Around TownA 'CLEAN' SLATE ... Palo Alto officials were buzzing with excitement Monday about the city's latest green-energy initiative — a new program that allows local companies to install solar panels and then sell energy to the city's Utilities Department. Councilman Pat Burt called the program a fulfillment of the community's desire for energy that is both very clean and competitive when it comes to rates. Utilities Advisory Commission Chair Jonathan Foster agreed, calling the program "the right thing" at "the right time" for Palo Alto. Councilman Larry Klein also said he was "very enthusiastic" about the program, despite his prior misgivings about its name. Initiatives of this sort are common in Europe, where they go by the clunky, vague and (to the layman) generally meaningless title of "feed-in tariff" programs. In an impressive feat of reverse engineering and a robust debate at the utilities commission, the city's program was christened "Palo Alto CLEAN," which stands for "Clean Local Energy Accessible Now." The advisory commission had actually preferred the name "PaloAltoGreen Local Energy Program," but the council ultimately went with CLEAN. Klein said the acronym that the city adopted isn't perfect but is much easier to explain to people than "feed-in tariff." "I'm hoping by doing this we can abolish references to 'feed-in tariff' because no one understands what it means," Klein said.
FIELD DAY ... El Camino Park is set for a major transformation as part of Palo Alto's decision to build a large underground reservoir at the park. But what started out as an emergency-preparedness endeavor is now spilling over into the recreational realm. City officials plan to use the water project as an occasion to add a host of new amenities to the park, including new pathways, a synthetic playing field, an expanded parking lot and potentially a dog exercise area. The City Council will consider on Monday a proposal to spend $2.3 million on the proposed amenities. The biggest question surrounds the dog area — a $207,000 project that staff recommends deferring for the time being. In a new report, Daren Anderson of the Community Services Department wrote that the water project "has created a unique opportunity for the City to leverage time and resources to improve several areas of the popular park."
A NEW LEAF ... Palo Alto will proudly flaunt its arboreal zeal on Saturday, March 10, when local officials and tree enthusiasts flock to Mitchell Park to celebrate Arbor Day. The city, which after all is named for a tree, is inviting residents to join staff members of the nonprofit group Canopy in planting trees and partaking in a host of tree-related activities. These will include a "tree-climbing circus" with champion tree climbers, said Catherine Martineau, Canopy's executive director. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
LABORING ALONG ... Palo Alto and its police union remain far apart in their negotiations over a new labor contract, but city management earned a small victory last week in its three-year quest to reduce employee costs. The council approved on March 5 a new contract with Fire Department management — an agreement that eliminates managers' bonus program, raises the amount they have to contribute for pensions and requires them to contribute 10 percent toward their medical premiums. The benefit adjustments that the city has made to the four-member labor group are similar to those that have been recently accepted by Palo Alto's major unions, including the Services Employees International Union, Local 521, and Palo Alto Professional Firefighters, Local 1319. "I'm happy we can now put this behind us and move into structural changes for another group," Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd said at the March 5 meeting. The city's next goal is convincing the police union to make significant concessions — a quest that has yet to bear fruit. Last month, the city declared an "impasse" in its negotiations with the 82-member Palo Alto Police Officers Association, whose contract expired last July. On a parallel track, city officials are now looking to adopt "labor guiding principles" that would require the city to reach agreements with its labor unions before existing contracts expire — a policy championed by Councilman Larry Klein. The City Council's Policy and Services Committee is scheduled to consider the proposed document Tuesday night.