Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 2, 2010

News Digest

City workers accept benefit cuts in Palo Alto

Palo Alto's largest labor union has agreed to a one-year contract with the city and vowed to seek a more collaborative tone in future labor negotiations, the union's chair told the City Council Monday night.

By ratifying the contract, the Service Employees International Union, Local 521, has essentially accepted the conditions that the city imposed on it last October after months of negotiations. Though the new contract would have very little bearing on the salaries and benefits of its members, it signifies the union's acceptance of the dismal economic climate and its new spirit of collaboration with the city, said Brian Ward, who in February replaced Lynne Krug as chair of Local 521.

Ward said 94 percent of the union members who voted a week ago Thursday supported ratifying the contract, which would take effect July 1.

The changes include reduced pensions for newly hired workers, elimination of two floating holidays and a new requirement that employees make contributions toward their health care. The health care provision, which under the imposed terms would have kicked in July 1, will now be delayed until Jan. 1, 2011, Human Resources Director Russ Carlsen said. He said the council is scheduled to consider the contract Aug. 2.

City to study Caltrain corridor

As Palo Alto braces for the impacts of the proposed high-speed rail system, city officials are preparing to take a fresh, detailed look at the city's Caltrain Corridor.

The City Council this week approved $90,000 for the first phase of a study of the corridor, which under the current proposal would be shared by Caltrain and the high-speed-rail system.

"With a project of this magnitude, we really need to supply studies that make it possible for us to clarify our positions and to move forward on this massive project," Councilwoman Gail Price said at the Monday night council meeting.

According to a scope of work, the project would include establishing a new community task force composed of nine to 15 members, including residents, property owners, businesses and school officials. The study "is intended to generate a community vision for land use, transportation and urban design opportunities along the corridor, particularly in response to improvements to fixed rail services along the Caltrain tracks in Palo Alto."

The city plans to split the study into three phases. The first one would focus on the community's vision, the second on land-use opportunities around the goal and the third on implementing strategies for corridor development into the city's Comprehensive Plan.

The full council is scheduled to finalize the scope of the study at its July 12 meeting.

East Palo Alto cautious as Mehserle verdict looms

Youth leaders and the East Palo Alto Police Department are preparing to calm any upset and potential reaction by the city's youth if former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle is acquitted for killing Oscar Grant.

City and youth leaders don't anticipate widespread violence in East Palo Alto, police and youth-group leaders said. But pain is running deep in the racially diverse community over what some see as a pattern of excessive police force against minority youth in general.

Agencies are working with youth and police are preparing for whether to respond locally or regionally, if needed. "We do not expect anything to happen, but we always prepare for the worst," police Chief Ronald Davis said.

The department has enlisted San Mateo County Sheriff's officers and has updated civil-unrest training among its officers, he said. One or two teams of officers will be added to keep the force staffed at a higher level after the verdict, he said.

In regular meetings with youth throughout the community, Davis said he has not picked up anything to indicate there would be unrest. But he is not discounting the anger and frustration that some people feel toward the system, he said.

Mehserle's lawyer, Michael Rains, has admitted that Mehserle shot and killed Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2009, after he and other officers responded to a report that there was a fight on a train.

But Rains claims the shooting was an accident and that Mehserle, who is free on $3 million bail, meant to use his Taser stun gun on Grant. Closing arguments in Mehserle's trial took place on Thursday.

— Sue Dremann

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