Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 11, 2011

News Digest

Palo Alto council lauds proposed fire changes

Palo Alto City Council members Monday night praised a report by outside consultants that recommends sweeping changes to the city's fire department.

While noting that some of the recommendations — such as merging two fire stations — are controversial and will require further analysis and discussion, council members appeared anxious to adopt smaller reforms as quickly as possible.

City Manager James Keene said he would return to the council in "roughly a month with an action plan and a potential implementation schedule of the recommendations, some of which can be done immediately."

The 190-page report blasted the fire department for a "leadership malaise" and outmoded practices, while acknowledging that it provides a high quality of service to Palo Alto residents.

In particular, there is an absence of relevant data for decision-making and excessive reliance on overtime, said Thomas Wieczorek, director of ICMA Center for Public Safety Excellence of Washington, D.C. Wieczorek presented his recommendations along with Stephen Brezler of TriData Division of System Planning Corp., which co-authored the report.

"Training for captains is poor, expectations for officer performance is low ... and planning is mostly non-existent," Wieczorek said.

"You've become just kind of an OK department — not dynamic," he said.

Although most of the department's activity now comprises emergency medical services (EMS), 75 percent of its effort is still directed at fire suppression, the consultants said.

Between 2000 and 2009, the number of total incidents increased 19 percent, from 6,207 to 7,366, while EMS calls grew by 48 percent, from 2,742 to 4,070, they said.

Firefighters' Union President Tony Spitaleri told the council he thinks many of the 48 recommendations in the report are attainable and that they "move in the right direction," adding the union also "might have some disagreements."

Assistant City Manager Pamela Antil said city staff members will meet again with firefighters before sorting the consultants' recommendations into three buckets: those already being implemented; those requiring union negotiations; and those calling for further discussion or possibly a "blue ribbon" commission.

Palo Alto resident with webcam warns of intruder

A tech-savvy homeowner on Tennyson Avenue in Palo Alto used a webcam to record footage of a suspicious man taking pictures of his house and apparently trying to open his front door last Friday morning (Feb. 4).

The morning incident surprised the resident, who said in an e-mail he was not at home at the time but accessed the webcam remotely. He reported the situation at 10 a.m. to Palo Alto police and e-mailed a warning to neighborhood leaders.

"I saw him, after standing there for a few minutes, nervously looking in the house and around the front yard, reach for our front door handle to see if he could open it," the resident stated in the e-mail to neighbors.

The resident, who said the man seemed to be "casing the joint," attached several still images from the video footage to the e-mail, which spread like wildfire throughout the city via neighborhood e-mail lists.

A few people reported receiving the e-mail third- or fourth-hand.

Police are reviewing the video footage but the initial police report had no mention of the resident's suspicion that the man was trying to enter the house, Palo Alto police Agent Rich Bullerjahn said.

The unknown man was described as Hispanic and in his 30s, 5 feet 8 inches tall, approximately 160 pounds, with dark hair and a goatee. He was wearing a tan puffy jacket.

Faith groups unite for 'youth well-being' meeting

Palo Alto school board President Melissa Baten Caswell and Superintendent Kevin Skelly will discuss youth health and well-being Sunday (Feb. 13) from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in a public meeting at St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

"Stand Up For Our Youth" is the theme of the gathering, organized by the St. Mark's Advocates for Youth Committee as well as at least eight other local congregations and Peninsula Interfaith Action, a regional faith coalition.

The meeting will be the second such event organized by the St. Mark's group, which convened in October 2009 following a series of student suicides.

The St. Mark's group has pushed the school district to ensure that every student — especially the shyest — has a sense of connection at school. The committee has said it hopes to use the meeting to review progress the school district has made toward implementing steps to improve "connectedness" among students.

The district's Student Services Coordinator Amy Drolette will also attend.

Child care and Spanish interpretation will be provided at the meeting. More information is available by calling Greg Smitherman at 650-321-2266.

— Chris Kenrick

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