Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 30, 2010

Around Town

THINKING OUTSIDE THE CHAMBER ... Somewhere in the greater Palo Alto community, far away from City Hall and below the City Council's radar, solutions to the city's most pressing problems could be taking shape. City officials want to hear these ideas. On Monday night, during a lengthy discussion on the council's work plan, Councilman Larry Klein criticized the city's policy-making process as being too "top-down" and wondered what the city can do to remain open to new ideas. He called the dilemma the "tyranny of the packet," referring to the weekly pile of staff reports council members have to review in preparation for the upcoming meeting. "Monday night after Monday night, we are faced with a large packet of problems that we have to vote on," Klein said. "How do we step back and think more broadly?" Klein said he was intrigued by Sunnyvale's policy of selecting one new idea every year from the general public. Ideas could range from things like a new golf course or art center to a new policy of directly electing the city's mayor. Kelly Morariu, assistant to City Manager James Keene, said the topic of engaging the broader community might be a good discussion for the council's Policy and Services Committee, which is charged with drafting the council's work plan.

FIGHTING WORDS ... The City Council's final meeting before its August recess promises to serve up plenty of drama and antagonism. On Aug. 2, in what promises to be a legislative marathon, the council will consider two measures for possible inclusion on the November ballot: a proposal to change local elections from odd to even years and a more controversial proposal to repeal the binding-arbitration provision from the City Charter. If the council chooses to place the repeal on the ballot, as several council members have advocated, voters will decide whether to delete Article V in the Charter, also known as "Compulsory Arbitration for Fire and Police Department Employee Disputes." The provision empowers a three-member arbitration panel to settle disputes between the city and its public-safety unions. The city's legal staff crafted a resolution this week stating that the council proposed repealing binding arbitration "in order to have more flexibility to craft solutions for managing employee costs." The city's fire and police unions have come out against the proposed repeal, with the police union threatening a lawsuit if the city doesn't back off. But Councilman Greg Scharff argued this week that the arbitration provision is driving up employee costs and that this is the perfect time to bring the issue to the voters. "If we don't get control of our pension and labor costs, all employees will suffer," Scharff said.

AN ELEGANT TANGENT ... Palo Alto's leading math whiz Lynnelle Ye will compete with the world's brightest young math minds next week when she travels to Shijiazhuang, China, to take part in the 2010 China Girls Mathematical Olympiad. Ye, a graduate of Palo Alto High School, is one of eight mathletes who will represent the U.S. team in the competition. Members were chosen from the top ranks of female finalists in the 2010 U.S.A. Mathematical Olympiad, according to the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute of Berkeley. Ye, who has been active on math teams since her sixth-grade year at JLS Middle School, describes math as "really enjoyable and fun." "If you look at the more creative problems, you see it's just really clever and fun and elegant," she said. Ye took fourth place nationally in this year's Intel Science Talent Search, and second in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. She will enroll at Stanford University this fall.

KINDERGARTEN BABIES ... Walter Hays School teacher Diana Argenti and school district reading specialist Natalie Bivas lunched with State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, Friday to strategize on Simitian's bill requiring that kids be at least 5 years old around the time they start kindergarten. Simitian took up the cause after a petition drive led by Argenti and Bivas last year garnered the signatures of nearly 300 Palo Alto teachers. Citing the number of children who arrive unprepared for the increasing rigors of kindergarten, the petition asked that children be 5 years old by Sept. 1 rather than Dec. 2, the current cutoff date. Bids to change California's date have been unsuccessful in the past, but Simitian thinks there's a chance this time. Having cleared the Senate and received unanimous backing from the Assembly Education Committee, the bill has advanced much farther than previous efforts.

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