Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - June 27, 2014

Letters to the editor

Olga to Epiphany

Editor,

There were several gentlemen whom I served at the Palo Alto Food Closet. The men were somewhat handicapped, very low-income and living hand-to-mouth, getting canned tuna and a few fresh veggies from the Food Closet just three blocks from what was Casa Olga and is now the Epiphany Hotel.

Where are these men and the other people who inhabited Casa Olga as a low-income and safe residence? This question haunts me!

This new hotel is a beautiful hotel for $400 a night. I have had the VIP tour by a young student. As I came up in the elevator and scanned the lovely room I was confronted by the question: Where are these people who have lived in Casa Olga? Do we need another extravagant hotel at the expense of these people?

Carol Kenyon

Walter Hays Drive, Palo Alto

More work, less diversity

Editor,

The City Council does a lot of work outside the Monday council meetings in city committees. Therefore, downsizing the Palo Alto city council from its current nine members to seven will increase the power of the incumbency and reduce the opportunity for diverse constituencies to be represented. The interests of a wider spectrum of citizens like teachers, emergency personnel, office workers, local merchants, etc., would not have a voice. It would impede new people from running for council. Big money interests and developers would dominate.

A large complex city like Palo Alto is difficult to govern. Having nine council members has worked well; there is no compelling reason to reduce that number, which could significantly increase the workload on the remaining members.

Term limits provide for new people with fresh ideas to participate in city government. The argument that term limits don't allow people to build up an expertise is exaggerated; continuity is provided by city staff. Further, it is unseemly for a sitting council member to spearhead an attempt to repeal term limits while being currently subject to those rules.

I support maintaining nine council seats and the current term limit rules.

Ruth Lowy

Thain Way, Palo Alto

A misdirected lawsuit

Editor,

So entrepreneur David Welch feels our system is failing our children because it has "stopped putting their needs and success above all else." So he is going after teacher tenure? He should get a clue and wake up to the fact that our public schools are one of the places our children get the best shot at having their needs met.

Yes, we do fail our children in just about every other way: elevated rates of childhood poverty, homelessness and food insecurity, zero or low-quality early childhood education, lack of affordable childcare and support programs. Add to that the constant cuts to education (we are now 49th in the USA in per pupil spending!), and you have to be amazed our schools do as well as they do. Yes we are dramatically behind other western nations and even behind many other states in the USA in providing what our children need. Mr. Welch should turn his energy and his wealth to fixing some of those real problems. His tenure lawsuit is a sham, aimed at destroying public education, and it deserves to fail.

Gail Sredanovic

Ashton Avenue, Menlo Park

High time for action

Editor,

Now that the studies have been completed, and the alternatives are fairly well defined, it is time to take some action to reduce the risk of another San Francisquito Creek flood like the one in 1998. It is high time for all of the diverse elements to come together and agree to the implementation of a plan now, and not wait for another dozen years.

Waiting for the 100-year flood solution to be implemented means continued long-term exposure of homeowners in Palo Alto and Menlo Park to anywhere from $20 million to $50 million in damages in the event of a repeat of the 1998 flood. Whether you live in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto or Menlo Park, it is in your best interests to start lobbying your city officials and city council members to implement the plan, sometimes referred to as the "50-year plan," to restore the reach of San Francisquito Creek between El Camino and Bayshore to its natural 7,100 cubic feet per second capacity. That plan does not require massive flood walls or the removal of dozens of oak trees. It does require the redesign of the bridges at Chaucer and Middlefield, as well as Newell.

Those citizens who are not in the flood zone and not likely to be impacted by flood waters should still be concerned, because if there is another flood like the 1998 flood — where most of the damage done was the result of diversion of flood waters from the stream bed into residential areas by the bridges that act as diversion dams at high water — the City is responsible for those bridges and will be the target of the inevitable lawsuits. The cost of "fixing" the bridges will be much lower than the cost of paying for flood damage.

John Paul Hanna

Crescent Drive, Palo Alto

Disaster for car lovers

Editor,

About this time, June, every year for 46 years the Palo Alto Concours d'Elegance has shown off magnificent automobiles in our city. But no more. It has been canceled by the Palo Alto Host Lions Club, its founder, after being unceremoniously banished by Stanford, its proud home for 38 years. The "parade of elegance" was embellished by the rolling green lawns of Stanford and regarded second only to the Pebble Beach Concours as the finest in California. The stated reason for Stanford's action was that it veered from a pure charitable event into one overcommercialized by car dealers and corporate domination. To lose the cachet of Stanford, America's ranking university, was a disaster. The show had enjoyed the rare role of a non-university event allowed on campus. In desperation after finding no suitable venue, the show moved last year to an inelegant former fairgrounds in San Mateo, in the process losing $36,000.

