Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 17, 2010

News Digest

Debate on Palo Alto school calendars goes 'viral'

The debate over changing the academic calendar in Palo Alto public schools has gone "viral," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said Tuesday.

Skelly, who has hinted he may recommend moving first-semester finals to before the December holidays beginning in 2011-12, said he's received many e-mails on the matter. The current first-semester final exam period at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools is Jan. 18-20.

Many neighboring high schools — including Menlo-Atherton, Los Altos, Mountain View, Castilleja and St. Francis — have made the switch to December finals in recent years.

"The calendar issue is viral. Lots of people are weighing in," Skelly said.

Some say a December exam schedule would ease academic stress by giving students a clean break over the holidays. Others argue it would load up the pre-holiday calendar and disrupt family summer schedules by pushing the start of the school year to a date too early in August.

The superintendent's calendar recommendation for 2011 to 2013 is due by the end of September. A final school board decision is set for Nov. 9.

"That (timeline) should give families enough time to make plans for the summer," he said.

Once a formal proposal is on the table, the school district will set up a special e-mail address to which community members can send their comments.

CalPERS ordered to release Page Mill documents

CalPERS must release an eight-inch stack of documents relating to its doomed investment in East Palo Alto apartment complexes bought up by Page Mill Properties, a San Francisco judge ruled Tuesday morning.

The giant public-pension fund, which lost about $100 million in the Page Mill investment, must turn over to the First Amendment Coalition reams of correspondence between CalPERS and Page Mill attorneys, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charlotte W. Woolard ruled. The San Rafael-based nonprofit sued CalPERS in July after pension officials refused to turn over documents relating to the failed investment.

CalPERS had claimed in a petition last month that some of the records in the information request were the "subject of confidentiality agreements designed to protect trade secret/proprietary information" and to prevent disclosure of "information which would make it more difficult for CalPERS to compete strategically in the investment market...."

But Woolard rejected the argument that CalPERS' agreements with Page Mill allow the fund to withhold the requested documents.

"Assurances of confidentiality cannot convert public records to private records," Woolard wrote.

Woolard acknowledged that some of the documents in the public-records request could be subject to attorney-client privilege. But CalPERS, she wrote, "did not identify which of the request documents may be subject to that privilege." She directed CalPERS to produce a "privilege log" by Sept. 24 identifying exactly which documents could fall into this category.

Coyote menaces dogs in Arastradero Preserve

An aggressive coyote that has challenged hikers with dogs at Palo Alto's Pearson-Arastradero Preserve has prompted open-space officials to temporarily close trails to dogs in the western side of the preserve.

The city released an advisory Monday (Sept. 13) after four visitors reported the encounters while hiking with their pets from May to September, according to Lester Hodgins, open space division supervising ranger.

The preserve is home to bobcats, mountain lions, snakes, coyotes and other wildlife, and a handful of sightings occur each year, according to preserve officials. But the recent coyote sightings have been described as "aggressive territorial" encounters.

The incidents occurred in the same area: two in May, one in June and one on Sept. 1. The trail was closed in May and reopened in July before recently being closed again, he said.

Hodgins said the coyote is likely a female with a den nearby. She would have given birth in April or May. For a protective female with pups, such behavior is not atypical against dogs. The coyote has not been aggressive to people who are present without a dog, he said.

The animal barked, growled or snapped at the dogs, coming from the side and from behind. One person yelled at the coyote and it departed, he said.

In an effort to protect both visitors and wildlife the following trails are temporarily closed to dogs: De Anza Trail, from the west entrance on Arastradero Road (near Alpine) to Meadowlark; Woodland Star Trail; Ohlone Trail; and Bay Laurel Trail.

Rangers are asking visitors to report any notable incidents to staff at 650-329-2423 or in an emergency, call Palo Alto Police Communications 24 hours a day at 650-329-2413.

— Sue Dremann

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