People of the yearKen Alsman
Palo Alto citizens who made a difference in 2012
Over the past few years, Professorville resident Ken Alsman has been his neighborhood's most passionate and persistent voice in decrying downtown's parking woes. This year, the problem of insufficient downtown parking reached a tipping point as major commercial developments began making their way through the city's planning process, threatening to make things even worse and galvanizing major opposition from downtown neighborhoods. Though a real solution remains far away, Palo Alto officials have devoted considerable time this year on trying to solve this problem and have launched a new parking study, a broader analysis of downtown development and a moratorium on an old law that reduces parking requirements for downtown developments.
Winter Dellenbach has long been a skeptic when it comes to major developments that exceed zoning regulations in exchange for "public benefits." This year, the Barron Park resident and former fair-housing attorney turned her sights on a development closer to home — a proposal by owners of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park to redevelop the site. The move by the Jisser family would displace the mobile-home park's roughly 400 residents and make way for 180 apartments. In response, Dellenbach has launched the group "Friends of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park," which has already attracted dozens of members. It still promises to be a tough battle for the mobile-home residents, but at least they won't be alone.
Palo Alto has sky-high ambitions when it comes to biking, with officials often talking about overtaking Portland, Ore., as the nation's premier bicycling city. This year has seen its share of bike projects, from the city's decision to make recent lane reductions on Arastradero Road permanent and its completion of lane-reduction plans on California Avenue to its successful grant application in conjunction with Stanford University. The application gives the city $4 million for a new bike bridge over Highway 101 and funding for new trails at Matadero Creek and around Stanford University. These improvements are coming at a time when the number of students biking or walking to school continues to climb steadily and when council members wax enthusiastically about the city's new Bike and Pedestrian Transportation Plan — the city's vision document for biking supremacy. Penny Ellson has as much to do with the city's thriving biking culture as anyone. As the co-chair of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs Traffic Safety Committee, she has helped to lead Palo Alto's wildly successful "Safe Routes to School" program and has been a persistent advocate for improving dangerous corridors and intersections. Now, it feels like everyone in City Hall is pedaling along with her.
When the next major earthquake, flood or fire arrives, will Palo Alto residents be ready? Lydia Kou wants to make sure they are. The Barron Park emergency-preparedness coordinator earned kudos this year for her continued efforts to galvanize the city's residents to prepare for disaster. She launched Quakeville for the third year, but this time it was on a citywide scale. The drill took place at Cubberley Community Center, with a scenario that focused on an overnight in an emergency shelter.
When Palo Alto officials presented in March their proposal to shutter the city's animal shelter and outsource its operations, local animal lovers rallied in defense of their best friends. Dozens of animal advocates, including Scottie Zimmerman, Luke Stangel and Palo Alto Humane Society's Executive Director Carole Hyde, rallied to save animal services by forming the group "Save Our Shelter," which lobbied the City Council not to make the recommended cuts. As the effort evolved, Zimmerman and other volunteers founded the nonprofit group "Friends of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter," which pledged to help raise money for the services. The group still has plenty of work to do, but it scored a major victory in May when it helped persuade the council to keep the shelter running.
— Gennady Sheyner and Sue Dremann