Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 26, 2013

Around Town

DOG, CAT AND MOUSE ... Palo Alto's dog owners often lament the dearth of dog parks, off-leash areas and other local amenities for their loyal, slobbering companions. Now, however, they have one new weapon at their disposal — a watchdog at City Hall. Howard Hoffman, a former soccer coach and founder of the newly formed group Palo Alto Dog Owners, introduced himself and his group this week to the Parks and Recreation Commission. Hoffman said the group already includes a few hundred people, mostly dog owners but also some who used to own dogs and who still sympathize. Their goal? To change the status quo. "We've got three rather pathetic dog runs," Hoffman told the commission. "Some people refer to them as dog parks. I wouldn't call them that. They're really not good for exercising your dogs." Some, he said, have little grass or are covered in dirt, which makes the prospect of throwing Frisbees or balls unappealing. Fences are also substandard, he said, noting that his dog can jump over the Hoover Park fence any time she wants. Because of these poor conditions, dog owners often end up taking their dogs off leash, in violation of local law. "Not that we want to flout the law," Hoffman said. "We have a game of cat and mouse with Animal Control, which is periodically giving out citations." What do the dog people need to escape from the cat-and-mouse predicament? Hoffman said they would be satisfied with a dual-use facility like Nealon Park in Menlo Park. There, a baseball field accommodates dogs and their owners for two hours every weekday morning. Even that, however, would only be a partial solution. "Ultimately, the best thing would be decent-sized, dedicated dog parks," Hoffman said.

WIDER WALKWAYS ... Skinny sidewalks seem to become the topic of water-cooler conversation just about every time a new building is proposed for Palo Alto's prominent thoroughfares, particularly along El Camino Real or Alma Street. When sidewalks aren't particularly wide, tall developments appear as though they're looming perilously close to the street, residents have complained. Now, however, the city is looking to change all that, giving pedestrians a little breathing room. Triggered by an April memo from four City Council members, the city will take a new look at design criteria for new developments and the possibility of increasing sidewalk requirements on El Camino from 12 to 18 feet. Along with beefier sidewalks, the city could require new buildings to be set back farther from main thoroughfares. During the April discussion, Councilwoman Karen Holman cited German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's famous description of architecture as "frozen music" and argued that with recent developments, Palo Alto is "out of tune." This week, the task of tuning up the city's design goals will officially begin when the two commissions responsible for reviewing new developments gather to discuss possible changes. The Architectural Review Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission are set to tackle the subject July 31. The hour-long discussion is scheduled for 5 p.m. and will address "sidewalk widths and how buildings address El Camino Real (and other major commercial streets)," according to a public notice from the city.

FOOTHILLS FROLICKING ... After a period of disappointment and underachievement, Palo Alto's city-run summer camps are finally flying high. The camps, which are administered by the Community Services Department and include swimming, hiking and all the usual summer fare, ended 2012 on an underwhelming note. They were only 49 percent filled and produced just $159,462 in revenues, well below the department's target of $200,000, Recreation Manager Lacee Korsten told the Parks and Recreation Commission Tuesday. The lukewarm response prompted officials to take a fresh look at the programs and ongoing marketing efforts. Some programs were eliminated, others consolidated. Outreach was greatly expanded through social media and flyers. Korsten, who was hired by the city last year and who led the revival of the summer camps, reported that this year camp enrollment was at 93 percent and that all programs other than the ones around the Fourth of July holiday had wait lists. Revenues soared to $267,781. The results greatly pleased the commissioners, who lauded the efforts by Korsten and other department staff to improve the camp system. "Wish we can take some credit for it, but we cannot," Chair Ed Lauing said Tuesday.

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