Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 3, 2010

Around Town

THE CAPITAL TEAM ... They've come from every corner of Palo Alto to help city leaders with a daunting and mind-bending task: tackling that pesky infrastructure backlog, which officials estimate at more than $500 million. Once the City Council officially appoints the city's newest commission on Sept. 13, an eclectic group of 14 citizens will join four appointed commissioners in analyzing the long list of capital projects, including damaged roads and obsolete facilities, and brainstorm ways to pay for them. The 28-member candidate pool for theInfrastructure Blue Ribbon Committee features many familiar names, including a former mayor (Leland Levy), a former vice mayor (Jack Morton), two prominent land-use attorneys (Robin Kennedy and William Ross), two advocates of the Palo Alto Airport (Ralph Britton and David Creemer), a recent Assembly candidate (Marc Berman), a recent City Council candidate (Corey Levens), a Human Relations Commission member (Ray Bacchetti), a library fundraiser (James Schmidt) and an economist (Stephen Levy). In their applications, both Levy and Morton play up their experiences on the council. "As a former member of the Finance Committee, I experienced the frustration of not having the flexibility to deal with two long-deferred maintenance projects or to have a clear indication of what items had the highest priority," Morton wrote. A three-member council committee, composed of Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa, Gail Price and Greg Schmid, began interviewing the candidates this week and will conclude the interviews next week.

YOU'RE JUST AWESOME ... Gunn High School graduate Zack Burt last week earned a mention in Time's online NewsFeed for his new website, AwesomenessReminders.com. For a $10-a-month subscription, Burt — or one of his hired callers — will telephone you every day and tell you "how much you rock." If you're not around, they'll leave a voicemail. The 2005 Gunn grad, who was a psych major at the University of Chicago, swears he's serious. As of Tuesday, he had 524 "awesome" paying customers. "We are fans of personal happiness and making people happier," he said.

A RUSH JOB? ... Is the California High-Speed Rail Authority rushing through the environmental-clearance process to meet deadlines for federal funds? Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt said so at a recent meeting and apparently he's not the only one who feels this way. The firm TY Lin International wrote in a recent report that the rail authority's proposed work schedules are "very compressed" and that "regional consultants are struggling to keep pace." The company is uniquely positioned to make this observation. TY Lin oversees the rail authority's project manager, Parsons Brinckerhoff, which in turn oversees the regional contractors, who in turn oversee the smaller teams of subcontractors and consultants between San Francisco and Los Angeles. TY Lin's report, released Thursday, states that while the environmental documents "may be submitted on schedule, it will be a significant challenge in the allotted time to advance them to the level of completeness, consistency and quality necessary for the Draft documents to be circulated and released for public review." California's budget impasse probably won't help. Though Parsons Brinckerhoff reported that "all of the Authority's prime consultants have agreed to work at risk without payment," TY Lin pointed out that two subconsultant firms have "confirmed that they are stopping work until the state budget is passed."

JUST SAY NO TO SPIKING ... State Senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, earned a legislative victory this week in his battle against "pension spiking," a practice in which a public employee, through various gimmicks, pads his final-year salary to ensure greater pension payments. His proposal, Senate Bill 1425, cleared the state Legislature on unanimous votes and now awaits Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature. The bill establishes criteria for pension payments, and prohibits public workers from using one-time bonuses, end-of-career promotions and accrued vacation time to boost their pension payments. "Pension spiking does a disservice to the public, who ultimately foots the bill; and it does a disservice to other public employees who rely on the resources and solvency of the system for a secure retirement," Simitian said in a statement.

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