Around TownCRYSTAL BALL? ... Predicting the future can be a fool's errand, but it's never too early to plan for it, particularly when the future involves dramatic demographical shifts. With that in mind, Palo Alto's Planning and Transportation Commission this week engaged in a wide-ranging discussion with the community to consider the trends and projections that the city will be grappling with in the decades to come. The Wednesday symposium, entitled "Future Palo Alto," included discussions of the city's land-use and transportation policies and its infrastructural needs. But there was one common theme that tied these subjects together: growth. Projections show the city's senior and school-age populations increasing and the average household size growing from 2.43 to 2.53 people over the next decade, said Commissioner Samir Tuma. Even if regional housing projections prove wildly exaggerated, growth is inevitable, he said. The city will need to build new housing and the school district will have to consider building a third high school and a fourth middle school. "The school system is the victim of its own success," Tuma said. "We're at a time when a lot of other school systems aren't doing as well as we are, and it's a magnet." Commissioner Arthur Keller noted that land-use policies are particularly critical in Palo Alto given the city's strong housing market. If the city relies on the market to dictate development, it will likely be saddled with more large multi-family developments. Commissioner Dan Garber pointed to Palo Alto's parking problems and said the city will have to focus on infrastructure that will help people to move around the city. He lauded the recent massive expansion of the Stanford University Medical Center, a project that included a host of traffic-impact mitigations including pedestrian and bicycle improvements and Caltrain passes for all hospital employees. "Mode share is the future of this community," Garber said.
EYE ON THE BOOKS ... Palo Alto officials aren't kidding around when they say they're concerned about cost overruns at the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center — the centerpiece of the city's $76 million library bond in 2008. After learning last year that contractors have been issuing a larger than expected number of change orders, the council reluctantly agreed to raise the contingency budget for the project from 10 to 20 percent in September to cover unexpected construction costs. So far, the city has received 13 change orders, raising the project's cost by $1.6 million. But to prove they mean business when it comes to costs, city officials have hired three separate consultants to help them keep an eye on the project's budget. So far, the city had spent about $15,000 on a contract with ZFA Structural Engineers, another $15,000 on legal consulting from the firm Jarvis Fay and $30,000 on a contract with Reidinger Consulting, a scheduling contractor, according to a new report from the Public Works Department. The council also plans to meet in closed session on Wednesday to consider whether last year's unexpected cost increases warrant any legal action by the city. On the bright side, the project is now 67 percent complete, and the city had recently approved a contract for furniture and equipment (including a foosball table at the Community Center) — items that will be purchased thanks to contributions from the Palo Alto Library Foundation. The new buildings are scheduled to open in the fall.
A QUESTION OF TRUST ... Trust is a tricky thing to measure, but that doesn't stop Edelman Consulting from trying. The group hosted a panel discussion Wednesday at the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto to discuss its latest "Trust Barometer" — a survey of trust. The survey found that while Americans are a skeptical bunch when it comes to the media, their trust in "traditional" media sources for information about a company has gone up over the past year. This year, 32 percent said they would trust a traditional media source, compared to 29 percent in 2011. Trust in online sources, including search engines, also went up, going from 22 percent to 26 percent. But the big winner is social media. Though only 14 percent said they would trust social media for information about a company this year, the percentage is well above the 8 percent who said they would trust blogs, social-networking sites and other forms of social media for such information last year.