Vol. XXXV, Number 12 N December 27, 2013
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
Our Neighborhoods 2014
PALO ALTOâ€™S YEAR NS OF GREAT AMBITIO AND SURPRISING H INTERRUPTIONS, WIT A LITTLE ZANINESS THROWN IN PAGE 5
Donate to the HOLIDAY FUND page 14
N Cover Story A look back at Palo Alto through photos Page 19 N Arts Pastel artist captures horses of the American West Page 22 N Sports Stanford shoots for Rose Bowl respect
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Palo Alto’s year of disruptions How residents created a turbulent year for City Hall by Gennady Sheyner hen Mayor Greg Scharff ways to pay for fixes of its flagchaired his first City ging infrastructure, give the Council meeting in Jan- city’s masses ultra-high-speed uary, he referred to 2013 as the access to the Internet, figure “year of the future,” a year when out what to do about the lease of the city would take giant strides in Cubberley Community Center in tackling long-term problems and south Palo Alto, and provide remake big decisions that would lief to downtown residents whose shape it for decades to come. streets have become de facto The city was to come up with parking lots for commuters.
It would be the year when the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, the crown jewel of the $76 million bond voters approved in 2008 and the city’s largest infrastructure projects in decades, would finally open. But things didn’t go as planned, and by the time December came around, the council’s focus was no longer on chasing dreams. Instead, it was on fixing a political system that many in the city have come
to see as broken, highlighted by a citizen revolt that in many ways defined 2013 in Palo Alto. To be sure, the year that Scharff dubbed “Lucky ‘13” in January brought its fair share of proud achievements, national plaudits and successful initiatives, from the hugely successful National Day of Civic Hacking, which turned downtown Palo Alto into a festival of gizmos, gadgets and TED-style talks, to the council’s adoption of a
carbon-neutral electricity portfolio, a Holy Grail of energy sustainability that very few cities have been able to reach. (See sidebar.) Despite these accomplishments, 2013 was largely a year of disruptions. Time and again, Palo Alto citizens rose up to demand change and challenge their leaders’ decisions, with varying degrees of success. (continued on page 8)
YEAR IN REVIEW
The world at Palo Alto’s doorstep New initiatives and a few surprising events gave Palo Alto international recognition in 2013
alo Alto made several forays into the international limelight in 2013, building new overseas business relationships and becoming a hub for foreign real-estate investors. The city also played a role in a few unexpected events that thrust it onto the world stage. The year’s events, in addition to signaling that Palo Altans are “not in Kansas anymore,” are sure to have a major influence on the city’s economic and cultural growth in the coming decades.
Palo Alto boosted its international clout While the hyperlocal problems of parking and traffic dominated City Council agendas, this has been a year filled with jetlag and passport stamps for council members. In October, Vice Mayor Shepherd took her second trip to Shanghai in a year to attend the “Smart City Symposium,” an event focused on sustainabil-
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ity and featuring elected officials and members of various regional boards. Local students also got to spend some time in Shanghai as part of a new “smart partnership” between Palo Alto and the Yangpu district of Shanghai. For Palo Alto, the concept of a “smart partnership” is novel. Unlike its “sister city” program, the new deals focus on sustainability and technology rather than cultural exchanges. In August, the council held a wide-ranging discussion about its various international partners and agreed to sign such an agreement with the German city of Heidelberg. The non-binding agreement states that the goal is to “exchange ideas and value, especially in the areas of environmental sustainability and innovation-driven economic development.” The two cities, the agreement states, will ultimately seek to “create mutual programs with measurable results.” In October, Mayor Greg Scharff and City Manager James Keene No amount of PR is going to clean up that mess. pÊ/ÀÃ Ê >ÛÃ]Ê«>ÀiÌ]ÊÊÌ iÊ*>ÊÌÊ ÃV Ê`ÃÌÀVÌÊ À}Ê >ÊiÜÊf£xäÊVÕV>ÌÊvwViÀ°
by Carol Blitzer, Sue Dremann and Gennady Sheyner
Merrill Newman, with his wife, Lee, at his side, speaks to reporters after arriving at the San Francisco Airport on Dec. 7. The Palo Alto resident had been detained in North Korea for six weeks and charged with “war crimes.” took a trip to Heidelberg and to one of Palo Alto’s six sister cities, Enschede, Netherlands. At a council meeting later that month, Scharff recapped the trip and said the main message he took back was how much other cities, from China to Europe, want to be like Palo Alto, particularly when it comes to the city’s startup culture and sustainability efforts.
