Security guards will stay on duty at Palo Alto's Caltrain crossings after the City of Palo Alto late last week agreed to extend funding at least through the end of the school year.
The current round of funding for the paid guards expires at the end of this month, but recent emergencies at the tracks had sparked official worries that the "contagion period" for five Palo Alto student suicides in the past 19 months has not passed.
Recreation manager Rob de Geus said Saturday that "city funding will be used to extend the security services through the end of the school year."
On Wednesday, de Geus told members of the City-School Liaison Committee an extension was being sought because of recent incidents.
"We've had at least three incidents, two of which required police to take someone off the tracks," de Geus said.
"The consensus is that (security) ought to be extended another six months, at least until the end of the school year, so the question is, 'How do we fund it?'"
De Geus did not answer directly when asked whether track watchers had headed off the recent emergencies, saying each incident was different.
In one case, a staff member for the grief-counseling organization Kara was driving by a Caltrain crossing and noticed something amiss, he said. She circled back and called police, resulting in a 20-year-old being removed from the tracks area, he said.
The incident occurred at 7 p.m. one evening, after dark but before security guards were due to arrive at 8 p.m., he said.
Besides the paid guards, a dwindling number of citizen volunteers are attempting to maintain a presence at the tracks. "We're trying to surround and support those volunteers," de Geus said.
"It's a handful of folks. That's what they do, and they're passionate about it. We're asking the community to better support them."
Track Watch volunteer Marielena Mendoza said parents try to provide coverage as much as possible when paid guards are not on duty.
Track Watch organizer Caroline Camhy Rothstein said the group has shrunk to about four "core volunteers," including former Palo Alto school board member Ray Bacchetti.
"The paid guards have helped to prevent two incidents in recent months. We need them," she said.
Rothstein lauded community initiatives to support teens, such as the 22-member Project Safety Net coalition. But the tracks have become a magnet for a wider spectrum of troubled people, she said.
"The problem is no longer just a teen issue," she said in an e-mail to the Weekly.
"People with troubles continue to be attracted to the tracks. ... We need to be very proactive for a long time."
Rothstein said the crossing areas could be more "self policing" if the city would trim the bushes along Alma Street.
She also asked that drivers take a look down the tracks as they pass, and be prepared to call for help if necessary. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parents and neighbors took matters into their own hands in the fall of 2009 after short-term police monitoring of the rail crossings failed to prevent subsequent suicides.
Following the fourth death that October, they initiated "Palo Alto Track Watch," organizing volunteers to maintain a physical presence at the tracks during hours trains are running.
In November 2009, the paid security guards were hired by the Palo Alto Police Department to bolster the citizen patrols.