Around TownA NEW DAY ... Palo Alto's mayoral election is typically a ceremonial affair, perfectly suited to the largely ceremonial position. Thanks to the city's long-established tradition, the title of mayor usually goes to the vice mayor of the prior year. Furthermore, the mayor serves for only one year before the position rotates to another council member. (The short duration results in a huge quantity of ex-mayors. This became a running joke at a November meeting of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting, where two former Palo Alto mayors, Yoriko Kishimoto and Sid Espinosa, addressed the board on the topic of a county grant, and a third former mayor, Supervisor Liz Kniss, took part in the decision on the grant.) Unlike in cities like New York and San Francisco, the mayor doesn't have any executive powers beyond those enjoyed by the rest of the council. Job requirements include a smooth ribbon-cutting stroke; the ability to pronounce the names of all council members who wish to speak; a firm grip for shaking hands in front of cameras while bestowing a certificate of appreciation on a worthy citizen; proficiency with a ceremonial shovel; and a social calendar capable of accommodating various grand openings and dedication ceremonies. Vice Mayor Greg Scharff should have little trouble taking over as mayor from the outgoing Yiaway Yeh, having already subbed in for Yeh on all matters relating to Stanford University over the course of the year. The only wildcard at Monday's meeting is who will take over for Scharff. In the past, the election for vice mayor has been competitive. Last year, Scharff edged out Greg Schmid for the spot, despite the latter's seniority. Schmid might have a better shot this year, having just been re-elected by the voters with the second-highest number of votes of the six candidates (Kniss finished first). When the council meets on Jan. 7 to kick off the new year, its first action will be the swearing in of Schmid, Kniss, re-elected Councilman (and, you guessed it, former mayor) Pat Burt and newly elected Councilman Marc Berman.
GROWTH OR FLUKE? ... Seventy-six new students have enrolled in Palo Alto schools with a start date of Jan. 7 — the first day back after winter break. Last year that number was 42. "This is a 60 percent increase," noted Cathy Mak, the school district's business officer. Officials keep a close watch on enrollment numbers as they try to match new classroom space with the anticipated number of students. Luckily, Mak said, most of the newcomers will be accommodated in their neighborhood schools. However, "due to the number of new third-grade registrations, we have increased some of the classes to 24 to one" teacher. Before, the ratio was 23 students per teacher.
A TREE GROWS IN MADISON ... Stanford University kicked off 2013 in grand fashion when it ground out a 20-14 victory against University of Wisconsin at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Stanford's big win also presented a smaller and more symbolic victory to Palo Alto officials and tree lovers. Thanks to a pre-game wager between Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, the mayor of the city with the losing team has to wear the victor's cap through an entire meeting and must fly the flag of the winning team over his city. In a truly Palo Alto twist, city officials had also agreed that the losing city plant a tree in honor of the winning city. Though ceremony might have to wait until Wisconson's winter sting clears, Palo Altans can rest assured that their greenthusiasm will soon spread to the Midwest.
SPEAK THE SPEECH ... Calling all high school students! The Palo Alto Rotary and University Club Rotary are inviting students attending local high schools — public and private — to participate in their annual speech contest. Participants will be asked to give an original, 4- to 5-minute speech that references at least one principle of Rotary's "4-Way Test" (which concerns truth, fairness, goodwill and mutual benefit). The first competition will take place Thursday, Jan. 10 in the Council Chambers at City Hall. The contest will have multiple rounds, by increasing geographical scope, and top winner will earn prizes totaling $1,550. More information is available at www.rotarypaloalto.org/YouthSpeechContest.cfm.