only $14.5 million, according to an appraiser’s report done for the Jissers. “They (the residents) can’t afford to buy it for $30 million, but they can afford to buy it for the fair-market value of the park,” Sargent said, adding that he would help them find financing. At least two potential sources of mortgage financing could help secure funding. A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-guaranteed program could provide a 40-year, fixed-rate loan that is fully amortizing, Loop said. The longer-term loan allows for lower monthly payments and could include upgrades to utilities and roads and about $300,000 to $400,000 in
early 400 people living in Palo Alto’s Buena Vista Mobile Home Park might soon fight eviction with a new tactic: buying the land underneath their homes. About 70 residents met on Monday, July 29, with consultants who have helped other mobile-home park residents purchase their properties, confirmed Erika Escalante, Buena Vista Residents Association president. The possibility of going from being landless to the owners of a valuable piece of Palo Alto real estate has brought hope to many residents, Escalante said. But she cautioned that the idea is very much preliminary. The Jisser family, who own the property, announced plans last November to convert the 4.5-acre parcel at 3980 El Camino Real into 187 high-end apartments. They signed a contract with Prometheus Real Estate and Property Management to develop the property, contingent on the city granting a zoning change. David Loop, a real estate attorney from Aptos, and Deane Sargent of
The sounds of music Organist Jean Cole rehearses pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Girolamo Alessandro Frescobaldi and Dieterich Buxtehude on the large Merrit Speidel Memorial Organ at the First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto on July 30.
(continued on page 11)
New two-story classroom buildings, gym, library on tap for Palo Alto students Most visible results of 2008 bond measure open their doors this month by Chris Kenrick
hen Palo Alto students go back to school Aug. 15, they’ll occupy three brandnew, two-story classroom buildings, a new gym, a new library and dozens of other new facilities across town funded by a massive 2008 school-bond measure. For some — notably students at Fairmeadow Elementary School and JLS and Jordan middle schools who have endured noise, dust, temporary
classrooms and campus detours — the long construction process will be complete, or nearly so. For others, particularly students at Duveneck Elementary School, which is embarking on three new classroom buildings, the disruptions have just begun. They’re not expected to be done until next summer. Nearly all the construction has been funded by a $378 million “Strong Schools” bond measure, ap-
proved in June 2008 by 77.5 percent of voters in the school district. The bond was aimed at modernizing old facilities and expanding capacity to meet growing enrollment. The most visible results of the bond measure will come this month, though $177 million remains in the “Strong Schools” fund for future projects — including major ones such as a new elementary school and a high school
performing-arts center. “We’ve never brought this many different projects to fruition at the start of a school year before,” said Bob Golton, the district’s facilities and bond-program manager. “I can’t predict the future, but it’s hard to imagine there’ll ever be more.” In addition to a new gym, students at Gunn High School this month will take classes in a new,
two-story building for math and English containing 28 classrooms and two labs clustered around an open courtyard. At Palo Alto High School, a contractor dispute (see sidebar) has delayed the scheduled June 2013 opening of a new Media Arts Center and two-story math and social-studies building, but work continues de(continued on page 9)
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Upfront QUOTE OF THE WEEK
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We’re pitting residents against residents. — Michael Alcheck, Palo Alto planning commissioner, arguing that a proposed development on Page Mill Road could bring a new police HQ but also huge traffic problems. See story on page 10.
Around Town WORKPLACE ETHICS ... The ethical climate at Palo Alto City Hall is generally sunny, though many city workers feel the city can do better when it comes to rewarding strong performance and encouraging employees to speak up about ethical violations. Those are results of a survey of more than 300 employees that was recently conducted by the Office of the City Auditor. The survey asked both management and non-management workers to consider a variety of statements and give each a score between 1 and 10 (Examples: “In my local government, I am expected to tell the complete truth in my work for the agency” and “The executives in my local government treat the public with civility and respect.”). The city then received a score between 1 and 100 from the management group and, separately, the broader employee group, with 75 to 100 connoting a “strong ethical environment” and 0 to 49 indicating that the agency’s “culture needs significant change.” Palo Alto’s scores were good but far from spectacular. The employees’ anonymous answers added up to a score of 75.1, placing the city in the lowest tier of “good,” The managers were more critical, collectively giving the city a score of 70, which signifies room for improvement. Many employees said they are not being encouraged to speak up about “ethically questionable practices.” Only about 30 percent put “always” as their answer to this question, with another 30 percent saying “rarely” (the rest were either “almost always” or “sometimes”). When asked if they’re surrounded by coworkers “who know the difference between ethical and unethical behaviors, and seem to care about the difference,” only about 30 percent responded “always.” Among the managers, the statements that scored the poorest related to whether executives “create an environment in which staff is comfortable raising ethical concerns”; “appreciate staff bringing forward bad news and don’t ‘shoot the messenger’ for saying so,”; and “appoint and reward people on the basis of performance and contribution to the organization’s goals and services.” These statements received scores of 6.1, 6.1 and 5.6, respectively, on a 10-point scale. The two qualities
