Cheryl Lilienstein and Joe Hirsch
It took dozens of volunteers, about 4,000 signatures and about 8,500 "no" votes to shoot down the City Council-approved housing development on Maybell Avenue, but no two residents played a larger role in the citizen revolt than Barron Park residents Joe Hirsch, a former planning commissioner, and Cheryl Lilienstein, a physical therapist. As the spokespeople for the "Vote Against D" campaign, they helped lead their side to decisive victory and prompted the City Council to reconsider the city's development process.
Over the past year, Downtown North resident Neilson Buchanan has become both a leading expert and the most persuasive speaker on the subject of his neighborhood's parking shortage. By diligently counting parked cars in his neighborhood at various times of the day and determining how parked up each block is, the former hospital CEO has given city officials and residents a new tool for dealing with the city's most pressing problem. Other neighborhoods, including Evergreen Park and Ventura, have since adopted his method to document their own woes.
Call him old-fashioned if you'd like, but Douglas Smith has no love for glassy office buildings that look like they were pulled out of a cubist painting and that are increasingly popping up in downtown Palo Alto. A proud traditionalist, Smith circulated a survey this year to gauge local views on modern architecture and was happy to see a majority of residents agreeing with him. He concluded the year by appealing two modernist developments. While the City Council ultimately rejected the appeals, his action enabled other residents to join the chorus of criticism and added a spark to the city's heated debate over design standards, which promises to spill over into 2014.
Family of a bullied middle school student
If it weren't for the family of a disabled Terman Middle School student, a federal investigation into the ongoing bullying of the student may not have come to the public's attention. In advocating for their student's needs, the family came forward with a 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that showed the school district failed to protect the student. The documents included an agreement signed by the school district to improve how it handles bullying complaints, which Superintendent Kevin Skelly hadn't provided to the Board of Education.
Even as Palo Alto online-education companies, such as Udacity and Coursera, continue their push to bring advanced education to those around the world who otherwise can't afford traditional university tuition, old-school brick-and-mortar universities and colleges are considering how they can keep from being left behind. Linda Thor, Foothill-De Anza Community College District chancellor, welcomed a state grant to create an "educational ecosystem" that will integrate the online offerings of all 112 of California's community colleges.