Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 11, 2010

Around Town

TREE WARS ... For Palo Alto officials, settling the city's tree controversies is a bit like playing Whac-A-Mole: Just as one crisis appears to be under control, another one unexpectedly pops up. So it was Tuesday, when Alma Plaza suddenly edged out Eleanor Pardee Park as the site of the great tree travesty of the moment. On Tuesday morning, contractors chopped down the first of nine trees on Alma Plaza, much to the annoyance of residents in the nearby Stanford Villa apartments. Later that evening, Palo Alto officials had a civil and well-attended meeting at the Lucie Stern Community Center to discuss the city's pending replacement of six damaged trees at Eleanor Pardee park, a project that's been opposed by some residents. The city's tree-removal operations became a testy subject in Palo Alto, where the city's abruptly removed 63 holly oaks on California Avenue. The city wasted no time in addressing community criticisms about the latest tree removals. On Wednesday morning, Planning Director Curtis Williams and Planning Arborist Dave Dockter, rushed to Alma Plaza before any more trees could be removed, to meet with neighbors and project developer, John McNellis. They concluded that the tree removal at the plaza is legal, approved and necessary for McNellis' pending renovation of the plaza. The city also issued a public statement Wednesday explaining the project and the reasons for the tree removal. Williams said he and Dockter reviewed the plans and "confirmed that there is no practical way to preserve the trees, given the constraints of parking and placement of utilities that are now being installed along the northernmost property boundary near the Stanford Villa apartments." The next discussion of a major tree-removal operation will be held on Thursday, June 17, when the Architectural Review Board is scheduled to discuss the San Antonio Road Median Improvement Project, which includes (among other design elements), removal and replacement of 87 street trees.

FIGHTING FOAM ... It's been more than a month since Palo Alto outlawed polystyrene containers from local food joints, but those resilient pollutants haven't completely disappeared from restaurant shelves yet. The city's environmental-compliance officials recently visited 224 restaurants and found that 186 were in compliance with the new ordinance while 38 had not yet made the switch to other containers. City Manager James Keene said the compliance rate of 83 percent was very close to the city's goal of 85 percent and called the results a "good start for the project."

WE WANT THE TRUTH! ... If California's new high-speed trains move as fast as the information coming out of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, riders may never get from San Francisco to Los Angeles. That, at least, is the sense in Palo Alto, where city officials are getting increasingly restless about the rail authority's failure to answer their questions about the proposed rail line, which would pass through the city along the Caltrain tracks. This week, Mayor Pat Burt sent the rail authority a six-page chart listing the city's recent requests for information and the status of responses (in most cases, "No response"). In his cover letter, Burt said the city has been "more than patient" but is "very disappointed that most of our critical questions remain unanswered." "We want to be collaborative," Burt wrote. "However, if we do not receive the responses necessary to help inform our community by the end of June, we will find it necessary to explore other means to ensure you provide us with this essential information."

LABOR OF LOVE ... Win or lose, 21st Assembly District candidate Josh Becker is a winner in his mother's eyes. Marilyn Becker flew to Palo Alto from Villanova, Penn., with her husband, Lewis, on Saturday and immediately took up precinct walking and telephone banking at the former "Silicon Valley for Obama" headquarters in south Palo Alto, she said. Her mom mojo seemed to be working: "A woman said 'I'm voting for Josh Becker because his mother called me,'" she told supporters. But despite mom's efforts, Becker's campaign came up just short. Becker, a venture capitalist and longtime political activist on behalf of clean technology, managed to attract 33 percent of the votes but ultimately lost the three-way Democratic primary to San Mateo Country Supervisor Rich Gordon.

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