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“It’s really interesting to see how much they look up to Palo Alto as a world leader in all of these items,” Scharff said. — Gennady Sheyner
Chinese homebuyers honed in on Palo Alto With home prices rising and days on the market shrinking,
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potential Palo Alto homebuyers were hit with another challenge in 2013: cash-wielding buyers from China. Stymied by limits on home ownership in their country, Chinese homebuyers came in droves to pick up local real estate. Some were attracted by the
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PUBLISHER William S. Johnson (223-6505) EDITORIAL Editor Jocelyn Dong (223-6514) Associate Editor Carol Blitzer (223-6511) Sports Editor Keith Peters (223-6516) Express & Online Editor Eric Van Susteren (223-6515) Arts & Entertainment Editor Rebecca Wallace (223-6517) Assistant Sports Editor Rick Eymer (223-6521) Spectrum Editor Tom Gibboney (223-6507) Staff Writers Sue Dremann (223-6518), Chris Kenrick (223-6512), Gennady Sheyner (223-6513) Editorial Assistant/Intern Coordinator Elena Kadvany (223-6519) Staff Photographer Veronica Weber (223-6520) Contributors Andrew Preimesberger, Dale F. Bentson, Peter Canavese, Kit Davey, Tyler Hanley, Iris Harrell, Sheila Himmel, Chad Jones, Karla Kane, Kevin Kirby, Terri Lobdell, Jack McKinnon, Jeanie K. Smith, Susan Tavernetti ADVERTISING Vice President Sales & Advertising Tom Zahiralis (223-6570) Multimedia Advertising Sales Christine Afsahi (223-8582), Adam Carter (2236573), Elaine Clark (223-6572), Connie Jo Cotton (223-6571), Janice Hoogner (223-6576), Wendy Suzuki 223-6569), Brent Triantos (223-6577), Real Estate Advertising Sales Neal Fine (223-6583), Carolyn Oliver (223-6581), Rosemary Lewkowitz (223-6585) Inside Advertising Sales Irene Schwartz (223-6580) Real Estate Advertising Assistant Diane Martin (223-6584) Legal Advertising Alicia Santillan (223-6578) ADVERTISING SERVICES Advertising Services Manager Jennifer Lindberg (223-6595) Sales & Production Coordinators Dorothy Hassett (223-6597), Blanca Yoc (223-6596) DESIGN Design Director Shannon Corey (223-6560) Assistant Design Director Lili Cao (223-6562) Senior Designers Linda Atilano, Paul Llewellyn, Scott Peterson Designers Rosanna Leung, Kameron Sawyer EXPRESS, ONLINE AND VIDEO SERVICES Online Operations Coordinator Ashley Finden (223-6508) BUSINESS Payroll & Benefits Susie Ochoa (223-6544) Business Associates Elena Dineva (223-6542), Mary McDonald (223-6543), Cathy Stringari (223-6541) ADMINISTRATION Assistant to the Publisher Miranda Chatfield (223-6559) Receptionist Doris Taylor Courier Ruben Espinoza EMBARCADERO MEDIA President William S. Johnson (223-6505) Vice President & CFO Michael I. Naar (223-6540) Vice President Sales & Advertising Tom Zahiralis (223-6570) Director, Information Technology & Webmaster Frank A. Bravo (223-6551) Major Accounts Sales Manager Connie Jo Cotton (223-6571) Director, Circulation & Mailing Services Zach Allen (223-6557) Circulation Assistant Alicia Santillan Computer System Associates Chris Planessi, Chip Poedjosoedarmo The Palo Alto Weekly (ISSN 0199-1159) is published every Friday by Embarcadero Media, 450 Cambridge Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94306, (650) 326-8210. Periodicals postage paid at Palo Alto, CA and additional mailing offices. Adjudicated a newspaper of general circulation for Santa Clara County. The Palo Alto Weekly is delivered free to homes in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley, East Palo Alto, to faculty and staff households on the Stanford campus and to portions of Los Altos Hills. If you are not currently receiving the paper, you may request free delivery by calling 3268210. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Palo Alto Weekly, P.O. Box 1610, Palo Alto, CA 94302. ÂŠ2013 by Embarcadero Media. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited. The Palo Alto Weekly is available on the Internet via Palo Alto Online at: www.PaloAltoOnline.com Our email addresses are: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Missed delivery or start/stop your paper? Call 650 223-6557, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also subscribe online at www.PaloAltoOnline.com. Subscriptions are $60/yr.
