SOLAR KUDOS ... Ever-green Palo Alto was acknowledged last week for its successful efforts to streamline and improve its permitting process for installing residential and commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, receiving the national 2014 Best Solar Collaboration Award. "The city was able to implement a series of streaming program improvements, initiatives, online documentation, and fee reductions to expedite and simplify the entire PV review and inspection experience," a city press release states. According to the city, the average number of days to get a permit for solar panels has dropped from 122 to three; the average number of times plans are returned with corrections has been halved and the number of solar applications received has shot up. "The City of Palo Alto deserves a tremendous amount of credit for listening to the needs of solar customers and making direct changes based on those needs," stated Jefferson Silver of the solar company SolarCity.
MAY THE BEST APP WIN ... The City of Palo Alto's 2014 Apps Challenge is off and running, with judging of the 74 entries currently underway. The challenge, which is being held as part of the 2nd National Day of Civic Hacking, called for ideas for smartphone apps that can help the city better engage with the community it serves. There are eight judges, from Mayor Nancy Shepherd to local startup founders. The city said 30 percent of entrants are younger than 18; that 30 percent includes members of Palo Alto High School's Android Development Club, which submitted a number of app ideas as a group. One idea was for an anti-bike-theft application that lets users register and keep track of their bikes, as well as communicate with police if bikes are stolen. A press conference announcing the top 10 finalists will be held at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave., next Thursday, March 13, at 5:30 p.m. After that, the finalists will have to develop and showcase their apps at an April 27 event. The "grand finale" announcing the winners (first place will be awarded $3,500; second place, $1,000; and third, $500) will be held May 31 to coincide with the 2nd National Day of Civic Hacking. Free tickets are available for both the April and May events. For more information, go to www.hackpaloalto.org.