Newsmakers of the Year: 2009

Outstanding individuals and groups leave their mark on the community during a trying year

The Palo Alto Weekly's Newsmakers of the Year have shaped and influenced Palo Alto's residents, and the city itself, in 2009.

They range from the most popular social-networking company in the history of the Internet to a high-school community that responded to tragedy with an outpouring of compassion.

Theirs are the actions that created the news. Some stepped up to a challenge that was thrust upon them. Others sought to put their stamp on the world and carved out their own niche.

They include Palo Alto's new chief of police, a coalition-building city councilwoman and a controversial high-school principal. There are residents who took aim at fixing perceived wrongs. The newsmakers include developers, city workers, companies large and small, a nonprofit organization and students.

Theirs are the impacts that are likely to last well into the future, from Bob Moss, whose private-streets initiative mandates future roads in Palo Alto be wide enough, to Yoriko Kishimoto, whose Peninsula Cities Coalition helped give local communities a voice on high-speed rail.

Many other citizens, businesses and organizations generated news of various kinds and made significant contributions to the community, region or nation in the past year. People are welcome to make their own nominations on the Town Square forum linked to this newsmakers' article.

Here, then, are the Weekly's nominations for the 13 Newsmakers of the Year.

Community of the year

After suicides, Gunn High School walks a delicate line

Gunn High School's wrestlers won a 32-team tournament last week. Some seniors got news of early college acceptances or rejections. The school earned a ranking on U.S. News & World Report's 2010 list of America's top 100 public high schools.

Life goes on for the 1,898 students at Gunn even as they mourn the numbing loss of four classmates who died by suicide this year at the Caltrain tracks.

For seven months, the Gunn staff has walked a fine line between maintaining the rigors and rich offerings of a top-ranked high school while making allowances for the deep personal grief felt by large numbers of students and staff members.

Following the first suicide May 5, a stunned and distraught community sought expert help on how to respond, offering students and staff an array of counseling and mental health resources.

Each subsequent Caltrain death (June 2, Aug. 21, Oct. 19) brought renewed grief, as well as mounting concerns about the documented phenomenon of "suicide contagion."

Parents, school leaders, medical experts, religious leaders and concerned citizens mobilized to offer what help they could.

A loosely organized "community task force" representing up to 20 groups began meeting over the summer to develop an action plan. Their work is described on the City of Palo Alto's website under "Project Safety Net".

Members of Project Safety Net are looking at various methods for student mental health screening, organizing free assistance for those unable to pay and educating media outlets on how to handle suicide coverage.

"We do have a list of students that we're watching and trying to support," Carol Zepecki, district student services director, said of the varied responses.

Numerous panel discussions on adolescent mental health and depression were held by PTAs, counseling services, religious organizations as people struggled to understand the deaths -- until the time to talk became a time to act.

"We might have had enough community panels," Zepecki said.

A subgroup of Project Safety Net is considering the pros and cons of performing "psychological autopsies," which Zepecki described as "reviewing the student deaths to try to find factors that suggest a pattern or inform in any way something the community might do differently."

Families of two of the students indicated they may be interested in pursuing this, she said.

When short-term police monitoring of the Meadow Drive Caltrain crossing failed to prevent subsequent suicides, parents and neighbors took matters into their own hands.

Following the fourth death, parents and neighbors initiated "Palo Alto Track Watch," which organizes volunteers to maintain a physical presence at the tracks during hours trains are running.

Security guards were hired in late November by the Palo Alto Police Department to bolster the citizen patrols, possibly through the end of the school year.

Police have supplied reflective vests and training to the volunteers. The volunteers have expanded the track-monitoring to other Caltrain crossings.

In early December, Caltrain approved new lighting to illuminate the Meadow Drive crossing in an effort to dissuade potential suicides.

Gunn students themselves have initiated some of the most touching responses to the deaths, trying to foster more open communication among their peers.

Seniors Miles Mathews and Sam Zeif seized on their T-shirt-making hobby to create artful shirts featuring colorful human profiles with the words: "Talk to me."

"Sometimes we just need someone to talk to, so lend your ears and open up," the students said. "Be the change you wish to see at Gunn." At $5 each, the shirts sold out immediately.

Other students organized to become "The ROCK," staffing a "Rock" table in the library during their free periods for any student wishing to stop and talk about anything. ROCK stands for "reach out, care and know."