As a former Lion and Concours officer in charge of publicity, promotion and program editing for 14 years, I call it a humiliating and unnecessary loss. Concours management and Lions Club leadership defied university protocol and refused to accede to its wishes. Instead they bungled badly and got a heave-ho to the automotive junkyard. To be deprived of the cherished landmark tradition through incompetence and mismanagement is a tragedy. We car lovers have been carjacked.

Vic Befera

High Street, Palo Alto

Enforcing a ban

Editor,

Once again the city is considering an expansion of the smoking ban — this time to include multi-unit dwellings (bravo!) — and once again my fear is that our leaders will fail to enforce legislation that would protect Palo Alto residents, workers and visitors from secondhand smoke.

While the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other scientific organizations have supplied ample evidence supporting the health advantages of smoke-free environments, these wellness benefits alone do not seem to provide sufficient motivation to drive city council and staff to compel compliance.

So maybe we need to plead our case to the authorities in a language that will surely catch their attention. Money. Cold, hard cash dollars. Revenue.

Significant fines for violations and zero tolerance for infractions could contribute to the city's coffers quite nicely, helping to fund "needs" and "wants" with less reliance on unpopular taxes and costly bonds.

Jaclyn Schrier

Alma Street, Palo Alto

Human matters

Editor,

Stepping energetically into his role as our district's new leader, Max McGee, in his first appearance before the community and school board, showed himself to be warm, self-deprecating and a first-class writer and speaker.

I was disheartened, though, that he didn't say a single word about his awareness of our students' social-emotional well-being. I hope he mentioned it in his application letter that the board praised for its wide-ranging knowledge of our community, and I hope it's of heightened importance to him in the wake of his students at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA), the school where he was principal, saying that their acronym stands for the Illinois Malnutrition and Sleep Deprivation Academy.

I hope he'll be told about the legacy of tragedy at Gunn, and that in the years since then, there has been a suicide attempt on campus, as well as a student who claimed to possess a gun — which necessitated the presence (unreported to parents) of security guards on campus. I hope he'll be told that the "psychological autopsies" — the sole inquiry that a forgetful community has ever launched into why we had a public health emergency and whether any cultural shortcomings contributed to it — long ago promised to the district by Stanford and Project Safety Net, have never been finished.

I hope he'll take seriously our high school cheating problems — symptoms of tremendous stress, lack of joy in learning and a training in cynicism.

Mr. McGee seems like an incredibly capable man, found for us by a diligent board — so I have every hope that he'll learn these things about us. I hope that, with his eye on raising the already sky-high expectations of our community — toward becoming "the exemplar of a 22nd-century education" — Mr. McGee won't ignore pressing human matters in plain sight.

Marc Vincenti

Los Robles Avenue, Palo Alto

A cult of hubris

Editor,

In response to a grand jury report stating that Palo Alto did not respond to requests for public records in a timely manner — and sometimes did not respond at all — City Manager Keene said the city receives "many requests for information every single day and we do a really good job of responding to the public."

A "really good job" when even the grand jury didn't get requested documents within the legal time frame?

Keene's comment reflects a cult of hubris that pervades City Hall.

Over the last four to five years, I've been stonewalled on multiple California Public Records Act (PRA) requests, in spite of complaining to Keene, the council and the city attorney.

Ironically, other cities have been amazingly helpful when asked for information, even without a PRA request. I recently asked Menlo Park's community services director for details about a project completed in 2006. She replied to my email in one hour, and within 24 hours she provided relevant documents from the public works director.

Perhaps Mr. Keene could find out how Menlo Park manages to be so responsive. But I suspect he will throw taxpayer money at the problem, buying new software and/or convincing the council that he has to hire a cabinet member to handle public records requests.

Money is not the answer to this problem, nor to any other problems listed in the grand jury report. What's needed is accountability, a quality that has long been missing at every level at City Hall.

Pat Marriott

Oakhurst Avenue, Los Altos

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