I think I've finally figured out the two absolute "rules" Palo Altans want observed by their cell-phone companies:
First, don't build any tower within sight of my home, work, kid's school or park.
Second, don't even think about dropping any of my calls.
While the public's attention is on earthquakes, we should consider what we should do to prepare for the next big quake.
It will probably come from the Hayward Fault, which for thousands of years has reliably produced a major earthquake around every 140 years and is now three years overdue. The USGS says it could hammer us the way the 1989 Loma Prieta quake hammered downtown Santa Cruz. And the biggest damage here will probably happen in older apartment and condo complexes built over garages (called soft-story buildings).
They can be retrofitted to current standards for around $9,000 per unit.
But whenever homeowners' associations try to do this, they're invariably opposed by a few suspicious, shortsighted homeowners who claim the retrofit is just a scheme to defraud them — that the board of directors is getting kickbacks from the engineering firm — that it's unnecessary because the Loma Prieta quake in Santa Cruz didn't level us here — anything to avoid spending anything for any purpose.
And if they can't browbeat the board of directors, they turn to lawsuits (usually thrown out), then try to get on the board.
Few homeowners care who's on their board, but look what just happened in Japan. They didn't prepare for the worst, with tragic results.
Condo owners need to make sure their board isn't captured by people who reflexively oppose infrastructure investment and who use misleading candidate statements to conceal their penny-wise, pound-foolish goals.
San Antonio Road
At a recent City Council meeting on the anaerobic-digestion feasibility study, the consultant acknowledged that building a local publicly financed anaerobic digestion facility would be cheaper than the alternatives. He also acknowledged that the study missed (and will include in June's update) several of the alternatives' costs, including rebuilding the sewage incinerators, pricing greenhouse-gas emissions and applying a contingency as was done for the local option.
Including conservative estimates of these costs into the consultant's financial model indicates that a local anaerobic digestion facility would save Palo Alto $30 to $38 million over 20 years, for an average annual savings of $1.5 to $2 million. Our annual savings would greatly increase in subsequent years because the capital construction costs would be paid off. For instance, the cost of processing our organic waste would drop from $106/ton in year 20 to $65/ton in year 21. Compare that to more than $118/ton to truck our waste "away" and continue sewage incineration.
Compared to that costlier option, the study also indicated that anaerobic digestion would reduce our CO2 emissions by 12,000 tons annually, equivalent to taking 1,600 cars off the road. Anaerobic digestion's total reductions from current practices would be about 20,000 tons annually.
With anaerobic digestion we could make tremendous progress toward achieving our climate-protection goals while saving tens of millions of dollars. The feasibility study should confirm this in June.
Cedric de La Beaujardiere
Co-Chair, Blue Ribbon Compost Task Force
As high school seniors are receiving their "thick" acceptance letters for admission to private colleges and universities, dismay over higher-education tuitions escalates. Why are tuitions so high and why do they increase at rates well above inflation?
Leaving aside specialty schools and church-related universities, consider four California "privates" and their 2010-11 tuitions: Stanford ($38,700), University of Southern California ($40,384), Pomona College ($38,087) and Occidental College ($39,870). All top-tier institutions, and all with nearly identical tuitions. Why?
Are their costs of education all the same? Not likely, as two have very luxurious endowment-per-student (Stanford, Pomona) and two have substantially lesser endowment-per-student. Earnings on the endowments augment the revenue from tuition, but to very different extents.
If Stanford and Pomona are so well endowed, why do they need to charge such high endowments? They may not need to, but they can — that is, the market allows them to do so. And so, why shouldn't they? Their students and faculty will be the beneficiaries of this added revenue: more recreation amenities, lighter "teaching loads," richer financial aid packages, close-in parking.
Simple economics: demand and supply tell the story. Note the increase in numbers of applications at these institutions. Stanford, Pomona and most other colleges increase tuition each year, yet this year alone applications grew 10 percent at Pomona and 7 percent at Stanford. The "buyers" of higher education — applicants and their families — seem not to balk at these high tuitions. Yes, many get financial-aid help in varying amounts from these institutions, but others pay full price. The colleges and universities play Robin Hood.
Will tuition rates at prestigious colleges and universities continue to escalate in the years ahead? You can count on it, so long as "demand" continues to out-run "supply" by a wide margin. Top-tier institutions set prices, publish them widely, and less well-endowed and less prestigious places follow suit.
Henry E. Riggs
Peter Coutts Circle
Cell tower needed
How many of your readers with AT&T cell phones find they are unable to use them in northeastern Palo Alto due to lack of AT&T antenna coverage? Our AT&T cell phone only shows "zero or one bar" most of the time and repeatedly drops calls.
Let's all stand up and make it known to the Palo Alto City Council that we want and need the AT&T cell tower proposed for 1095 Channing Ave. It is necessary and welcomed. AT&T is trying to do the right thing and is also helping a nonprofit organization at the same time.
The city should not be blackmailed into denying this project.