Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 8, 2010

Around Town

NAME GAMES ... Palo Alto is preparing for a fight against a PG&E-backed ballot initiative that would make it more difficult for cities with public utilities to purchase energy facilities outside the city limits. The ballot measure would require cities to obtain 2/3 voter approval before they could expand service or purchase facilities or transmissions outside the municipal jurisdiction. The proposal, filed under the egalitarian-sounding "The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act," was ultimately renamed "The New Two-Thirds Requirement for the Local Public Electricity Providers" by the state's Office of the Attorney General. On Wednesday, the city's Utilities Advisory Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council oppose the ballot measure. The commission agreed that there is absolutely no reason for Palo Alto to support a PG&E-backed measure that would make it more difficult for the city to purchase backup transmission facilities. "I think the deceptive title that was used was reason enough to oppose it," Commissioner Jonathan Foster said.

THE AFTERLIFE ... Bergmann's Department Store in Midtown, Palo Alto, may have closed in 1992, but it's found new life on Facebook. A fan page devoted to the beloved business, which used to be located at 2741 Middlefield Road, boasts 838 friends, many of whom recalled favorite childhood memories of the shop with the wide central staircase. "I remember the food counter," wrote Mindy Huff Olshefski. "My Mom and I would go there to have avocado, bacon and onion sandwiches." Several Bergmann's fans held their first jobs as stock boys and gift wrappers. Others spoke of the second-floor toy department, of buying Wax Lips, gym clothes and scouting uniforms. "What fun it was when I was allowed to ride my bike there with a friend. We would save our allowances and then bike over there to buy something little," Shelley Morgan wrote. Amy George remembered the store's "free donut" days. "My friends and I would go, then race home on our bikes and change our clothes to try to look different, and then ride back to get more donuts! I doubt we fooled them one bit."

LET THEM EAT CAKE ... The Palo Alto City Council has a reputation for thoroughness, often at the expense of sleep. Residents who wish to address the council on a particular issue often have to wait until past midnight to do so. Even council members occasionally succumb to drowsiness and leave before adjournment. As former Palo Alto mayor and local-history buff Gary Fazzino noted half-jokingly, "When the phone rings at 3 a.m., I continue to sleep soundly knowing that Peter Drekmeier and this council are still meeting in the Chambers." By these standards, Monday's annual organizational meeting (which took about two hours) was a breeze. New council members were sworn in. Departing council members were celebrated. A new mayor and a vice mayor were elected with no debate or dissent. But some of the council's four outgoing members were still surprised by how long the largely ceremonial meeting took. "I told my kids they'll be eating cake at 7:45 p.m.," said outgoing Councilman John Barton, who should've known better. "Who knew council meetings can run this long?"

YOU'VE BEEN WARNED ... CharStyle:>The holiday season has come and gone, but Palo Alto's Utilities Department still has some unclaimed gifts for local customers. The department has been giving away LED lights to residents in exchange for their standard Christmas lights. The goal is to promote energy efficiency and achieve long-term cost savings. The LED lights use 10 to 20 percent less energy than traditional lights, Utilities Director Valerie Fong said. The department has already given away about 700 of its 1,000 boxes. Fong also said a few customers told staff they were concerned about the warnings posted on the LED light boxes, which point out that the product contains lead. Fong attributed the warning to a California law that requires such notification (other states don't). While Fong said it's not clear whether the lead presents any danger, she said customers have been warned to wash their hands after they use the LED lights and to keep the lights away from children. She also said that just because the warning is there, doesn't mean the LED lights are any more hazardous than regular lights. "Don't assume holiday lights that don't bear the warning labels are lead-free," Fong said. "Older lights may not have been labeled and they still could contain some lead."

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