ACROSS THE TRACKS ... It's been a busy year for citizen task forces in Palo Alto. Just months after a specially appointed citizens group released a long-awaited report detailing the city's infrastructure deficiencies, another 17-member group is putting the finishing touches on a report that focuses on a subject almost as complex as infrastructure — the city's Caltrain corridor. The Rail Corridor Task Force report, which is still in draft form, has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, with the City Council Rail Committee taking it up last week (a discussion it will continue next month) and its Planning and Transportation Commission and Architectural Review Board taking their early stabs at it on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. The broad and wide-ranging report, which was more than a year in the making, zooms in on the Caltrain corridor, Alma Street and El Camino Real and identifies opportunities for major improvements. The report found, among many other things, that neighborhoods along the corridor are generally underserved when it comes to things such as schools and parks and that the city should pursue more east-to-west crossings across the corridor. While early reviews of the new report have been generally positive, Chair Judith Wasserman of the ARB wondered what exactly the city would do with the new document. Wasserman compared the city's slew of grand, strategic documents to an Indiana Jones movie in which sought-after artifacts are ultimately filed in a crate somewhere in a dusty warehouse. "There have been innumerable studies — charettes, task forces, design workshops. There must be a special place in the Planning Department where all these things are covered in cobwebs." City Planner Elena Lee said the city intent is to reference the document in the city's Comprehensive Plan — its land-use bible — and to use the report to evaluate future transportation projects and the city's capital program. Meanwhile, residents will have a chance to chime in wither their own views on the Caltrain corridor at a workshop that the city is holding on the new document later this month. The meeting will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on March 29 in the Community Room at the Lucie Stern Community Center.
WELCOME FROM ABROAD ... Palo Alto's student-exchange program with its sister city, Tsuchiura, was halted last year after a devastating earthquake rocked Japan and heavily damaged a nuclear plant near Tsuchiura. The students returned this year and received a special welcome from the City Council, which passed a resolution this week praising the relationship between the two cities and thanking the people of Tsuchiura for "their generosity and hospitality tended toward young people from Palo Alto for the last 19 years." The feelings were clearly reciprocated. Manami Wada, who chaperoned the student delegation, told the council Monday she was really glad to have a chance to visit Palo Alto after last year's cancellation. She thanked the people of Palo Alto for welcoming the students and for making donations to Tsuchiura after the quake. Mayor Yiaway Yeh, who had recently visited Tsuchiura, also disclosed at the end of Monday's meeting that Palo Alto is about to receive an official gift from its sister city in Japan — a replica of Tsuchiura's wooden sailboat with a mast and a sail, signifying its proximity to Kasumigaura Lake. The boat, he said, will be a welcome addition to City Hall.