Palo Alto Weekly
News - November 12, 2010
CLOUDY VISION? ... Palo Alto's planning commissioners have been brainstorming for months to come up with the perfect "vision statement" for the city's Housing Element — a document that lays out the city's housing goals and programs that will be part of a revised Comprehensive Plan. This week they agreed to go back to the drawing board after panning the latest vision proposal: "A city in which all neighborhoods thrive." The previous statement, which talked about "world-class schools" and "treasured cultural institutions," was ruled out as being too bland and fuzzy. The new one was dismissed as too sleek and simplistic, almost like a commercial slogan. Commission Chair Samir Tuma said reading the new vision statement made him feel "like I'm in a Kaiser Permanente commercial. ... I know we worked very, very hard during this whole process to make things short, concise and punchy," Tuma said. "I'm fearful the current vision statement has gone too far." A further hint that the statement is too much in the clouds rather than down to earth comes from the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto: "We believe it is inappropriate that a Housing Element Vision Statement did not mention housing," chapter President Phyllis Cassel wrote to the commission.
EVERYDAY HEROES ... Scores of Palo Alto teachers turned out Tuesday evening to honor two of their own who made a difference. In a reception at Palo Alto school district headquarters, State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, credited Walter Hays Elementary School kindergarten teacher Diana Argenti and Palo Verde Elementary School reading specialist Natalie Bivas for sparking his sponsorship of the "kindergarten readiness" bill, which has recently become law. The new law requires that children be 5 years old by Sept. 1 — rather than the current Dec. 2 — of the year they enter kindergarten. Simitian said he was skeptical when the pair approached him with a petition 18 month ago. People had tried and failed to pass such legislation for two decades. "It's been a hard couple of years to believe the system is working, but these women are proof that when you roll up your sleeves the system can be made to work," he said. With better-prepared kindergartners, Simitian predicted that 10 years from now "California schools are going to be performing better, fewer (students) will be held back and fewer will unnecessarily be placed in special education."
UTILITY POLL ... Local residents still like City of Palo Alto Utilities, but not as much as they used to. That's the result of a bi-annual survey that was funded by the California Municipal Utilities Association and conducted over the summer. About 65 percent of customers said they were "very satisfied" with the city-owned utilities, down from 79 percent two years ago. Utilities officials say the economy is to blame and claim that customers are now more critical about the price and value of electricity. Customers also indicated they are less satisfied with department's communication than they were two years ago (the percentage who said communication was effective slid from 60 percent in 2008 to 52 percent). Many also demand more information about power outages. According to a staff report, 65 percent of customers surveyed said they believe outage information would be very helpful, even if the information were inaccurate 25 percent of the time.
FALLING BEHIND ... Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was in town recently to offer a plug for Strive for College, the nonprofit enterprise of his nephew, Jacob Stiglitz. America's position in the post-recession world is going to be diminished, the economist warned. "We're going to be living in a much more competitive world. One of the reasons China and India's success — particularly China's — is they've realized the importance of education," in which the United States has underinvested. Strive for College matches low-income students with Stanford University students and other undergraduates to mentor them through the college-application process. "Obviously we have to improve the quality of K-12 education, but we also have to reach down into high schools and find students who have the ability, and get them into college," Stiglitz said.