Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 11, 2011

Around Town

ENERGIZED ... When Palo Alto residents voted last fall to change the city's elections from odd to even years, the shift created a new hurdle for proponents of a local waste-to-energy plant. The Palo Alto Energy and Compost Initiative, led by noted environmentalists Peter Drekmeier, Bob Wenzlau and Walt Hays, is spearheading a petition to "undedicate" a 10-acre portion of Byxbee Park — land that is currently slated to become parkland. The group hopes this land could be used to house a facility capable of processing local food scraps, yard trimmings and sewage sludge and generating energy. The group planned to place the petition on the ballot during a regularly scheduled City Council election this fall, but with the passage of Measure S, which shifts the next council election to 2012, the group now has to hold a "special election" this year to get the proposed undedication on the ballot. That means group members now have to gather twice as many signatures as before. Not to worry, says Carolyn Curtis, member of the group's steering committee. Curtis said the initiative already picked up 5,287 by early this week, almost 1,000 more than what is required, though some of the signatures are duplicates (signature gathering will continue this weekend). The group also inquired with the county registrar as to the possibility of having a "mail-only" election, Curtis told the Weekly during a recent meeting. (Drekmeier, picking up on the "mail/male" homonym, joked: "Women should be able to vote, too.") But the registrar indicated the all-mail balloting would be too costly. Drekmeier predicted an overwhelming victory for the proponents of the new facility. The council is scheduled to discuss the preliminary results of a study for the new facility on March 21.

HISTORIC HOMES ... When Allen Akin and Michelle Arden approached the city about demolishing and replacing their two-story home at 405 Lincoln Ave. in June 2007, they didn't know that their project would become synonymous with everything that's wrong about Palo Alto's development process. It took them more than three years and more than $500,000 in environmental studies and permit fees to get the city's permission to replace the inconspicuous house in the historic Professorville neighborhood. Even the City Council was shocked at the applicant's three-year ordeal, with Sid Espinosa calling it "embarrassing" for the city. In October, the council voted unanimously to approve the project over the objections of the Historic Resources Board. Next week, the council will attempt to make sure that future applicants won't face the same tortuous permit path. The council is scheduled on Monday to revise the city's procedures for demolishing buildings in the Professorville District. Staff is recommending that in the future, residents who wish to demolish in this district perform an "initial study" to determine the significance of the demolished structure (rather than the full environmental review that Akin had to perform). Staff is also suggesting that the historic board review the projects earlier in the process to avoid last-minute surprises.

TREE CITY, USA ... Trees are sacred in Palo Alto, and never more so than during Arbor Week, which the City Council kicked off Monday night. The council heard a presentation from Canopy, a local nonprofit dedicated to expanding the city's urban forest, and passed a proclamation acknowledging the many roles trees play in our lives ("whether by providing oxygen, offering shaded places to rest, or contributing to the splendor and viability of our City..."). The council also acknowledged Palo Alto's designation as "Tree City, U.S.A." by the National Arbor Day Foundation for the 26th year in a row. "We are totally interdependent with the nature that surrounds us and that is built in the wild environment that we live in," the city's Planning Arborist Dave Dockter told the council Monday, as he accepted the plaque honoring the city's arboreal accomplishments.

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