In late October senior Joyce Liu created the website "Henry M. Gunn Gives Me Hope," modeled after a website called "Gives Me Hope." It invites people to post stories about the good things, large and small, that transpire daily at the school.

Last week a student posted the following:

"A few weeks ago I finally told my friends that last year I battled depression and thoughts of suicide. I was halfway through thanking them for befriending me when they all tackled me at the same time. They all refused to stop hugging me for the next ten minutes. Henry M. Gunn Gives Me Hope."

The student signed off with the screen name, "Happy."

-- Chris Kenrick

Stabilizer of the year

Police Chief Dennis Burns focuses on restoring community relations

It's been a long, hectic year for the Palo Alto Police Department. When Police Chief Lynne Johnson resigned in December 2008 under a storm of racial-profiling allegations, the job of repairing community relations fell to Assistant Chief Dennis Burns, a 27-year veteran of the Police Department.

Burns, a college track star who made headlines in 2007 when he chased down a purse-snatcher in downtown Palo Alto, hit the ground running by holding workshops on racially impartial policing. As "interim chief," he sought advice from racial-profiling expert Lorie Fridell, held monthly "Meet the Chief" meetings with the community and set up a citizen advisory board to advise the department on public outreach.

Burns also had to deal with the equally daunting task of steering the 170-member department through a period of budget cuts and service reductions.

In July, City Manager James Keene gave Burns his vote of confidence and named him the city's ninth police chief, following a nationwide search that attracted more than 40 candidates.

At his swearing-in ceremony in November, Burns pledged to provide the community with the highest level of service and to give his officers all the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.

Now, Burns is looking ahead to another challenging year. The department has a leaner staff and a smaller budget. Community Outreach Coordinator Susie Ord retired at the end of the year and Burns said she may not be replaced. Popular programs such as Citizen's Academy may also be cut.

With more cuts on the way, Burns said the department would have to look for creative ways to maintain its scope of services.

"Going forward, we will have to look at ourselves, be introspective and find ways to operate in an efficient manner," Burns said.

-- Gennady Sheyner

Coalition builder of the year

Yoriko Kishimoto unites cities on high-speed rail

Palo Alto officials scrambled throughout 2009 to keep up with the California's controversial high-speed rail project.

By the time the City Council became fully engaged in the project the California High-Speed Rail Authority had already decided that the rail line would stretch through the middle of the city, with elevated tracks listed as one possibility. Rumors circulated about a 20-foot-high wall dividing the city. Residents along the Caltrain tracks were unnerved to learn that the rail authority wields eminent-domain powers.

With tempers flaring, Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto brought some level-headedness to the debate by reaching out to the rail authority and by forming a coalition with four other Peninsula cities. In her final year on the council, the political veteran founded and served as chair of the Peninsula Cities Consortium -- a group that includes Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame. Kishimoto soaked up information, made connections with rail officials, organized community meetings on the project and used the combined political weight of the five member cities to wring concessions from the rail authority.

Kishimoto was also a leading proponent of applying the inclusive, collaborative "context-sensitive solutions" approach to rail design. After extensive lobbying by the coalition, the rail authority agreed to the context-sensitive approach on the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment and mentioned the design approach in its newly released business plan.

At a study session on high-speed rail Nov. 16, Kishimoto referred to the project as "transformative" and said the goal of the Peninsula coalition is make sure the project transforms the region in a positive way.

"We always say, 'We hang together or we hang separately,'" Kishimoto said. "I'm glad at least enough of our Peninsula cities came together to share information and so that we have greater political leverage."

In 2010, Kishimoto may find herself better positioned to influence the state project, now estimated at $42.6 billion. After concluding her eighth year on the Palo Alto council, Kishimoto is now eyeing a new elective office -- Ira Ruskin's seat in the 21st Assembly District when he is termed out of office in January 2011.

-- Gennady Sheyner

Neighborhood activist of the year

Fred Balin wins on trees, loses on College Terrace Centre (JJ&F)

College Terrace resident Fred Balin took on two battles this year, one successfully, the other not.

Balin mounted unsuccessful opposition to the College Terrace Centre development, a controversial office-and-retail project, more widely known as the JJ&F development. The plan will build nearly 40,000 square feet of office space, 5,580 square feet of additional retail and eight units of affordable housing in exchange for keeping the beloved JJ&F market by way of a rent subsidy.

Balin opposed the zoning change from neighborhood commercial to planned community, which allows for denser development.