that don’t seem to be an issue at all are civility and avoidance of corruption. A vast majority of managers gave the city high marks (8.7) for whether executives “treat the public with civility and respect” and “refuse to accept gifts and/or special treatment from those with business before the agency.” THE NEXT BATTLE ... Fresh off two successful petition drives and riding a tidal wave of both enthusiasm and rage, Palo Alto’s land-use critics are now plotting their next battle. The group includes opponents of a recently approved housing development on Maybell Avenue, a development that they hope to quash through a referendum. The effort hit a milestone last week, when they submitted more than 4,000 signatures for the drive, more than enough to qualify for the next general election. But now they are preparing to take aim at a bigger fish — the city’s “planned community” (PC) process, which allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for “public benefits.” Bob Moss, a Barron Park resident who took part in the Maybell signature drive, said the group is now discussing an initiative that would eliminate or severely restrict this zoning, which was used for the Maybell project and for two proposed developments on Page Mill Road. Moss told the Weekly that one idea he supports is not allowing PC-zoned projects in residential zones and requiring a vote of the people on any PCzone proposal. He noted that the exact nature of the ban has not yet been determined, but he said many residents agree that this issue needs to be addressed. “I think, from talking to people, that they’re not happy with the PC zone. I’ve been saying for years; it’s a racket. The private-versus-public benefit comparison — it’s a joke,” Moss said. His idea comes at a time when foes of dense developments are coalescing into a formal coalition. The new group “Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning,” which led the petition drive for the Maybell referendum, has formed an official political-action committee. Former City Council candidate Tim Gray, who is the group’s treasurer, told the Weekly that he has recently filed the needed paperwork for the coalition. N
Analysis predicts downtown parking woes will deepen Downtown North residents seek to answer the question: How bad will it get? by Gennady Sheyner
n three years, the parking shortage in downtown Palo Alto will be nearly three times as bad as it is today as the problem spreads to Crescent Park and sections of Old Palo Alto, according to an analysis conducted by a group of downtown residents and unveiled this week. Downtown currently lacks some 900 parking spaces, according to a recent city estimate, resulting in parked-up streets in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown and in frustrated residents. But the situation is expected to get much worse with the completion of major new developments. These include the Epiphany Hotel that will open at the former Casa Olga on Hamilton Avenue and at least three four-story office buildings within a few blocks of each other — Lytton Gateway on Alma Street at Lytton Avenue, 135 Hamilton Ave. and 240 Hamilton Ave. Just how bad parking’s going to get is the question that Eric Filseth and Neilson Buchanan, two residents of the Downtown North neighborhood, have been trying to answer over months of surveys and number crunching. They started with the city’s estimate of the parking shortage, then they plugged in other variables: the percentage of new office workers who will take mass transit instead of cars; the
increasing number of employees working in existing offices; and all the new building projects. The analysis, which Filseth and Buchanan presented to the Weekly on Tuesday, indicates that even if 20 percent of the new employees take mass transit, a generous estimate, downtown’s parking shortage will rise to 2,500 spaces. This also assumes that offices will have 250 square feet of space for each employee, a traditional ratio that many feel doesn’t apply to Silicon Valley’s start-ups. A tighter ratio of 100 square feet per one employee would reflect more workers per office and increase the parking shortage by 2016 to more than 3,500 spaces. The parking model, available at www.paresidentsfirst.org, is interactive and extensible. Users can plug in their own assumptions and see how the changes affect the parking deficit. The model also considers ongoing city initiatives, including the introduction of a valet-parking program in the High Street garage to maximize its use. In conducting the analysis and inviting participation, Buchanan and Filseth aim to help the city quantify one of its most urgent and complex problems. Buchanan said the goal of the study isn’t to propose solutions but to get to a consensus on what the scope of
Courtesy of Eric Filseth and Neilson Buchanan
A map developed by a group of Downtown North residents predicts the parking problems that will spread from downtown into neighborhoods in the coming years. the problem is. He credited the city’s transportation planners with conducting the initial survey, which indicated the shortage of 900 parking spots and identified the downtown blocks that are inundated by cars during the lunch hour. Those include most blocks in the Downtown North neighborhood and a sizable portion of Professorville and University South, located to the south of downtown. Buchanan said he’s been surveying the neighborhood four to five times a month for several months and counting the number of cars parked on every block. The model he and Filseth developed makes some broad assumptions, including the gradual spread of cars outward in a mostly even manner and the willingness of office workers to take lengthy walks to get from their cars to their desks, a stroll that in some cases would be more than a mile. Though they say it’s not uncommon for some employees to walk a long way from Downtown North to get to their workplaces (one person who works at Lyfe Kitchen
