PARTING WORDS ... In a message to the Gunn High School Community, outgoing Principal Noreen Likins thanked students and families for making her daily work at the school "a pleasure, not a chore." Likins, who spent 12 years at Gunn, six of them as principal, marked her last day June 30. She announced in February that she would retire, citing family reasons. "Always waiting until tomorrow to do things you want to do is not wise," she said at the time, noting that her husband, retired for 13 years, "is patiently waiting for us to do some of the traveling we keep talking about but don't have time to do." In her June 30 e-mail to Gunn families, Likins referred indirectly to student suicides at the Caltrain tracks between May and October 2009. "We have been through a lot together and emerged from the tragedies and challenges of the last two years in particular a stronger, more cohesive community," Likins said. Longtime Palo Alto teacher and administrator Katya Villalobos is the new principal at Gunn.
COSTLY MEASURE ... It's official: Palo Alto firefighters' proposal to freeze the current staffing levels in the Fire Department will go to the voters, mostly likely in November. But whether the proposal fails or succeeds, the city will take a financial hit, according to the City Clerk's Office. A new report by City Clerk Donna Grider estimates the cost of the election to be about $212,780, about $20,000 more than initially projected. That's because the Santa Clara Registrar of Voters has just sent the city a $22,780 invoice for verification of petition signatures (final tally: 7,261 signatures delivered and 6,009 were verified, more than the 5,446 that were needed). The $212,780 breaks down to $163,780 for the Registrar, $35,000 for legal fees, $11,000 for publication requirements and $3,000 for staff time. The firefighters' petition would require the city hold an election before it could close any fire stations or change staffing levels in the Fire Department. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the special election at its Aug. 2 meeting.
BUCKING THE TREND ... Once more Palo Alto is out of sync with the rest of the world — or at least the county. While the assessed property values of every other city in Santa Clara County declined to below their 2009 values, Palo Alto's secured rolls increased this year — by a slender 1 percent. The bottom line for Palo Altans is that higher assessed property values mean more taxes paid to local schools and the city. Overall, assessed values in Santa Clara County dropped by $7.4 billion, whereas two years ago they grew by nearly $20 billion. "This is far worse than anyone expected," County Assessor Larry Stone said in a news release.
CUTTING THE TAPE ... State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, wants to "just say 'no'" to frivolous lawsuits, especially when it comes to major development projects. Simitian, who chairs the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, introduced Senate Bill 1456 this week in an effort to streamline the state's stringent environmental-review process and strengthen the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which mandates the detailed reviews. His proposed legislation would discourage CEQA-related delays by empowering judges to issue $10,000 fines for frivolous lawsuits; authorize the Office of Attorney General to interfere in these lawsuits to speed up the resolution; and allow anyone who challenges an environmental review to request a mediator within the agency overseeing the review. His proposed legislation has already sailed through Assembly Natural Resources Committee, which unanimously supported it.