But he and wife Ann led a successful citizen response to the California Avenue trees fiasco, when the city prematurely ordered 63 holly oaks cut down. The citizen response resulted in a more varied tree-planting plan and greater citizen involvement in future tree-replacement projects.

The city had the trees cut down to make way for a more uniform look to California Avenue, as part of a "streetscape improvement" plan. Residents and some business owners were outraged, while citizens and arborists were concerned about planting only red maples.

Balin organized two public meetings on California Avenue, including one with tree expert Barrie Coate, to come up with alternatives to the monochromatic tree-replacement plan favored by the California Avenue Area Development Association.

The city took the citizens/arborists suggestions to heart, calling a meeting for community input. The City Council unanimously approved a proposal Nov. 16 to plant all the new trees before the end of February.

In both cases, city departments and the council failed to lay out elements of each project "in relation to rules we have," Balin said.

That failure results in citizen action through "the blunt and imperfect instruments" available, such as lawsuits, referendums, initiatives -- and elections -- to express dissatisfaction, he said.

"How many people voted against the business license tax because they just didn't trust the city with any more money?" he asked.

The response becomes, "You know, let's starve the beast," he said.

-- Sue Dremann

School newsmaker of the year

Palo Alto High School Principal Jacquie McEvoy, parents, students declared war over 'egg wars'

The consequences of an Oct. 27 egg fight among Palo Alto High School students continue to ripple through the community more than two months later.

The "egg wars" between members of Paly's junior and senior classes, an unauthorized tradition of the school's annual Spirit Week, occurred this year on the Gunn High School campus rather than at its usual location in a Stanford eucalyptus grove.

When Paly Principal Jacquie McEvoy learned of the gooey damage thousands of broken eggs wreaked on Gunn sports facilities, she began issuing five-day suspensions and threatened to cancel the remainder of Spirit Week activities.

McEvoy quickly reduced the suspensions to one day and reinstated Spirit Week after she said she learned the egg fight had been less serious than she originally thought -- but not before triggering a revolt by some Paly parents.

Frustrated by what they saw as McEvoy's hair-trigger discipline in the egg wars and an overall "punitive" style, some parents called for a probe of the school's investigative procedures in the egg-wars incident.

The investigation amounted to "nothing short of a terror campaign against the students to seek out and punish" those involved, parent and lawyer Megan Carroll said.

McEvoy said she was drafting an explanation of her philosophy concerning student discipline.

Meanwhile, she agreed to drop the suspensions from students' permanent records if they stay on good behavior for the rest of the year.

Overall, anywhere from 50 to 150 students participated in the egg fight. Twelve students received suspensions and community-service assignments, and another six got just community service, the school said.

Gunn Principal Noreen Likins said the school was grateful that Paly students had accompanied McEvoy on an apology mission to Gunn, where they told Gunn students their prank had in no way been aimed at Gunn but occurred there after Stanford police shooed them away from the eucalyptus grove.

Likins called in professional help to clean the eggs from Gunn's new track, scoreboards and pool deck at a cost of $3,200, to be covered by Paly.

"Eggs are a substance that really damage a lot of surfaces," she said, explaining why she preferred professional cleaners to student volunteers.

In the end, everyone seemed to agree that they wished they could turn back the clock to the day before the scheduled egg wars and try a re-run, a kind of mutual-regret truce -- sort of like the proverbial walking on eggs.

-- Chris Kenrick

Underestimators of the year

Palo Alto Public Works, California Avenue Area Development Association misstep on clearcutting trees

One day in mid-September, 63 mature holly oaks along California Avenue mysteriously disappeared. Mysteriously because, as it turned out, no one except for a small group of business leaders from California Avenue Area Development Association got the memo that the city's most dramatic clearcutting operation of the year would be taking place in the three-block-long business district.

Then the city announced that Public Works staff violated city policy by clearcutting the trees without going through a mandated waiting period. After a massive community protest, the city halted the streetscape project, hired new landscape consultants, held a series of community meetings, talked to a panel of arborists and offered a series of apologies for the "tree debacle."

Now, city officials say they are determined to right the wrongs of 2009 by adopting a more transparent process for replacing the felled trees and making other streetscape improvements on California Avenue. Replanting is scheduled to begin the end of January and stretch through February.

"It's new trees for a new year," said Mike Sartor, assistant director of the Public Works Department.

