Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 25, 2011

News Digest

City takes steps to reform 'Palo Alto process'

Palo Alto officials plan to unveil new pilot projects at the Development Center next month as part of a broad effort to improve customer service and simplify the city's notoriously laborious development process.

The City Council discussed the ambitious effort, known as "Blueprint for a Development Center," at its meeting March 21. While the city plans to start adding personnel and making other permanent changes in July, Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie told the council that one new Development Center service will begin as soon as next month.

The pilot project would pair applicants with project managers who would shepherd the proposed building or renovation plan through the city's permitting process. Project-management services would give customers a central point of contact, Emslie said, avoiding the "runaround" — one of the Development Center's often-cited customer-service problems.

Project managers would address concerns from simple requests for a permit or information to more complex requests for approval of commercial and residential plans.

The city has already tried this approach with several major applicants, including a proposal to expand the Hewlett-Packard Co. headquarters, and received positive feedback.

"I've gone through the process before and after and having a project manager has streamlined the process," said Elinor Kumpf, the architect behind the HP project. "The permit process will run smoothly, and I hope all projects will get this kind of attention."

Palo Alto's compost dilemma deepens

The future of Palo Alto's composting returned to the spotlight March 21 as more than 100 residents packed into City Hall to make their cases on whether the city should build a waste-to-energy plant in Byxbee Park.

The fierce debate, which has pitted some of the city's greenest residents against one another, centers on a 9-acre site that currently houses the city's landfill and that is slated to become parkland when the landfill closes next year. The landfill also includes the city's composting operation, which means the city would have to ship its compost elsewhere in about a year.

A coalition led by former Mayor Peter Drekmeier supports a new anaerobic digestion facility, which would convert yard trimmings, food scraps and sewage sludge into energy. A group that includes conservationists Emily Renzel, Tom Jordan and Enid Pearson, think the city should keep industrial facilities away from local parks.

Last week, Drekmeier's group submitted 6,000 signatures to the City Clerk's office to place the land-use issue on the November ballot. If voters support the measure, the parkland would become eligible for hosting a new anaerobic digestion facility.

After a discussion that lasted close to four hours, the council agreed to return to the subject next month and give staff further direction. Staff and Alternative Resources, Inc., plan to present a draft feasibility study in June and to release the final study in the fall.

Parents, counselors discuss teen stress at forum

Many Palo Alto parents know that stress is part of their teens' lives, but spotting the difference between normal teen stress and potentially troubling behavior can be a challenge, according to parents who attended an intimate gathering with mental-health experts Tuesday night at Cubberley Community Center.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Adolescent Counseling Services, the event was part of a series of community forums aimed to educate parents and community members about how to better understand and care for teenagers. Two counselors from Adolescent Counseling Services and two from Community Health Awareness Council in Mountain View spoke.

The phrase "stressed-out" in Palo Alto is a taboo term, said Roni Gillenson, Adolescent Counseling Services on-campus counseling director. With the competition intense among peers, students may not even know they are anxious or may not wish to admit it since they feel the expectations of a high-performing culture, she said.

Gillenson advised parents with children who don't display signs of stress to not ask them directly of possible anxieties, which may lead to them becoming quiet, but to pose questions concerning their well-being, such as the amount of sleep they've been getting or how much time they've been spending with friends.

Although some teens may not show stress, there are some who do. Warning signs may include obsession, irritability, procrastination or lack of response, changes in eating habits, rebellious behavior and secretiveness.

Counselor Ursula Vogelsang of Community Health Awareness Council named secretiveness, what she defined as a complete loss of interaction between parent and teen, as the most dangerous.

Opening up and maintaining channels of communication with teens about their emotional lives is key in preventing a stress breakdown, the counselors said.

Editor's note: Two videos, including 15 minutes of uncut footage from the forum, can be seen at www.youtube.com.

— Zohra Ashpari

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