Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 18, 2011

News Digest

Firefighters lose legal challenge against Palo Alto

A week after Palo Alto firefighters lost their three-decades-old right to take labor disputes to arbitration, they suffered another defeat when a state labor-relations board threw out their legal complaint against the city.

The state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) on Tuesday dismissed the "unfair labor practice" charge the firefighters union filed against the city prior to last week's vote on Measure D, which scrapped binding arbitration from the City Charter. The 1977 provision had empowered a three-member arbitration panel to settle disputes between the city and its public-safety unions. The measure passed with about two-thirds of the voters supporting it.

The decision by Chief Administrative Law Judge Shawn P. Cloughesy to dismiss the union's complaint cements the repeal of binding arbitration. Had the union prevailed, it would have requested that PERB issue an injunction for approval by Superior Court, which could have invalidated Measure D and restored binding arbitration.

In its complaint, the International Association of Firefighters, Local 1319, maintained that the City Council had failed to negotiate in good faith with the city's public-safety unions before placing the issue on the November ballot. The city had maintained that binding arbitration is not a subject that requires its negotiators to meet and confer with union representatives.

In his ruling, Cloughesy concluded the fire union failed to demonstrate that it ever requested to consult in good faith with the city.

City rethinks plan to scrap composting operation

Palo Alto's composting operation, which was slated to shut down within about a month, could get a new lease on life thanks to the voters' decision last week to make a portion of Byxbee Park available for a waste facility.

The city was planning to halt Palo Alto's composting operation as part of the process of shutting down the Baylands landfill, said Phil Bobel, assistant director of public works. Last week, however, voters passed Measure E, which will allow 10 acres of former landfill — previously expected to become parkland — to be considered for a new composting facility for local yard trimmings, food scraps and sewage sludge.

Proponents of Measure E immediately asked the city to revise its plans to shut down the current composting operation. Members of the group, led by former Mayor Peter Drekmeier, Walt Hays and Bob Wenzlau, attended Monday's City Council meeting to urge the council to extend the life of the composting operation.

Hays told the council it would make no sense to start trucking waste to Gilroy — as the city has been planning to do — when a local option is available.

San Antonio Road construction to delay traffic

Construction on San Antonio Road from Middlefield Road to the U.S. Highway 101 interchange could lead to traffic delays for one year, the City of Palo Alto Public Works Department has announced.

Starting Monday, Nov. 28, the city will be installing new landscaping, irrigation, medians, curbs and gutters; repairing uplifted sidewalks and driveways; and repaving streets, according to Elizabeth Ames, Palo Alto Public Works senior engineer.

Removing existing pine trees, which have severely damaged the roadway and sidewalks, will be the project's first step. The tree removal has been the subject of numerous community meetings and public outreach, and notices were posted Nov. 14, giving a final 14-day notice of the removal, Ames said.

At least one lane of traffic will remain open in each direction of San Antonio at all times to minimize traffic disruption. Drivers should expect some delays during the construction hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays for approximately one year, Ames said.

The construction is the second part of a two-phase project. The first phase was completed in 2010 and involved similar work on San Antonio between Alma Street and Middlefield. Prior to the first phase, an environmental assessment was done for the entire corridor. Public outreach took place for all project components, including landscaping design and traffic management, she said.

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

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