New process, as well. Streetscape improvements will now be thoroughly reviewed by city commissions and publicized beyond the immediate neighborhood. September's mistakes notwithstanding, Sartor said the department is pleased with the way the community came together for the tree-replacement plan.

"The good news that came out of this was the process conducted to select the replanting," Sartor said. "The planning commission and the public came up with a collaborative effort to select the new trees."

-- Gennady Sheyner

Naysayers of the year

Palo Alto's small business community relieved over business-tax failure

In January, Councilman John Barton predicted that Palo Alto voters would see the city's proposed business-license tax as a "slam dunk" and pass it with ease, thereby generating about $3 million in badly needed revenue for the city budget.

Ten months later, city officials learned that it's been a dismal decade for the term "slam dunk."

Small businesses rose up against the tax, voters rejected Measure A, and city officials found themselves staring at a swelling budget deficit with no end in sight.

For small-business owners, the defeat of Measure A was a speck of good news in a bleak year. With downtown vacancies spiking and sales revenues plummeting, many business owners said a new business tax is the last thing the city needs.

Harold "Skip" Justman, an attorney who led the campaign against Measure A, argued in the months before the November election that the measure was too vague, too intrusive and too onerous to win compliance from small businesseses. The voters, he said, recognized the burden Measure A would place on businesses and rejected the measure.

Paula Sandas, chief executive officer of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, said the vote proved that residents are committed to protecting and supporting Palo Alto's small-business community.

Sandas said the organization is open-minded about the city's next business-tax proposal. The Chamber plans to work with the city and hopes to have a hand in shaping whatever tax proposal emerges from the next City Council.

"We are trying to be proactive and looking for ways to be part of the process," Sandas said.

-- Gennady Sheyner

Activist of the year

Bob Moss fights City Hall -- and wins

Barron Park resident Bob Moss couldn't believe his ears: two more years before the City of Palo Alto could address a private-streets ordinance.

Meanwhile, higher and denser building developments with too-narrow streets were being approved that would impact the city's neighborhoods, existing and new.

Many residents of new developments and their neighbors had complained that the narrow streets posed hazards. Inadequate parking forced residents and visitors to spill into other neighborhoods, they said.

Moss became concerned in February when he learned that private streets were being counted a part of an overall size of the property -- which meant the buildings could be larger than if the streets were dedicated public streets. This constitutes a boon to developers at the expense of residents and the community, he said.

Planning Director Curtis Williams told Moss that the city planning staff "can't do anything about it for a couple of years," Moss recalled.

"I said, 'This is ridiculous. We don't have time to do it? I'll do it.'"

Moss formed a citizen's group with a website for a name, "," and developed the Private Streets Initiative, which specifies that private streets should have uniform widths -- 32 feet, with some exceptions.

More than 2,303 Palo Alto voters signed the petition, which was filed July 13. The City Council adopted the ordinance Sept. 21. The ordinance will take effect after the city approves a technical definition of private streets.

Moss's approach sounds simple.

"You understand the problem, you look for real solutions and you work on them.

"If you are doing the job right, you listen to other people. You pick their brains and you come up with a project better than you started with in the first place," he said, citing his work with city officials and citizens.

-- Sue Dremann

Developers of the year

Ellis Partners brings Town & Country Village back to life

When the family-run Ellis Partners of San Francisco bought the ailing Town & Country Village five years ago, all options -- including scraping the 55-year-old community icon -- were on the table.

"We took a very broad look at its potential future use," Ellis Partners founder and Managing Principal Jim Ellis said.

"We started a dialogue with the community and the City of Palo Alto. We realized this was a valuable kind of community gem, if you will, and we're not interested in building projects that don't have community and city support."

In the end it cost his firm more to revive Town & Country as a "community gathering spot" than to demolish and rebuild it as a retail-residential project, Ellis said.

Ellis dispatched clipboard-clutching interviewers to the site, asking shoppers what they'd like to see happen at Town & Country.

"We knew we needed to do some high-quality restaurants that were unique to Palo Alto -- no chain restaurants, nothing like that," Ellis said. Ellis Partners' other projects include redeveloping Oakland's Jack London Square, office-retail buildings at 114 Sansome and 111 Sutter streets in San Francisco and EmeryTech, an office project in Emeryville.

"We also knew we needed specialty retail and everyday service retail -- dry cleaners and cobblers. And we did not want to see certain institutions, like the Village Cheese House, leave," he said.

