Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 9, 2011

News Digest

Man arrested in July linked to four home burglaries in Palo Alto

Palo Alto police say they have solved at least four more home burglaries since arresting a suspect in July.

On July 29, police responded to a report of a prowler in the area of Jefferson and Edgewood drives. A resident saw a man, later identified as George Martinez, 45, of East Palo Alto, in the backyard of her home and called police.

Officers spotted Martinez near the Edgewood Shopping Center on Channing Avenue. He ran from police but was caught at the intersection of Embarcadero and West Bayshore roads after a short foot chase, police said.

The resident identified Martinez as the person she had seen in her backyard, and he was arrested on a parole violation and booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail. Police said he was on parole for assaulting a police officer.

Investigators found stolen property in Martinez's car, police said. Police say they have been able to link Martinez to four residential burglaries from July in which computers, cash and jewelry were stolen.

Police said the district attorney's office has charged Martinez with several counts of burglary. Community members are encouraged to report suspicious activity by calling 911 or 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to paloalto@tipnow.org or people can anonymously call or text 650-383-8984.

Palo Alto aims to slash waiting time for permits

Palo Alto's famously infuriating permit-review process is about to get a major makeover.

Spurred by years of customer complaints of having to wait hours to get help and by a recent surge of activity at the city's Development Center, the City Council decided Sept. 6 to add five new staff members, including a new director, to the chronically busy permit hub.

The council voted 7-1, with Yiaway Yeh absent and Karen Holman dissenting, to back a long list of reforms proposed by City Manager James Keene and the city's planning staff to improve customer service and reduce waiting times at the center, located across the street from City Hall. The reforms include hiring a "development center official" to coordinate the various departments involved in the permit process (a list that includes Planning and Community Environment, Fire, Utilities and Public Works), a "permit center manager" to provide day-to-day management of the facility and three project managers.

In approving the proposed initiatives, the council sought to address one of the most common sources of community consternation — a permit process residents, developers and builders have called unnecessarily confusing and torturously time-consuming.

Councilman Greg Scharff said the process (derisively known around town as the "Palo Alto Process") is "probably the No. 1 issue people complained about" when he ran for the City Council last year. Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd called the problem "the most egregious in our community right now."

"The Development Center has experienced considerably increased customer traffic in the last 18 to 24 months," Emslie told the council Tuesday. "Real estate activity and construction activity requiring building permits have increased dramatically."

The funds for the new positions will come from Development Center revenues, which have been spiking thanks to the higher activity. In fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30, the city collected $7.1 million in Development Center revenues while spending $5.8 million. Staff expects the center, which is supposed to be revenue neutral, to bring in between $7 million and $8 million in revenues in the current fiscal year.

Victim in Menlo Park explosion identified

The man killed in an explosion in a Menlo Park laboratory Friday, Sept. 2, has been identified as 56-year-old Adrian Martin of San Jose, the San Mateo County Coroner's Office said.

Martin, a scientist at Membrane Technology and Research Inc. at 1360 Willow Road, was preparing a pre-gas mixture involving methane, helium and nitrogen when the 4:07 p.m. explosion occurred, according to Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.

A female coworker standing near the door of the lab was thrown clear by the explosion and survived with only some damage to her eardrum.

Martin was seriously injured. He was recovered from the lab, but he then suffered cardiac arrest and died at the scene, Schapelhouman said.

Fire officials found a leaking methane cylinder in the lab, although it was not clear if the cylinder was leaking before the explosion or if it was caused by the blast, he said.

More than 20 employees were evacuated from the business, and a hazardous-materials team responded to ensure that the area was safe.

— Bay City News Service

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