READY TO SERVE? ... Palo Alto's process for filling seats on local commissions is at times a tedious and unpredictable affair, with some boards attracting a huge number of applicants and others struggling to fill their openings. The City Council typically interviews every candidate that applies and votes at its meetings to fill vacancies shortly after they arise. This creates a problem when the field of applicants is too small for the council's tastes, or when potential volunteers don't have the qualifications sought by the council. Faced with this perennial quandary, the City Council is now considering overhauling its process for filling commission seats. The council's Policy and Services Committee considered various options for doing that at its Tuesday night meeting and while it didn't make any decisions, it came up with plenty of ideas for staff to explore. Councilman Larry Klein was among those who criticized the current interview process for commissioners, calling the meetings where the council interviews every candidate among "the least interesting council meetings we have to attend" ("We choose to interview people when we know they don't have a prayer," Klein said, in explaining the "very tedious" nature of the interview sessions). He and his colleagues considered whether it's time to limit commission recruitment to only once or twice a year. They also wondered whether it's time to stop paying for recruitment ads in the Weekly and to devote resources to something "a little more catchy," in the word of City Clerk Donna Grider ("We need to do something that grabs someone," Grider said). Councilman Sid Espinosa recommended improving the city's online application process for commission applicants. Councilmembers Karen Holman and Greg Schmid both voiced enthusiasm for holding a fair twice a year in which current commissioners would explain to potential volunteers what it takes to serve. Everyone agreed that commissioners play an important role in city life. "I'm absolutely delighted by the quality and diversity of people who we have to volunteer," Schmid said.
CLEANING IT UP ... Palo Alto's effort to purchase solar energy from local companies got off to an underwhelming start last year, when not a single applicant opted to participate in the newly created"Palo Alto CLEAN" (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now) program. Though a number of solar developers have expressed interest in the program, according to Utilities Department staff, not a single one had applied to date. Staff believes the price offered by the city — 14 cents per kilowatt for a 20-year contract — had something to do with this. This week, the council will consider whether to raise its offer to solar developers in hopes of sparking interest in this new "feed-in tariff" program. The City Council's Finance Committee recommended last month raising the price to 16.5 cents per kilowatt.