One of the more striking aspects of the public hearing on Stanford's Arrillaga project was how obsequious the staff and several members of the council were in speaking of John Arrillaga. He was always referred to, in almost hushed tones, as Mr. Arrillaga, often as Mr. Arrillaga the philanthropist. He was never merely the applicant or the developer.
His status was raised when supporters of TheatreWorks spoke of his vision in including a theater shell in his project. They seemed not to know that his original proposal only called for office buildings. It was only when the city planning staff told him that they wouldn't recommend the proposal unless it included a significant public benefit that the theater shell was added. The theater had nothing to do with vision; it was necessity. Nevertheless, he was now referred to as a visionary philanthropist.
The final straw was Robert Kelley, the TheatreWorks artistic director, comparing Arrillaga to Lucie Stern, who donated the money for the community center and theater 75 years ago. If Lucie Stern had been like Arrillaga, she would have built half a theater, and then only on condition that the city allow her to build the 1930s equivalent of four office towers.
Of course, if you want to "think out of the box," imagine that John Arrillaga wanted to be like Lucie Stern. He would go to Stanford, where he is reputed to be quite influential, and say: "You've got this piece of land that you don't have any particular use for. Why don't you lease it to that wonderful theater company, TheatreWorks, at a price they can afford, and I will build them a theater."
Now that would be worthy of praise.
Smart Voter: Eakins' legacy
A legacy of the late Sandy Eakins is her pivotal role as one of two people who created Smart Voter, the system that provides customized online election information to voters.
Initially a project of the Leagues of Women Voters in Palo Alto and South San Mateo County, it draws information from Registrars of Voters to pinpoint an inquirer's precinct, then provides biographical and other information on candidates in each race.
This information is gathered by league volunteers in each community. Smart Voter is free to candidates, unlike the hefty charge for entry in the official voters guide. It has now spread to communities throughout California and been picked up by several other states.
As a former Mayor of Palo Alto and president of the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto, Sandy had a distinguished career in community service. Smart Voter is an enduring memorial to her vision of the importance of an informed exercise of voting rights.
Floods should be focus
I live around St. Francis/Oregon Avenue area, which was severely affected by the 1998 flood. I pay hundreds of dollars in flood insurance, but what bugs me the most is that 15 years have passed and we have done very little to mend the situation. We still run away from our homes every time 2 or 3 inches of rain falls over the hills. Why is that? Because we are not focused. We start discussing a flood solution and all of a sudden, it becomes about traffic or separation or safety.
Having our houses not flood is a basic need. Having a convenient shortcut to work is not a basic need. In the face of flood, it is a luxury. For a flood, there is no workaround. That water will come whether we are happy with the traffic or not.
We should trust our engineers to come up with an open-ended design so that the flood problem can be solved as quickly as possible. Then, we can focus the other problems and solve them in subsequent months or years. For instance, we could remove the bridge but put provisions in place for a new bridge that can be funded/built separately on its own time. We should not put solutions to all other problems ahead of a solution for flood. That's just madness.
Rebuild bridge modestly
The obvious solution for the Newell bridge is to replace it with one that fixes the flood problem, that maintains two lanes of traffic as today (one in each direction, although perhaps a tiny bit wider, so two cars fit side by side) and that adds a small lane on each side for pedestrians and people on bikes, who currently have a dangerous time crossing the bridge.
This essentially keeps the status quo while implementing the flood-management plan and adding to the safety of people not in cars. For those concerned about slightly improved automobile lanes, speed humps could be added to the end of the bridge, complementing the stop sign at the other end, in order to calm traffic.
People in nearby neighborhoods who don't like the status quo should have considered buying elsewhere.