Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 30, 2012

Around Town

GRAND PLANS ... A prominent section of downtown Palo Alto would see a major transformation if billionaire philanthropist John Arrillaga proceeds with his ambitious plan to build an office building and a theater on University Avenue, next to the Caltrain station. But even if the plan stalls, it has already impacted the city's land-use process. Daniel Garber, an architect and past chair of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission, stepped down from the commission earlier this month to avoid a potential conflict of interest relating to the proposal. Garber is on the board of directors of TheatreWorks, the company that would move into the proposed downtown theater. His architecture firm, Fergus Garber Young architects, is also working with the city on analyzing the new development's impacts. He isn't the only city official who is stepping down because of the project. Heather Young, a member of the Architectural Review Board, was also advised by the city attorney's office to step down, Planning Director Curtis Williams told the Weekly. Young, who chaired the board last year, is a partner in Garber's firm. The ambitious proposal surfaced last month and received a warm reception from the City Council, which directed staff to proceed with an environmental analysis for the project. If approved, the proposal would require the city to relocate the historic MacArthur Park restaurant near the Caltrain station. Residents who are interested in taking over a spot on either of the two commissions are asked to submit their applications to the City Clerk's Office by 5 p.m. on April 20.

NORTH AND SOUTH ... Palo Alto residents generally agree that their city is clean, pretty, safe and awash in educational opportunities. A recent National Citizen Survey found about 90 percent of the residents in the city give Palo Alto a rating of either "good" or "excellent" in these categories. Similarly, residents from all corners of town have gripes about "variety of housing options" in the city, with only 37 percent giving the city high marks in this category. In other areas, geography matters. The report surveyed residents from north and south Palo Alto and found significant differences between the two subgroups in perceptions on issues such as social media, shopping opportunities and new development. The report, which surveyed roughly 215 residents from the north and about as many in the south found that 64 percent of north Palo Alto responders gave top ratings to the city for "overall quality of new development," compared to 51 percent in the rapidly growing south Palo Alto. The subgroup from the north also felt better about "shopping opportunities" in Palo Alto, with 76 percent rating them "good" or "excellent." In the south, the number was 67 percent. The northern subgroup also gave significantly higher marks to the city's walking, trains, street lighting and economic development. In the lattermost category, 59 percent in the northern subgroup gave the city high marks, compared to just 46 percent in the southern subgroup. Residents in the north are also a bit more optimistic about the future than their counterparts in the south. In the north, 62 percent gave the top ratings when asked about the "overall direction" Palo Alto is taking. In the south, the number was 49 percent. Even so, few are preparing to leave the city any time soon. More than 90 percent of respondents in both subgroups said they would recommend living in Palo Alto to someone who asks. Furthermore, 83 percent of the responders in the northern part of the city and 91 percent in the south said they plan to remain in Palo Alto for the next five years.

ALL THE STATE'S A STAGE ... Theater kids from Palo Alto High School mingled with 1,000 other thespians last weekend at the California State Thespian Festival, distinguishing themselves as actors and playwrights. "Yes," a script by student Grace Barry, was the statewide winner in the Playworks category. Senior Zachary Freier-Harrison was selected from 140 auditioners for the only male role in Barry's play, which was performed Saturday night on the main stage. Other Paly performers, writers, technicians and directors last weekend were Zarek Siegel, Carly King, Briana Billips, Hannah Gorelik, Rebecca Kreiger, Heather Gaya, Caroline Johnson and Henry Wilen.

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