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We thought we were getting a Tesla, but we ended up with an Edsel. â€” Neilson Buchanan, a Downtown North resident, on the Palo Alto City Councilâ€™s proposed parking-permit program for neighborhoods. See story on page 5.
Whatâ€™s the most bizarre thing that happened in or around Palo Alto in 2013? The news items below have been selected by Palo Alto Weekly staff for their weirdness and zaniness. Donâ€™t try this stuff at home. THE CHECHEN CONNECTION ... Stefan Dombovic, 21, was arrested April 21 after he lost control of his vehicle and crashed down an embankment, following a car chase. He pleaded not guilty to quite a list of offenses: robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, vandalism, car burglary, possession of stolen property and reckless driving. â€œHe was ordered out of the car, and he yelled to the officers in a Russian accent, â€˜This has nothing to do with Boston,â€™â€? said San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti. Dombovic, a Chechen who lives in Palo Alto, was arrested less than two weeks after Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev detonated home-made bombs at the Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass., killing three and injuring more than 250. The officers found 129 pieces of mail in Dombovicâ€™s car from 18 local addresses. The Sheriffâ€™s Office report adds that Dombovic â€œforcibly enteredâ€? three mailboxes, using a baseball bat. The bizarre string of incidents began when a 13-year-old Portola Valley boy reading in his bedroom heard a car come down the driveway of his home and park near his room. He went outside, saw a man rummaging through his fatherâ€™s vehicle and asked the man what he was doing. Dombovic allegedly yelled and charged at the boy with an aluminum baseball bat, hitting him in the shoulder, Guidotti said. Dombovic then allegedly fled in a sport utility vehicle and was driving on the wrong side of the road with the car lights off when deputies spotted him. A car chase followed, with Dombovicâ€™s car accelerating to 60 miles per hour, Guidotti said. Deputies â€œdetermined that he was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage,â€? the Sheriffâ€™s Office reported. SEAL FEVER ... A baby harbor seal that was stranded in the water of the Palo Alto harbor was rescued by Palo Alto Animal Services April 9, prompting a rash
of adorable photos and articles in local papers (yes, the Weekly was guilty, too). The 14-pound pup was caught up against the harborâ€™s flood gate at high tide. A hiker heard the pupâ€™s cries as the seal bobbed up and down near the concrete wall, its head periodically disappearing under the water, Animal Services Officer William Warrior said. Climbing down the flood gate, Warrior and another officer lifted the blackand-silver pup out of the water using a net and brought the seal to the Wildlife Rescue Center in Palo Alto. Jim Oswald, a spokesman for the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, said the female pup, which they named Floodgate Dolly, was about 5 weeks old but not in good health. Harbor seal pups are weaned from their mothers when theyâ€™re between 4 and 6 weeks. Weeks after the local mediaâ€™s baby seal fever broke, however, Floodgate Dolly died. A MODEST PROPOSAL ... An April report from Palo Altoâ€™s independent police auditor had no smoking guns or damning allegations, but it did contain an incident involving a dating faux pas committed by an unnamed officer. The officer responded to a call in 2012 involving a domestic dispute between a man and a woman. On scene, the officer was told the woman had drunk alcohol that evening, and the man was concerned about her ability to drive. She ended up taking a cab, and no criminal charges were filed. The following day, the man and the woman met up and patched things up. They were both embarrassed by the incident and by the fact that they had inconvenienced the police. According to the report, the woman contacted one of the officers involved â€œto express her remorse about the incident.â€? He was out, and she left a voicemail message with her cell number. Several days later, she received a text message from the officer. â€œDrinks?â€? it read. Thatâ€™s when things got a little awkward. According to the report, the woman was offended (â€œIt had not been her intention to cultivate a personal relationship with the officerâ€?) and filed a complaint against the cop, who was then counseled by department man-
Upfront YEAR IN REVIEW
