Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 24, 2010

News Digest

Diane Jennings retiring as Palo Alto library director

Diane Jennings — who since 1986 has worked on Palo Alto library system challenges, served twice as interim director and for the past four years as director — will retire in December, she announced Thursday.

"I am very pleased that, after many years of passionate debate about library service in Palo Alto, we are now in the middle of a marvelous transition for all our libraries," she said of her impending departure. She and her husband, John, will leave for Santa Fe in early November even though her official retirement date is in December.

Jennings, who began her library career in 1976 in a community-college library, served her first stint as interim director in Palo Alto following the 2002 retirement of longtime Library Director Mary Jo Levy. Her second stint in that role followed the 2004 departure of Paula Simpson, after a tumultuous term that pitted her support for a single large library against residents favoring the existing branch-library system. The branch-versus-single-library debate had stalled progress on refurbishing city libraries for nearly 15 years.

But Jennings and community campaign leaders were successful in moving past the deadlock and winning voter approval for a $78 million construction bond measure in November 2008, now beginning to be implemented with the reconstruction of the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center.

Jennings sees her major achievements as, among others, developing the library's first online catalog in 1986; working with community members to become one of the first public libraries in the region to provide public WiFi access; managing a multi-year upgrade of library technology; working with a coalition of library-support groups on funding, refurbishing and equipping the historic Children's Library; and spearheading library-improvement projects.

Judge backs Palo Alto's affordable-housing fee

Developer John Mozart, who sued Palo Alto over its affordable-housing program, lost his case this week after a judge upheld the legality of the program and ruled that the developer waited too long to file the lawsuit.

Mozart argued that the city is unfairly requiring him to devote 10 units in his 96-unit Sterling Park development to below-market housing. In his lawsuit, Mozart called the requirement "arbitrary and capricious" and that it essentially amounts to a "special tax."

Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Kevin McKenney disagreed and granted the city's motion for summary judgment, dismissing the case.

Mozart's development, located on West Bayshore Road, was approved in 2006. The developer's lawsuit, which was filed late last year, is thus "barred by the 90-day limitations period," McKenney ruled.

McKenney also upheld the legality of the city's program, which has been producing about 7.5 below-market-rate units of housing per year. Palo Alto has a recognized shortage of affordable housing and city planners are now trying to identify possible sites for affordable housing as part of the city's ongoing Housing Element update.

McKenney ruled that the city's below-market-rate (BMR) housing program, which allows developers to pay "in-lieu fees" to reduce the affordable-housing requirement, does not violate the state's Mitigation Fee Act, which sets limitations for developer fees.

Zumot's arson-and-murder trial set for October

Bulos Zumot, owner of a hookah shop in downtown Palo Alto, could face an arson-and-murder trial as early as next month in connection with the death of his girlfriend, Jennifer Schipsi.

Zumot, who owns Da Hookah Spot on University Avenue, has been in jail since Oct. 19, 2009, when Palo Alto police arrested him and charged him with killing Schipsi, 29, and setting their Addison Avenue cottage on fire. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

At a brief hearing Tuesday afternoon (Sept. 21), Zumot, 36, waived his right to a speedy trial after attorneys agreed to schedule his trial for the weeks of Oct. 11 and Oct. 18.

The exact date could depend on how long it will take for the court to conclude another high-profile murder case. Judge David Cena, who is handling Zumot's case, is now presiding over a murder-for-hire case in which a Los Gatos restaurant owner was killed.

Meanwhile, Zumot's attorney, Mark Geragos, is seeking the court's assistance in obtaining reams of discovery documents, including police reports, photographs and finger prints from the crime scene.

"We received some of the discovery that was ordered, but there's still items that are outstanding," Geragos said Tuesday.

Judge Philip Pennypacker, who handled Tuesday's hearing, scheduled another hearing for Friday to consider the status of discovery.

— Gennady Sheyner

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