First, the mayor of Duluth, Minn., jumped into a near-freezing Lake Superior in February. Then Topeka, Kan., renamed itself "Google" for the month of March. On Monday, the quest to impress search-engine giant Google took a disco turn in Palo Alto as city staff and residents exuberantly leapfrogged and jived in front of City Hall to the tune of "YMCA" by the Village People.
Uncharacteristic for a city known for its debates over composting and zoning? Maybe -- but decorum goes out the window when stakes are high.
Monday's dance event, captured on video and posted on the city's Facebook page, "Palo Alto for Google Fiber," was the city's most lighthearted plea yet to win the affection of Mountain View-based Google, which has launched a nationwide competition called "Fiber for Communities." The winning cities will receive a fiber-optic system capable of providing residents and organizations with a 1-gigabit-per-second connection to the Internet. That, according to Google, is about 100 times the speed the average American has access to now.
"It was kind of loosey-goosey. We weren't sure what we were going to get," said Steve Crow of Crow Digital Media, the video's producer. The aim was for a "flash mob" type video, he said, referring to an event in which people spontaneously gather to do a silly or seemingly random activity and then disperse.
What he got was teens running across the screen piggyback and businessman Tommy Fehrenbach strutting in coat and tie with leapfrogging youth. Behind them, a crowd of about 40 people, including Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, Utilities Director Valerie Fong and former Mayor Bern Beecham, did their best to rock out, while other city employees "raised the roof" with their hands.
At the appropriate time, four teens unfurled the core message: "Palo Alto for Google Fiber."
"The video is designed to show Google what a fun community we are and how we are behind this," said Crow, who was approached for the work by City Councilman Yiaway Yeh.
The city's application to Google is due March 26. It likely will include a different and more decorous video featuring top city officials making their pitch directly to Google, according to Bob Harrington, adviser to the mayor on broadband issues.
The city is also trying to spur as much community enthusiasm as possible, since Google's decision will factor in the amount of support that community members show for the plan.
Crow said city leaders want to encourage residents and business owners to make their own videos on the theme of "What would your life be like at the speed of Google?" -- a slogan he coined and the city adopted.
"Google's 1 gigabit will empower a future that we can't envision as of yet, but we'll be working in it and living in it," Crow said, likening the "revolution" to the introduction of television to a radio-only world.
Meanwhile, neighborhood associations are weighing in on the idea. The Barron Park Association board is voting tonight (Tuesday) on whether to submit a letter of support to Google. The College Terrace Residents Association board already voted to nominate Palo Alto, according to recent past board chair Greg Tanaka.
"We actually will be sending out notices to all residents and letting them know how they can help to get fiber to Palo Alto," he said, adding that there are many Google employees living in the neighborhood, which abuts Stanford University.
Other neighborhood groups have taken a less formal approach, e-mailing information about Google Fiber to their residents.
Harrington said the stoking of community support is "going well," although the city's general approach tends to be methodical -- not zany.
"It's the typical Palo Alto effort and response," he said. "It's very studied. There are levels of trust that have to be equal or exceeded before action is taken."
People have to feel they understand and trust information before they will ask their friends and colleagues to support a plan, he said.
"I'm optimistic by the time the deadline comes ... plenty of people will feel comfortable enough and spread the word," said Harrington, who himself has attended three meetings a week in an effort to help Palo Alto win the fiber system.
With a week and half to go, the city is entering the final stretch.
"10 days and 7 hours," Harrington said Tuesday morning, chuckling. "I have a counter on my Google page to watch it."