Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 28, 2011

Around Town

NEXT GENERATION ... Just before Mayor Sid Espinosa approached the lectern to present the annual State of the City speech Monday night, the crowd at the Cubberley Community Center Theatre heard from another well-known Palo Alto policymaker from a high-tech background. Gary Fazzino, a former Palo Alto mayor and the city's unofficial historian, recalled how he hired Espinosa at Hewlett-Packard, where Espinosa, 38, worked as director of philanthropy before he joined Microsoft. The third and fourth youngest mayors in the city's history (Fazzino was also 38) worked side-by-side for several years and Fazzino said he was impressed by Espinosa's conduct "under deadline and in the heat of the moment." He described the city's new mayor as "bright, ethical and hardworking." "When I was mayor, I would say that 50 percent of Palo Alto think they're smarter than I am, and 90 percent probably are," Fazzino said. "In case of Sid, it's probably closer to 50-50."

RISKY BUSINESS ... Has Palo Alto become too cautious as a city? At least a few members of the City Council think so. At Saturday's council retreat in the Baylands, City Manager James Keene and council members Pat Burt and Greg Scharff all talked about the city's tolerance for "well-intended failures." Keene mentioned the "perfectionist streak" in the community and asked the council if the city should be taking more risks. Scharff pointed to Silicon Valley's culture of innovation and risk-taking and said city staff should be able to take part in "innovative projects," even if these projects don't always work out. "I do think we need to have some room for risk-taking and some room for failure without staff feeling like they're being attacked for it," Scharff said. He also proposed having the city partner with Stanford University on projects involving energy efficiency. Pat Burt agreed with Keene that the community's high expectations drive staff to "worry about not producing anything that's less than perfect." Burt said the council needs to have a dialogue with the community about the "contradictory aspect" of being in the center of innovation and having risk-averse expectations. "We certainly won't take as many risks in the public sector as in the private sector," Burt said. But he added that if the city wants to become more innovative, the council has to have "an open discussion about experiments — and to what extent we know they're experiments."

EMERGENCY DRILL... Palo Alto's emergency-preparedness efforts surged forth in 2010, but city officials and community leaders agreed this week that much more needs to be done in 2011 to prepare the city for the "big one." Annette Glanckopf Ashton, a Midtown resident who has helped lead the city's disaster-preparedness efforts, told the council at its Saturday retreat, "We're nowhere near where we need to be." She called on the council to make the Citizens Corps Council an "official body," like other city commissions, and to hire a director to coordinate the city's emergency services. Though the council didn't commit to these two actions, Mayor Sid Espinosa spoke Monday night about some of the activities he's planning in 2011 to get Palo Alto prepared. These include encouraging residents to build emergency-preparedness kits for their homes (he plans to make one himself), recruiting block captains to coordinate neighborhood responses to emergencies and hosting Quakeville 2 — a sequel to last September's Juana Briones Park campout and emergency drill.

TALKING SCHOOLS ... State Sen. Joe Simitian will return to Palo Alto on Feb. 5 to update school officials, teachers and parents about the latest happenings in California education. Simitian's "Education Update" will include discussion of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget cuts, the Kindergarten Readiness Act and pending policy proposals relating to K-12 education. Simitian, who served on Palo Alto's Board of Education before joining the City Council, said in a statement that the periodic education updates give him an "opportunity to stay in touch with local education leaders, parents and advocates." "Schools are coping with reduced resources and higher expectations," he said. "These conversations are critical to help the Legislature understand what is actually happening in the classroom." The meeting will be held at the Palo Alto Unified School District Board Room, 25 Churchill Ave., between 10 a.m. and noon.

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