Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 26, 2013

Around Town

OPEN WIDE! ... Depending on one's digital prowess and hunger for data, Palo Alto's newest transparency initiative is either a head-scratcher or a reason to rejoice. The city this week unveiled its latest "open data" initiative — Open GIS. The project includes dumping dozens (ultimately hundreds) of datasets online and displaying them through maps using Google Fusion Tables, a data-visualization application that allows users to display, organize and share large data tables. The utility of these datasets varies. Tree lovers would likely appreciate a map of every tree in the city, with information about each tree's species and condition available with one click. Similarly, land-use watchdogs and developers might find that the land-use table is far more convenient to click around on than flipping through bulky zoning maps. And the new map of manhole covers might be a boon to local bank robbers or ninja turtles. Open GIS is the latest step in Palo Alto's movement toward becoming what Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental calls a "digital city." "We're stepping up to our responsibility as the heart of Silicon Valley by not just being a model for open government, but for doing it in the most innovative way," Reichental said in an announcement. "Experimenting with the power of Google Fusion Tables provides us with a free platform to try new ways to extend the data back to those it belongs: our community." City officials to add more data in the weeks ahead. The information will be available at http://data.cityofpaloalto.org.

RUN, RUN, RUN ... Palo Alto's first ever "Great Race to Save the Water" appears to have captured the public's imagination, with registration hitting its limit Wednesday afternoon. The race seeks to promote conserving water, a commodity that is bound to feel particularly precious to runners dashing past the finish line at the sunny Baylands. Even though the number of prize-eligible runners is at capacity, the city encourages the community to come out for a stroll, a jog or a free goody bag between 9 a.m. and noon. Among those partaking in the festivities Saturday, April 27, will be City Manager James Keene, a veteran marathoner whose running career is briefly on hold because of a collapsed lung he suffered in South Carolina earlier this month. The medical emergency held up Keene's return to Palo Alto and forced him to take a long train trip back to California. Keene, who attended this week's City Council meeting after missing the last few, said that while he doesn't plan on joining the runners this weekend, he might do the walk.

GEARING UP ... So how well is the construction of Mitchell Park Library going? First the bad news. In the past few months, the city had hired a new contractor, Big D Builders, to fix the errors of its original contractor, Flintco Pacific, which has just been taken over by another company and which had filed 37 change orders totaling more than $3 million as of earlier this month. Palo Alto has also brought on board seven different consulting firms, including engineers, attorneys and construction "forensic" experts, to sort out potential disputes between Palo Alto and the contractors involved in building the 56,000-square-foot facility. The good news is that the end is almost in sight. City officials expect the brand-new building, and the accompanying community center, to be open at the end of this year.

FLIPPING THROUGH Magazine racks aren't going away from Palo Alto libraries, but many visitors will no longer need them to peruse their favorite periodicals. The city announced this week that all five branches will now offer in-house iPads loaded with more than 20 current magazines, including National Geographic, Sunset, Economist and (of course) Wired. Library users can check out an iPad for in-house use for up to two hours. "With the magazine publishing industry transitioning to digital content formats, the Library is pleased to offer the public the most current digital issues of popular magazines inside our libraries," Library Director Monique le Conge said in a statement. "Our customers can still continue to check out copies of print magazines to take home and enjoy for up to a week."

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