Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 27, 2010

News Digest

Judge won't reopen high-speed-rail challenge

The case challenging high-speed rail studies and route selection has been finalized by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny despite a last-ditch effort by a coalition of challengers to get it reopened.

The coalition consists of Atherton, Menlo Park and private groups. Palo Alto has participated as a friend-of-the-court.

Kenny made several additions or changes to the tentative decision he reached last week.

Kenny on Friday agreed to delay his final ruling on the coalition's latest legal challenge, but proceeded to finalize it Monday — effectively ending the legal challenge.

In May, the coalition — which also includes the California Rail Foundation, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund and the Planning and Conservation League — asked the court to reconsider an August 2009 decision after discovering the rail authority relied on a ridership model that had not been publicized or peer reviewed.

The 2009 ruling forced the rail authority to decertify and revise parts of its environmental-impact report (EIR) for the rail system's San Francisco-to-San Jose segment. However, the decision did not require the rail authority to re-evaluate its selection of the Pacheco Pass and up through the Peninsula as its preferred route for the rail system, a route which the coalition is protesting.

Last Thursday, Kenny tentatively denied the coalition's request to re-open the case and argued that the plaintiffs had failed to meet the state's stringent legal requirements for reopening previous rulings.

Kenny wrote in his ruling that the coalition failed to demonstrate that new evidence would have led to a different ruling a year ago. He faulted the plaintiffs for not discovering the flaws in the ridership model before last year's ruling and also wrote that the coalition had not exhausted all of its legal avenues.

Art Center to undergo $7 million renovation

The nearly 40-year-old Palo Alto Art Center will be getting a mid-life revamp — a long-awaited $7 million facility upgrade slated to begin next April.

Plans, conditionally approved by the city's Architectural Review Board Aug. 19, include the creation of a children's wing and new courtyard, air-circulation and building-code upgrades, plus exhibition-hall and aesthetic improvements.

Art Center Director Karen Kienzle is especially looking forward to the new children's wing.

"When it opened in 1971, the Art Center was intended to be primarily a place for adults, but now more than half our visitors are kids," she said.

"We serve around 7,000 children a year and we're really bursting at the seams," she added, describing long lines of paint-covered kids patiently waiting for the sole sink (installed much higher than is easily reachable for children) in one of the rooms used for classes. She said new sinks would be kid-friendly and foot-operated.

The new plans call for a doubling of classroom space (from two rooms to four), plus the addition of a courtyard where summer camps and outdoor classes can gather, including a room designed for preschoolers.

The center will also be brought up to code with the Americans with Disabilities Act, complying with doorway and restroom regulations, making all entrances more accessible to those in wheelchairs.

Landscape-architecture firm SWA, which designed the green "living roof" at the California Academy of Sciences, has been hired for the outdoor improvements.

Renderings are available at www.cityofpaloalto.org.

Palo Alto parents tapped for bond oversight role

Three Palo Alto parents were confirmed by the Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday night to help oversee spending under the school district's $378 million construction program.

Investment manager Todd Collins, architect Catherine Garber and psychologist Mary Marth will join the Citizens' Oversight Committee for the Strong Schools Bond.

The seven-member group is charged with monitoring spending of the facilities bond funds, which were approved by nearly 78 percent of voters in June 2008.

Collins and Marth have children currently enrolled in Palo Alto schools. Garber's children recently graduated from Palo Alto High School.

Managed by the district's Chief Business Official Robert Golton, the bond construction program will touch each of the district's 18 major campuses, with major construction at the two high schools, three middle schools and at least one elementary campus.

Besides general modernization and upgrades, construction is focused on expanding capacity for anticipated enrollment growth.

Ever since a post-Baby Boom nadir in 1989-90 when district-wide enrollment was 7,452, enrollment has been on a steady upward trajectory. It currently stands at about 12,000. Historically, enrollment in Palo Alto schools peaked in 1967-68 at 15,575.

— Chris Kenrick

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