Around TownYAKETY-YAK ... Palo Alto City Council Chambers were deserted Tuesday night by the time the council got to its last agenda item — long-winded members. The nine readily agreed to spend "about an hour" at their upcoming Feb. 2 retreat discussing voluntary — or perhaps mandatory — provisions to limit council members' questions and comments during meetings. Worried that lengthy meetings are "undermining public confidence" in the political process, Mayor Greg Scharff and council members Larry Klein and Gail Price have suggested that mandatory time limits be considered if council members cannot voluntarily refrain from making voluminous comments. The average length of council meetings — held almost weekly — crept up from about four-and-a-half hours in 2008 through 2011 to five hours in 2012. "We risk undermining public confidence in our processes if we can't this problem under control," Scharff, Klein and Price said in a memo to colleagues.
OH-BAMA! ... As if their trip to Washington D.C. wasn't exciting enough: Five students from the Midpeninsula Community Media Center's Youth Video Corps (YVC) traveled with former Palo Alto Mayor Yiaway Yeh for the Inauguration last weekend. On what was to be their last day — Tuesday, Jan. 22 — they all went on a tour of the White House, only to get the surprise of a lifetime. "One-by-one we stepped into the Blue Room, and there they were," YVC member Dakota Baker wrote on a blog on Palo Alto Online's Town Square forum. "President Barack Obama was standing next to First Lady, Michelle Obama waiting to shake my hand!!!!! I was completely awestruck; my cheeks felt hot and pink; I was tingling all over. I wanted to have somewhat of a conversation with them, but I found it was extremely difficult to speak intelligently or intelligibly." YVC member Kenny Jones wrote: "Although I have been starting my blog posts from the start of my day, in this one I will start from the middle because, well, WE MET THE PRESIDENT! ... I SHOOK THEIR HANDS! The experience was beyond amazing. ... This has been one of the crazier days of my life, and I am so thankful. ... I continuously count my blessings and pinch myself because I am pretty sure that I'm dreaming. And, as Channel 4's newscaster once said: Don't act like you're not impressed." And YVC member Caroline Clark wrote: "One-by-one guests were ushered into the Blue Room. To our absolute astonishment, Barack was there with Michelle. I had a good 10 seconds of processing time and mind screaming before approaching the President and shaking his hand. ... I'm amazed that I managed to speak. The entire time I was completely in shock; 'I'M TALKING TO THE PRESIDENT!!!' were the only words I could think of. ... Today has been completely surreal. I can't believe I met the Obamas, or got a chance to tour the West Wing. It's been beyond any dream of mine. Words can't even explain how overjoyed I am." The students, who missed their flight home because of the unexpected turn of events, caught a flight home the next day.
BUH-BYE BAGS ... The City of Menlo Park has just leapfrogged over Palo Alto when it comes to banning plastic bags. This week, the Menlo Park City Council voted 5-0 to enact a new ordinance banning the use of plastic bags at check out by retailers. The ban prohibits retailers from providing plastic bags, except those used by restaurants and for produce, and also implements a 10-cent fee for paper bags. On Jan. 1, 2015, the fee increases to 25 cents per paper bag and reusable bag provided to customers. Retailers that fail to comply with the ban will be fined $100 for a first violation and $200 for a second. Starting with a third violation, a retailer will be fined $500 each day the store remains non-compliant. The ordinance authorizes the San Mateo County environmental-health department to enforce the ban. Menlo Park, along with 24 other Peninsula cities, decided last year to support the county's ordinance, in part to save the city the expense of conducting its own environmental review. The Menlo Park ban will take effect on Earth Day. City staff will give free, reusable bags to residents and retailers through July 1 to help with the transition. Palo Alto is considering expanding its plastic-bag ban, which applies to major grocery outlets, to retailers citywide.