Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 20, 2012

Around Town

END OF THE ROAD? ... Few things galvanize, frustrate and anger the Palo Alto community like California's high-speed-rail project, a $68 billion effort that the city has been fighting since 2009. The system, which the City Council unanimously opposes, gained traction earlier this month when Sacramento lawmakers approved by a razor-thin margin an appropriation bill that will enable construction of the line to begin in Central Valley. But Palo Alto critics aren't defeated. The city, along with its neighbors Menlo Park and Atherton, remains still involved in litigation against the California High-Speed Rail Authority. And this week, the Palo Alto council plans to take another strong but largely symbolic stance against high-speed rail: endorsement of a citizen initiative that could effectively stop the project in its tracks. The council is scheduled to consider approving the "Revote High Speed Rail" initiative, spearheaded by state Sen. Doug LaMalfa and retired U.S. Rep. George Radanovich. The petition, which has been posted at www.revoterail.com, would prevent the state from selling any more bonds for the project. Palo Alto officials have consistently maintained that the project, as it currently stands, bears little resemblance to the one voters approved in 2008, when they passed a $9.95 billion bond for construction of what was then a $33 billion rail system.

THE NEXT BATTLE ... After a long and winding discussion that stretched from Monday evening into Tuesday morning, Palo Alto officials concluded this week that there's no easy way to resolve the tussle over parking spots between downtown employees and residents in nearby neighborhoods. In rejecting a proposed parking-permit program in Professorville, the City Council opted to explore broader long-term solutions. But the topic of parking woes is still on the council's collective mind. This week, the council is scheduled to approve the design for a new hotel and restaurant at 180 Hamilton Ave., a building that once housed Casa Olga, a care facility. Though few people have a problem with the planned 86-room boutique hotel, the impact of its parking is causing some concern. Ken Alsman, a Professorville resident who has long advocated a permit-parking program in his downtown neighborhood, has filed an appeal asking the city to overrule the Architectural Review Board's recent approval of the project. Though he acknowledges that the project's parking proposal complies with law (the site belongs to the Downtown Parking Assessment District and will be assessed for 195 parking spaces), Alsman claims the city's approval process fails to consider the real parking impacts of the new development. "This lack of commercial parking spaces will force yet more cars and parking deeper and deeper into the neighborhoods," Alsman wrote. "Neither the City nor the business community is doing anything effective to protect our neighborhoods or to stem more intensification or to provide the additional parking needed to support downtown uses, their clients and especially their employees." Margaret Sloan, an attorney for the project developers, Casa Olga and Joie de Vivre Hospitality, rejected this argument and noted that the project already includes measures to reduce parking problems, including a valet parking system. She urged the council not to hear the appeal, which she attributed to "one angry resident who admits he is only appealing the decision in order to advance his own ideas about a residential parking-permit program."

A LIGHTER TOUCH ... Palo Alto's effort to revamp its massage law has been a rough and bumpy ride, spanning more than a year and featuring a litany of criticism from local massage therapists and reflexologists. As a result, the ordinance the City Council is scheduled to adopt Monday bears little resemblance to the one initially proposed. Gone is the controversial requirement for massage establishments to keep logbooks of clients a proposal that was widely panned by local masseurs as an unnecessary infringement on customers' privacy. The proposed law also now exempts reflexologists, whose practice consists largely of massaging the feet of fully clothed patrons. What the new law does do is raise the educational requirements for therapists from 100 hours to 200 hours, forces all establishments to get liability malpractice insurance and requires permits to be displayed in conspicuous locations. The Police Department drafted the latest proposal after months of community meetings and hearings in front of council committee, where several council members argued that the initial proposal was too stringent and demanded a lighter touch.

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