Around TownBLACK & WHITE & MASKED ... It was no secret that a thousand revelers descended on Lucie Stern Community Center last Saturday for the biennial Palo Alto Black & White Ball. The volunteer-organized, mask-themed fundraiser for the Palo Alto Recreation Foundation included gourmet eats from 40 local restaurants and several musical groups, including Foreverland, a Michael Jackson tribute band. A silent auction attracted numerous bidders on items such as lunches with officials, a Stanford shopping spree and retail gift packages. But the standout item appeared to be a homecooked Persian dinner for six donated by Community Services Recreation Services Manager Khashayar "Cash" Alaee. Valued at $300, it had already attracted more than $500 with at least a half-hour to go until bidding closed.
CHALLENGING THE AUTHORITY ... Palo Alto's high-speed rail watchdogs are calling for California Attorney General to clamp down on rail officials whose service may constitute a conflict of interest. The group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design wrote a letter to Attorney General Jerry Brown this week, asking his office to begin the process of removing Curt Pringle and Richard Katz from the rail authority's board of directors. Pringle, who serves as Anaheim mayor in addition to chairing the rail board, and Katz, who serves on the board of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, made headlines recently after the state Legislative Counsel Bureau found that their participation on the rail board is incompatible with their other offices. The Attorney General's Office, which is charged with enforcing California's conflict-of-interest statute, wrote a letter to the rail authority on July 30 asking members to "review the relevant law" and "to take appropriate steps to clear up any lingering issue." CARRD argues in its Sept. 28 letter that this response has proven insufficient and asked Brown to restore the public's confidence in the project by removing the conflicted members from the board. "It is time to acknowledge that the statute's self-enforcing aspect has failed," the group wrote to Brown. Palo Alto watchdogs aren't the only ones paying attention to the conflict-of-interest issues on the rail board. Last week, California legislators noticed and quickly removed a provision in the proposed state budget that would have exempted Pringle and Katz from the conflict-of-interest requirement. The provision was proposed by someone in the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a legislative aide told the Los Angeles Times. CARRD is hoping that Brown, who seeks to replace Schwarzenegger, takes a tougher stance.
FINDING MR. WRIGHT ... The nonprofit group charged with beautifying and marketing downtown Palo Alto has been seeking a new leader since May, when Sherry Bijan was asked to step down. This week, the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association selected a veteran business consultant to lead it on an interim basis, until Bijan's permanent replacement is found. Paul Wright, former Belmont mayor and past board chairman of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, has been hired by the group to serve as its interim executive director, a job that puts him in charge of the board's community outreach and day-to-day activities and programs. Anne Senti-Willis, who chairs the association's board of directors, said Wright is not a candidate for the permanent position, which she expects will be filled within the next two months.
LANDMARK IN A CUP ... The critically acclaimed new motion picture "The Social Network" about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wasn't filmed in Palo Alto, but that didn't stop the filmmakers from tossing in a little Palo Alto flair. A coffee cup from popular Coupa Cafe (a winner in this year's Hollywood-themed Palo Alto Weekly Best Of poll) on Ramona Street can be spotted in the movie, as can several references to Stanford University. One character even quips (during the early development of Facebook): "They need to see this in Palo Alto."