Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 23, 2010

Around Town

BILLIONAIRE ON BOARD ... "I drive a Prius — that's my main car, and I'm a billionaire still," businessman and philanthropist Ted Turner told students at Stanford's Graduate School of Business Wednesday. In an unscripted Q&A covering how he went from "just about broke to just about $10 billion" (and now back to something over $1 billion), Turner quoted Shakespeare's "Richard the Third" on integrity and humility and British poet Thomas Macaulay's "Horatius at the Bridge" on courage. If he were starting out today Turner said he'd go into the clean-energy business, adding that it will be the new generation's task to rebuild the world's energy system from renewable sources. Turner said he became a fan of Stanford's Paul Ehrlich after reading "The Population Bomb" 30 years ago. His greatest regret? The failure of his three marriages. Biggest achievement? Turner Broadcasting and CNN, he said. At 71, Turner said he's having a great time working with the United Nations Association, to which he committed $1 billion more than a decade ago. The "secret of success" in business hasn't changed much over 50 years, he said: "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise."

CATCHING GOPHERS ... As "Caddyshack" fans know all too well, gophers and golf-course custodians rarely get along. So it is in Palo Alto, where city officials are trying to keep gophers away from the city's golf course without the aid of pesticides. Over the past decade, the city's park officials have been gradually weaning themselves off insecticides and pesticides. According to a staff report by environmental specialist Julie Weiss, the city's use of ecotoxic pesticides — those that are toxic to birds, fish, bees and aquatic species — fell by 43 percent in 2009. The city's total pesticide use fell from 422 pounds in 2007 to 242 pounds in 2009, according to the report. The city no longer uses poisons for mice or rat control, Weiss told the City Council Monday, and no longer sprays pesticides to kill ants. At the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, chemicals are no longer used to get rid of gophers. Instead, traps catch the furry pests. "This is less expensive and vastly more effective," Weiss said. "We don't have the same gopher problem at the golf course any more."

RENTS GOING DOWN ... But RealFacts, a Novato-based market-research firm doesn't quite see this as good news. At the end of 2009, they noted that any increase in rent tends to be associated with an uptick in employment. So when first-quarter 2010 rents dropped an average of 7.6 percent in Palo Alto (12.7 percent in Menlo Park, 8.1 percent in Mountain View and 7.4 percent in East Palo Alto), not everyone was celebrating — just those living in apartment buildings with more than 100 units (included in RealFacts' survey) who were lucky enough to be employed. "In December 2009, the outlook for apartments was positively grim, driving landlords to clamber upon their chairs noose in hand," the RealFacts press release colorfully stated. "But here in the first quarter of 2010, market conditions seemed to have improved virtually overnight."

FINDING MR. RIGHT ... The new face of the California High-Speed Rail Authority will be a "world-class rear-end kicker" who has "managed some of the biggest construction projects in the world successfully," Rod Diridon, a member of the rail authority's board of directors, told a state Senate panel last week. The rail authority is in the final phase of hiring a new chief executive officer and expects to make the big announcement before the end of this month. In addition to steering the construction of the controversial project, the new chief executive will also bring some accountability to the process, Diridon told Sens. Joe Simitian and Alan Lowenthal. Simitian, who represents Palo Alto, has long complained about the "accountability problem" within the rail authority, which relies on contractors for most of its work. Diridon said the new CEO would change that. "That person will also be very compatible in communicating with you and being the face of the high-speed-rail program in a profoundly confident and highly reputable way," Diridon told the senators. "Under the direction of new CEO, you will see a much more transparent organization and a much more accountable one," he later added.

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