Palo Altoâ€™s accomplishments, civic trends in 2013 Healthy economy, ongoing infrastructure problems characterize busy year by Gennady Sheyner At the end of 2013, I want its laurels in 2013. In a year full of us all to be able to look back political speed-bumps and setbacks, and say, â€˜Wow, we accom- the City Council came away with a plished a lot,â€™â€? Palo Alto Mayor long list of accomplishments. Greg Scharff said at the beginIt succeeded in greatly expandning of the year. ing the cityâ€™s public-art program, And surely, by many measures requiring for the first time that priitâ€™s been a productive and prosper- vate developers contribute to Palo ous year. Altoâ€™s art scene. It extended a ban Outsiders have taken notice. In on smoking to every local park and November, the website Livability. began exploring new smoking recom ranked Palo Alto as the na- strictions downtown; mandated that tionâ€™s top city to live in. At around every new home be pre-wired for the same time, the think-tank Center electric-vehicle chargers; created for Digital Government designated new penalties for residents whose Palo Alto the nationâ€™s top digital languishing â€œmystery projectsâ€? city in its population category. The (that is, stalled home renovations) year was as kind to the Palo Alto bring blight to city blocks; banned brand as it was to the local economy vehicle habitation in response to and to property values. complaints from neighborhoods, The council didnâ€™t exactly rest on especially adjacent to Cubberley
YEAR IN REVIEW
New buildings, better budgets dominate school news in 2013 Calendar issue resolved, but board contends with facilities, counseling by Chris he Palo Alto school district opened dozens of new classrooms across town in 2013 and toyed with opening at least one entirely new school. And a local family stepped forward to fund a $20 million state-ofthe art athletic center for Palo Alto High School, where they have sent three generations of students. Those were some of the highlights in local education in 2013. Even as the school district contended with multiple complaints filed through the U.S. Department of Educationâ€™s Office for Civil Rights (see story on page 8), Palo Alto students continued to rank highly on standardized tests, and the share of local students graduating with a four-year college-prep curriculum inched
Kenrick up to 85 percent. But the district battled an ongoing achievement gap as it prepared to stiffen graduation requirements for all students â€” except for those who negotiate â€œalternative requirementsâ€? â€” beginning with the graduating class of 2016. Three issues â€” facilities planning, high school counseling and the academic calendar â€” remained enduring concerns of the Board of Education throughout 2013. One of those, the calendar, was resolved in December, when the Board of Education approved district-wide calendars through 201617. A key feature of the new calendars is that the first semester will continue to end before the December-holiday break, as was tested for the first time this last year.
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Community Center (though it also agreed Dec. 16 to freeze enforcement of the ban for a year); shut down community centers at night; and approved new master plans to create citywide wireless and fiberoptic systems. The local economy continued to blossom, with tax revenues in just about every category climbing steadily and the budget picture looking sunnier than it did even before the 2008 recession. Hotel-tax revenues jumped by an astonishing 57 percent in the first quarter of fiscal year 2014 (July through September), when compared to the same period a year ago. Sales taxes showed a 48 percent jump, prompting city staff to revise their budget projections. All of this was great news. Yet when it comes to preserving the quality of life of city residents and making progress on the most urgent priorities, 2013 brought its fair share of disappointments. Library patrons are still waiting for the cityâ€™s new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center to open its doors. The project has seen so many construction mishaps, missed deadlines and failed
inspections that Public Works officials have given up on predicting the opening date. In November, when it became clear that the cityâ€™s hapless and embattled contractor, Flintco, will miss another deadline, officials sent the company a â€œnotice of default.â€? In mid-December, the city began discussions with Flintcoâ€™s surety company about supplementing Flintcoâ€™s undermanned crews or terminating the contractor entirely, which could further delay the long-deferred grand opening of the cityâ€™s largest library. When it comes to the cityâ€™s faltering infrastructure, the council remains uncertain about funding repairs with a 2014 bond measure. Polls of voters showed that a new police headquarters, the cityâ€™s top infrastructure priority, is unlikely to garner the two-thirds voter support needed for a bond to pass, and Jay Paul Companyâ€™s withdrawal of its development proposal eliminated one avenue for getting the police headquarters built. The councilâ€™s Infrastructure Committee held extensive debates about different funding sources and possible bond pack-
