Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 14, 2010

Around Town

SAVED! ... Looks like Palo Alto will keep its code-enforcement officers after all. The officers, who prowl city streets in search of illegal trash piles, tripping hazards, overgrown weeds and other unsightly code violations, were in danger of seeing their two-person team slashed in half under the proposed budget for fiscal year 2011. But the City Council Finance Committee voted unanimously to reject this proposal and restore the code-enforcement position, which is described in detail in the May 7 issue of the Weekly. Since City Manager James Keene unveiled the proposed budget last month, Palo Alto residents have sent council members letters urging them to keep the two positions. "Once people become aware that city codes are not being enforced, this city will be in bad shape," resident Natalie Fisher wrote in a letter to the council. Councilwoman Karen Holman responded Monday by stating she is "absolutely opposed" to reducing code enforcement. On Tuesday night, the four members of the Finance Committee, Larry Klein, Sid Espinosa, Greg Scharff and Greg Schmid, took a similar stand and voted to take the code-enforcement-officer position off the chopping block. The committee approved all the other recommended cuts in the Planning and Community Environment Department budget, including elimination of three vacant positions and of a building/planning technician position that is currently filled.

SCRATCH AND SNIFF? ... Palo Alto's solid-waste officials are wrestling with an irksome question these days: How to get Palo Altans to stop tossing recyclables into their trash cans without resorting to draconian "garbage police" tactics. On Tuesday, the Public Works Department staff suggested launching a two-year educational campaign about recycling for residential customers and later adding an enforcement component, if needed. Councilman Karen Holman, who was one of four council members to review the proposal Tuesday night, had another suggestion: Show residents footage of workers sorting trash at Sunnyvale's SMaRT station, which receives Palo Alto's garbage. "I used to think my least preferred job was a toll taker," Holman said at the Policy and Services Committee meeting. "You're isolated in the booth and take fumes all day. Then I did a tour of the SMaRT station and saw someone sorting recycling from garbage and I thought I would lose it." She then wondered jokingly if it would be possible to do a "scratch-and-sniff video" of garbage being sorted to encourage residents to sort their recyclables. Staff hasn't gone that far in its new proposals, though the new educational campaign is likely to include recycle guides, labels for collection carts, advertisements at local papers, a redesigned Zero Waste website and educational sessions with residents.

CUTTING DOWN THE TREES ... When trees unexpectedly came down on California Avenue last year, Palo Alto officials found themselves barraged by community criticism and forced to offer a series of apologies and reforms. Apparently, they learned their lesson. This week, City Manager James Keene gave detailed presentations about two upcoming tree-removal operations: the cutting down of six diseased eucalyptus trees at Eleanor Pardee Park and removal and relocation of trees near the Palo Alto Art Center, which is part of broader Art Center renovations. The city's website now includes a full arborist report for the Pardee Park project, along with before-and-after photos. Keene also said the city will hold a community meeting about the park project after the first three trees have been removed. The Art Center project, meanwhile, which was discussed at a public meeting on Thursday morning, will undergo further review at a June 3 meeting of the Architectural Review Board.

STILL THE BEST ... For the fifth year in a row, Palo Alto's renewable energy program is leading the nation in participation rate. PaloAltoGreen, which allows utilities customers to voluntarily pay an extra 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour to support purchase of clean, renewable energy, once again earned kudos from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The program has a 20.8 percent rate of participation, nearly 10 times the national average, the agency found. According to the Utilities Department, the amount of green energy purchased by PaloAltoGreen customers equaled 6.9 percent of total electricity the department sold in 2009. The city's overall renewable-energy purchases are slated to increase from 15 percent over the overall load to 19 percent in 2010, the department announced. "I'm proud Palo Altans have chosen to support renewable energy and make PaloAltoGreen such a successful program," Assistant Utilities Director Tom Auzenne said in a statement. "This is another shining example of how the Palo Alto community can lead the nation in environmental stewardship and create demand for clean, domestic energy."

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