Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 8, 2011

Around Town

SPOTTY RECEPTION ... AT&T's quest to plant cellular towers and Wi-Fi antennas in Palo Alto has proved taxing for company officials, city staff and concerned residents around the proposed sites. This week brought mixed results for both the company and its opponents. The City Council approved on Monday AT&T's request to install Wi-Fi antennas on the sixth-floor balcony of Hotel President on University Avenue but prohibited the company from going through residents' apartments to install or maintain the antennas. An AT&T employee will have to use a cherry picker to reach the balconies on University Avenue, taking up parking spots on the city's busiest commercial strip while work is done. On Thursday, the city dealt AT&T a blow when the Architectural Review Board panned the company's plans to install a cellular antenna at 1095 Channing Ave., at St. Albert the Great Church. The board called the application incomplete and continued its vote to a later date. Board member Judith Wasserman, the sole dissenter, called for AT&T to start over. "I just think it's a poor design," Wasserman said. "In order for this to work architecturally, it's got a long way to go." Planning & Community Environment Director Curtis Williams told the council this week that the city is anticipating more cell-tower applications and proposed a study session to discuss the myriad contentious issues around the subject, including visual impact, public-outreach requirements and the antennas' impacts on property values.

JUST MANAGING ... Two years of cost-cutting have taken their toll on Palo Alto's managers and professionals the only major City Hall employee group without a union. Gone are the days of salary raises, bonuses and free medical care. In April, the roughly 230 workers in the category began to chip in for 10 percent of their health care costs (the city funds the other 90 percent). Managers and professionals have also accepted a new two-tiered pension formula, with lower pension payments to new employees the same arrangement that the Service Employees International Union, Local 521, has grudgingly accepted. All the while, their workload has spiked because of retirements and position cuts. This week, the City Council adopted a largely retroactive agreement with the managers effective until the end of the current fiscal year, June 30. After that, other perks could be on the chopping block. Councilman Greg Scharff, who supported the new contract, said he wants to revisit some of its provisions before a new agreement is approved. These include "professional development" reimbursements for things like gym memberships and job-related iPads and other computing devices, which employees are allowed to purchase once every three years. "It strikes me that gym/health club membership is not providing the professional development that our staff probably needs," Scharff said. "Buying computer equipment probably doesn't do the same thing it probably doesn't provide professional development." Scharff said there are "10 to 15 things" in the contract that he didn't think should be in there. The council will have a chance to review all the details in the compensation report in the fall, when it considers the next contract with the management group.

ALL THAT BUZZ ... In what could be the least controversial land-use project in Palo Alto's history, hundreds of beetles, butterflies, ants and spiders will soon have a new and refurbished home in the city's Junior Museum & Zoo. The museum, whose creature collection also includes bobcats and jungle bats, has just received a $3,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for archival supplies and expertise to re-house its insect and spider collection, which includes about 1,560 specimens. Most of them were collected between the 1930s and the 1970s. The museum announced that once the collection is re-housed, the insect and spider collection would be used to expand its school-outreach programs. It will also be used in its upcoming insect exhibition, Buzzzz. The museum expects to provide science instruction to more than 3,000 Palo Alto and East Palo Alto students this year. "These collections are a vital component of the real objects, scientific equipment and live animals that our science instructors use to engage children in science," John Aikin, the museum's executive director said in a statement.

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