on Hamilton routinely parks in Downtown North, Buchanan said), it remains to be seen whether employees would be willing to trek all the way from the Junior Museum and Zoo near Embarcadero Road to University Avenue in 2016. On the map, the model of parkedup streets resembles an archery target with a series of semicircles, each bounded by El Camino Real to the west and the San Francisquito Creek to the north. The first arc, which represents 2014, shows 1,366 extra cars with nowhere to park and encompasses nearly the entire Professorville and University South area, indicating that the few blocks in the neighborhood that still have parking spots will not have them for long. It also shows cars starting to park in the Crescent Park neighborhood, east of Middlefield Road. By 2015, the shortage of spaces goes up to 1,858 and the arc spreads south and east, past Lincoln Avenue to the east and past Embarcadero to the south. The following year, with the car deficit at more than 2,500,
the wave of cars runs over the rest of Crescent Park and pushes further south into Old Palo Alto. “There’s no other place for the cars to go,” Filseth said. The analysis doesn’t claim to have the definitive tally for downtown’s future parking deficit, but it hopes to get debate going. Users can download the parking model, add new developments as they are proposed, factor in city initiatives such as valet parking and expanded permit parking in downtown garages, and challenge the model’s basic assumptions. Filseth and Buchanan maintain that their intent is neither to blame the city for the worsening parking situation nor to propose a specific answer at this point. It’s merely to address a significant limitation of the existing debate — the fact that the city has “no accurate view as to what we are dealing with here,” Filseth said. N Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@ paweekly.com.
Businesses blast proposed parking restrictions downtown Petition from downtown land and business owners urges Palo Alto not to adopt a residential permit-parking program by Gennady Sheyner
s downtown Palo Alto residents continue to clamor for the city to do something about the lack of parking spaces on their blocks, business owners are lining up against the most commonly proposed solution — a permit program that would limit the time nonresidents can park in the neighborhoods near downtown. This week, a coalition of downtown business leaders and property owners submitted a petition to the city arguing that a residential parking-permit program would come at a steep economic cost. The group, which includes developer Chop Keenan, Whole Foods, Watercourse Way, Peninsula Creamery and Ko Architects, stated in its letter to Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez and Acting
Planning Director Aaron Aknin that limiting the time downtown workers can park in residential areas would lead to the gradual decline of downtown Palo Alto. City staff and residents have discussed numerous versions of a residential parking program over the past three years, each with differing boundaries and rules. The first staff proposal limited the permit parking to the Professorville neighborhood, south of downtown, but was rejected by the City Council last year. Several council members argued it would merely push the parking to another neighborhood. The council directed staff to pursue broader solutions to downtown’s parking woes. But even as staff studies various ideas, including building new
parking garages and using a valet program in the High Street garage, the permit program remains in the city’s toolkit. Currently, cars can park downtown for two hours before needing to be moved. As a result, many downtown employees park all day in University South, Professorville, Downtown North and other areas with no time limits. Among the options under consideration is a hybrid program in which one side of the street in the residential neighborhoods remains open for all-day parking and the other one has a time restriction for cars without permits. None of the proposals, the petition argues, considers the needs of downtown businesses. While residents have long maintained
that the influx of office workers parking on their streets is damaging the quality of life in their neighborhoods, the business leaders assert residents are as much to blame for the scarcity of parking. The signatories argue that many in the South of Forest Avenue (SOFA) area have garages but choose to use them for storage. As a result, many prefer to leave their cars on the street. In addition, most families now have two or more vehicles, which further exacerbates the problem. “These factors have increased the resident demand for on-street parking from historical levels,” states the letter signed by 16 business and property owners. Restricting parking in the residential areas would worsen the
parking shortage for offices and service businesses and would drive many businesses out of downtown, the letter states. The result, “will be a greatly less successful and less vibrant downtown in our city.” The decline of downtown will be “slow and not noticeable in its initial stages.” “As employee parking becomes difficult and office building leases expire, office/technology companies will leave the downtown oneby-one for more attractive areas,” the business owners wrote. “This, in turn will reduce the supply of customers for restaurants, retail and service businesses. By the time the economic effects of the exodus are noticed, it will be too late to reverse.” N
Upfront LAND USE
Palo Alto takes aim at narrow sidewalks City hopes to encourage wider sidewalks, less-imposing buildings on main thoroughfares by Gennady Sheyner
here are few places in Palo Alto where dreams and reality clash as starkly as on El Camino Real. Envisioned by communities along the Peninsula as the “Grand Boulevard,” with generous amenities for bicyclists and pedestrians, the prominent north-south corridor has gained notoriety locally for traffic jams and hulking developments that tower over narrow sidewalks. Arbor Real, a dense townhouse community at El Camino and Charleston Road, has become a poster child among local land-use critics for everything wrong with building design today. Alma Street has also become a subject of derision, with residents complaining about imposing, inyour-face developments such as Alma Village near East Meadow Drive and the new affordable-housing development at 801 Alma, near Homer Avenue. It’s not just the gadflies who are irritated by what’s happening. Some city officials are scratching their heads over the design of the latter building. Arthur Keller, a member of the Planning and Transportation Commission, compared 801 Alma on Wednesday to a fortress. “Especially the little windows,” Keller said. “They look like someone will shoot arrows, as in one of those fortresses that you find in Europe.” Now, the city is preparing to reverse this trend. In April, four council members released a memo calling for a re-examination of sidewalk widths and building designs on El Camino, Alma and other busy stretches that have small sidewalks
