Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 30, 2011

News Digest

Report urges forming infrastructure commission

Palo Alto should overhaul its system for managing its infrastructure and appoint a new citizens commission to oversee the complex and critical process, a specially appointed panel is recommending in a new report.

The Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission, which was appointed last year to tally the city's infrastructure backlog, released a report last week that recommends a broad range of initiatives, including appointing a public commission as a way to make sure the city keeps up with its capital needs. Though much of the report focuses on ways to pay for the city's maintenance costs — including a higher sales tax, a bond measure and termination of the city's Cubberley Community Center lease with the Palo Alto Unified School District — the commission also proposes that the city overhaul its existing system for managing infrastructure.

The report is also the first major step toward bringing a bond measure to the city voters next year. In a statement, City Manager James Keene called the report "the beginning of a process that will likely lead to funding measures placed on the November 2012 ballot."

The commission's proposals include a comprehensive "Infrastructure Management System" to keep track of all ongoing projects and a public commission that would report to the City Council twice a year on infrastructure.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the commission's recommendations on Jan. 17.

Sartor tapped to stay on as public works director (PHOTO IN Z-MUGS)

After a year of new faces in top management, Palo Alto City Manager James Keene opted for stability and familiarity last Thursday (Dec. 22) when he named Michael Sartor to lead Palo Alto's Public Works Department.

Sartor, who was hired in 2002, has been interim director of the department for more than a year, having replaced Glenn Roberts in November 2010. Before that, he served as the assistant director of engineering.

Sartor is charged with leading the Public Works Department at a time when the department is grappling with some of the city's most critical, complex and controversial projects. These include a community push to build a waste-to-energy facility in the Baylands, an overhaul of the city's cash-strapped refuse operation, construction of Mitchell Park Library, an effort to repair the city's infrastructure and regular maintenance of street trees — a particularly sensitive subject in Palo Alto. The department also underwent an internal transformation earlier this year when its number of divisions was reduced from six to three.

Sartor had overseen the restructuring of the department and worked with the council-appointed Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission throughout the year to develop a plan to fill the infrastructure backlog. In a statement, Keene pointed to Sartor's experience as a major reason for his appointment.

Before coming to Palo Alto, he worked in Mountain View for six years as capital improvement manager. He had also spent 10 years at Woodward Clyde Consultants as an environmental and waste-remediation program director. He has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from San Jose State University and a masters of science in management from College of Notre Dame in Belmont.

Sartor's contract will go to the City Council for approval in January 2012.

East Palo Alto seeks to bolster tenant protection

As East Palo Alto braces for a new landlord to take over more than 1,800 housing units, city officials are considering changing the law to give tenants more protection against discrimination and possible displacement.

The revisions are prompted in large part by the recent sale of the Woodland Park housing portfolio, which was previously owned by Page Mill Properties. The company had significantly raised rents and challenged the city's rent-control laws in court before it defaulted on a $50 million loan in August 2010. Wells Fargo took over the properties and subsequently sold them to Equity Residential, which announced last month that it is planning to close the deal by the end of the year.

With the sale of the 1,812 units pending, the City Council asked staff last month to survey tenant-protection ordinances in other jurisdictions and consider what East Palo Alto can do to strengthen its own laws, Vice Mayor Ruben Abrica said.

"We saw what happened to Page Mill, and we don't know yet what will happen to Equity," Abrica said. "It's part of our history to try to, as a city government ... find ways to protect our vulnerable population."

The revisions could include new provisions banning discrimination against tenants based on age and detailing the landlord's obligations when tenants have to be displaced during remodeling of buildings, he said. Some of the provisions could simply be extensions of existing state and federal laws, he said.

— Gennady Sheyner

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