Around TownWHOSE SPACE IS IT ANYWAY? ... Nature lovers who frequent the Palo Alto Baylands could soon see some changes in the programs and tours the city offers at the nature preserve. That's because the city's considering either closing the Baylands Nature Interpretive Center or turning it over to the Santa Clara County Parks Department. The proposal, which would save the city $121,724 in expenses, would allow the city to eliminate one position — producer of arts and science programs — from the Community Services Department. But the switch would come at a price. The city would no longer offer nature interpretive classes, camps and school field trips, the budget proposal states. It would also lose about $94,700 in annual budgeted revenues from these activities. Community Services Director Greg Betts told the City Council Finance Committee Tuesday night that some programs would continue thanks to the city's partnerships with nature groups such as the Audubon Society and Environmental Volunteers. Baylands visitors aren't the only nature lovers who could notice some changes next year. People who go fishing at Boronda Lake in Foothills Park could soon find the water level going down, down, down. The city has been keeping the lake full by adding potable water as needed. But now, staff is proposing to cease this practice and treat the lake like other water reservoirs, which would mean the water level would fluctuate based on the amount of rainfall. This would save about $65,000 annually in water costs, Betts estimated.
SPEEDING ALONG ... If regional transportation planners have their ways, El Camino Real could soon be the site of brightly branded buses whizzing north and south on dedicated lanes, stopping every now and then to pick up passengers from expanded station platforms surrounded by freshly installed streetscape improvements. That's the vision that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has for its proposed "El Camino Real Bus Rapid Transit" project — an effort that the Palo Alto City Council is scheduled to discuss Monday night. Under the plan, the new buses would occupy dedicated center lanes in some cities (Mountain View, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale among them) in the same way light-rail currently shuttles passengers in San Jose. But what's good for bus riders may not be good for drivers. In cities like Palo Alto, the VTA is proposing allowing buses to stop in their driving lanes near stations (rather than pull into and out of stops). This would freeze the traffic behind the buses while passengers board and disembark. According to a new report from Palo Alto's Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez, this option would entail widened sidewalks "to form the equivalent of bulb-outs at intersections to accommodate passenger dwelling and ticketing facilities." The VTA is proposing two stops along El Camino Real, at Arastradero Road and at California Avenue. The system's northbound terminus would also be in the city, at the University Avenue Transit Station. The VTA hopes to have the system operating by 2016.
AUDIT PLAUDIT ... Palo Alto's Office of the City Auditor is charged with reviewing city operations and recommending improvements. But the office recently found itself on the other side of a review, and it passed with flying colors. The Association of Local Government Auditors gave the office its 2011 Honorable Mention Knighton Award for the best performance audit in the category "Small Audit Shop." The audit, which the office released in October, pointed out a security breach in the SAP system that tracks employee information. Auditors discovered that they were able to access sensitive and confidential information — including employees' Social Security numbers and payroll records — for an "extended period of time" using a default password. Association of Local Government Auditors judges had decided that the audit's approach was innovative and that the document had significant potential for impact, according to the city's announcement. The audit issued 21 recommendations for tightening security, 13 of which have already been adopted, City Manager James Keene told the council this week (one is in the midst of adoption and the remaining seven are being evaluated). In a statement, Mayor Yiaway Yeh called the audit "another example of how an independent, objective City Auditor adds value to our City." "As a result of this report and others like it, the City is making important improvements across the organization," Yeh said.