Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 31, 2010

Around Town

THANKS, OFFICIALLY ... It's been a busy year for Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt, who helped steer the City Council through a year of steep budget cuts, tough labor negotiations and constant high-speed-rail anxieties. Next week, Burt will receive an official thanks from the city in the form of a resolution thanking him for "outstanding public service." Burt, who will complete his first term on the council in late 2011, currently represents the city on the Peninsula Cities Consortium — a coalition that deals with issues relating to high-speed rail — and on the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, an agency charged with protecting Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto from flooding. The council is scheduled to adopt the resolution on Jan. 4, just after Burt vacates the mayor's chair to his expected successor, current Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa.

THE GRAND EXPANSION ... Members of the Palo Alto City Council cheerfully celebrated their 2010 accomplishments in early December, But on at least one front their achievements fell short of their goal. In January, council members laid out their plans to complete their review of the largest development project in the city's history — the $3.5 billion expansion of the Stanford University Medical Center — before the end of 2010. Progress on the massive project has fallen slightly behind schedule and with the year coming to a close the city has approved neither the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the hospital project nor completed its negotiations with Stanford over a development agreement. Meanwhile, different phases of the project have been making their way through the city's Architectural Review Board, which has already begun reviewing Stanford's proposed expansion of the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and various buildings at Stanford University School of Medicine. The board is also scheduled to review Stanford's proposal for a new development at the Hoover Pavilion site on Jan. 6. The city's approval, meanwhile, is now eyed for next spring, according to planning staff. The city also plans to release the FEIR for the project in late January, Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said in a letter to the council. The delay is because the documents are "quite voluminous and taking a bit longer to ensure the numerous comments are completely addressed." The delay has another benefit, Emslie wrote: "Release of the document in January is also beneficial since we will have the public's full attention, which wouldn't be the case with a holiday release."

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE? ... For the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the only thing that's seemingly harder than building an 800-mile rail line is communicating its message to the public. The authority faced a wave of ridicule over the past month over its decision to begin the rail line between the small community of Borden and the city of Corcoran, both in Central Valley (the board had since stretched the opening segment further south, to Bakersfield). At their Dec. 20 meeting, the authority's board members voiced frustration about the chorus of criticism the recent decision has inspired. Vice Chair Tom Umberg claimed that several reports have "miscommunicated" the board's decision despite the board's efforts to characterize its actions accurately. Umberg urged the authority's CEO Roelof van Ark to come up with a report on "lessons learned from the last 30 days or so" that would help the agency relay its message in the future. "How can we do a better job communicating so that we can make sure people understand what we're about, which is building a system from Northern California to Southern California — not building a system between two locations in the Central Valley?" Umberg said. Van Ark said he had recently discussed the subject with Christopher Graves, CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations. The firm is charged with heading the authority's communications under a $9 million contract approved in November 2009. Van Ark said the authority will have a new full-time "program manager for communication and outreach starting Jan. 3." "We're getting support and involvement from the highest levels of Ogilvy, and it's making a difference," van Ark told the board.

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