Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 26, 2010

Around Town

A MASTER PLAN ... If a tree falls in Palo Alto, or even a branch, you can be sure everyone will hear about it, even if they don't actually hear it. Last year, community uproar over 63 felled trees on California Avenue prompted a series of apologies and an internal investigation from embarrassed city officials. These days, Public Works officials and council members are getting lobbied from residents who want the city to chop down damaged eucalyptus trees at Eleanor Pardee Park, as well as from those who want the city to leave the trees alone (the debate was sparked by an incident in January in which a large branch fell off a tree and landed too close to a pedestrian for the pedestrian's comfort). City officials will discuss plans for tree removal at Pardee Park at two community meetings in early December (the first one will be at 7 p.m. on Dec. 1 at the Lucie Stern Community Center). At the same time, Palo Alto hopes to avoid future tree snafus by pursuing a new master plan for protecting the city's "urban forest." This week, the City Council approved a contract with the firm HortScience to help devise an Urban Forest Master Plan that would "help the city conserve, renew and monitor its urban forest" and "identify how to minimize conflicts between retention of the urban forest and construction of development and infrastructure projects," according to a staff report. The plan is partially funded by a $66,000 state grant, with the city pitching in another $93,604. Catherine Martineau, executive director of Canopy (which advises the city on tree-related issues), lauded the new effort and said it will help Palo Alto avoid controversies like the ones at California Avenue and at Pardee Park. "If we have a plan to manage this forest and to grow it in a sustainable way, I believe and the board of Canopy believes that we'll avoid many of these problems," she said.

THE UNITED CITIES OF PENINSULA ... Depending on your views on California's high-speed rail project, a recent decision to begin rail construction in Central Valley is either a heartbreaking setback for the Peninsula or a welcomed chance to resolve some thorny issues that have made the project an object of anger and ridicule for legions of Peninsula residents. Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt and Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel, both of whom serve on the five-city Peninsula Cities Consortium, are taking the optimistic view. To that effect, they are calling for all cities in the Peninsula segment to endorse an open letter to Governor-Elect Jerry Brown, California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark, and the area's federal and state legislators, calling for all parties to take advantage of the opportunities the new delay brings. "Now that preliminary high-speed rail funding has been designated for the Central Valley, we have the time to complete the planning process the right way," the letter states. The letter requests an "independent ridership study," a review of the project's business plan and serious consideration of locally popular rail alignments, such as a tunnel or covered trench — ruled out last year by the authority. Burt, who participates in regular Policymaker Working Group meetings with rail officials and other city leaders, said Monday that he expects the rail authority's highly anticipated Environmental Impact Report for the Peninsula segment (originally slated for a December release) to be delayed significantly because "the funding for this segment is in all likelihood, at minimum, many years off, if not a decade."

KEEPING TRASH LOCAL ... Without a whiff of opposition or a shred of debate, Palo Alto reversed course on Monday night and agreed to fill the local landfill with garbage as soon as possible. In March, the city instituted a ban on commercial garbage at the landfill in hopes of saving space for a possible anaerobic digestion (composting/power generating) facility. But faced with a gaping hole in its refuse fund — estimated at more than $5 million — city officials decided to kill the ban and let the garbage in. Lifting the ban will bring in about $300,000 in fiscal year 2011, according to a staff estimate. Palo Alto will also start bringing curbside waste to the city dump rather than to the Sunnyvale Materials Recovery and Transfer (SMaRT) Station. These actions, which the council approved unanimously this week, are expected to help Palo Alto fill the landfill by the end of 2011.

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