and large buildings. In the memo, Mayor Greg Scharff and council members Karen Holman, Gail Price and Greg Schmid pointed to a climate of “consternation in the community” and a “strong negative reaction by members of the public as to how close these new buildings are to the street and how the buildings turn their backs on the public right of way” due to their sheer massiveness. The buildings, the memo notes, are often characterized as “unfriendly and overwhelming.” On Wednesday night, the city’s two main development-review boards met for their first discussion of the topic. Though members of the Planning and Transportation Commission and the Architectural Review Board expressed diverse and often divergent views about how to deal with the problems of narrow sidewalks and uninviting buildings, they all agreed the subject is critically important and will take many more meetings to come up with solutions. “Eventually, it’s going to ... lead us to some new El Camino Real design guidelines,” said Lee Lippert, vice chair of the architecture board and former planning commissioner. “It’s really a leading piece here to what we want El Camino Real to look like.” One thing most commissioners agreed on is that existing design rules could use an upgrade. Randy Popp, a member of the architecture board, advocated for incentives that would encourage developers to abide by new design guidelines. “The goal here is to cause change and to create the space that we’re dreaming about to get these wider
sidewalks, to get a more robust canopy along El Camino, to make it safe and to make it a focal point of our community and really a destination that people seek out,” Popp said. These incentives could include allowing greater building heights on El Camino in exchange for larger setbacks to allow more generous sidewalks, Popp said. Keller rejected this idea and cautioned that larger buildings would negatively affect adjacent homes. But everyone was open to at least exploring changes to design criteria, which include existing rules that force developers to build close to the road. Clare Malone Prichard, who chairs the architecture board, said the city should allow more flexibility in its design guidelines for El Camino. Under existing laws, buildings have the same setback requirements, whether they are retail strips, small motels or housing complexes with bedrooms on the ground floor. That should be changed, Malone Prichard said. “I’d like to see some more flexibility in the rules that really appreciate the different uses,” Malone Prichard said. She also agreed with Popp that the city should explore new incentives for developers to build farther from the road rather than rely strictly on new rules. The discussion over rule changes and incentives is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. But commissioners and board members agreed on Wednesday that they should evaluate what other communities have done to create vibrant boule-
vards. Planning Commissioner Alex Panelli encouraged his colleagues to do some research. “My concern is that we’re sitting here sort of in our ivory towers pontificating on what we believe the right code provisions will be that will compel this change to occur,” Panelli said. “I think that’s perhaps a bit unlikely. I think the market will do what the market will do given whatever the rules are there.” The idea of taking a step back and evaluating other communities’ work caught on, and the meeting adjourned with an understanding that staff will meet with chairs of both bodies, which will reconvene for another session within two months. Much of the analysis about what should constitute the “Grand Boulevard” has already been done. A coalition of cities and counties from along the El Camino corridor have spent years working on the “Grand Boulevard Initiative,” which aims to revitalize this critical thoroughfare between Daly City and San Jose. The initiative’s vision statement is: “El Camino Real will achieve its full potential as a place for residents to work, live, shop and play, creating links between communities that promote walking and transit and an improved and meaningful quality of life.” Among its proposals is an 18foot sidewalk, far larger than the 12-foot sidewalks in Palo Alto’s stretch of El Camino. But the effort to promote vibrancy by encouraging people to travel using alternatives to cars has run into some roadblocks. Each of the cities along the way has its own vision for
the corridor, which creates a challenge for regional planners. A recent proposal by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority to dedicate lanes on El Camino to buses fizzled last year after several cities, including Palo Alto, voiced concerns about possible traffic problems. Keller warned on Wednesday that the city should tread cautiously when considering any plan that would reduce the number of lanes on El Camino. He pointed to Menlo Park, where a lane reduction causes bottleneck traffic during busy commute hours. Others emphasized the need to make El Camino more bike friendly. Eduardo Martinez, who chairs the planning commission, argued that in Palo Alto, as in other cities, “the idea of the importance of the automobile is losing a little bit of its grip.” Mark Michael, vice chair of the planning commission, agreed and said improving El Camino means making conditions safer for non-drivers. “I think ultimately the quality of the experience on El Camino and other thoroughfares is going to be raised to the extent that we transition out of automobiles and to other modalities,” Michael said. N Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@ paweekly.com.
