Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 7, 2011

Around Town

TAKING SIDES ... A ballot measure that would scrap binding arbitration for public-safety workers from the City Charter continues to divide Palo Alto's elected officials, to the point where some have lost track of where everyone on the City Council stands on the issue. While Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Councilwoman Gail Price officially came out against the measure and Councilmembers Greg Scharff, Karen Holman, Pat Burt and Greg Schmid remain the repeal's staunchest proponents, the rest of the council has been less clear. Councilman Larry Klein, for instance, voted against placing the repeal on the ballot (he advocated modifying, rather than scrapping, the existing ordinance), but now supports Measure D and has contributed $250 to the repeal effort. The confusion reached its peak last week when opponents of Measure D released a video asking residents to join Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd and Mayor Sid Espinosa in voting against the measure. In fact, though both opposed placing the repeal on the ballot, neither has taken a side on the issue. The video, which was since taken down, surprised Shepherd, who remains ambivalent about the repeal. Though Shepherd was one of four council members who voted against placing the repeal on the ballot, she told the Weekly that she has not taken an official stance on the issue. Shepherd said she does not support the effort by the firefighters' union to defeat the measure because the firefighters did not step up to the table over the past year to discuss possible modifications to the existing ordinance. At the same time, she said she cannot urge voters to support the repeal because of her basic convictions about union rights.

THE TRAIN KEEPS ON ROLLING ... Having weathered a fiscal Armageddon earlier this year, Caltrain officials are now plowing along with their ambitious plans to make major upgrades to the popular but still cash-strapped rail service. This week, Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss joined Caltrain officials at Palo Alto City Hall to update council members, regular commuters and other interested parties on the agency's latest plans. Caltrain spokesman Mark Simon said at the Tuesday meeting that the agency has bought itself a "year of relative calm and relative prosperity relative to the prior year" thanks to a one-time funding arrangement among the three agencies that pay for the service (SamTrans, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority). This means it will not have to consider draconian service cuts at least for the moment though it still has major structural problems that will need to be addressed, he added. On a parallel track, the agency is proceeding with its analysis of what it would take to electrify Caltrain and install "positive train control" a system of signals that would allow the agency to greatly increase service levels. Marian Lee, Caltrain's executive officer for planning and development, said the agency is also studying the proposal by three Peninsula legislators for a "blended" system that would allow Caltrain and high-speed rail to share tracks.

WHAT'S THE PLAN? ... Palo Alto's swelling community of rail watchdogs has been eagerly anticipating the California High Speed Rail Authority's business plan, which was scheduled for an Oct. 14 release. The authority's previous offering, which was released in 2009, was widely panned by local economists and nonpartisan state agencies (including the Legislative Analyst's Office and the State Auditor), many of whom characterized the agency's revenue projections as unrealistically rosy. Now, it looks like they'll have to wait a little longer. The authority has announced that the plan will not be released until at least next month. Among those who are disappointed by the delay is Assemblyman Rich Gordon, one of the three architects of a recent proposal to "blend" the new system with Caltrain. Gordon, D-Menlo Park, is serving on a committee charged with reviewing the new document and he plans to hold a public hearing on the business plan in Palo Alto. "It is no secret that the Authority has lost credibility with the communities along the Peninsula, and across California, and I worry that this postponement will further compromise the public's trust in the Authority," Gordon said in a statement.

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