Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 16, 2010

Around Town

WHAT CAN THE BROWN ACT DO FOR YOU? ... When elected officials from Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame formed the Peninsula Cities Consortium last year, their goal was to give their cities and citizens a greater voice on the design of California's proposed high-speed-rail system. But in the past week, the consortium found itself on the defensive when word got out that elected officials from Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton and Mountain View took a tour of the rail corridor with Curt Pringle, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board of directors. The group briefly assembled for introductions before separating into two vans and proceeding along the corridor, Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt said. Though the tour itself was perfectly legal, the introductions technically violated the Ralph A. Brown Act, which bars elected officials from holding meetings or taking action without notifying the public. The introductions involved three of the five members of the consortium. Burt said the tour wasn't scheduled as a "meeting," but as a way to get Pringle acquainted with the corridor through which the high-speed-rail system is scheduled to pass. Pringle had recently taken a similar tour of the corridor in north San Mateo County, Burt said. Palo Alto City Attorney Gary Baum said the tour itself did not violate any laws, but the introduction time may have violated the Brown Act. That means the consortium could face a lawsuit that would require it to nullify whatever actions it took — if there had been any. Burt said the city officials involved in the tour had no intention to circumvent the law. "At worst, it's a technical violation," he said.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION ... What do T-Mobile, the U.S. Department of the Navy and City of Palo Alto have in common? All three are among 100 "companies" singled out by CIO Magazine (which stands for Chief Information Officers) for using technology to save energy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The Top 100 list includes airlines, hotels, telecommunication companies and dozens of other businesses that fit the conventional definition of "company." Palo Alto is the only city on the list, largely because of its use of the Hara Environmental and Energy Management Software to track energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in real time. According to the magazine, Palo Alto "has become one of the first cities in the nation to track its greenhouse gas emissions and its use of electricity, water and other resources." The city's energy-efficiency programs have also helped it reach another "green" goal. Between 2005 and 2009, the city's energy costs plummeted by $500,000 per year, staff reported. "For us, it's really nice to get recognition for both our commitment in this city to sustainability and for using technology in an innovative way," City Manager James Keene said. "We were specifically budgeting credits in our budget based on energy savings, which we met and exceeded."

DOWSING THE DISTRICT ... Former Palo Alto Mayor Bern Beecham is hoping to charge back into public service. This week, he announced he's running for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. If elected, Beecham would represent the new District 7, which includes Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos and Monte Sereno. The water district made headlines last month when it tried to approve a redistricting scheme that would have lumped Palo Alto and Gilroy into the same banana-shaped district — a proposal it scrapped in the face of heated criticism. Beecham, who helped create the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, said he is running for the water board for two reasons: to continue the work he "enjoyed and excelled at while serving on the council and as mayor" and to bring the water district's "excesses under control." Beecham said that while the district has done much good work, "it has a long-standing reputation for excess and for disregarding the residents." He cited the redistricting controversy, which he called an "attempted blatant gerrymander of our district." The district's headquarters are "extravagant" and the payscale "overly generous," Beecham said in a statement.

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