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Palo Alto considers suspending PaloAltoGreen Move buys city time to figure out how to continue program after adopting carbon-neutral portfolio by Rye Druzin
alo Alto is eyeing scaling back or ending one of its most popular and successful renewable-energy programs, PaloAltoGreen, while it finds a way to make the decade-old program relevant again as the city moves into the era of carbon neutrality. The million-dollar program, which allows residents and businesses to pay a premium to fund the city’s purchase of electricity from renewable-energy sources, has been in place since 2003. But due to the city’s progress over the years in contracting with more green-energy providers, Palo Alto’s portfolio is, for the first time ever, completely carbon neutral. In a long and contentious meeting Wednesday night, the Utili-
ties Advisory Commission voted 4-2, with James Cook and Audre Chang dissenting, to recommend that the City Council suspend the PaloAltoGreen program for residents while reducing the amount businesses pay into the program. The commission hopes that the recommendation will buy staff and the council time to come up with a viable plan for what to do with the program. Since 2012, expenses for the program have been cut in half, due mostly to lower costs for socalled Renewable Energy Certificates, which are credits that fund green-energy programs nationally. As a result, a surplus of money has gathered as customers continue to pay premium rates.
The highly successful program has continued to be popular with residents and businesses alike, said Commissioner Jonathan Foster. The commission’s recommendation would suspend collection of residential fees and purchase of certificates while reducing costs for businesses from the current rate of 1.5 cents per kWh to 0.2 cents per kWh. “We are not going to exacerbate the problem of continuing to collect money at the rate of 1.5 cents a kWh, but we are not going to shut down and mothball and file away the program because we might come up with some way we want to recast the program in the future,” Commissioner Steve Eglash said.
Money from the program is, according to commissioner John Melton, “greening up” non-renewable energy, such as hydroelectric, which makes up half of Palo Alto’s portfolio. Currently, 21 percent of the city’s power is supplied from renewable energy. By 2017 Palo Alto plans to have half of its energy supplied from renewable sources. Palo Alto residents Bruce Hodge and Walt Hays spoke in favor of continuing the program and using it to fund a community solar initiative. The idea was considered by the commission, which decided that such a fund would be too contentious for rate payers, especially if no such community solar plan was implemented.
Foster proposed halving the cost for those enrolled in the program and using the revenue to establish a seed fund that would be used to install solar panels on Palo Alto Unified School District buildings. The idea was met with opposition from other commissioners and Director of Utilities Valerie Fong, who did not want to have a fund created when there was no plan of what to do with the money. Eglash was concerned that lawsuits could follow if the fund was not used for the purpose of installing solar panels on schools and questioned what would then happen with the money. N Editorial Intern Rye Druzin can be emailed at rdruzin@ paweekly.com.
New Paly principal knows her way around campus Former counselor experienced with electronic records, construction delay by Chris Kenrick
bouquet of flowers from her in-laws greeted Palo Alto High School’s new principal Wednesday, Kim Diorio, as she returned to reassemble her dusty office after summer renovation work in the school’s Tower Building. Diorio will occupy the same desk she’s used for the past six years as Paly’s assistant principal, but she’ll now have the school’s top job following the surprise June 17 resignation of Phil Winston. Superintendent Kevin Skelly named her principal on Monday, July 29. “I’m really excited because I know the staff so well, the school and the culture and the institutional traditions,” Diorio said. The daughter of a Connecticut school administrator and a dental hygienist, Diorio grew up with the idea that she would work in education. In college at Villanova University in Philadelphia she fell in love with her psychology courses and decided to make a career in counseling. After earning a master’s degree in counseling and doing student teaching for a year in the Philadelphia
area, she worked seven years as a middle-school counselor in Weston, Conn., before coming to California in 2005. A brief foray to California a few years earlier — working in a summer program housed at Loyola Marymount University — had failed to convert her into a fan of the West Coast. “I thought I was going to fall in love with California, but I did not fall in love with L.A., so I went back to Connecticut,” she said. When she returned to California in 2005 it was because of her soonto-be husband’s job as a product manager at Google. The couple has two daughters, ages 4 and 18 months. Before joining the Paly administration in 2007, Diorio worked as a counselor for a year each at JLS Middle School and Gunn High School. At Paly she’s overseen rapid change in the college-application process as the once paper-intensive procedures have shifted to electronic communication. The paper system “created a lot of
stress on everybody,” she said. “It was just a lot of copying and paper, and we’d get colleges telling us, ‘We haven’t received your transcript yet,’ but we’d have a record that we mailed it, and it turned out to just be sitting in a pile at the college. With the electronic-transcript service Docufide, students themselves can track when colleges have received and opened the transcript, Diorio said. When Diorio graduated from New Fairfield High School in Connecticut in 1990, her six college applications were all paper. “Now we’ve got kids who, because of the Common Application, can apply to 30 colleges, and some of them do,” she said. “We need to find a way to make that process better for everybody.” She helped introduce Paly students to the online college- and career-planning program Naviance, which had been used at her school in Connecticut. Diorio also has overseen master scheduling at Paly and the school’s conversion to the online studentdata system Infinite Campus.
