Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 24, 2010

Around Town

A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE ... After enduring a month of "train from nowhere to nowhere" jokes from critics around the state, the California High-Speed Rail Authority decided this week to come up with a new plan for the first segment of the $45 billion rail line. The first segment, which was slated to stretch from the small city of Corcoran to the unincorporated community of Borden in the Central Valley, would now extend further south to Bakersfield, the authority's board of directors decided Monday. But the reason for the switch had less to do with ridicule and more to do with an unexpected gift the authority received from the Federal Railroad Administration: $616 million in federal funding. The FRA decided to allocate these funds to California after original grant recipients Wisconsin and Ohio decided to scrap their fledgling rail programs. Tom Umberg, the vice chairman of the rail authority's board of directors, began Monday's meeting by thanking the two Midwest states for their "generosity." "I actually grew up in Ohio, and I'm familiar with the hospitality of the Midwest, but this year they've really outdone themselves," Umberg said. "Just a word to folks in Ohio and Wisconsin, we're grateful and would be happy to receive other gifts of that nature." Under the present plan, the rail line would ultimately stretch from San Francisco to Los Angeles and later extend to Sacramento and San Diego.

A SPLASH OF ART ... The quaint and crumbling "bird bath" fountain near the California Avenue Caltrain station will soon be on its way out, and Palo Alto officials are busily planning for its replacement. The traditional fountain emerged as an object of controversy more than two years ago, when city officials proposed replacing it with an abstract sculpture designed by Bruce Beasley. At the time, a group of vocal residents pressed the city to drop the sculpture and come up with something more splashy and traditional — something like the current fountain. This time around, the city is giving residents three options — one traditional fountain and two sculptural fountains — and asking them to vote on which design they think is best. The three nominees will be available on the city's Open City Hall website between Jan. 5 and 18, said Elise DeMarzo, a staff liaison to the Public Arts Commission. The commission will consider the public feedback and make a decision on the new fountain on Jan. 20. "At the end of the public-input period, the Art Commission can break down the results by residents and non-residents to see what the Palo Alto community, as well as the broader public served by California Avenue, prefers," DeMarzo said in a statement.

IDENTITY CRISIS ... Internet impostors will officially become criminals in the state's eyes on Jan. 1, when a law providing "e-personation protection" takes effect. Senate Bill 1411, which was authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, would make it a misdemeanor for someone to use the Internet or other electronic means to impersonate someone else with "criminal intent to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud." Simitian said in a statement that e-personation is the "dark side of the social-networking revolution" and cited cases in which online impersonators pretended to be celebrities on Twitter, sent out obscene e-mail under other people's identities and posed as other people on adult sites. Simitian was urged to tackle the issue by Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Guardino said his name has been used to send "inflammatory e-mails" and his brother's name was used on Facebook by an impersonator who made it seem as though the brother, a teacher, was mocking a disabled student. "E-personators are just bullies hiding behind technology," Guardino said in a statement. "This law ensures these bad actors know there is a price to pay and holds them accountable for their behavior." The new law would impose a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to a year in jail for online impersonators.

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