The board continued to monitor high school counseling services after a number of parents complained that different counseling models at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools resulted in services that were not comparable. The parent group We Can Do Better Palo Alto persistently called on the board to order Gunn to adopt Palyâ€™s counseling model, in which 40 â€œteacher advisersâ€? augment a small professional counseling staff. A Gunn committee of parents, school staff and students representing all sides of the touchy issue issued a 104-page report in March with 40 recommendations. The recommendations did not include adoption of a teacher advisory system. Gunn Principal Katya Villalobos said the counseling reforms would take several years to implement. At yearâ€™s end, counselors from the districtâ€™s five middle and high schools reported they had been conferring to agree on a common â€œframeworkâ€? for counseling and activities and outcomes. The counselors said they would return to the board in March 2014 with reports. With school enrollment growing â€” but a tad slower than ex-
pected in the past two years â€” the school board hesitated this year on its plan to open a 13th elementary school. An original plan to make a decision on location and programming for a new school by May 2013 was pushed off for a year after headcount growth in 2012-13 came in on the low end of projections. The postponement came after a 12-member citizens advisory committee recommended a new elementary school be opened at 525 San Antonio Ave., combined with the adjacent Greendell campus. The board recently voted on a timetable to make an elementaryschool decision by the end of the current school year. After years of tight budgets, the Palo Alto school district loosened the purse strings in 2013 as property-tax revenues, boosted by a booming real-estate market, rose more than 6 percent yearly for two years running. Teachers and all staff except for Superintendent Kevin Skelly got two raises. The first, a 3 percent raise plus 1.5 percent bonus, was awarded in May, retroactive to fall 2012. The second, approved this month, provided an
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ages. As the curtain closes on 2013, a hotel-tax increase stands out as the most promising source for funding infrastructure, but the city remains without a concrete plan for a 2014 election. The biggest infrastructure accomplishment came this year in the form of street repairs, an area where the city had more than doubled its budget two years ago. This year, the city resurfaced more than 36 lane miles, an accomplishment Scharff said will allow the city to reach its 10-year goal of excellent street-condition scores â€œmuch sooner than we anticipated.â€? In his final written message of the year, Scharff called 2013 a year â€œof action and progressâ€? and said that the city has â€œaccomplished or laid the ground work to complete almost everything I called for in my State of the City address.â€? Whether other city leaders share this view depends on many factors, including their definition of â€œalmost.â€? The council may claim that it â€œaccomplished a lotâ€? in a politically charged atmosphere. But with so much business left undone and a council election looming, it has set itself up for an even busier 2014. N additional 4 percent raise for 2013-14 plus a 2 percent bonus. The district also restored some programming that earlier had been cut, including discretionary funds for principals. A major push by Skelly and the board to beef up professional development led to a $5 million, three-year commitment to improve programming for teachers and to help them implement the new Common Core State Standards, which begin their rollout in California schools this year. Two new principals took the reins this year following Palyâ€™s Phil Winstonâ€™s decision to return to teaching and the reassignment of Terman Middle Schoolâ€™s Katherine Baker to become the districtâ€™s director of secondary education. Kim Diorio was named in July to become principal of Paly, and Pier Angeli La Place, a longtime administrator at JLS Middle School, became principal at Terman. In East Palo Altoâ€™s Ravenswood School District, Superintendent Maria De La Vega retired in June and Gloria Hernandez, a longtime school administrator in the Sacramento area, was named to the head job. N
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This was the year of citizen engagement and enragement, of sweeping proposals, widespread frustrations and clipped ambitions. The uproar over parking shortages downtown spread to other sections of the city. The public tide swelled and turned against massive office developments that exceed the city’s zoning code and affect quality of life. Residents, with support from a minority of council members, took a stand against the latest architecture trends. Economic tranquility was overshadowed by political turbulence. And time and again, things didn’t go as city officials expected — or at least hoped.
