Around Town | September 17, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 17, 2010

Around Town

SMELLS FUNNY ... Palo Alto residents are trashing the city's plan to start charging more for garbage collection. The city's proposed new rates include a 33 percent spike for 20-gallon mini-cans, which the city encourages residents use as part of its lofty waste-reduction goals. The residential rate for these would go from $15 per month to $20. Residents using the standard 32-gallon garbage cart would see a 6 percent increase (from $31 to $32.86). Public Works Department officials and City Council members hope the new rates will help them close a gaping budget hole in the refuse fund, a hole that was exacerbated by the city's environmentally successful but financially draining green efforts. But many residents find it sadly ironic, and in come cases infuriating, that the customers who see the highest fee increase are those who have heeded the city's call to shrink their waste loads. More than 100 customers had sent official protest letters to the city as of the middle of the week. "Excuse Me?!!" wrote customer Nancy Brown, who called the fee-increase proposal "ridiculous." "Please think a little more creatively, and if you still feel the need to charge us more — how about charging the people with the most trash the most money — not those of us creating the least trash." Other residents took umbrage at the proposed $14.42 fee for narrow private streets that the city's trash hauler, GreenWaste, deems "hard to service." Several residents of Ellsworth Place signed protests against the new monthly fee. "If the garbage company needs more revenue to cover the costs of picking up our garbage, then the city should subsidize the costs as they already save money by not maintaining our private streets." The City Council is scheduled to discuss the refuse fee increase at its Sept. 20 meeting.

SHOW ME THE MONEY! ... Given its wide array of community services, it's perhaps not surprising that Palo Alto has more than 20 locations where workers regularly process cash. These include the Development Center, where builders pay their fees and submit their applications; the Utilities Customer Service, where residents pay for their gas and electricity; and Foothills Park, where people can rent a canoe. According to a new report by the City Auditor's Office, not all of the workers at these various locations are adequately trained for handling cash. The audit reviewed 13 cash-handling locations and evaluated their "internal controls" in three areas: segregating cash-handling duties, safeguarding revenues and properly documenting all transactions. The city's Revenue Collection service, which is operated by the Administrative Services Department and which handles about $86.9 million, met the auditor's standards in all three categories. Smaller operations had a harder time meeting the auditor's criteria. The city's Animal Services department failed to meet the standards in all three categories, while the Children's Theatre (whose cash-handling operations were at the center of a recent citywide scandal) met the necessary standards in the "segregation" category, but did not meet them in the other two. Moreover, more than half of the areas surveyed had deficiencies related to safeguarding revenue, the report stated. The report also scrutinized how well the city keeps track of employees' expenses and found that city workers have plenty of room for improvement. The site visits, the audit stated, "revealed weaknesses that should be immediately addressed."

PLEASE STOP HATING ... Two years ago Palo Alto City Council passed a resolution supporting California's massive high-speed rail project. This month, city leaders officially lost that loving feeling. The council's High-Speed Rail Committee passed a resolution declaring "no confidence" in the rail project and then agreed to send state officials a letter requesting that they withhold funding for the $43 billion project. Now, a pro-rail group is asking Palo Alto and its similarly disillusioned Peninsula neighbors to give the California High-Speed Rail Authority a second chance. The group, Californians for High-Speed Rail, is calling for Peninsula supporters of the project to speak up and change the tone of the discussion. "Although we respect the desire of the PCC (Peninsula Cities Consortium) and other Peninsula cities to ensure the HSR project is built in a way that is sensitive to their communities, some city officials have gone too far in their public rhetoric regarding the project, by threatening to hold the project hostage to their particular demands," the group's Executive Director Brian Stanke said in a statement.


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