Surveyors found that the most-requested tenant was Trader Joe's, "which in part was why we decided to chase them down and get them into the center," Ellis said.

"We took great pains to make that building look like the other ones. It was not an easy task. I hope it blends in well."

Ultimately the developer spent $30 million -- triple the initial budget -- for roofing, seismic and electrical retrofits and rebuilding the common areas and parking lots.

Ellis admitted the renovations, temporary scarcity of parking -- and unpopular decisions such as terminating the Cookbook restaurant -- have "tried people's nerves."

But the end result, culminating with the Dec. 4 opening of Trader Joe's, is the community gathering spot he envisioned, he said.

-- Chris Kenrick

Legal eagles of the year

Architectural Control Committee sues Edgewood Plaza developer, wins compromise

Facing yet another dense mixed-use development of a neighborhood retail center, three residents sued the developer and won a compromise on Edgewood Plaza redevelopment.

Calling themselves the Architectural Control Committee for Tract 1641, Diane Sekimura, Marin Yonke, Kim Fletcher and attorney Brandon Baum sued developer Sand Hill Property in August 2008, regarding plans to modify the historic Eichler retail center and build 24 two-story townhomes on the site.

Edgewood Plaza is bounded by Embarcadero Road, St. Francis Drive, Channing Avenue and West Bayshore Road.

Legendary developer Joseph Eichler build the original Edgewood Plaza (on four commercial properties) and 86 homes in Tract 1641 in 1956. They are bound by a "Declaration of Restrictions, Conditions, Covenants, Changes and Agreements" (CC&Rs).

Such declarations can restrict changes or uses of properties. The CC&Rs limit residences to one-story detached homes and restrict two Edgewood Plaza lots for retail, restaurant, office and similar commercial uses. The declaration requires that construction plans must be approved by a three-person Architectural Control Committee, plaintiffs said.

Committee members and Sand Hill reached a settlement Oct. 29. The settlement could clear the way for redevelopment of the dilapidated, 53-year-old shopping plaza, whose future has long been under contention.

The agreement includes reducing the number of new homes to 10, adding a 10,400-square-foot (0.25 acre) public space and preservation of two original Eichler retail buildings and a grocery-store building.

Neighborhood leaders and most residents have expressed satisfaction with the outcome at public meetings.

"We were really fortunate to have the legal backup of the CC&Rs to help level the playing field. In negotiations with a powerful developer, you have to have some place to stand," Sekimura said.

-- Sue Dremann

Fiscal crisis of the year

Page Mill Properties' EPA operation raises rents, gets sued, implodes

The war between Page Mill Properties and its tenants in East Palo Alto hit two key turning points in September. First, a San Mateo County judge barred the Palo Alto-based property management firm from raising rents at its apartment complexes in East Palo Alto. Then, a week later, the company briefly abandoned the East Palo Alto apartments, leaving trash cans overflowing, fire alarms malfunctioning and residents wondering what to do with their rent checks.

When the dust settled, the situation looked bleak for the largest landlord in East Palo Alto. After months of raising rents (in some cases by more than 50 percent), suing East Palo Alto and lobbying San Mateo County officials to break off the Woodland Park neighborhood from the city's sphere of influence, the company found itself on the defensive and struggling to pay its bills.

By the second half of the year, the company that East Palo Alto officials had long accused of "predatory" tactics now found itself prey to the Great Recession. In August, Page Mill missed a $50 million payment to Wells Fargo Bank. A judge then upheld an injunction by tenants against Page Mill, barring the company from "collecting or enforcing any rent increases" at its properties.

The Palo Alto Police Department even got involved: It hired a private investigator to look into Page Mill's hiring of a Palo Alto officer to moonlight as its security consultant. That investigation is ongoing.

Page Mill's financial woes hit their climax in September, when the company was forced to cede control of its 1,700-plus units to a court-appointed receiver, Wald Realty Advisors.

Now, as the company's apartments slog toward foreclosure, tenants are anxiously waiting to see what will happen to the properties. Meanwhile, East Palo Alto officials and Wald Realty are contemplating a deal that would settle the ongoing lawsuits between Page Mill and the city and conclude the city's long and bitter battle over rent control.

-- Gennady Sheyner

Company of the year

Numbers say it all for Palo Alto-based Facebook

Palo Alto social networking giant Facebook's leadership in 2009 perhaps can be best quantified in lay terms by its move to Stanford Research Park from its 10 downtown Palo Alto offices.

