2010's odds and ends


Dance of the year: Decorum flew out Palo Alto City Hall windows when the stakes were high enough in mid-March: convincing Google to donate a citywide fiber-optic system that runs 100 times faster than the norm. Hoping to make a lasting impression, city staff and residents exuberantly leapfrogged and jived in front of City Hall to the tune of "YMCA" by the Village People, then posted video to Facebook. Will their effort top the Duluth, Minn., mayor's jumping into a near-freezing Lake Superior? Google now says it won't decide until early 2011.

Loudest exit: In a year full of exits from Palo Alto City Hall, Public Works Director Glenn Roberts' was the loudest, with a settlement agreement that pays him $130,600 in exchange for (among other things) a promise never to apply for another city job. Insiders speculate his departure had something to do with an unexpected $8.1 million shortfall in the city's Refuse Fund. The raft of retirees this year included other department heads: Library Director Diane Jennings, City Attorney Gary Baum, Fire Chief Nick Marinaro and, at the end of this month, Human Resources Director Russ Carlsen.

King James: Actor (and Palo Alto native) James Franco made out like a bandit in 2010. The 1996 Paly graduate appeared in four major feature films from all across the cinematic spectrum. He played a tattooed degenerate in the comedy "Date Night," embraced the role of poet Allen Ginsberg in "Howl," romanced Julia Roberts in "Eat Pray Love" and rocked audiences with a Golden Globe-nominated performance in "127 Hours." Franco also wrote a book ("Palo Alto: Stories") and was tapped to co-host the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.

Reversal of fortune: While crime rates declined in East Palo Alto in 2010, Palo Alto dealt with an upsurge. Home burglaries, armed robberies and instances of indecent exposure occurred throughout the city in higher numbers in 2010. Residents grew particularly concerned about robberies and burglaries toward the end of the year, with armed robberies in residential driveways (Dec. 11 & 16) and on city streets (Oct. 27 and Dec. 4 & 6). The theft of a Droid smart phone on Oct. 5 drew a police helicopter to the scene.

Cat fight of the year: After 56 years, Ernie's Liquors, longtime tenant of 3871 El Camino Real in Barron Park, moved across the street -- to 3866. Yet Ernie's Liquors still exists at 3871 El Camino Real -- or at least that's what the sign says. A legal squabble began when negotiations over a proposed rent hike broke down, and owner of the original Ernie's picked up and moved. New tenants have applied for a liquor license under the old Ernie's name. A lawsuit, already filed in Superior Court, will ultimately settle who owns that name.

The year of the cat? 2010 was a year of adventures and intrigue for a pair of Palo Alto cats. A tabby named Tiger escaped from Classic Pet Grooming on Arastradero Road and an impostor cat was mistakenly offered to his family in his place. The real Tiger turned up in Los Altos weeks later and is back home. Another cat, Henry, was MIA in September until he somehow found his way to his owner's Terman Middle School classroom.

Lost treasure: Menlo Park resident Victor Lee was shocked to discover in January that his safe-deposit box in Palo Alto, which he had not accessed since 1998, had been declared "abandoned," its contents turned over to the state in 2001, as required by law. Lee had unwittingly allowed his account at the bank, which changed hands two times in the intervening years, to become inactive. Fortunately, after Lee filed a claim, the state returned the box to him in February -- with all his valuables, including his mother's diamond ring, still in it. Lesson learned.

Celebrity central: Who visited Palo Alto in 2010? The question is: Who didn't? The city's guest list in 2010 included President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and actors Harrison Ford, Matthew McConaughey and George Clooney, among others. As one tourist from Florida remarked at the news of Medvedev's visit (which for the tourist followed a sighting of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice): "We're very impressed this is such an interesting place."

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

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