OUR MAN IN SACRAMENTO ... Palo Alto's white-hot opposition to California's high-speed rail project has energized rail critics across the state. But the city's position has also made it trickier for the City Council to find adequate lobbying services in Sacramento. The council's rail committee on Monday interviewed two different lobbying firms to potentially replace the city's existing lobbyist, Capitol Advocates. The first firm, California Strategies & Advocacy, essentially took itself out of the running because of the city's opposition to high-speed rail. The council had previously discussed adopting a position calling for high-speed rail's termination and will formally consider such a stance on Dec. 19. Kurt Schuparra, who represented California Strategies & Advocacy in a phone interview Monday, said that while he ultimately chose to submit an application, the city's stance had given him pause. "If it was indeed a situation where the city is flat-out opposed to it (high-speed rail), I just don't know if that's a battle that I would choose to get involved in." The second candidate, Professional Evaluation Group, had no such reservations. Firm CEO John Garamendi Jr. said his group has already worked with several other rail critics, including a group in Central Valley concerned about the rail line's impact on agriculture. "Would we represent the city if you took a position against high-speed rail? The answer is 'yes,'" Garamendi said. The group includes on its staff Ralph Ochoa, a Sacramento veteran who had served as chief of staff to former state Assembly Speaker Leo McCarthy. Ochoa, who personally knows Gov. Jerry Brown (a supporter of the rail project), urged the committee not to give up in its quest to influence Brown to change his position. "I think he (Brown) has a very serious regard and respect for education, intelligence and experience," Ochoa said, adding that Palo Alto represents these qualities. Not surprisingly, the committee unanimously recommended Thursday to retain Professional Evaluation Group. "I think they demonstrated the knowledge we were looking for in the inner workings of the Legislature and in the Governor's administration," Chair Larry Klein said.
MIXED RECEPTION ... A plan by AT&T to install wireless-communication equipment on 80 local poles (in four phases of about 20 poles) continues to polarize Palo Alto, where residents like clear phone signals but don't like having to stare at telecommunications equipment. Each side has plenty of props at its disposal. At Thursday's meeting of the Architectural Review Board, which considered the first phase of AT&T's plan, the company displayed placards with the words, "Yes! I support AT&T's effort to bring more wireless infrastructure to Palo Alto!" followed by hundreds of names. The company had also mailed out cards to residents, asking them to check a "Yes!" box and send it to the City Council. Many supporters also wore stickers with the word "Yes!" written in orange. Board member Judith Wasserman was among those who didn't appreciate AT&T's mailing of cards, saying the move only damaged the public's perception of the project. "I've never seen so many people incensed about the propaganda they were getting," Wasserman said. Opponents did not shy away from the battle of the props. John Morris, a leading opponent, placed a giant poster depicting an earlier AT&T design in the Council Chambers. Dozens of critics also wore stickers with the words "No DAS" (AT&T's "distributed antenna system"). Ultimately, the board voted to support AT&T's proposal and added a list of conditions requiring the company to test the noise level of the new equipment and to disguise it, wherever possible, with trees.