Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 19, 2010

News Digest

Local teens describe their stresses on 'Dr. Phil'

Nearly a dozen teens from the Palo Alto area told a national audience last Friday night that stress in their lives comes from trying to meet the expectations of peers, family, school and getting into college.

The teens appeared on television's "Dr. Phil" show March 12.

The show did not specifically name Palo Alto. Dr. Phil interviewer Hill Harper, who had pre-taped the discussion with teens earlier in the week, said he was in Northern California "in an area where there have been a number of deaths by suicide" to talk with teens about what's going on in their lives.

Palo Alto city and school officials had urged the show's producers not to mention Palo Alto or the cause of death in the suicides.

In the discussion about stress, 18-year-old Michaela told Harper, "You have all these classes, all this homework, and then your parents.

"They try not to pressure you, but they have all these high hopes and dreams for you, and you feel that on your shoulders."

Sahela, 15, said, "You see people who take five more AP classes than you do or have five more extracurricular activities than you do and then you feel like, 'Am I doing enough?'"

In other interviews on the same Dr. Phil segment, called "Teens Under Pressure," Dr. Phil discussed "the alarming rise" in teen suicides nationwide, and spoke with mothers of two East Coast girls who said they fear their daughters — grief stricken over the suicides of their friends — may take their own lives. At the end of the show, Dr. Phil promised the women he would arrange for psychiatric help for the girls.

The segment can be viewed in the archived shows on the Dr. Phil website (www.drphil.com).

New farmers market bound for Lytton Plaza

Palo Alto's effort to open a new farmers market downtown resurfaced March 15 when the City Council approved a staff proposal to bring the new market to Lytton Plaza.

The new Palo Alto FarmShop will make its debut at the prominent University Avenue plaza some time in the next month and will be open every Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. The council voted 8-0, with Larry Klein absent, to support a staff proposal for the new market, which would feature bands and fresh produce from Capay Valley Growers, a farmer collaborative in Yolo County.

Last year, Palo Alto partnered with Capay Valley Growers to start a new farmers market at King Plaza, in front of City Hall. But that experiment fizzled after fewer than 20 city workers signed up to participate in Capay Valley's community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.

After spending $24,000 to open and sustain the new market, the City Council voted in October to cut off public subsidies for the market, effectively ending the pilot project.

The new market, by contrast, will not depend on public funds. Instead, it will rely on a volunteer coordinator, unpaid bands and contributions from several local businesses.

Palo Alto firefighters push law to prevent layoffs

Palo Alto's firefighters union is spearheading a new ballot measure that would keep the city from reducing staffing levels at the Fire Department without voter approval.

The measure, which Palo Alto Fire Fighters Local 1319, hopes to place on the November ballot, would require the city to set the current staffing level at the department as a "minimum number" that must be "continuously maintained."

Any proposal to eliminate positions, close a fire station or reduce the department's paramedics emergency medical services would require the approval of both the City Council and the voters, according to the measure.

The union is proposing the measure at a time when city officials are increasingly looking for ways to cut costs and reduce staff to close a growing budget shortfall. The city's budget deficit is projected to balloon from $6.3 million in the current fiscal year to $19.6 million in 2020 if the city doesn't find new revenue sources or reduce costs. The city's total budget is $140 million, not including the Utilities Department.

The union needs to collect 5,446 signatures from Palo Alto's registered voters to get the measure on the ballot, City Clerk Donna Grider said. This represents 15 percent of the city's registered voters.

The union's 109 full-time-equivalent members make up about 10 percent of the Palo Alto workforce. The firefighters earn an average salary of $104,878 as well as an average of $16,001 in overtime earnings, according to city data. The average salary is $178,387 when benefits are factored in.

— Gennady Sheyner

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