Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 1, 2011

Around Town

DO YOU THINK "I" IS SEXY? ... Palo Alto residents get excited when it comes to schools and libraries. But it takes a much greater effort to keep them awake, much less engaged, about that nebulous something called "infrastructure." Both the Planning and Transportation Commission and the city's recently appointed Infrastructure Task Force delved into the city's capital needs this week and discussed ways to reduce the infrastructure backlog — a $500 million list that includes deferred maintenance projects and new facilities such as a public-safety building and a Municipal Services Center. One idea is asking residents to authorize a major bond project, much like the $76 million library-renovation project voters approved in 2008. That's where the word "infrastructure" creates a problem. "Part of the reason why those (previous bond) efforts were successful was because those are things this community thinks about, cares about and values," planning commission Chair Samir Tuma said Wednesday night. "Then there's infrastructure." Ray Bacchetti, co-chair of the citizen task force, asked Thursday how the city could "make infrastructure assets sexier so that the public can respond to them." He noted that when the city polled the voters several years ago to see if they would pass a bond for a new police building, less than two-thirds said they would. Financial consultant Bob Gamble said that in some communities, including San Francisco, public-safety agencies typically get anything they want and acknowledged that in some cases "fear comes into play" when it comes to wooing the voters. "So we should raise the crime rate in Palo Alto?" joked John Melton, member of the task force.

COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN ... Palo Alto residents love their cell phones and iPads, but their appetites for new cell towers and WiFi antennas are far less voracious. Now, they are taking their complaints about new towers to City Hall. This week, a well-connected resident of Channing Avenue threatened to cut off the City of Palo Alto's free Internet hook-up after city planners approved an AT&T plan to erect a 50-foot cell tower on his block (see story on page 3). On Monday, the City Council will consider another controversial AT&T proposal — a plan to install WiFi antennas at Hotel President at 488 University Ave. Several Hotel residents criticized AT&T at a March 21 meeting and promised to "save their fire" for the April 4 hearing. Some criticized the company's communication: "I've been frankly stunned by the lack of real community outreach by a company that purports to really want to be doing something for Palo Alto," said Jeffrey Jones, who lives on the sixth floor of the Hotel, next to the location where the new antennas would be installed. AT&T officials and business leaders maintain that the new infrastructure is desperately needed to improve wireless connections. Leon Beauchman, a retired AT&T executive who directs the "Wireless Communication Initiative" for Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network said a recent study found that the region is "woefully underinvested" in wireless infrastructure. "The most famous example was riding down 280, and no one could maintain a call all the way down 280," Beauchman said. The argument is set to resume Monday night.

ROAD RAGE ... Palo Alto's lane-restriping experiment near Gunn High School, now in its eighth month, is still netting mixed results from the community. The trial project has turned what was once a four-lane stretch on Arastradero Road between El Camino Real and Gunn into a three-lane roadway with center turn lanes. According to a new staff report, this has created a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly environment. But the traffic-calming project has frustrated drivers and increased complaints about traffic jams near Gunn. To deal with the problem, staff deleted a recently installed bike lane and added lanes to a portion of Arastradero Road between El Camino and Alta Mesa-McKellar Lane. Staff is also recommending extending the trial period by another six months to a year. A decision will then be made as to whether to keep the new configuration or to go back to the original design.

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