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Around Town: Museum on cusp of putting down roots; East Palo Alto official suddenly departs

Also, local task force representing Midpeninsula fire agencies respond to Hurricane Dorian

In the latest Around Town column, find out what's next for the Palo Alto History Museum, which raised more than $3.2 million; which high-ranking East Palo Alto City Hall official has resigned; and local firefighters responding to Hurricane Dorian.

MAKING HISTORY ... After more than a decade of frustrating delays, unforeseen complications and painstaking fundraising, the Palo Alto History Museum is now on the cusp of finally putting down its roots downtown. The group spearheading the museum's creation has reportedly raised more than $3.2 million for the effort, including $1.75 million that it was required to raise since 2017 to meet a target established by the City Council. Once verified by the city, the funding will allow the museum to start setting up its operation at the historic, city-owned Roth Building at 300 Homer Ave. Since the council had set the $1.75 million goal in 2017, staff had verified that the museum has about $997,000 in cash and another $825,000 in pledges — a combination of verbal and written commitments that at times included conditions. The city is now in the process of hiring a firm to review and certify the museum's fundraising achievements, according to a new report from the city's Administrative Services Department. Once constructed, the museum will include public meeting spaces, exhibits and the city's historical archives. It will also have a new roof, thanks in part to a $102,992 grant that the museum received last month from Santa Clara County, through the Historical Heritage Grant Program. Laura Bajuk, executive director of the museum, lauded the grant and touted the upcoming institution as a place that will help connect Palo Alto residents, many of whom today feel rootless. "The new museum will tell the many stories of our community; dark moments to be learned from, and bright moments that will instill pride. Stories that will inspire, heal and open minds," Bajuk said in a statement.

A SWIFT DEPARTURE ... After nearly 15 years at East Palo Alto City Hall, Assistant City Manager Sean Charpentier, 46, left his job on Aug. 27, according to sources. City Manager Jaime Fontes confirmed on Wednesday that Charpentier resigned, but did not give a reason for his departure. A memo to city employees stated that he left by "mutual agreement." Charpentier was previously a project coordinator for the Ravenswood Redevelopment District, which has since dismantled. He stayed on with the city as an economic development coordinator. In 2015, he became assistant city manager, helping obtain numerous grants for housing and redevelopment. During Charpentier's tenure, East Palo Alto's landscape dramatically changed with the addition of the Clarke Avenue bike-pedestrian overpass, a project he was proud of and said would serve to reduce the isolation of the city's residents from surrounding cities and amenities, and a four-story development largely occupied by Amazon at University Avenue and Donohoe Street. He also played a key role in securing water-transfer agreements with Mountain View and Palo Alto that enabled East Palo Alto to continue development projects when it ran out of water for new hookups in 2016. In addition, he was pivotal in landing a $20 million competitive grant from the California Strategic Growth Council earlier this year for affordable housing and transit through a partnership with Eden Housing, EPA CAN DO and San Mateo County Transit District. When Carlos Martinez stepped down as city manager last year, Charpentier temporarily served in the position until Fontes was hired in March. Charpentier did not return a call requesting comment on his departure. Community and Economic Development Director Patrick Heisinger is now serving as the interim assistant city manager.

COMING TO THE RESCUE ... As Hurricane Dorian crawled up the country's southeastern coast last week, a group of Midpeninsula emergency responders was deployed to help with search and rescue operations. Forty-five members of California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3 arrived to Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday morning, along with three assisting dogs. The group represents several local agencies, including the Palo Alto, Mountain View and Santa Clara County fire departments and Menlo Park and Woodside fire protection districts. The group brought in 45,000 pounds of equipment to help with the operation. There are also 10 civilian members, such as doctors and structural engineers, from Stanford Hospital, Genentech and other public and private organizations with technical expertise. On Saturday, they were given demobilization orders that allowed to return to the Bay Area.


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15 people like this
Posted by Dontrelle
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 8, 2019 at 1:56 pm

Why can't EPA raise that kind of money & have its own history museum...along with an EPA historical society?

If such a place existed, would people from Palo Alto come to visit it?

2 people like this
Posted by Student
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2019 at 2:18 pm

There is still time yet, Dontrelle. The issues plaguing PAHM over the last few years won't be resolved quickly. They've had the money for years, and future problems like a ADA compliant elevator mean that at this rate, the museum won't be up before 2050.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 8, 2019 at 2:22 pm

^ ... and the museum will still beat grade separation.

4 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 9, 2019 at 10:40 am

The Weekly is obfuscating on the museum issue again. The price tag (according to the last Weekly article) is $9.1 MILLION. Their fundraising efforts, after a decade, are nowhere close to that.

The rub is that this vocal and connected minority of museum exponents are pressing for the taxpayers to shell out the millions to make up for the support they don't have. Meanwhile, the Weekly is running promo articles celebrating a $100k grant from the county (a mere 1% of the price tag) trying to make it look like they have support and momentum.

2 people like this
Posted by Laura Bajuk
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 11, 2019 at 1:48 pm

Hello from the Museum ED (and a fellow taxpayer):

For Sally, a few corrections: the price tag to rehabilitate the Roth Building is actually $9.2M.

How far are we? Momentum has increased in the past 2 years, and we've now raised all but $750k of that amount. The recent County grant helped. (BTW, we worked 3 years on that - no success is “overnight”).

So we are down to the LAST 8% to raise.

This is huge progress!

Yes, it's taken time to raise that 92% (and a few million more for other pieces of the project, like architect fees, City permits, etc.), which those who've worked on our libraries and other capital projects understand.

So, is the Weekly biased in our favor? Look at past coverage and the comments and that theory doesn't hold up. The reality is our recent news just happens to be GOOD news - to which we and others would add - at last!

As to timing, we've pulled our construction permit and have a chance at breaking ground next spring - 2020. (Thankfully, 30 years ahead of Crescent Park Student's timeline.)

And for community? Palo Alto has ties of various sorts to every place in the Bay Area, and frankly, much of the world. We will welcome all our neighbors. When EPA has their own museum, we will support that effort. Until then, we will help share their story, along with the many others needed to understand this place we live and work in.

Speaking of which, it’s not too early to get involved. Volunteer to help on our exhibit content team, our new Teen Council, or on your own – get your story in to #IamPaloAlto. And check out the Welcome Week activities starting soon.

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