Around TownCITY OF HACKS ... Palo Alto caught attention of technologists the world over last year, when it co-sponsored its first citywide "hackathon" — a combination of hacking session, networking soiree and food-and-music festival. Now it looks as if this event has also caught the attention of the White House, which is hoping to push other cities to follow suit. The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy has just scheduled a "National Day of Civic Hacking" on June 1 and 2. "A coalition of leading organizations, companies and government agencies have banded together to issue this challenge with the goal of promoting transparency, participation and collaboration among governments, startup, and citizens," the office announced. The post notes that the nationwide hacking event is being modeled after the Super Happy Block Party, the Palo Alto hackathon that was co-sponsored by Innovation Endeavors, a local venture-capital firm founded by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. This time, federal agencies are looking to get in on the fun. Officials from NASA, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Labor will be among those offering "specific challenges for hackers to work during the event." Not surprisingly, Palo Alto is among the roughly 30 cities that are already planning activities for this day. Others include San Francisco, Oakland, Austin, Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu, New York City, Seattle, Philadelphia and Tucson.
BRIDGING THE GAP ... In Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall," the reader is left skeptical about a neighbor's assertion that "good fences make good neighbors." But if there's one thing that Palo Alto residents have learned in recent years it's that insufficient parking breeds neighbor-to-neighbor tension. That's been the case downtown, where residents in the parking-deprived neighborhoods Professorville and Downtown North have been fighting downtown businesses over parking spots and lobbying the city to make sure new developments offer ample parking spots. And it's now the case on the border of Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, where residents on one side of the Newell Road bridge are accusing those from the other side of crossing over and taking over their parking spots. The issue was brought to the forefront earlier this month when about a dozen residents from the area around Edgewood Drive and Newell Road in Palo Alto complained about the problem of disappearing spots, speeding cars and increased littering on their blocks. The East Palo Alto drivers reportedly opted to cross the bridge for their parking needs because of new parking restrictions on their side of the bridge. Palo Alto's planning officials responded swiftly, creating a "no parking anytime" restriction on Newell Road between Edgewood and the bridge and adding red striping at curbs near intersections. Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said the city also plans to restripe the yellow center lines on Newell next week. He received major kudos for these steps from some Edgewood residents at the Wednesday night meeting of the Planning and Transportation Commission. At the same time, the residents warned that these initial steps don't fully solve the problem, merely push it to other blocks. They lobbied for more substantive solutions, such as parking permits. "My belief is that the real solution is to require permits for overnight parking on Edgewood as well as further down Newell if necessary," resident Irving Rappaport told the commission. "And the other part of the solution is to get cooperation from East Palo Alto to deal with its part of the problem instead of pushing their problems onto the Palo Alto side of the bridge." Ben Ball, who also lives on Edgwood, said he appreciates the efforts of city planners to improve the situation. But the "parking crisis" remains, he said. "We've been told it'll take months and months to come up with a way to solve the problem, not withstanding the support we have of our Edgewood Drive neighbors," Ball said.
IN THE ZONE ... Three years after Palo Alto decided to remove requirements for ground-floor retail at the 600 block of Emerson Street, plans are afoot to bring these requirements back. The Planning and Transportation Commission Wednesday discussed the city's plan to prevent the ground floors on the vibrant downtown block between Hamilton and Forest avenues from switching to offices, as has already happened at the former Fraiche Yogurt building. The commission didn't vote, but members expressed enthusiasm for the rezoning effort, which was first proposed by Mayor Greg Scharff, Councilwoman Karen Holman and Councilman Greg Schmid. "It's hard to have a thriving downtown area if you don't have life on those ground floors," Commissioner Alex Panelli said. "It totally makes sense." The commission will continue this discussion and possibly vote on the zone change on Feb. 13.