PRIORITIES ... First the easy part: the City Council decided Saturday to keep all five of the city's 2011 priorities — finances, environmental sustainability, emergency preparedness, land use and transportation, and youth well-being — in place for another year. Now comes the tricky part: figuring out exactly what that means. Though setting official priorities is a time-honored council tradition, members acknowledged at the retreat that they really need to clarify what a "priority" is. Councilman Larry Klein argued that five priorities are too many and implied to residents that any issue not labeled a priority would be ignored. He recommended adopting just two: infrastructure and Cubberley Community Center. Klein also suggested that it's time to "rethink the whole process" of setting priorities and recommended sending the discussion to the city's Policy and Services Commission. His colleagues agreed. Meanwhile, because city officials have been calling 2012 "the year of infrastructure investment and renewal," Councilman Pat Burt voted against the council's decision to keep the priorities in place and to not include "infrastructure" on the list. Others, including Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Councilman Sid Espinosa said the council's existing priorities already encapsulate infrastructure. Burt disagreed. "We basically are saying that it (infrastructure) is such a priority that we won't speak the word in our priorities," Burt said. "I think that's flawed."
And speaking of infrastructure: They've spent 13 months analyzing potholes, touring police facilities, surveying parks and comparing funding mechanisms and all they got for their efforts was a bunch of bricks. Not that members of the Palo Alto's recently disbanded Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission
were complaining on Saturday, when the City Council recognized the group's efforts by handing each member a commemorative brick. Not the most visually striking award, perhaps, but certainly in keeping with both the panel's mission (survey the city's infrastructure) and its acronym, IBRC (pronounced "i-brik"). Each brick featured a golden plate with the commissioner's name and a brief explanation: "This 'Brick' is presented in recognition of your time and thoughtful work in analyzing and making strategic recommendations for meeting the challenges of maintaining and improving Palo Alto's extensive infrastructure inventory." The council didn't waste much time at the Saturday strategic retreat before digging into the report and its analysis of the city's public-safety needs. Council members also recognized that a topic as broad and complex as infrastructure would require many more strategic discussions in the coming months. Mayor Yiaway Yeh
recommended meetings on at least three more Saturdays. His colleagues didn't object, though some had mild reservations about the overtime work. "I'd like to have staff have their Saturday off, in addition to the council, unless we do it at a five-star retreat," Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd
said. "Which I'm not recommending," she quickly added.
ALL THAT JAZZ ... Not everyone is happy about Palo Alto's proposed ban on playing amplified music at Lytton Plaza. Namely, the very people making the music. Several musicians attended the Wednesday Planning and Transportation Commission meeting to complain about the ban, which was spurred by noise complaints from downtown businesses. Susan Webb, who runs weekly jam sessions at the prominent downtown plaza, said she was approached this week by a police officer who told her she has to get a permit to play, a permit that she said costs $300. "I encourage people to pick up some instruments and play — just make some music. That's really what it's all about." Webb said she believes her jam sessions keep people out of trouble. "I don't think there's any reason why police should hassle us for that." Other aspiring musicians concurred. Zack Sampson, who also plays at the plaza, shared her perspective. "It's great fun. Please don't end it." The commission did not discuss the subject, which was beyond the purview of its meeting.
MUSICAL CHAIRS ... Palo Alto ex-mayors stick together, particularly when it comes to political endorsements. So perhaps it's no surprise that when Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss announced her desire to return to the Palo Alto City Council, her former council colleague and current State Sen. Joe Simitian was among the early endorsers of her campaign. This week, Kniss returned the favor and announced her endorsement of Simitian, who is termed out of Sacramento this year and who hopes to take Kniss' spot on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. In her endorsement statement, Kniss lauded Simitian's previous experience on the board and said he will "hit the ground running" and will "represent the northern part of the county very well, having lived and served here for many years. ... Joe has interacted with Santa Clara County closely in the years I have served, understanding that the health and human services safety net provided by counties is essential for our well-being and depends on state dollars to provide those services."