In the latest Around Town column, find how what issues Palo Alto City Council members want the city's legislative advocate to focus on and a local nonprofit recently recognized by the Library of Congress.
CAPITAL PLANS ... Palo Alto's elected leaders have plenty of gripes when it comes to Sacramento, from desires to see more state funding for railroad improvements to concerns about housing bills that may diminish local control over land-use decisions. The job of communicating these concerns to state legislators falls to Niccolo De Luca, a legislative advocate with the lobbying firm Townsend Public Affairs. On Nov. 18, the City Council is scheduled to add two years and $204,000 to the city's agreement with Townsend, bringing the contract total to $799,000. Last Tuesday, De Luca came to Palo Alto to provide an update to the council's Policy and Services Committee and hear from local lawmakers about their Sacramento priorities. For Councilman Greg Tanaka, the overarching priority remains securing funding for grade separation, the redesign of railroad crossings so that rail tracks don't intersect with local roads. Last year, De Luca worked with Assemblyman Marc Berman on including some funding for design work in the state budget. The proposal didn't advance, though De Luca assured the committee that they made some headway on securing funding for grade separation. "Obviously we didn't get to the finish line," De Luca said. "If this was marathon, it would be mile 24." Tanaka suggested that by keeping the list of legislative demands small, the city may have better luck in getting the grade-separation funding. Tanaka noted that the downtown Palo Alto Caltrain station is the second busiest in the entire system. Councilwoman Lydia Kou lobbied for a more ambitious list of demands, including supporting legislation to audit major transportation agencies such as the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Caltrain and BART. The city has been working with Townsend since 2014. City Manager Ed Shikada made a case in a new report for retaining the relationship. While recognizing the "significant expenditures," Shikada argued that the discontinuation of the firm's services would make it "significantly more difficult to establish effective relationships when needed to respond to concerns with pending legislation, and similarly more difficult to advance the City's funding and policy initiatives."
THE POWER OF LITERACY ... Redwood City-based nonprofit Bring Me a Book is one of 15 organizations honored by the Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program for demonstrating the best practices in promoting literacy. The local organization was founded by Palo Alto resident Judy Koch, who recently received the award at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. with Michaelin Reamy, president of its affiliate organization in Franklin County, Florida. A former English teacher, Koch launched Bring Me a Book to provide books to underserved children. Its program includes BookBuddies, where volunteers read books aloud to preschool and kindergarten students; Book Cubbies, where parents and children team up to decorate a book cubby at school; and book giveaways.