The exponentially growing company moved most of its then-800 employees to the research park in May. The company moved into the former 132,780-square-foot Agilent facility at 1601 S. California Ave., which can hold a maximum 1,446 employees.

Facebook says it now has about 1,000 employees.

The company's phenomenal growth led it to rent an additional 265,000 square feet in December in the research park, at 1050 Page Mill Road.

Spokesman Larry Yu said Facebook went from 150 million users in January to 350 million by early December. And officials expect even more explosive growth in the near future.

The company implemented Facebook Connect in December 2008, a viral sharing loop that allows 60 million users every month to visit, comment, rate and share websites with others. So far about 80,000 websites have used the tool, including many businesses, he said.

Facebook scored $200 million in investment funds in May from Digital Sky Technologies, its first big financial injection since 2007.

In October, Facebook was awarded a $711 million judgment against a prolific spammer, a coup that would keep others from abusing the site, Yu said.

The company "didn't expect the level of consternation" to changes in its terms-of-service agreement in February, which granted Facebook irrevocable and perpetual license on any and all content, even after a user quits the site.

Facebook backtracked days later after a storm of protest, instituting a Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, to give users input in how terms are changed.

The company announced positive cash flow for the first time in September, ahead of 2010 projections, he said.

-- Sue Dremann

Nonprofit of the year

New Jewish community center embraces whole community

"It was almost beyond my wildest dreams," Carol Saal said about the grand opening of the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center on the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life in south Palo Alto in October.

"That's the point of the campus, bringing people into Jewish life, who have no other connections, but feel they need to be part of something in the Jewish community.

"It was much bigger than I ever imagined," said Saal, as she spotted both familiar and unrecognized faces in the crowd that day.

Saal was instrumental in raising more than $140 million over eight years for the center, which is open to the whole community. About half of the fitness club membership is estimated to be not Jewish, according to Alan Sataloff, chief executive officer.

The center, which replaced Sun Microsystems at the corner of Charleston and San Antonio roads, promises to transform life in that section of the city.

It includes a state-of-the-art fitness center with indoor and outdoor pools, a preschool, classrooms and lounges, rooms for nonprofit group meetings, a 350-seat theater, a cafe and a gift shop.

The center replaces the old Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center, which was located at the then-closed Terman Middle School and later temporarily moved to the Cubberley Community Center. In addition, the larger campus includes the Moldaw Family Residences and a branch of the Stanford Health Library.

With a goal of attracting 12,000 annual members, the center is designed as an urban village, where one can drop kids off at preschool, work out, visit grandparents, have a cup of coffee, go to a meeting -- all without moving the car.

Built out to the edges of the 8.5-acre property, outdoor spaces are visible -- and usable -- from inside the complex, rather than from the street. Buildings form the backdrop for "outdoor rooms," including a town square that can be used for big events, such as concerts.

-- Carol Blitzer

Let's discuss: Who would you name a Palo Alto Newsmaker of the Year?


Like this comment
Posted by Not-A-Fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Yoriko Kishimoto:

is not a transportation consultant/expert and has not published any original papers that demonstrate the value of High Speed Rail (HSR), on California, or Palo Alto.

is not a Petroleum Geologist and has published no papers that predict the end of fossil-fuels (petroleum) availability to the world requiring massive state-owned transportation systems to fulfill society’s needs for transportation.

is not an economist and has published no original papers (or studies) that demonstrate the economic impact of HSR on California and Palo Alto.

is not a land-use expert and has produced no original papers that demonstrate the impact of HSR on land values here in California and Palo Alto

Yoriko Kishimoto has shown in the past eight years of being a Palo Alto City Council Member, however, that she is nothing more than a rubber stamp for bad ideas.

Kishimoto should be retired by the voters, should she ever run for an elected office again.

Like this comment
Posted by Too Much Traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Not-a-fan--nice post and right on. This fluff piece about Yoriko sounds like the PA Weekly is going to be her cheerleader for the Assembly race next year. The article forgot to mention her stance on HSR in 2008, when she encouraged the council and voters to support HSR and then her quick about-face once the you-know-what hit the fan. The article is a joke.

