THE IT CROWD ... Much like Public Works and Rodney Dangerfield, the IT Department often gets no respect. Much of the work takes place behind the scenes and the biggest signs of success — updated browsers, working email, functioning servers, secure data — are as humdrum as they are vital. But with the IT operation at City Hall undergoing a dramatic overhaul, Palo Alto's tech squad had a rare chance this week to take a bow during a brief but detailed presentation on the three-year IT strategy that was launched in July 2012. The department itself is relatively new, having traditionally fallen under the umbrella of the Administrative Service Department. Its maestro, Jonathan Reichental, became the city's first "chief information officer" when he joined the city in December 2011. "This is definitely the decade of data if not the century of data," Reichental told the City Council Monday. "We will have more information and more data than we ever wanted. This will inform better decision-making and actually unveil what has been invisible to date." The strategy includes replacing City Hall desktops with laptops, shifting city data off-site ("Hardware is the old world. Cloud is the new world."), and unleashing a wide array of software tools, from one that will allow residents to take a photo of a pothole and have it sent automatically to the appropriate department; to posting real-time data on building permits onto the city's recently redesigned website. Reichental said the department has been striving to innovate, not just maintain. It currently is working on 30 approved projects and has 29 awaiting approval and 20 more undergoing evaluation, he said. Stay tuned.
PARK HERE ... If parking shortage is a sign of downtown's success, as many maintain, Palo Alto has plenty to be proud of even as it struggles to improve a situation that many downtown residents say has gotten out of control. This week, the City Council discussed and approved a proposed valet program at the High Street garage just north of Hamilton Avenue and directed staff to return at a future meeting with possible funding options for building a new garage. The council generally agreed that the city's approach to solve the parking problem requires a broad, multi-pronged approach, possibly including permit programs and new facilities. But they disagreed on the devilish details, with Councilwoman Karen Holman urging broader consideration of potential sites for new garages (staff had proposed five sites for evaluation) and resisting a proposal from developer Charles "Chop" Keenan to partner with the city on a garage at a city-owned lot that would be used by both the public and by workers in Keenan's proposed office development at 135 Hamilton Ave. Others were noncommittal on the subject of garage sites, a topic that will re-emerge on June 10, when the council is set to discuss Keenan's offer in greater detail. The valet idea, meanwhile, sailed by with no dissent. Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd was "fantastically wild" about doing the valet study, while Councilwoman Liz Kniss was a bit more subdued. "Some people will be uneasy about leaving their cars and not knowing where they'll find it when they get back," Kniss said.