The orchard revolution
he year’s biggest surprise, and the clearest case of citizen-led disruption, was the battle over a planned development of low-income apartments and market-rate homes on Maybell Avenue. What began in the spring as a disagreement over road safety along the crowded school route morphed over the summer into a citywide revolt against oversized developments intruding on residential neighborhoods. It culminated in a fall referendum election, known as Measure D, that shook up the city’s development process and prompted a winter soulsearching for city officials about the future of local development. Opponents of the proposed hous-
ing project, which was to include 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 15 single-family homes (the council later reduced the number to 12), in the spring asked the City Council to retain the land’s existing lower-density zoning. Many criticized the council for loaning $5.8 million to the nonprofit developer, Palo Alto Housing Corporation, in 2012 for the purchase of the 2.4-acre site. Others pointed to the city’s inclusion of the 60 proposed apartments in its state-mandated inventory of affordable-housing, which created an impression that the project’s approval was predetermined. The council’s unanimous vote in June to approve the higherdensity zone change did little to dent that impression. That’s when the Green Acres
neighborhood skirmish became a citywide issue. Sympathetic residents from Downtown North and land-use watchdogs from College Terrace joined the opposition, as did critics of the city’s controversial “planned community” zoning, which allows developers to exceed the city code in exchange for negotiated “public benefits.” Residents who worried about new buildings throughout town and the traffic and parking problems they could trigger also opposed the Maybell development. By July, opponents had secured nearly 4,000 votes for a referendum on the council’s approval, far more than was needed to send the issue to a vote. On Nov. 5, an Election Day few had seen coming just four months prior, voters
struck down the council’s vote by about 2,000 votes, with nearly 8,500 residents opposing the measure and 6,500 supporting it. The Maybell development was halted. For people like Cheryl Lilienstein and Joe Hirsch, leaders of the “Vote Against D” campaign, the Election Day message was evident: Residents want city leaders to listen to them and respect the zoning code. “Voters sent a very clear message that Palo Altans don’t like what is routinely being approved by City Hall and all of its various bodies,” Hirsch told the council on Dec. 2, at a meeting on the “Future of Palo Alto” that Scharff and City Manager James Keene arranged, largely in response to the Measure D vote. For the City Council, the resi-
YEAR IN REVIEW
School district, higher education turned upside-down Federal investigation rattles Palo Alto school district
hile Palo Alto residents took issue with the city over development and traffic problems, other disruptive forces turned local educational institutions on their heads this year.
Office for Civil Rights investigates district
federal civil-rights agency disrupted life for leaders of the Palo Alto school district in 2013. Spurred by the family of a disabled Palo Alto middle school student, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigated the district’s handling of the ongoing bullying of the student. In December 2012, the agency — which is charged with enforcing civil rights laws in schools and universities — found that Terman Middle School administrators had violated the student’s civil rights in their mishandling of the bullying. For nearly a year since then, the district has been struggling to reform its policies that deal with complaints of bullying. As of this month, however, it has yet to finalize new procedures, which was among the conditions it agreed to in order to resolve the federal case. Had it not been for the student’s family, who shared the resolution agreement with the Palo Alto Weekly, the public may not have known about the investigation and resulting conditions placed on the district. The Board of Education itself was largely unaware of the scope of the investigation and resolution agreement, having been told by Superintendent Kevin Skelly in December 2012 in such a perfunctory manner that the board didn’t even discuss the report. In February, Skelly apologized to board members for failing to inform them fully.
