Neighbors protest tree removal at Alma Plaza
When John O'Neill heard the sound of chainsaws Tuesday morning and saw the first tree fall on Alma Plaza, he thought, "This is California Avenue all over again!"
O'Neill is one of more than a dozen residents of Stanford Villa apartments who learned on Tuesday that the trees just outside their apartment building are about to be taken down. Later that day, they made signs ("California Ave II," "Save the Planet, Save the Trees") and protested the tree-removal operation. Some residents displayed signs outside their window, while others held them up next to the tree-removal site.
Their plan to thwart the operation succeeded for a few hours — just long enough to hold a hastily organized meeting with Palo Alto's planning officials and John McNellis, the site developer. But by Wednesday afternoon the chainsaws were whirring once again on Alma Plaza and workers were stacking logs into a truck.
Within hours, the five carob trees and four ash trees that previously stood by Stanford Villa had come down.
"We were totally steamrolled," O'Neill said. "Many of us chose to live here because of the arboreal atmosphere."
Planning Director Curtis Williams said he sympathizes with the neighbors who don't want to see the trees removed. But Williams said the plans for Alma Plaza clearly show that the ash and carob trees near Stanford Villa would be taken out. Williams, who met with McNellis and Stanford Villa residents at Alma Plaza Wednesday morning, said it was "unfortunate" that neighbors weren't previously aware of the planned operation.
"There were multiple hearings about the project and it was never raised as an issue, as far as I can recall," Williams said.
DA won't file charges against Weston Healy
Weston Healy, the Gunn High School senior who was arrested May 27 after bringing an Airsoft air rifle on campus, will not face criminal charges, a Santa Clara County District Attorney spokeswoman told the Weekly on Wednesday afternoon.
Healy was seen moving the rifle from a car seat to the trunk of his car by a school employee. The realistic-looking gun sparked a "Code Red" lockdown on campus that drew police and SWAT teams to search for an possible gunman.
Healy, 18, an Eagle Scout and A+ student, was arrested.
"We have completed our review of the Weston Healy matter and have declined to issue criminal charges," Amy Cornell, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said.
The decision was based on specific facts and applicable law, as well as factors relating to the student, she said.
Healy was to have graduated with his class Wednesday evening, but he was not present to march with the graduates although his name was listed on the program as a member of the graduating class — a possible middle-ground compromise based on discussions with Healy's parents and lawyer.
Few good options for Palo Alto police HQ
Having seen plans for a brand new police building collapse in a financial downturn, Palo Alto officials are now considering the next best thing: a refurbished police headquarters branching out of its current location behind City Hall.
But the less expensive options come with their own pitfalls and controversies, the City Council discovered Monday night as it reviewed a new analysis of design alternatives.
And even remodeling and expanding the present headquarters could cost many millions of dollars.
An expanded Police Department could require the city to reduce the number of parking spaces at City Hall; appropriate part of the Downtown Library (a longtime political hot potato); and using the Council Chambers for police functions.
The council reiterated its commitment to improving police facilities, which are undersized and seismically unsound. But as in the past city officials disagreed over whether Palo Alto should continue to think big or whether it should settle for more manageable, incremental changes.
The city has been dreaming of a new public-safety building for close to two decades and has conducted numerous studies on the subject. Last year, the city's latest bid for a new building faltered because of a financial downturn, which forced the city to terminate its purchase options on two Park Boulevard properties that would have been the site for a new $68 million headquarters building.
Given the economic realities, which include a projected $7.3 million gap in fiscal year 2011, several council members said they would favor considering a more "incremental" approach to improving the police facility.