HISTORIC HOMES ... When Allen Akin and Michelle Arden approached the city about demolishing and replacing their two-story home at 405 Lincoln Ave. in June 2007, they didn't know that their project would become synonymous with everything that's wrong about Palo Alto's development process. It took them more than three years and more than $500,000 in environmental studies and permit fees to get the city's permission to replace the inconspicuous house in the historic Professorville neighborhood. Even the City Council was shocked at the applicant's three-year ordeal, with Sid Espinosa calling it "embarrassing" for the city. In October, the council voted unanimously to approve the project over the objections of the Historic Resources Board. Next week, the council will attempt to make sure that future applicants won't face the same tortuous permit path. The council is scheduled on Monday to revise the city's procedures for demolishing buildings in the Professorville District. Staff is recommending that in the future, residents who wish to demolish in this district perform an "initial study" to determine the significance of the demolished structure (rather than the full environmental review that Akin had to perform). Staff is also suggesting that the historic board review the projects earlier in the process to avoid last-minute surprises.
TREE CITY, USA ... Trees are sacred in Palo Alto, and never more so than during Arbor Week, which the City Council kicked off Monday night. The council heard a presentation from Canopy, a local nonprofit dedicated to expanding the city's urban forest, and passed a proclamation acknowledging the many roles trees play in our lives ("whether by providing oxygen, offering shaded places to rest, or contributing to the splendor and viability of our City..."). The council also acknowledged Palo Alto's designation as "Tree City, U.S.A." by the National Arbor Day Foundation for the 26th year in a row. "We are totally interdependent with the nature that surrounds us and that is built in the wild environment that we live in," the city's Planning Arborist Dave Dockter told the council Monday, as he accepted the plaque honoring the city's arboreal accomplishments.