http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2013/03/15/around-town


Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 15, 2013

Around Town

SNUFFED OUT ... Visitors to Palo Alto's small downtown parks might be surprised to learn that there is a smoking problem. But the city has apparently been getting complaints from some residents in the famously health-conscious city about the high level of smoking at small urban parks such as Lytton Plaza and Cogswell Plaza. According to a new report from the city, complaints have focused on "environmental quality, litter, fire safety and a combination thereof." Now, the City Council is considering taking action. On Tuesday night, the council's Policy and Services Committee will consider banning smoking at Lytton Plaza, Cogswell Plaza (both near University Avenue) and Sarah Wallis Park (near California Avenue). This won't be the first time the city considered beefing up the city's smoking rules. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the city imposed smoking bans on theaters, restaurants and workspaces. In 2008, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission considered expanding the ban further, but concluded by a 5-2 vote that the city's laws are strong enough. And two years ago, the council's Policy and Services Committee agreed with a staff recommendation that the city has fallen behind its neighbors when it comes to smoking laws and that it's time to consider other ordinance revisions. Even then, some members were not convinced that smoking is a burning issue in Palo Alto. At that time, Councilman Larry Klein noted that he almost never sees people smoking downtown and called smoking "a problem that has virtually disappeared from Palo Alto."

SWEPT AWAY ... Palo Alto streets might get a bit leafier in a few months as the city explores new options for its street-sweeping service. The goal is to cut costs in the refuse budget by making street-sweeping on residential streets less frequent. According to a report from the Public Works Department, the city currently sweeps residential streets once per week and downtown streets three times a week. Most surrounding cities sweep residential streets every other week and Palo Alto may soon join this group. On Tuesday night, the City Council Finance Committee will consider three options for the future street-sweeping program. One would leave things the way they are, with in-house staff handling all the sweeping duties. The second option would reduce street sweeping in residential and light-commercial areas to every other week in non-leaf season (March through October) and hire a contractor to perform this service. Under this option, downtown and California Avenue would continue to get swept three times per week. The third option would have the same frequency, though it would allocate downtown sweeping to a contractor and leave the residential streets to in-house staff (contractors would supplement staff's work during leaf season). Staff is recommending the third option, which, according to the report, "saves money but balances the need to reduce costs with the desirability of maintaining an in-house capability." They estimate that the second option would save about $441,000 annually while the third option would save $675,000. Public Works officials believe reducing the sweeping on residential streets will not have a significant impact on residential streets, at least in the non-leaf season. "The small amount of debris during the non-leaf season can be readily left in place until the following week and collected then," the new report states, noting that this is what most cities already do.

FRIENDS FROM ABROAD ... Twenty years ago, Palo Alto and Tsuchiura, Japan, formed a casual friendship based on student exchanges. Four years ago, this friendship became stronger and more formal when the two became "sister cities." And in 2011, the ties became firmer still when Palo Alto responded to the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan by sending donations to a relief fund for earthquake victims. On Monday — which marked a two-year anniversary of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake — a delegation of students and chaperones from Tsuchiura made their annual pilgrimage to Palo Alto and thanked the City Council for Palo Alto's years of friendship. "We will never forget your heartfelt concern," said Etsuo Sato, one of the chaperones of the student delegation, adding that Tsuchiura officials look forward to developing further exchange opportunities. The Palo Alto council responded by passing an official proclamation, read by Mayor Greg Scharff, which alluded to the "mutually beneficial" nature of the cities' relationship, before Japanese students and Palo Alto councilmen gathered on the floor of the Council Chambers for a series of photo-ops.

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