Around Town | March 5, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 5, 2010

Around Town

TRASHY TACTICS ... A YouTube video starring garbage, a reusable coffee mug, bumper stickers on city vehicles and a barrage of "cute signs" are all props being considered by Palo Alto officials as they look to educate the citizenry about sound recycling practices. The city is in the midst of revising its recycling and composting ordinance — an effort scheduled to conclude this summer. The objective, according to a city statement, is to reach the city's goals of a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 and Zero Waste by 2021 (that is, no more waste sent to landfills by 2021). In the coming weeks, residents and business owners will have a chance to attend meetings and share their own ideas for improving the city's recycling program. City officials have already held several outreach meetings in February and worked with attendees to compile a 10-page list of ideas. These ranged from the benign ("catchy slogans" "Facebook presence") to the curious ("garbage parties") to the merciless (bright tags on violators' trash cans) to the angry and laconic ("Shame them!"). Staff plans to hold more outreach meetings and compile a draft ordinance in May. The next meeting for residential customers will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at Lucie Stern Community Center Ballroom, 1305 Middlefield Road. Another meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on March 9 (same location). A meeting for commercial customers is scheduled for 9 a.m. on March 9 at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

BEST IN THE WEST? ... Palo Alto's technological wizards earned major kudos from Sunset Magazine this week, which put the city on its list, "20 Best Towns of the Future." The list, which also includes such Western cities as Oakland, Tucson, Ariz., Boisie, Ida., and Oakland, singles out "forward-thinking places" with commitments to "experimentation, creativity, energy efficiency, and good local food sources." Palo Alto was chosen for its high-tech leadership, its long list of generated patents and the presence of two major electric-vehicle companies: Better Place and Tesla Motors.

THE BACKLOG TEAM ... Palo Alto may look to 18 community volunteers for help in sorting out the city's $510-million infrastructure backlog. Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa and council members Larry Klein, Greg Scharff and Greg Schmid proposed the idea in a colleagues' memo, which a City Council Policy and Services Committee is scheduled to discuss on March 9. The backlog includes aged city structures that need replacement (including the city's Municipal Services Building and two fire stations) and various road repairs (including on Arastradero and Charleston roads). "We presently allocate about $10 million per year of the general fund budget to infrastructure," the memo states. "At that rate, we will never reduce our backlog and in all likelihood will fall further behind." To solve the problem, the four council members hope to create the 18-member Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission. Each council member would appoint two members. The commission would then review the projects on the list and advise the council on what to do about them. The council hopes to have the new commission seated by May and to get the group's report by Feb. 28, 2011. The City Council would then consider whether to fund any of the most pressing items through a bond measure in November 2011.

STICK TO THE MESSAGE ... California's High-Speed Rail Authority's approach to public outreach has been undermined by inconsistent messages, poor coordination among various spokespersons and insufficient information about project milestones and policies, the authority's newly released "communications audit" argues. The report was composed by Ogilvy Public Relations Woldwide, the rail authority's public-affairs consultant. Ogilvy recommends that the rail authority broaden its outreach effort, bring more transparency to its decision-making process and provide the public more informative (and better designed) materials. Ogilvy also found that some of the rail authority's regional consultants received "conflicting direction" from the rail authority's board members and recommends a more "top-down" approach for releasing information. The audit singled out the rail authority's latest business plan, which attracted a barrage of criticism from state legislators, Palo Alto officials and local watchdog groups. "The 2009 business plan has provided unending fodder for skeptics and critics," the audit stated. "Public questions about the assumptions and forecasts in the Plan must be addressed in a strategic and thoughtful manner."


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