Around TownTWEET TWEET ... Explaining Palo Alto's budget problems or transportation projects in 140 characters or less is no easy feat, but that won't stop Mayor Yiaway Yeh and City Manager James Keene from trying. On Monday, the two joined the city's Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental in the city's first-ever Twitter Q&A — a chance for residents to pose pressing questions and get brief answers about city government. The questions varied from big-picture inquiries (What are your goals for 2012?) to the specific (one questioner wanted the latest on the grant application for California Avenue streetscape improvements). The answers came in wonky bursts. When asked about goals, Yeh responded: "2012 = Year of Infrastructure & Renewal. Open Data-Hackathons! Youth Health and Well-Being. Balanced Budget. Mayor's Challenge." Why are the city's revenues dropping? Keene responded: "Slow revenues = Prop 13 & sales tax dips as economy shifts to services." In some cases, the answers weren't as concise as they could've been. When asked whether he believes voters will approve a measure in November to legalize marijuana dispensaries, Yeh forewent a simple "No comment" or "Don't know" in favor of, "Not in the business of predicting outcomes that are determined by the vote of the people." At other times, officials were able to cram generous heaps of substance into their 140 characters. When asked about the California Avenue grant, Yeh responded: "The important project will be proceeding but grant funding at risk this year due to litigation. We remain committed." Officials said after the event that they were pleased with their first foray into Twittersphere. "There were many lessons learned, in particular, realizing that 30 minutes is too short for a session," they wrote at the end of the Q&A transcript.
FANTASYLAND ... Before Mayor Yiaway Yeh took to the stage to deliver his State of the City address, Assemblyman Rich Gordon took the stage to introduce Yeh (the two had worked together when Gordon served on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors). Gordon praised Yeh's intellect and noted the mayor's penchant for asking questions. "What impressed me the most — and what probably drives most colleagues a little crazy — is that he is completely inquisitive," Gordon said. "He always wants to know how, why, when, where and what." Gordon, meanwhile, received a much pithier introduction from Vice Mayor Greg Scharff, who noted that Gordon had once worked at Disneyland. That experience, Scharff said, prepared Gordon "for being an assemblyman because he worked in Fantasyland."
DOWNTOWN ... For the latest sign that the local economy is improving, look no further than downtown Palo Alto. The city's "commercial downtown" zoning area has seen a marked drop in vacancy rate and an increase in retail rents, according to an annual survey of downtown that the city released this week. While the vacancy rate in this area was 6.39 percent in 2008-09, it has dropped to 2 percent in 2010-11, the report states. Rents, meanwhile, have gone up. For small office spaces on University Avenue, for example, rent ranged from $3.50 to $5.50 per square foot in last year's monitoring report (not including insurance, janitorial services and taxes). This year, the range is between $4.50 and $7 per square foot, the report states. It's conclusion? "Economic conditions in Palo Alto downtown area are improving gradually."
PRESIDENTIAL PROPS ... Linsanity has reached the White House. President Barack Obama talked about the Palo Alto High School graduate and current New York Knicks point guard during an interview Wednesday, Feb. 29, with ESPN's Bill Simmons. "I've been on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon for a while," Obama said. "He seems like a wonderful young man. And, look, it elevates this great sport all around the world."
TECHY TIDBITS ... Palo Alto city workers will soon be saying farewell to their desktop computers as part of the city's effort to become more green, modern and flexible. An announcement from the IT Department this week notes that the city plans to replace most desktops with laptops. "These laptops will use up to 90 percent less power than desktops and will enable staff to access their applications and information without being tethered to a fixed location," the announcement states. The city also plans to look into whether it makes sense for staff to have tablet computers.