Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 13, 2011

Around Town

SHOOTING THE MESSENGER ... California's proposed high-speed rail project has become a favorite punching bag for independent analysts over the past two years, with offices of State Auditor, the Inspector General and UC Berkeley's Institute for Transportation Studies all taking swipes at the California High-Speed Rail Authority and its ambitious plans. But the scathing new report from the Legislative Analyst's Office stands out for the boldness of its recommendations, which include stripping the rail authority of its power and reconsidering the starting point of the rail line. Not everyone, however, is pleased with the new analysis. Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, the Legislature's leading supporter of the rail project, immediately dismissed it as "just an opinion" and disputed the Legislative Analyst's Office's expertise. "There will always be some who will continue to slam the California High-Speed Rail Authority in the knees with a baseball bat and then ask them why they can't run any faster," Galgiani said in a statement.

FLUSH WITH CHEER ... Grand openings, groundbreakings and lavish kick-off ceremonies are a dime a dozen in Palo Alto, where every week seems to bring another snipped ribbon or a tree planted with a ceremonial shovel. Even so, Sunday's celebration at Seale Park stands out. City officials are inviting residents to celebrate installation of new restrooms at the Midtown park with a "first flush" ceremony at 1 p.m. on May 15. The project, which was spearheaded by the Midtown Residents Association, took nearly five years of planning and construction. All residents are welcome.

GOING FOR A RIDE ... Palo Alto's bike euphoria will return to the spotlight next Monday night, when the City Council considers City Manager James Keene's proposal to spend up to $50,000 to sponsor two bike events this fall. The "Gran Fondo" (Italian for "Big Ride," according to the staff report) is scheduled to take place on Sept. 17 and feature about 500 bicyclists taking 60-, 80- and 95-mile rides starting in downtown Palo Alto. It would be followed by another charity ride the "Echelon Ride" for "less serious riders and walkers." The events will raise money for the nonprofit groups Palo Alto Recreation Foundation and the Palo Alto Kiwanis Clubs. And while they would require the city to spend money during tight budget times, Keene said the expenditures would be consistent with City Council priorities because the event is geared toward promoting bicycle travel, health and well-being. If successful, the event could become an annual tradition, the new staff report states. The council will consider whether to sponsor the event Monday night.

A NASTY RECEPTION ... Palo Alto residents concerned about the recent flood of cell-tower and antenna proposals should have plenty to complain about in the months ahead. According to a new report from the city's planning department, the need for wireless-communication services is "rapidly increasing" because of capacity demands for data transmittal in the famously high-tech city. Palo Alto is currently processing five cell-tower applications, including a monopole, a "faux tree" antenna and three modifications to existing facilities, Current Planning Manager Amy French wrote in the new report. She also noted that AT&T has proposed installation of nine "distributed antenna systems" (DAS) on existing utility poles in Palo Alto. These systems typically require shorter poles than traditional antennas and produce lower radiofrequency emissions. Cell towers became one of Palo Alto's leading hot-button issues earlier this year when a group of residents in Crescent Park rallied against AT&T's proposal to install a tower at St. Albert the Great Church (the company ultimately pulled its application). On the other hand, AT&T succeeded last month in obtaining the city's approval to install new wireless antennas at Hotel President on University Avenue despite protests from dozens of Hotel residents who feared the new antennas would impact their privacy and, quite possibly, their health. Given the recent brouhaha, the City Council will devote most of its meeting Monday night to discussing the various issues around the recent applications, including the city's existing wireless facilities and ways to improve the city's process for vetting these applications. These proposals include requiring applicants to submit a map illustrating coverage gaps and explaining how the new facility would fill these gaps; requiring applicants to explain why they can't "co-locate" new facilities on existing poles; and more information about radio-frequency emissions from the proposed facilities.

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