Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 11, 2011

Around Town

MARCH OF THE LIEUTENANTS ... Palo Alto City Hall has seen a slew of new faces in the past year, as dozens of veterans announced their retirement rather than accept the city's recent rounds of benefit reductions. Though the brain drain has impacted every department, the Police Department has been hit particularly hard by retirements in its senior ranks. This week, the City Council said goodbye to two distinguished veterans, Sergeant Rebecca Lynn Phillips and Lieutenant Douglas Keith, who between them have about 50 years of experience. Both officers received special resolutions from the council and rounds of ovation from a crowd of officers and spectators in the Council Chambers. In his departing speech, Keith thanked his wife and children and gave a shout-out to his colleagues in the department. "The Palo Alto Police Department has been my family for the past 27 years," Keith said. "I formed a lot of close friendships, a lot of close bonds and a lot of relationships with other people in different departments in the city." The round of goodbyes isn't ending just yet. Two other popular department veterans, lieutenants Sandra Brown and Scott Wong, are also retiring and are scheduled to receive special resolutions from the council later this month.

MOVE OVER, PORTLAND ... Palo Alto has a grand vision when it comes to the future of bicycling, but this week the City Council decided that the vision could still use a little tweaking. The council was scheduled to approve on Monday night an ambitious Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan, a document more than a year in the making that proposes three new bike boulevards, a network of bike trails and way-finding signs and big-ticket infrastructure projects such as a new overcrossing at U.S. Highway 101. The plan has already been reviewed by the Parks and Recreation Commission and has received the blessing of the city's avid biking community. The council agreed that the document lays a solid foundation for making Palo Alto a top bicycling destination in the country (are you listening, Portland, Ore.?). But after a long discussion, members directed staff to solicit even more input from local stakeholders and commissioners before finalizing the plan. Councilman Greg Schmid talked about the need to improve east-west pathways in Palo Alto, while Councilman Pat Burt talked about the need to come up with a clear plan for installing more parking spaces for bikes. "I'm torn because I'm anxious to have this adopted," said Burt, who proposed tapping the brakes on the official adoption and going back for further revisions. His colleagues agreed that the plan is "almost there" (either 90 percent of 99 percent, depending on who was talking). "The good news is that we're close," Mayor Sid Espinosa said at the end of the discussion.

ROLLING TO RECOVERY ... Four students at Castilleja School are trying to start a "Rolling Backpack Revolution," urging their fellow teens to toss their traditional book haulers in favor of the rolling backpacks that were popular in middle school. "Every day, millions of children and teens across the nation come home and sink into a daze of pain after lugging around several tons worth of books on their backs," said Jordan Fowler, Hannah Gropper, Olivia Nicholls and Colleen O'Malley. "Not only does this cause short-term pain, but also long-term damage. ... Remember your rolling backpack that was all the rage in middle school? Bring that baby out of storage and take your first step on the road to recovery."

MORE SNEAKY GAS ... White trucks emblazoned with the word "HydroMax" seen in the middle of city streets are not part of the PG&E gas-line testing receiving so much media attention these days. The trucks instead have been hired by City of Palo Alto Utilities to visually inspect gas lines that might be intersecting sewer pipes. Such "cross bores" have occurred nationwide, Debra Katz, city utilities spokeswoman, said when the smaller-diameter gas pipeline runs right through a sewage pipe. That doesn't create an immediate problem, but if there is backup in the sewer line that a professional is clearing out, the gas line can be hit. Then, leaking gas can pool and enter a home, causing an explosion, she said. Since 2000 Palo Alto has used underground cameras to inspect while installing new pipe. The city has had no incidents, but maintains a "zero tolerance" position, she said. The cameras will search every sewer line where a cross bore could have been made by a horizontal-boring machine.

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