Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 22, 2011

Around Town

LEADERSHIP GAP ... Palo Alto proudly boasts a wealth of citizen groups who care passionately about preparing the city for the next major disaster. But when it comes to the city's official emergency-preparedness efforts, things are far less smooth. Earlier this month, the city's Emergency Manager Richard Mallonee was asked to step down because his official position — "management specialist" — only allows him to work 1,000 hours per year. According to a letter he sent out to emergency volunteers, he exceeded these hours, and the city decided not to extend his hours. His last day on the job was April 7. Mallonee wrote that he's been told the city intends to bring him back in the new fiscal year, on July 1. The latest bureaucratic hiccup in the city's emergency-preparedness operation has riled local volunteers, who earlier this month urged the city to hire a permanent director of emergency services — a position that was also recommended by an independent report from consultant Arrietta Chakis. Lenore Cymes, a disaster-preparedness volunteer, thanked Mallonee for his expertise and leadership and expressed frustration at the staff turnover in the Office of Emergency Services. "Now we are, unfortunately, left rudderless once again," Cymes wrote in an e-mail to Mallonee and the City Council. Given the recent Japan earthquake, she wrote, the city's decision not to extend Mallonee's hours is "so penny wise and pound foolish, it defies explanation."

ALL THE ADO ... Pundits and business-types perk up when President Barack Obama comes to town to talk about the national economy, but regular Palo Altans have more practical concerns. To them, a visit from the leader of the free world means road closures and unexpected interruptions to their daily routines. So it was that about 40 residents and dozens of car commuters found themselves stuck for about half an hour near Junipero Serra Boulevard on Monday afternoon, at the foot of the Stanford Dish. Some wondered why a police cruiser screeched to a halt at Stanford Avenue shortly after 1 p.m., blocking westbound car access to Junipero Serra ("Something big is going on over there," one trooper explained, pointing toward Page Mill Road). Cars traveling up and down Junipero Serra were halted in their tracks and directed to Stanford Avenue. Drivers clearly weren't amused. The woman in the first car to get stranded at the Stanford-Junipero Serra intersection claimed she had to rush to the hospital to see her mother. While she exchanged words with a state trooper, cars lined up behind hers. It took the troopers about 15 minutes to clear the traffic and create space for Stanford Avenue cars to make U-turns and head back toward El Camino Real. Most commuters, including children on a westbound school bus, waited patiently while troopers explained to them that they had to clear the road for the presidential motorcade. Things were calmer but no less antsy near the gated entrance to the Dish, where about 20 runners, walkers and bicyclists patiently waited for permission to cross the street to Stanford Avenue. A similar contingent lined up on the other side. Dish visitor John Stoneham and others made the best of the situation and pulled out their smartphones to mark the occasion. Several bicyclists wearing blue spandex T-Shirts with the VMWare logo briefly contemplated rebelling and crossing the street. "What would they do?" one asked. "Probably nothing. But they could arrest you," another replied. But cooler heads prevailed and at about 1:45 p.m., a motorcade of vans, limos and cruisers whizzed by, flanked by several pairs of motorcycle cops. Minutes later, Junipero was once again open for business, Stanford Avenue was liberated from congestion and Dish joggers were allowed to return to their cars. "Yeah! Wish I'd brought my camera," one of them said while crossing the street.

QUIPS AND QUOTES ... "My name is Barack Obama, and I'm the guy who got Mark (Zuckerberg) to wear a jacket and tie." With that, the president kicked off a town hall meeting in which he and Facebook CEO Zuckerberg exchanged quips like old friends. Obama further poked fun at Zuckerberg by saying that the country needed the wealthy, like both of them, to pay more taxes. Zuckerberg shot back: "I'm cool with that." "I know you're OK with that," Obama replied genially. A video of the town hall is posted at www.facebook.com/facebooklive.

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