“When this thing came out I informed you about it, but I didn’t give you the report or share the findings of the Office for Civil Rights group, and I should have done that, bottom line,” he said. “From a transparency issue, I blew it.” Despite calls this year for a board discussion of “what went wrong” in the Terman case, such a discussion was never put on the agenda. Critics have accused the school board and Skelly of footdragging on revising its bullying policies and resisting the federal enforcement. The district has said it needs time to strike the right balance between protecting victims and not criminalizing matters that are properly resolved in the principal’s office. “The realm of incidents that used to be handled purely verbally and privately is shifting into a realm that’s being recorded and tracked, so it’s important to get it right,” board President Barb Mitchell said. The issue is set to be taken up again in January, either by the full board or by its two-member Policy Review Committee. Meanwhile, other Palo Alto families have filed Office for Civil Rights complaints against the district, several of which remain pending. In June, the Office for Civil Rights opened its own investigation at Palo Alto High School, saying it had “received information that (Paly) has not provided prompt and equitable response to notice of peer sexual harassment, including peer harassment related to sexual assault.” Though the agency did not specify what prompted its investigation, the notice followed the April publication of a six-part story in the student magazine Verde about a “rape culture” at Paly. The
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by Chris Kenrick articles included anonymous accounts of two alcohol-fueled, offcampus sexual assaults of Paly students; interviews with victims of rape and other Paly students; discussion of Paly students; attitudes on victim-blaming and an editorial criticizing the mainstream media’s “sympathetic” portrayal of high-school rapists in Steubenville, Ohio. With concerns about bullying running high among some parents, Skelly and board members also have been charged with excessive secrecy in their work to satisfy the Office for Civil Rights. Until the Weekly complained earlier this month, meetings of the board’s Policy Review Committee, where proposed bullying policies are being hammered out, were not properly noticed to the public as required under the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law.
Internet disrupts higher education
s surely as it has disrupted music, retail and journalism, the Internet in 2013 shook up education, with many of the disrupters emanating from the Palo Alto-Stanford area. The year saw the term “MOOC” (for massive, open online course) grow increasingly common in general usage as online classes offered by local companies Coursera and Udacity, among others, attracted hundreds of thousands of students around the world. Angling to stay on top of the fast-moving and hard-to-predict online education wave, Stanford poured resources and attention into university-wide efforts to test and measure new ways of teaching and learning online. Education technology “is the beginning of a wholesale reorganization of teaching and learning
in higher education,” associate professor of sociology Mitchell Stevens said. “It will very soon be an un-ignorable phenomenon. “This is not the sort of fringe activity of Cambridge and Silicon Valley. This is something that’s going to be reorganizing the entire sector.” In July, more than a dozen presidents of colleges and universities — including the Foothill-De Anza Community College District but not including Stanford — gathered in Palo Alto to brainstorm the future. Schools represented ran the gamut from the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania to the large University of Wisconsin system to tiny Bates College in Maine to the upstart, all-online Western Governors University. Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Linda Thor reported that the discussion at the gathering centered on how higher education needs to reorganize to serve students in traditional and new ways, given all the “drivers of change.” “We’re moving away from having faculty that were the conveyers of content to — now that there’s so much more information available — becoming more curators of the content, of helping guide all the sources,” Thor said. She also posed the question: “Are we moving away from students being associated with an individual institution to students aggregating their own educations from a whole variety of sources and players?” Nobody knows for sure. In an October discussion group on “education’s digital future” at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, Stanford’s Stevens introduced Foothill-De Anza’s Thor as a pioneer in the field. As president of Arizona’s online-oriented Rio Salado Community College for 20 years, Thor “created the 25-year history
of online learning that Stanford, Harvard and MIT just woke up to and decided they should enter,” Stevens said. Foothill College already offers 20 degrees that can be earned fully online, including associate’s degrees in accounting, business administration, history, music technology, psychology and sociology. In November, Foothill-De Anza was co-recipient of a $16.9 million state grant to pave the way for an online “education ecosystem” that would integrate all 112 of California’s community colleges. The initiative is part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s push to expand online education as a way to boost access, degree completion and transfer to four-year universities for hundreds of thousands of students. Under the envisioned system, California’s 2.4 million community college students will be able to accrue credit through online courses at any number of different community colleges. Regardless of the source of a class, a student’s record will be kept in a single file, avoiding the need to petition for transfer credit. A statewide portal for the classes will be operational by June 2015, with participation by individual community colleges on a voluntary basis. “This will make the records student-centric rather than institution-centric and will automate and simplify the process of transfer, qualification for financial aid and things of that sort,” said Joe Moreau, Foothill-De Anza’s vice-chancellor for technology. The new initiative, said Thor, “is a cutting-edge vision for California. I believe it will transform online learning for millions of community college students.” N Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@ paweekly.com.