Like this comment
Posted by Also not a fan
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 27, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Do not forget her voting against jj&f and her ridiculous insistence on no new net car trips while supporting destination palo alto and the senior games. Anyway if she runs for assembly she will have to state her position on issues unlike in palo alto where all candidates parrot the same lines and avoid telling how they are different from other candidates

Like this comment
Posted by Cathi Anne
a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 30, 2009 at 9:28 am

I agree with all of you about Yoriko. She's all words. Little substance. And the Weekly needs to be careful about pushing those who are running for higher office.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 30, 2009 at 10:01 am

I think Yoriko has done a great job. I will vote for her again if she runs for something else.

Like this comment
Posted by Darwin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Please stop enabling Bob Moss. Thanks.

Like this comment
Posted by Naysayers??
a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 30, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Interesting article. Tend to agree about the "coalition" stuff...

Question: Don't understand the "naysayers" title. Naysayer is a pretty negative connotation for people who voted for/supported what is left of our private business climate in Palo Alto.

Can someone explain the title Naysayer in anything but a negative light?

Me, I saw the vote as a gleam of light in these dismal times re: how people think about economics and the private sector.

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 1, 2010 at 1:47 pm

If someone urged you to jump off a cliff, then ran to the bottom and organized a “coalition” to put you back together, would you give her an award for saving your life?

The Weekly named former Palo Alto mayor and state assembly hopeful, Yoriko Kishimoto, “coalition builder of the year” for her work uniting cities on high-speed rail.

“Kishimoto soaked up information, made connections … organized community meetings ... “

Too bad she didn’t do all that before writing the October 2008 colleagues memo (with Larry Klein), Request for the City Council to Support State Proposition 1A, urging all citizens to vote for HSR:
"Now, therefore be it resolved that the City Council of the City of Palo Alto does hereby declare support of Proposition 1A and urges all citizens to vote for such measure on November 4, 2008."

Kishimoto should have been better informed, especially since she was on the VTA board and the Dumbarton Rail Policy Committee.

Conveniently, after HSR’s negative impacts became apparent and peninsula residents were up in arms, Kishimoto ran to the head of the parade and declared herself its leader.

In February 2009, at a meeting of the VTA Congestion Management Program & Planning Committee, Chairwoman Kishimoto “noted it may be a good idea to release a Memorandum of Understanding among HSR affected cities … containing baseline common interests regarding HSR.” One of the common interests noted was “more time to review the plan.”

Why didn’t Kishimoto review the plan prior to urging us to vote for it?

There were certainly indications of problems. In September 2008—before Kishimoto wrote her colleagues memo—nearly 200 people showed up at the Menlo Park City Council Chambers, voicing concerns about HSR.

Why wasn’t Kishimoto uniting with other communities back then?

Now that she's running for state assembly, Kishimoto’s press -- thanks to “awards” like the Weekly’s -- paints her as the heroine of peninsula cities, lauded for her “leadership”.

If HSR is an example of Kishimoto’s leadership, heaven help us if she’s elected to the state assembly.

Like this comment
Posted by Too much traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Pat--very well written post, which accurately sums up Yoriko's poltically motivated posturing on this issue. It is unfortunate that she does not take any responsibility for her stance in 2008 regarding HSR and instead is cynically exploiting the discontent over HSR to further her own political goals.
Pat asks "Why didn’t Kishimoto review the plan prior to urging us to vote for it?"--maybe she was busy taking part in photo-ops or was having a carbon footprint done on her home. My guess is that she had her green glasses on--and saw HSR as a means of relieving traffic. That is all that seems to matter to our "green" council members--if it will halp fight "climate change", they are all for it--without bothering to look at the plan in detail or look at it's long term cost.
These arethe same green glasses that Yoriko wears when she bashes Stanford and maintains, what she calls a city philosophy, but in reality is her pipe dream, that Stanford and other business entities not generate no new net car trips into Palo Alto. On the other hand, she supports destination Palo Alto and other events such as the Senior games and the Tour of Californiam which bring in more cars to the city. Clueless or hypocrite--draw your own conclusion.
I cannot wait until Monday's council meeting, when she will be showered with praise for her service to the city. Can anyone tell meone thing that she actually accomplished during her tenure?

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 2, 2010 at 9:58 am

Too much traffic: You are so right about the hypocrisy.

On December 15, 2008 Kishimoto wrote another colleagues memo with Sid Espinosa and John Barton: “Request for Report on High Speed Rail Station in Palo Alto.”

