Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 5, 2010

News Digest

Man lying down on University Avenue hit by truck

A bread truck hit a man who was lying in the middle of University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto at 2:29 a.m. Wednesday morning, police reported.

Ralph Ortiz, 53, of San Jose walked into the westbound lane of the 300 block of University Avenue and lay down behind a cement planter box that someone had pushed into the middle of the street, a male witness told police.

Police Lt. Sandra Brown said the witness reported that Ortiz appeared to drink a beer in front of the Medallion Rug Gallery, then walked into the street and lay against the planter box, hidden from view of the oncoming van driver.

The witness tried to warn the van driver that a man was lying in the road, but the van crashed into the cement box and ran over Ortiz, Brown said.

Police do not know who pushed the box into the street but assume it was Ortiz, Brown said. He was taken to Stanford Medical Center with head injuries and was in stable condition as of Wednesday afternoon, communicating with his doctors, she said.

There is no indication that Ortiz was attempting suicide, Brown said. Police have not determined whether the man is homeless, she said.

The van driver was not injured.

City to add amenities to El Camino Park

When Palo Alto officials set out to build a massive underground reservoir at El Camino Park, their goal was to give residents an emergency water supply, not to provide new play spaces and park amenities.

But city recreation officials are now trying to use the voter-approved project as an opportunity to reinvigorate the park — located across from Stanford Shopping Center — by adding lacrosse striping, a scoreboard, a grassy nook for picnics and a dog-exercise area.

While funding remains a major obstacle, the City Council agreed with the Parks and Recreation Commission on Monday night that park improvements at El Camino should be a high priority.

The council agreed that the opportunity for park improvements should not be squandered, though members acknowledged that finding the funds to make these improvements could prove tricky. The reservoir is funded by a voter-approved bond, and city officials are prohibited from using the bond funds for projects not relating to water improvements.

City officials estimate that the construction of the reservoir will commence in the middle of next year and will take about two years to complete. The reservoir would have the capacity to store 2.5 million gallons of water.

The council asked for more information about the estimated costs of the commission's park projects. Once these estimates are in, the council will decide whether to fund the park projects through a bond or through the city's capital-improvement program.

Ballot shortage causes frustration at EPA polls

Angry voters in East Palo Alto left in frustration without casting their votes after a shortage of paper ballots created long lines that went out the door on Election Day, poll workers said.

Others stuck it out so their votes would be counted.

The line snaked through the City Hall lobby for hours after the ballots ran out and voters had to use electronic machines to cast their votes.

The problem was exacerbated by voters who were reading the ballot for the first time on the machines, each person taking 20 to 30 minutes to vote, Ethan Frantz, a San Mateo County election official, said.

"An insanely long ballot" also added to the long voting times, he said.

The ballots ran out about 3 p.m. and workers scrambled to accommodate voters by getting in two additional voting machines, but those machines did not arrive until 6 p.m., he said.

"We're seeing a lot of irate voters," he added, noting that some voters felt the lack of ballots was meant to disenfranchise voters in the heavily Democratic and minority community.

But Frantz said the problem appeared to be countywide. Precincts in Portola Valley were just as affected as East Palo Alto, he said.

Frantz said voter turnout in many places was much higher than anticipated. In East Palo Alto, the City Hall precinct had 40 percent more voters than in any of his six years serving as an election official.

— Sue Dremann

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