Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 8, 2010

News Digest

Palo Alto pays $1.45 million for car accident

Palo Alto has agreed to pay $1.45 million to a resident who was permanently injured in an accident caused by a city worker reaching for his cell phone while driving, Deputy City Attorney Donald Larkin has confirmed.

Silvio Obregon was injured Sept. 6, 2006, according to his attorney, Larry Nagelberg. His pickup truck was rear-ended when city utilities worker Ruben Salas looked away from the road and crashed his city-owned vehicle into the back of Obregon's truck.

The accident took place while Obregon was stopped at a red light on Oregon Expressway and Middlefield Road. Obregon, who sustained spinal-cord injuries, cannot work at his job as a supervisor for a janitorial services company, where he worked for 20 years, Nagelberg said.

Obregon must wear a surgically implanted electronic stimulator to reduce the back pain and has peripheral neuropathy, a painful nerve condition, due to his injuries, his lawyer said.

Obregon originally asked for $5 million, Larkin said. The agreement was reached Sept. 23, 2009, and finalized Dec. 17, according to court documents.

The lawsuit was originally filed in June 2007. Michael Servarian, the city's hired attorney, said there were three mediation sessions, and it was only at the mandatory settlement conference, five to six days before the scheduled start of a trial, that a settlement was reached.

Larkin said the city paid Obregon $1 million from the city's self-insurance retention fund. The balance of $450,000 was paid by the Association of Cities and Counties Excess Liability (ACCEL) fund, which is a joint government-agency risk-pool fund.

Tentative settlement reached in Caltrain death

More than two years after Maria de Jesus Nieblas was killed by a train after her car stopped at the West Meadow Drive crossing, the City of Palo Alto, Caltrain and Amtrak have reached a tentative agreement to settle the case with the victim's family.

The sum: $51,500 — $1,500 from Palo Alto and $50,000 from the two rail agencies. The city also would pay $3,608.33, the cost of mediation, according to Deputy City Attorney Donald Larkin.

A tentative settlement was made during mediation Nov. 2. It still needs to be signed by all parties and approved by the court, which could occur in the coming weeks, according to David Miller, general counsel for Caltrain.

Nieblas, 21, of Sunnyvale, was waiting at the West Meadow crossing in her Toyota Camry at 4:40 p.m. June 28, 2007, when the arm descended to let a northbound express train pass. Witnesses said Nieblas' car, facing westward, was pulled too far forward and the gate came down onto the roof of her car. The Camry lurched forward into the speeding train's path, they said, perhaps because she panicked.

Nieblas' family filed suit, arguing the intersection was not properly marked for a driver to be aware that he or she was crossing train tracks.

The suit also argued a right turn should not be allowed at the intersection, Larkin said. The city has no plans to change signage or markings at the crossing.

Palo Alto spent $20,000 to $30,000 in legal fees on the suit, Larkin said. The city and rail officials settled the suit in part to avoid a costly legal battle, he said.

Page Mill Properties buildings face auction

Notices of sale went up on the Page Mill Properties' East Palo Alto apartment buildings Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m., adding a new layer of uncertainty for residents of the city's largest property owner.

Page Mill's 1,800 rental units are scheduled to go on the auction block on Feb. 1, according to East Palo Alto Mayor David Woods. He spent most of the day conversing with residents and found most are not too worried, he said.

Woods has received assurances from Well Fargo Bank, which gave Page Mill the multi-million-dollar loan for the apartments, that if the properties go to a trustee sale, tenants would not face increases in their rents or mass evictions during the process, he said.

Page Mill missed a $50 million balloon payment in September.

Stanford professor earns Presidential Award

Stanford University chemistry Professor Richard Zare was at the White House Wednesday to pick up an award for mentoring in science.

Zare, the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science, was one of 22 nationwide recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

The annual award, administered by the National Science Foundation, recognizes mentors who give their time, encouragement and expertise for the academic and personal development of science or engineering students who are minorities in their fields.

— Chris Kenrick

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