Last year Diorio transitioned to facilities, construction, budget and discipline at Paly and got acqua inted with major renovation in progress at Kimberly Diorio the school. Opening of two major buildings — media arts and a two-story classroom for math and social studies — has been delayed from the original projected date of June 2013, partly due to an unresolved claim of contractor Taisei, now in litigation. But the firm continues to work on the job. “Now they’re saying December, fingers crossed,” Diorio said. But other major construction, including a science addition, new performing-arts center and new athletic center, will follow, meaning that portable classrooms will remain in Paly’s quad “at least three more years,” she said.
Arriving in Palo Alto from suburban Connecticut was “a breath of fresh air” in terms of the parent community, Diorio said. “I felt people were happier, nicer, not as anxious — it seemed a better partnership with the schools,” she said. “The value on education is strong in both places, but being in Fairfield County was very intense. I was also there during 9/11, which really affected our community and increased the anxiety there.” On the other hand, resources for schools in Connecticut — one of the highest-spending states on education — were far greater, she said. Diorio’s Mountain View home is a 10- to 15-minute drive from Paly, making it easy for her to get the kids home and fed and return for evening events, if needed, she said. “We got little Paly T-shirts made up for them, and they love it. Every time we drive down El Camino they say, ‘There’s Paly! There’s Paly!” N Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly. com.
Citizen lawsuit aims to stop Maybell project Coalition claims Palo Alto violated environmental laws in approving development by Gennady Sheyner
coalition of Palo Alto residents have filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking to overturn the City Council’s approval in June of a new housing development on Maybell Avenue. The group, called Coalition for Safe and Responsible Zoning, served the city with the court papers Wednesday afternoon, July 31, City Attorney Molly Stump told the Weekly. The council is scheduled to discuss the lawsuit Monday night. The lawsuit seeks to reverse the City Council’s decision to rezone the site at 567 Maybell Ave. to “planned community,” a designation that allows the developer to exceed density regulations. The change will allow the nonprofit developer Palo Alto Housing Corporation to build a 60-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes near the intersection of Maybell and Clemo avenues. The project is facing a massive pushback from the community, with residents having already completed two successful signature drives to bring the approval to a referendum. The new lawsuit is the latest step in the concerted opposition, which was initially focused in the Barron Park, Green Acres and Green Acres II neighborhoods but which now includes land-use critics
from other areas of Palo Alto. Joy Ogawa, who took part in a recent lawsuit challenging the proposed reduction of lanes on California Avenue, is representing the coalition in the new suit. The lawsuit identifies the coalition as a limited liability company whose members are “residents and taxpayers in the City of Palo Alto.” “(The) coalition was formed, in part, for the purposes of protecting the environment and safety on Maybell Avenue and of preserving the character and integrity of the pastoral and residential nature of the Barron Park and Green Acres II neighborhoods and environs, which would be directly affected by the proposed project,” the lawsuit states. The suit focuses on the city’s environmental-review process for the Maybell project and the council’s decision to loan $5.8 million to the Housing Corporation well before the review kicked off. It also takes aim at the city’s traffic analysis and argues that the council has “failed to adequately consider the significant impacts that the project would have on the neighborhood in terms of traffic and parking, safety of bicyclists and pedestrians, access of emergency vehicles, accelerated deterioration of Juana Briones Park
‘If we allow this project to go forward the way it’s constituted, we’re going to encourage other developers to keep asking for changes in zoning and expect it.’ —Michael Lowy, member, Coalition for Safe and Sensible Zoning (recreation), aesthetics, including obstruction of a public view of the foothills, air quality, greenhouse gases, and hazardous waste and hazardous materials.” Critics seek to reverse the approval and, at a minimum, require a fuller study considering all the aforementioned impacts and other reasonable alternatives for the site. Most of the arguments in the lawsuit echo the criticism expressed by residents over a series of highly emotional meetings in May and June, prior to the City Council’s approval of the project on June 18. Many critics complained about the city’s process
for approving the project, including its loan to the Housing Corporation in 2012. The suit alleges that the loan effectively predetermined the outcome. By approving the loan, the suit states, the council “committed itself to approval of the project without any CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review and effectively foreclosed the possibility of a ‘no project’ alternative, and abused its discretion, exceeded its jurisdiction and proceeded in a manner contrary to law and without the support of substantial evidence in the record.” Traffic, a subject of grave concerns during the Maybell debate, also looms front and center in the suit. During the public hearings, residents presented videos of traffic conditions on Maybell, which included footage of students on bikes sharing driving lanes with long streams of slowly moving cars. The plaintiffs point to analyses from traffic experts that dispute the city’s finding that the development wouldn’t cause significant traffic problems. The reviews found that the city’s consultant used outdated traffic data and failed to count bicycle and pedestrian data in the busy school corridor. The city has maintained that there would be very few traffic problems because
most seniors in the new development would not be driving during the peak hours. The suit also claims the city did not adequately consider other proposed developments in the area in determining that there would be no major changes to traffic volume or patterns. It argues that the city should have completed a full Environmental Impact Report for Maybell rather than proceeding with a less-detailed review known as a “mitigated negative declaration.” For many opponents of the Maybell project, the council’s approval is part of a growing trend in developers requesting and receiving zoning exemptions. Michael Lowy, a member of the Coalition for Safe and Sensible Zoning who signed the verification for the lawsuit, urged the council not to send the developers a message that they should expect the city to change its zoning code upon request. “The idea that zoning can be changed in every instance is something that we have to guard against,” Lowy told the council on June 17. “If we allow this project to go forward the way it’s constituted, we’re going to encourage other developers to keep asking for changes in zoning and expect it.” N Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@ paweekly.com.
