BEST IN THE WEST? ... Palo Alto's technological wizards earned major kudos from Sunset Magazine this week, which put the city on its list, "20 Best Towns of the Future." The list, which also includes such Western cities as Oakland, Tucson, Ariz., Boisie, Ida., and Oakland, singles out "forward-thinking places" with commitments to "experimentation, creativity, energy efficiency, and good local food sources." Palo Alto was chosen for its high-tech leadership, its long list of generated patents and the presence of two major electric-vehicle companies: Better Place and Tesla Motors.
THE BACKLOG TEAM ... Palo Alto may look to 18 community volunteers for help in sorting out the city's $510-million infrastructure backlog. Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa and council members Larry Klein, Greg Scharff and Greg Schmid proposed the idea in a colleagues' memo, which a City Council Policy and Services Committee is scheduled to discuss on March 9. The backlog includes aged city structures that need replacement (including the city's Municipal Services Building and two fire stations) and various road repairs (including on Arastradero and Charleston roads). "We presently allocate about $10 million per year of the general fund budget to infrastructure," the memo states. "At that rate, we will never reduce our backlog and in all likelihood will fall further behind." To solve the problem, the four council members hope to create the 18-member Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission. Each council member would appoint two members. The commission would then review the projects on the list and advise the council on what to do about them. The council hopes to have the new commission seated by May and to get the group's report by Feb. 28, 2011. The City Council would then consider whether to fund any of the most pressing items through a bond measure in November 2011.
STICK TO THE MESSAGE ... California's High-Speed Rail Authority's approach to public outreach has been undermined by inconsistent messages, poor coordination among various spokespersons and insufficient information about project milestones and policies, the authority's newly released "communications audit" argues. The report was composed by Ogilvy Public Relations Woldwide, the rail authority's public-affairs consultant. Ogilvy recommends that the rail authority broaden its outreach effort, bring more transparency to its decision-making process and provide the public more informative (and better designed) materials. Ogilvy also found that some of the rail authority's regional consultants received "conflicting direction" from the rail authority's board members and recommends a more "top-down" approach for releasing information. The audit singled out the rail authority's latest business plan, which attracted a barrage of criticism from state legislators, Palo Alto officials and local watchdog groups. "The 2009 business plan has provided unending fodder for skeptics and critics," the audit stated. "Public questions about the assumptions and forecasts in the Plan must be addressed in a strategic and thoughtful manner."