http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2011/09/09/around-town


Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 9, 2011

Around Town

BRAIN DRAIN ... Palo Alto likes its retired city workers — so much so, that it rehires them at a higher rate than any other city in Santa Clara County. According to a recent report from the county, 5.7 percent of the city's employees are people who retired and were then rehired (for other cities in the county, the average was 1.6 percent). The practice of rehiring retired workers faced some scrutiny after newspaper reports found some instances of employees "double dipping" by retiring, cashing out all their vacations and bonuses, and then returning to work while continuing to collect their pension. But the county's Civil Grand Jury recently issued a report on the matter and found that in most cases, rehiring retirees "appears to be a prudent way to secure highly skilled talent for short-term tasks at a relatively low cost to economically strapped municipalities and does not in itself appear to be a barrier to hiring new workers." In Palo Alto, the rehiring of retirees is particularly popular for several reasons. With revenues falling, the city has been shaving away at workers' benefits and instituting new requirements for employees to share medical and pension costs. These factors led many employees to retire over the past two years, leaving "a rapid and unprecedented municipal 'brain drain'," according to a report from Human Resources Assistant Michele Dallara. The city's plummeting tax revenues also threw a wrench into the city's "succession planning" by forcing the council to trim positions instead of creating training plans. The city, according to Dallara's report, faced a "significant exodus of workers with expertise and institutional knowledge" and ended up rehiring retirees for such positions as deputy fire chief, police investigators and managers in Public Works, Planning and Community Environment, and Human Resources. The City Council is scheduled to approve the staff response to the grand jury report on Monday night.

BEYOND THE BORDERS ... When Borders Books announced in July its plans to close all stores by September, Palo Alto's theater lovers saw the local store's impending departure as a perfect opportunity to restore the building to the theater it once was. These hopes were dealt a blow last week, when representatives of the building owner, Charles "Chop" Keenan, submitted plans to convert most of the building to office space. According to Thomas Fehrenbach, the city's economic-development manager, the plan calls for offices on the second floor and on 25 percent of the ground floor of the prominent two-story building on University Avenue and Waverley Street. Fehrenbach wrote in a letter to the City Council that his office has put together a brochure about the property at 456 University Ave. and has reached out to various people in the theater and performing arts communities. The new brochure calls the building "ideal for theater use" and lauds its "high foot traffic" and proximity to Caltrain and Stanford. So far, he said, there have been no formal proposals from the theater community.

HANDS OFF ... A proposal by State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, to add penalties for drivers who text behind the wheel hit a legislative wall this week when Gov. Jerry Brown decided to veto it. The proposal, Senate Bill 29, would have raised fines and added a "point" on the driving records of motorists who text while driving or who talk on their cell pones without hands-free devices. The bill would have raised fines for those who text while driving to $50 for first offense and $100 for subsequent offenses. When court fees and other penalties are entered into the equation, repeat offenders would have to pay more than $500. Though Simitian asserted that the new bill would reduce collisions and save lives, Brown vetoed the bill, saying the current laws suffice. Simitian, who authored three previous laws targeting distracted drivers, called the veto a "lost opportunity to save more lives." He said he would review Brown's veto message to see if there's any room for compromise. "I'm disappointed, but the Governor gets the last word," Simitian said in a statement. "I understand and accept that. My job now is to figure out where do we go from here."

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