dents’ message was at best mixed. Councilwoman Karen Holman saw the election as a sign that residents are dissatisfied with the quality of new developments. Councilman Larry Klein, who has spent 18 years on the council, wasn’t so sure. He listed the various referendums he has lived through, including the ones by which the voters upheld the creation of Oregon Expressway, approved the extension of Sand Hill Road to El Camino Real and shot down a downtown “superblock” proposed by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. In some cases, Klein said, the vote supported growth and in others it opposed it. The goal of the council, he said on Dec. 2, isn’t to halt development or try to preserve a small college-town feel that the city hasn’t had for decades but to adjust to growth and strike a balance between development and neighborhood preservation. Though council members talked about reforming the planned-community (PC) zoning process, no one proposed abolishing it. Scharff said that what the city needs is for the community to “buy into the PC process,” acknowledging its potential benefits, rather than fear it. In considering the significance of Measure D, former Mayor Dick Rosenbaum pointed to two enormous development projects whose presence, and the city’s handling of them, primed this year’s citizen unrest: an office-and-theater complex that billionaire philanthropist
John Arrillaga proposed last year for 27 University Ave. and two office buildings that developer Jay Paul proposed for 395 Page Mill Road, a project that also included a new police station for the city. “It was the presence of these projects in the pipeline that made the Maybell referendum a subject of citywide interest,” Rosenbaum said. “The results sent a message to the City Council. You are not going to demonstrate that you have received the message until you direct staff to notify the two applicants that the development climate has changed from what it was when they were encouraged to submit their applications, and they are no longer likely to be approved.” While the council’s Dec. 2 discussion was broad-ranging, it ended with little consensus other than that the conversation should continue in 2014. Developers, for their part, appear to have gotten the message. Arrillaga’s 27 University Ave. has been conspicuously absent from the City Hall agenda in 2013. After a public outcry a year ago about city officials’ secrecy and apparent promotion of this proposal, the council agreed in June to seek community involvement in the creation of a vision for the site near the downtown Caltrain station. At the Dec. 2 meeting, Scharff described Arrillaga’s proposal as “dead.” City officials still talk about creating an “arts and innovation district” at 27 University, but no one seems to
know exactly what that means. Jay Paul’s proposal for Page Mill Road met a more sudden end. After nearly two years of plan revisions and public meetings, the developer decided on Dec. 16 to pull the plug. Residents had been criticizing the proposal for its density, a new traffic study pointed to “significant and unavoidable” delays at key intersections, and embattled council members are heading into an election year in 2014. Then there was that Maybell vote. In its letter withdrawing the application, Jay Paul cited the “current political climate” and pledged to evaluate its options for the site “at some future date.”
ntil recently, Paul Machado didn’t know what a Comprehensive Plan was or what “concept plans” are supposed to do. This year, the resident of the leafy Evergreen Park neighborhood near California Avenue was one of many Palo Altans to get a crash course in land use and planning issues. For Machado, much like for Downtown North’s Neilson Buchanan, Professorville’s Ken Alsman and Ventura’s Chris Donlay, the civic engagement was spurred by frustration and anxiety over new developments and their implications for parking and traffic. Frustration over these issues is nothing new in Palo Alto, but 2013 was the year in which citi-
Russ Cohen, executive director of the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association, listens to the city’s presentation of a potential parking-permit program for residential neighborhoods in September. Downtown store owners are warning the program could harm their businesses. zens supplemented their complaints with concrete actions. On Dec. 2, Machado told the council that coming to City Hall and learning about housing mandates and zoning laws made him feel frustrated, “like an air-hockey puck.” Yet like many other Palo Altans who became familiar this year with the Comprehensive Plan, the city’s land-use bible, he is doing his part to lessen the potential problems that the new developments could bring. In early fall, he joined the growing citizen movement aimed at measuring the city’s parking problem. Buchanan, a retired El Camino Hospital CEO, led the
charge when he developed and put to use a method for measuring parking problems near his Bryant Street home. Using the you-can’tmanage-what-you-can’t-measure logic, he began cruising around the neighborhood at 6 a.m. and counting the parked cars on each side of the block. He would then repeat the process at lunch time, after downtown workers had arrived. In the end, he had a map showing both the intensity of the parking problem on each block and the boundaries of the areas that were affected. Not surprisingly, most of the blocks were dark red (continued on next page)
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