Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 21, 2011

Around Town

UNPLUGGED ... When Palo Alto's leading developers and city officials unveiled the new Lytton Plaza in downtown Palo Alto two years ago, they envisioned a bustling neighborhood hub with farmers markets, concerts and community events. Not everything, however, has panned out as planned. The city's Farmers Market fizzled because of lack of demand, and the concerts that accompanied the weekly markets ceased to exist. Now, city officials are confronting another problem: People are using the new electrical outlets, which were installed as part of the renovation, to play amplified music at all hours of the day and, occasionally, late at night. The city's Community Services and Police departments have been receiving complaints from businesses around the prominent plaza, according to a new report from Daren Anderson, division manager for Open Space, Parks and Golf. Attempts to talk to musicians weren't always successful. "In some cases there has been cooperation, but not enough to adequately address the problem," Anderson wrote. Staff tried to address the problem by locking the outlet covers, but this strategy was reportedly foiled by vandals. Furthermore, Palo Alto's attempts to enforce the existing ordinance, which bans electrical devices in parks without permits, also fell short as several musicians brought battery-powered amplifiers. Now, staff is proposing a new rule that would ban amplified music at Lytton Plaza without a special permit. Even with permission, operation of amplifiers would be limited to between 5 and 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The city wrote up the ordinance after discussions with Russ Cohen, president of the Downtown Business and Professional Association, who consulted businesses around the plaza. Acoustic music, meanwhile, would still be welcomed at the plaza without any permits. "Staff believes that prohibiting amplified sound without a permit will be a useful tool in reducing noise complaints and will help keep the park and surrounding area enjoyable for everyone," Anderson wrote. The city's Parks and Recreation Commission will discuss the proposed ordinance Tuesday evening.

WHAT'S SHAKING? ... Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board was delving into the details of a proposed two-story building at Stanford Research Park at 10:20 a.m. on Thursday when a voice from a City Hall speaker shook the board members out of their routine. The voice was part of a statewide drill, the "Great California ShakeOut," a statewide exercise in disaster preparedness. The Federal Emergency Management Administration called the drill the largest in the nation's history, with an estimated 8.5 million Californians participating. The voice instructed listeners on what to do in case of an earthquake: namely, drop, find a cover and hold on to something. The suggestion puzzled board member Judith Wasserman, who couldn't find anything firm to hold on to behind the Council Chambers podium. "There's nothing out there but cables to hold on to," Wasserman observed. "We're going to lose the entire city government!" Neither the board nor the applicants dropped or panicked. Instead, unflappable as ever, they waited out the drill and proceeded with their discussion of signage and parking designs.

PRAISE FOR PATTY ... Palo Alto resident Patty Fisher will be honored by nonprofit Momentum for Mental Health, which offers services in Palo Alto, at the Shining Stars Rising Above Stigma Benefit Nov. 17 at the Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel. Fisher, currently a director at The Health Trust, worked for decades as a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. "She serves as a role model to all in our community who strive to eliminate mental health stigma and improve the effectiveness and accessibility of mental health resources and services," Momentum CEO Paul Taylor said in a press release. The event's keynote speaker will be Jessie Close, sister of actress Glenn, and information is available at www.momentumformentalhealth.org.

NAME THAT TUNE ... Palo Alto's new labor agreement with the firefighters union felt like music to the ears of the City Council, which approved the contract Monday night. Councilman Larry Klein evoked the Beatles song "Long and Winding Road" to describe the 16-month period of negotiations. Councilwoman Karen Holman, paraphrasing the country star "Mac" Davis, said she wished another song could be as accurate: "Happiness is a Difficult Labor Agreement in My Rear View Mirror." Unfortunately, she said, the economy remains tough, and the city's effort to get concessions from its labor unions remains an "ever-evolving situation."

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