Ban on overnight parking eyed for Crescent Park
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rescent Park neighborhood residents whose blocks are inundated at night by cars from East Palo Alto may soon have a solution to their parking woes, though just about everyone agrees that the solution is, at best, a consolation prize. The Palo Alto City Council will consider on Monday a plan to ban overnight parking for a year on several blocks near the the Newell Road bridge, which connects the two cities, counties and communities. For months, residents on the Palo Alto side of the divide have complained about cars from the other side of the bridge taking up their parking spaces and leaving behind trash. The best solution, residents say, would be a residential parking-permit program, which would restrict the hours non-residents can park on the neighborhoodâ€™s streets. But as more than 40 residents from Crescent Park learned at a meeting with city staff Tuesday, such a program is at best months, if not years, away. The council last year rejected parking permits for Professorville, which lies south of downtown Palo Alto, and council members urged staff to consider solutions that are more comprehensive and that would not merely push the problem over to the next block. Staff is now putting together a process for neighborhoods that want a parking-permit program, Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez told a packed room at the Lucie Stern Community Center. In the meantime, the city is reluctant to grant such a program to any neighborhood, including Crescent Park. â€œItâ€™s not something we can move forward in the near term,â€? Rodriguez said. Banning overnight parking is an idea whose popularity fluctuates wildly from one neighborhood block to another. On sections of Edgewood Drive and Newell, the areas closest to the East Palo Alto border, the percentage of surveyed residents who said they would support the ban was between 80 percent and 100 percent. Just south of that, on Hamilton Avenue, support dropped to 70 percent. Further away from the city line, on Dana Avenue, support dropped even further. On the west side of the Dana and Newell intersection, only 30 percent voiced support for a ban; on the east side of the intersection, 54 percent supported it. Each view was articulated Tuesday. Some residents argued that the ban would be an important first step in the neighborhoodâ€™s effort to obtain a more permanent solution. Others argued that the ban would be a waste of time and that it would only push the cars into other parts of the neighborhood, where no ban exists. Jason Fox, who lives on Southwood Drive, on the western edge
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The closer Palo Alto residents live to the Newell Road bridge, the likelier they are to support a ban on overnight parking on their blocks, according to a city survey. of the troubled area, was in a latter camp. â€œThis is the most insane proposal Iâ€™ve ever heard because all youâ€™re going to do with this proposal is to move the problem to another block,â€? Fox said. â€œThatâ€™s all youâ€™re going to do.â€? But most of the attendees agreed that the ban, while imperfect, is worth trying. Those near the East Palo Alto border were particularly adamant about the need for nearterm action. Neighborhood resident Richard Yankwich, who has been talking with Palo Alto and East Palo Alto officials about this problem for the past year, said the ban might be the best way to convince East Palo Alto officials to do something about the parking problem. Most of the cars come from the Woodland Park neighborhood west of U.S. Highway 101, which is filled with apartment complexes. With most apartments allotted only one parking space per unit, tenants have been forced to seek parking elsewhere, including Crescent Park. â€œI think we need to do this on a trial basis and see where it goes because if we donâ€™t like it, we can vote it out, and we can say we donâ€™t like the way it is,â€? Yankwich said. â€œItâ€™s really a city-to-city issue not a resident-to-resident issue,â€? he later added, drawing the loudest applause of the evening. A drive through the area illustrates the extent of the parking. At about 11 p.m. on Tuesday, the stretch of Edgewood on either side of Newell was filled almost to capacity. While there were open spaces near Island Drive, the situation changed further east down Edgewood. Be-