Council thought it would be great to have the station here. But while touting the “greenness” of HSR, Kishimoto seemed to ignore the practicalities, e.g., increased traffic and parking for train passengers.

A San Jose Mercury article, September 9, 2008, says “she is excited about the possibility of a high-speed stop but would not want to see a big parking garage like the one in Millbrae."

Of course Kishimoto’s mentality is that everyone will walk or bike everywhere. This is the same mentality that our council applies to building high density housing. Without any data, they assume we will all live in the same city where we work, we will all bike or walk everywhere, we will all take public transit.

While preaching zero waste and zero new car trips, the council keeps approving development plans for new businesses and lots of housing. How do they fail to see the contradiction in that?

We certainly need to invigorate the business climate in the city. But those businesses inevitably mean more traffic.

Trader Joe’s brought in a lot more traffic, but I don’t recall the council telling them they had to provide housing for its workers.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 3, 2010 at 11:40 am

Web Link

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Posted by Who is better?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 3, 2010 at 11:52 am

Are you saying Barton or Morton or Drekmeier are more deserving of praise?
If you like the huge housing developments going up all over town, give them a big hand. Those three votes made it certain that the big and the ugly were all approved.

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Posted by Also not a fan
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 3, 2010 at 2:27 pm

These self-congratulatory declarations are big things for our council-- after all they are always patting themselves on the back for a job well done. I am sure they will be also issueing proclamations for Morton, Barton and drekmier. But can anyone tell me what they really accomplished during their tenures?

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Accomplishments are hard to find in the commendation documents. More typically, council members are praised for being members of some committee or being proponents or leaders vs. actually getting something done.

If anyone working for me ever turned in a monthly or quarterly report listing such “accomplishments,” they’d get a lesson on MEASURABLE goals. Apparently our city “leaders” have no clue about such things or the city wouldn’t be in such a mess.

You can read the commendations by following the links at Web Link


* Kishimoto: WHEREAS, Yoriko has always come to meetings well-prepared, paying great attention to detail as well as the big picture, and offering a wealth of institutional knowledge and insight.

* Drekmeier: WHEREAS, Peter, as the Chair of the Council, made sure all points of view had a fair hearing on every issue, welcoming and thanking every person who appeared before the Council and keeping a calm and light touch in tense situations by well-timed injections of humor, and the occasional bout of spontaneous singing, thereby making everyone in the Council Chambers comfortable in conducting the public’s business;

* Barton: WHEREAS, John has always been respectful of his colleagues’ time, speaking clearly, concisely and deliberately;

Am I the only one who finds these statements embarrassing? Since when do people get awards for just showing up?

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Posted by Too Much Traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2010 at 12:48 pm

"Am I the only one who finds these statements embarrassing?"

Yes these are embarrassing. They should read:

Kishimoto: WHERAS, Yoriko has paid lipservice to the notion of walkable neighborhoods, while Alma Plaza and Edgewood plaza lie derelict. Yoriko has whined about "no new net car trips" while supporting the Senior Games, Tour of California and Destination Palo Alto which brings in new traffic to the city.

Morton: WHEREAS, Jack has relentlessly bashed Stanford and has shamelessly derided those that dare to come and speak in it's support.

Drekmeier: WHEREAS, Peter has filtered everything through the green glasses that he always wears to the detriment of the city as a whole. Peter has also viewed Stanford as a cash cow to be milked whenever Stanford needs money

"Since when do people get awards for just showing up?"
That is Palo Alto policy. Remember the big bonuses awarded annually to managers in the city, with the support and encouragement of Larry Klein and our council. That is the PA way--big bonuses and commendations regardless of actual accomplishments

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Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Jan 4, 2010 at 1:53 pm

It is interesting that John Barton is being commended for "oversseing the hiring of our fabulous new City Manager".

I wonder how Barton feels about receiving a commendation that honors the City Manager as being "fabulous".

I wonder who wrote Barton's commendation. Was it Peter Drekmeier or City Manager Jim Keene?

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Posted by Too Much Traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2010 at 9:20 am

Pat--you should check out today's (Jan 7th) Daily Post--there is a response letter from Yoriko about the HSR issue. She writes plenty, but says nothing--especially no explanation for her support of HSR in November and her abrupt about face a couple of months later. Obviously she cannot admit that she had her green glasses on and was clueless about what HSR really meant for Palo Alto. She also signed her letter as "Palo Alto City council member".
She needs to be reminded that her term ended a week ago.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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