Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 18, 2011

Around Town

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM OUR FRIENDS ... Palo Alto police raised a few eyebrows last October when they launched a manhunt to track down a phone thief in the south part of the city. The suspect had allegedly asked a resident if he could borrow a cell phone, and then ran off with the Android. It wasn't the theft that made heads turn but the police response. The manhunt for the phone snatcher involved officers from Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View as well as a helicopter from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office (the suspect, nevertheless, got away). Police told reporters at the time that the sheriff's office heard about the manhunt over the radio and offered to send in the helicopter. Now, it appears that the helicopter was actually requested by a Palo Alto police dispatcher, unbeknownst to any of the field supervisors. That's according to police auditor Michael Gennaco, who reviewed the incident after a resident complained that the show of force was excessive and possibly influenced by the fact that the suspect was black. Gennaco concluded that race didn't seem to play a factor in the response. He also noted in his report that the manhunt prompted the police department to revise its policy on requesting helicopters. From now on, officers and dispatchers are required to notify the watch commander and/or field supervisor before asking for air support.

FIXING THE PROCESS ... An ambitious effort to retire the unflattering phrase "Palo Alto process" will reach its halfway point this week, when top officials from the city manager's office present to the City Council the long list of reforms they are undertaking at the city's permit hub, the Development Center. City Manager James Keene kicked off the effort, known as the Development Center Blueprint project, in July 2010. The goal is to simplify the city's notoriously labyrinthine permitting process, improve customer service and boost efficiency. According to a new report from Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, the permitting process is hindered by three main issues: a lack of staff accountability, a lack of project managers who could provide qualifying projects with a "central point of contact," and a heavy customer volume that is overwhelming staff resources. Proposed reforms include measuring staff performance, surveying customers, creating a single manager for the Development Center and pairing each major new project with an "individual project manager" who would ferry applicants through the city's regulations. The city plans to unveil some new project-management services in April on a pilot basis and to have all the reforms in place by July, the report states.

MR. WONG GOES TO JAPAN ... Palo Alto's annual celebration of its "sister city" alliance with Tsuchiura, Japan, sounded a somber note this week as 16 students who expected to arrive in Palo Alto canceled their trip in the aftermath of last week's devastating earthquake and its aftershocks. The City Council proceeded with the ceremony and, after passing a special resolution in honor of Tsuchiura, welcomed Tim Wong, a local resident who will represent Palo Alto in the Kasumigaura Marathon in Japan on April 17. Wong was selected from a small field of applicants by Neighbors Abroad, the organization that coordinates the sister-city program. Keiko Nakajima, who teaches Japanese at Jordan and JLS middle schools and serves as vice president at Neighbors Abroad, introduced Wong at the Monday meeting. "We hope he has a great time in Tsuchiura, in both senses of the word," Nakajima said. Wong thanked the council for the opportunity to represent Palo Alto and vowed to bring to Tsuchiura "the cheer and warmth and friendliness that all of our residents here represent." Meanwhile, Jordan student John Carter and his mother, Catherine Carter, worked with Neighbors Abroad to launch a relief effort for the quake-damaged city. Anyone who wishes to donate can do so by sending a check to Neighbors Abroad, P.O. Box 52004, Palo Alto, CA 94303. Donors are asked to write "Japan Earthquake Relief" in the memo line.

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