This week's Around Town column pays homage to City Hall's military veterans and provides updates about a debate at Stanford over a campus plaque and about Palo Alto's long-awaited bike bridge.
WITH HONORS ... Long before Nathaniel Raney became Palo Alto's emergency services coordinator, he was a major in the U.S. Army tasked with a tough assignment: restoring an airfield in the Iraqi town of Kirkuk. Raney, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, recalled the 2003 mission at a Nov. 4 ceremony that the city held for local veterans. Raney recalled the day he, joined by a contract officer carrying a suitcase filled with cash, landed in north Iraq in the middle of a moonless night. "That 30 days in Iraq was a really great and challenging assignment but it was difficult. We had problem after problem. We had to deal with the local Iraqi nationals -- getting them on base and making sure they would support our efforts and not hinder them," Raney said. The theme of his speech was the value of grit and perseverance. It's important, he said, to practice being miserable. "Never quit. Persevere. Accomplish the mission. You can call it a lifehack. Developing grit is an important life skill because life is full of challenges." Raney was a keynote speaker in a ceremony that also featured comments from Police Chief Robert Jonsen, Fire Chief Geo Blackshire and Mayor Eric Filseth, who handed out pins to more than a dozen City Hall employees who had served in the military. The two chiefs each praised the veterans in their departments -- a roster that includes 16 members of the Police Department and seven firefighters. Blackshire called the veterans of the Palo Alto Fire Department an "exceptional group." "They carry over a high level of team work, discipline, sacrifice and dedication that are essential to serving this community in Palo Alto," Blackshire said.
A PLAQUE AND A STATEMENT ... A small metal plaque engraved with 22 words appeared on a bench on the Stanford University campus last week, installed anonymously to honor Chanel Miller, the Palo Alto native who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner at this site in 2015. Those 22 words from her famous victim impact statement -- "You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today." -- were rejected by the university and led to Miller pulling out of talks with Stanford to install a plaque at a memorial garden constructed at the site of the assault. Before the anonymously-installed plaque appeared, the university faced mounting pressure to reverse its decision, through student petitions, opinion pieces and a unanimously approved Faculty Senate resolution. University spokesman E.J. Miranda said the university is aware of the plaque, which "will remain in place while the provost's review of the issue continues." Provost Persis Drell, he said, "is fully considering input provided by the university community." Days later, a second plaque appeared in the garden with the same quote from Miller. An anonymous Stanford senior told the Stanford Daily that she put it there in part because of recent reports of sexual violence on campus. "The point in having a plaque there is to reduce fear about talking about (sexual assault), to reduce stigma," she told the student newspaper. "Because that's what keeps people silent."
BRIDGE TO SOMEWHERE ... After years of planning, designing, waiting and revising, Palo Alto is preparing to move into the building phase of its long-awaited bike and pedestrian bridge over U.S. Highway 101. The bridge, which would span the highway at Adobe Creek, is among the big-ticket items on the City Council's 2014 infrastructure plan. On Nov. 18, the City Council is scheduled to approve a $13.84 million construction contract for the bridge with Granite Construction Company, as well as $1.7 million with Zoon Engineering for construction management. The price tag for the project has been steadily rising since 2012, when the council pegged the cost of the overpass at about $10 million. To contain costs, the council agreed two years ago to adopt a more basic design for the structure. Even so, the price tag had gone up to about $16 million. Today, the total project cost (which includes design, construction and staff salaries and benefits) is pegged at $23.1 million, according to the Public Works Department. If the council approves the contracts, construction of the new bridge can kick off as early as next month, according to the report, and stretch until May 2021.