The big issues will always be with us -- from the fairness of housing allotments to the question of how to manage a changing quality of life.
In 2007, city and school district officials chipped away at several long-term projects confronting Palo Alto, making their best estimates about what the future might bring and how to get there in the most beneficial way.
Here is the Weekly's To Do list for Palo Alto in 2008 and beyond.
Bonds. City bonds.
Polling during 2007 found that Palo Alto voters are ready to open their wallets for school facilities, and they might pay for library upgrades and a new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center. But they aren't likely at all to approve a bond for a new public-safety building.
Voters may be asked to vote for a school bond in June or November and a library bond in November 2008.
City officials are pressing ahead with library and public-safety building designs, but they've started looking at alternative financing sources, such as dedicating a stream of current revenue, to pay for the $60 million public-safety building slated for Park Boulevard.
In a February poll, 63 percent of respondents supported a $45 million library bond <0x2014> just shy of the needed two-thirds approval. The public-safety building, which also needs 66.7 percent approval, garnered only 57 percent support.
Far more respondents to a different survey -- 74 percent -- would support a $350 million bond measure for schools.
Many planned projects aim to amp up schools to meet a new wave of students, including expanding JLS and Jordan middle schools to fit up to 1,100 kids each and renovating aging high-school buildings.
In search of a new city manager
City Manager Frank Benest announced his retirement in November, making public a move that was long suspected.
He leaves a vacancy at the top without an apparent successor. Talented but testy Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison's reputation has been bruised by revelations of harassment and workplace abuse, and Administrative Services Director Carl Yeats plans to retire and move to Southern California.
The city has begun the hunt for an executive search firm. Vice Mayor Larry Klein, expected to be the next mayor, said the community will also be tapped to describe the type of city manager it would like.
Councilman-elect Pat Burt, the most outspoken on the subject, has said he would like a city manager who views an involved, demanding community as an asset.
Benest plans to leave at the end of June, and some city leaders have said they hope to appoint a new manager by then.
Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center redevelopment
The proposed Stanford expansions are snaking their way through complex regulatory processes. Stanford announced the projects at the end of 2006 and submitted a formal application in August before launching several community meetings, during which community members raised questions about increased traffic and housing.
As the year ends, an in-depth environmental study and preliminary discussions about a development agreement -- which could net key community benefits -- are underway. The environmental report is expected by July 2008, according to project plans.
Palo Alto's final approvals are slated for January 2009, with construction starting by 2010 and lasting until 2020. Stanford and Lucile Packard Children's hospitals and the medical school expect to expand by a net 1.3 million square feet and add about 1,990 new jobs. The shopping center would add about 240,000 square feet and a 120-room hotel.
Language ed, take two
All students may soon learn foreign languages starting in kindergarten -- but the district is still figuring out the method. The school board promised to look at the issue during the Mandarin-immersion debate, and a study group of staff, parents and teachers met this fall. At their last and final meeting, most agreed that starting younger kids on short -- but interactive -- cultural lessons until third grade would be best, according to group member Ron Baker. Most of the group thinks academic training in reading and writing is best in third grade and older, when kids already know their own language well, he said. The group will give a formal presentation of finding to the board in January.
Meanwhile, the Mandarin-immersion program is slated to open in the fall at Ohlone Elementary School. The lottery to gain one of 20 English-speaking or 20 Mandarin-speaking spots will take place on Feb. 21. Parents must register at Ohlone by Feb. 18 to participate.
Palo Alto housing future in the ... ABAG?
The mere mention of the Association of Bay Area Governments' housing allocation -- Palo Alto is to plan for 2,860 units by 2014 -- conjures up notions of massive multi-family complexes looming over Palo Altans' beloved shady streets.
Even if Palo Alto were committed to build housing galore, footing the subsidy for the 1,875 units that are supposed to be below-market-rate could cost the city between $245 million and $320 million.
And school officials are balking, too, given that they are already hopping to keep up with the city's swelling student population.
Palo Alto is appealing the allocation, a largely for-show motion that will be considered by the ABAG board in early 2008. The city has until 2009 to amend its Comprehensive Plan to include the additional units. If it doesn't, the city risks losing state grant money or being sued by a nonprofit housing group. The city could also go on the offensive and challenge ABAG and the state in court.
The shifting Baylands
In 10 years, Palo Alto's Baylands will probably appear quite different.
This year, the City Council laid some of the groundwork for how it might look. The landfill, slated for closure in 2011, will be converted into the second phase of the pastoral Byxbee Park, with sweeping views replacing piles of trash.
The park could have a new entrance, which may or may not be paved.
At the end of 2008, the Recycling Center will be drastically downsized to make way for the landfill, although the center could move again in a few years.
Swinging a bit north, the Palo Alto Airport will probably come under the control of the city, after 40 years of Santa Clara County administration. There could be more hangars, refurbished pavement and a permanent administration building.
Plans to curb flooding from San Francisquito Creek might bring significant changes, such as new levees or a realigned golf course.
And if that weren't enough, the entire area could one day be underwater, experts warn, as the Bay level climbs as a result of global warming.
What color is your Palo Alto?
Surely when the Palo Alto Public Art Commission hired Samuel Yates -- the artist responsible for a seven-story-high file cabinet containing a shredded sports car, and for transporting a grave site, six tons of dirt and a deed, several hundred miles to display in a gallery -- it knew what it was getting into.
Yates, believe it or not, has been working on The Color of Palo Alto project for more than six years. He's taken photographs of every property in the city and plans to cover City Hall with the photos on March 20. The representative color of Palo Alto, and a snazzy Web site that can be used to find the color of a street, season or time of day, will be unveiled on Arbor Day, April 25, 2008, Yates said.
Yates, who has worked more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for much of the project, agrees that his method isn't logical or efficient -- it's art.
The Color of Palo Alto is like sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub using a spatula, or running a marathon, Yates said. He is creating a "language of color," made more "interesting, meaningful and valuable" by the amount of hard labor that goes into the project, Yates wrote in an e-mail.
"We are creating a work of art, not a product to be consumed once and discarded," Yates wrote.