tween 1462 Edgewood and Phillips Road, there were 59 parked cars and one open space. Shortly after 11 p.m., three people parked their cars in the neighborhood and then walked over the Newell bridge. On the East Palo Alto side of the bridge, there wasnâ€™t a single open space on Clarke Avenue. Nearby Woodland Avenue was also filled to the brim, with only one parking space open, all the way at the eastern end of the road, near West Bayshore Road. The problem isnâ€™t just the shortage of parking, residents said. In some cases, the cars block their driveways and drivers leave broken bottles, used condoms and other refuse behind, residents complained. If the council approves the staffâ€™s recommendation on Monday, parking would be banned between 2 and 5 a.m. on blocks in which 70 percent of surveyed residents expressed support for the idea. Residents who wish to park overnight would buy a permit for $5 per night. Staff will also have the authority to later expand the overnight ban to the blocks where support is currently less than 70 percent if those residents submit a petition showing significant interest. Rodriguez acknowledged Tuesday that the overnight ban is â€œnot a perfect solution.â€? â€œThis concept of having an overnight parking restriction is very intrusive to residents,â€? Rodriguez said. â€œItâ€™s effective. It stops the abuse thatâ€™s happening. But itâ€™s not an ideal solution.â€? He noted that city staff has been (continued on page 12)
Dispute delays opening of two Paly buildings
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New classroom building, Media Arts Center now projected for December finish
dispute with a contractor has delayed this fallâ€™s opening of two major new buildings at Palo Alto High School â€” a twostory classroom building for math and social studies and the schoolâ€™s new Media Arts Center, school officials said. Taisei Construction Corporation continues work on the buildings â€” most recently telling the school it will complete the work by December â€” but the firm has filed suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court over $1.65 million in disputed costs. Taisei says the Palo Alto school
district owes the money because of authorized change-order requests. In its court complaint filed June 21, the company said the change orders were due to â€œunbuildable design elements within the plans and specifications which caused Taisei and the subcontractors to slow or stop construction activities, and in several cases remove and replace completed work elements so that buildable follow-on work could be completed.â€? Palo Alto school officials said they were never served with the complaint and tracked down the lawsuit themselves when checking
court records after hearing Taisei had filed similar litigation elsewhere. The district announced the lawsuit July 18. Earlier mediation over the claim was unsuccessful but work continues on the two Paly buildings, district officials said. â€œTheyâ€™re required by law to continue work, and theyâ€™re still obligated to complete the terms of the contract,â€? said Tom Hodges of fs3Hodges, who is under contract with the school district to manage construction. N â€” Chris Kenrick
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Whatâ€™s new this fall on Palo Alto campuses: Gunn High School s .EW SQUARE FOOT GYM weight and fitness center, retractable seating for 2,200 s .EW DANCE STUDIO s 2EPLACEMENT OF SEVEN TENNIS courts and three outdoor basketball courts s .EW SQUARE FOOT TWO story building with 28 classrooms for math and English s .EW FIVE CLASSROOM WORLD LANguages building opened in April 2013
Palo Alto High School s !THLETIC STADIUM IMPROVEMENTS including bleachers, track resurfacing, concession and picnic area s .EW SQUARE FOOT TWO story media-arts building (delayed until at least December) s .EW SQUARE FOOT TWO story math and social-studies building (delayed until at least December)
JLS Middle School s .EW SQUARE FOOT TWO story building with 10 class-
Building (continued from page 3)
spite the litigation, and contractors have told the district to plan for occupancy in December. At both JLS and Fairmeadow, new, two-story classroom buildings will come on line. Earlier completions under the bond measure include a new, twostory classroom building at Ohlone Elementary School, which opened in 2011, and a new aquatic center at Gunn, which opened in 2010. The construction process at each campus began with staff-parentstudent â€œsite committees,â€? who discussed priorities; architectural planning; and review by the Division of State Architect in Sacramento, which by law must approve all public school facilities in a process that can take up to a year. N
rooms s -ODERNIZATION OF SCIENCE WING TO add two labs and support space s .EW STUDENT COURTYARD BIKE parking cage and rally court s ,ANDSCAPE DRAINAGE AND PAVING improvements
Jordan Middle School s .EW SQUARE FOOT SIX CLASSROOM BUILDING FOR SIXTH GRADE s .EW SQUARE FOOT CAFETOrium building s -ODERNIZATION OF SCIENCE WING TO add two labs and support space s 2ECONFIGURATION OF OLD CAFETOrium into music and choral classrooms s 2ECONFIGURATION OF OLD MUSIC building for art classrooms s 3TORM DRAIN SEISMIC AND PAVING improvements
Terman Middle School s .EW LIBRARY EXPANSION ADJACENT to old administration wing s .EW DRAMA CLASSROOM BUILDING s 2ECONFIGURATION OF OLD LIBRARY into new administration offices s 2ECONFIGURATION OF '