In this week's Around Town column, the Palo Alto Fire Department receives accreditation after five years of hard work and residents criticize new solar panels installed at JLS Middle School.
TRAILBLAZERS ... Four Palo Alto firefighters arrived back into town on Aug. 9 after 15 days of battling flames and protecting properties from state wildfires. They weren't the only firefighters smiling that day. Fire Chief Eric Nickel was in Dallas, Texas, that same day accepting recognition for the department winning accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, a process that took about five years to achieve. "Few agencies take on this comprehensive self-assessment, with its external peer review and expert validation against best practices benchmarks," City Manager James Keene, who joined Nickel at the Texas ceremony, told the City Council on Monday. "There are 874 fire departments in California and only 10 local government agencies out of 874 have achieved accreditation, or about 1 percent." Nickel called the process of getting accreditation a product of collaboration by labor, management and the council. "It takes a lot of guts and a lot of transparency for an organization to say, 'We're going to pull back curtains, look at the good, the bad and frankly — we have some things we have to work on.'" Keene said the city is drafting an official letter thanking the firefighters for their efforts in battling the wildfires. He is also looking to designate an evening of recognition to celebrate the firefighters' recent accomplishments.
FIELD OF BEAMS ... Solar panels continue to be a hot item in Palo Alto, with the school district leading the charge. For board members, the installations make plenty of sense. They provide clean power and, according to a recent feasibility study, will save the district about $1.1 million over the course of their 25-year useful life. Not everyone, however, is thrilled. In May, the school board backed away from its plan to install solar panels in Palo Alto High School's front parking lot after residents argued that the installations would obscure views of historic Paly buildings. Now, some are raising concerns about solar panels that were recently installed on a half-acre portion of a field in JLS Middle School. Keith Reckdahl, a member of Palo Alto's Parks and Recreation Commission, said he and a few of his fellow commissioners were concerned that the installation happened without public outreach, even as the commission is looking for ways to increase recreational opportunities. "They converted a half-acre of playing space into a solar farm," Reckdahl said at Thursday's City and School Liaison Committee meeting. He also suggested that the school district failed in its role to be a steward of public land. "Without any public input, the school district eliminated half an acre of valuable recreation space." City Council and school board members agreed that the process could've benefited from more sunshine. "Clearly, outreach beforehand would've been a good idea," board President Ken Dauber said.