Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 25, 2011

Around Town

BOOK POLICE ... Library delinquents in Palo Alto have a new reason to feel anxious. The city's library officials are turning to a collection agency to track down chronic offenders and get them to pay their dues. The company, Unique Management, Inc., specializes in library collections and is expected to help the city get back at least a part of the six-figure sum that the library is owed in fines for unreturned materials. A 2007 audit of the library system found that customers owe the city more than $300,000 in library fines. "The last thing I want to do is turn somebody over to a credit reporting agency, but we feel it's only fair to Palo Alto taxpayers to take this additional step to retrieve public money," Library Services Manager Rose Sebastian said in a statement. The library already offers several services to encourage residents to avoid late fees or, if those don't work, to pay them within a reasonable timeframe. Customers can sign up to receive e-mail notices just before the items are due, and they can establish payment plans with the libraries. Those who do neither and choose not to pay their fines for more than eight weeks would be turned over to the new collector. In addition to the late fees, the delinquents will be hit with a non-negotiable collection fee of $10.

FINDING THE WAY ... Palo Alto officials have a new plan for making City Hall more attractive and easier for the average visitor to navigate: Decorate each floor with photos that illustrate what the floor does. The city's new "Way Finding Project" calls for the departments at City Hall to come up with a "floor theme." The city would then ask photographers to submit appropriate photos. A panel of city workers, including representatives from each floor, would then judge the pictures. Winning submissions would be mounted in the elevator vestibule of each floor and, city officials hope, give each floor a better sense of identity. The project is the brainchild of Thomas Fehrenbach, the city's economic development manager, who presented the project to the Public Art Commission last week and asked commissioners to lend their expertise to the project. Fehrenbach called City Hall's existing way-finding signage "dated" and said it doesn't provide much help for residents. "We were thinking about how we can make way-finding signage more useful and, at the same point, we thought, 'Why not use this as an opportunity to get city staff involved in a neat photo project?'" The project would also provide the city with an array of Palo Alto photos that officials could use for marketing or for the city's website, Fehrenbach said. Fehrenbach, who works in the Office of the City Manager Office on the seventh floor, also told the commission that he has already come up with a theme for his floor: Innovation.

CASH FOR SIGNATURES ... Assemblyman Rich Gordon has a new proposal for fixing California's chaotic ballot-initiative system. The freshman assemblyman proposed a new bill this week that would require paid signature-gatherers to wear badges that clearly identity them as such "in no smaller than 30-point font." Assembly Bill 481 would also require petitions to include a notice that says, "This petition is being circulated by a person who is being paid to collect signatures." Gordon, whose district includes Palo Alto and Menlo Park and who talked about reforming the initiative process when he was running for the Assembly last year, included AB 481 as one of 19 bills in his proposed legislative package. Another bill, AB 1021, would require initiatives either to identify a funding source or to specify that the state would need to make cuts or raise revenues for implementation. "The initiative process has become a business," Gordon said in a statement. "The democratic process requires transparency and an honest evaluation of the cost of government."

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