Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 3, 2013

Around town

HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN ... Remember those bygone days of 2010 and 2011, when Palo Alto officials talked about things like budget deficits, staff cuts and reductions to the traffic enforcement? These days, it's a whole new world in Palo Alto. According to City Manager James Keene's proposed budget, which was released this week, things are looking rosy on the financial front with the general fund balanced and no significant service reductions in the works. Tax revenues this year are expected to reach $79.3 million, compared to $65.8 million in the recession-plagued 2009, and home prices are "surging due to demand and limited supply." Even the problems can be seen as blessing. "While downtown parking is a serious issue to address, it does indicate an economic renaissance," Keene wrote in the budget's transmittal letter. He also noted that business vacancy rates are at an "extremely low level." For Class A office space in downtown Palo Alto, "there is a remarkable zero percent vacancy," he wrote. The city's return to prosperity should spell particularly good news for the Police Department, which had been hit particularly hard by staffing reductions in the aftermath of the 2008 "Great Recession." This year, Keene proposes unfreezing the seven positions in the department that were frozen last year to balance the budget. The move, Keene wrote, "will boost our investigations and traffic efforts." The proposed budget also adds funding for street and sidewalks repairs, allocates more funds for planning studies relating to downtown, the Comprehensive Plan; and a new Office of Sustainability, which will coordinate City Hall's various green efforts. The letter also identifies a series of challenges, including the rapidly rising costs of pensions and benefits — trends that Keene calls "unsustainable." But the tone of the budget, which the council will start to wrestle with next week, is mostly sanguine. "While we will never rest on our laurels and linger long on our achievements, for there is much work to be done, let's remember that this is a great place to live and work," Keene wrote.

DAY OF THE BIKE ... Handlebars will compete with steering wheels for road supremacy on May 9 as Palo Alto joins other cities and states throughout the nation for "Bike to Work Day." The event is part of a broader celebration of May as "National Bike Month," which the City Council will recognize with a special resolution on Monday night (this is not to be confused with 2011, Palo Alto's "Year of the Bike").

CHARGING AHEAD ... When Palo Alto officials meet behind closed doors Monday night to discuss lithium batteries, it won't be as part of a new green-energy initiative or technology pilot. The city is one of many agencies that is considering initiating a lawsuit against foreign companies that have been accused of price fixing in other lawsuits filed in California and in New Jersey. Samsung, Sony and Panasonic are among the companies named in these lawsuits. City Attorney Molly Stump said the pending lawsuits allege that lithium-battery manufacturers "illegally conspired to fix and inflate prices for those batteries between 2001 and 2011." The Palo Alto council, she said, will consider "whether to participate as a class representative seeking redress on behalf of cities, schools and individual consumers of products that contain lithium ion batteries manufactured by the defendants."

GIVING IT IN SPADES ... The groundbreaking for the new Stanford Hospital was a gala affair on Wednesday, May 1, with champagne, hand-rolled sushi and miniature hamburger sliders with caramelized onions and bleu cheese. But the gift bags included a more symbolic treat. Along with an embroidered cap with the hospital's name, several hundred celebrants received a miniature chocolate spade — a replica of the ones used by hospital and university officials and Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff to dig shovelfuls of dirt during the ceremony. The hospital expansion will be completed in 2017, and is expected to open to patients in early 2018, officials said.

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