Around Town | March 25, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 25, 2011

Around Town

TAKING BACK THE 'PROCESS' ... The "Palo Alto Process" is a term laced with nasty bureaucratic baggage. Mayor Sid Espinosa summarized it succinctly at this week's City Council meeting: "For anyone who lived here for any length of time, it's synonymous with anything that's unclear and cumbersome with the process," particularly as it relates to building permits. The council is fighting the stigma in two ways. One is reforming and simplifying the city's permitting process — a process that City Manager James Keene kicked off last July. The second way is by focusing on the positive aspects of the city's famous thoroughness, as evidenced at Monday night's four-hour discussion of composting technologies. The council debated the preliminary results of a feasibility study for a proposed waste-to-energy plant, heard from dozens of residents and raised new issues for staff and consultants to explore. Though the city came no closer to making a decision on the project, Espinosa and his colleagues on the council hailed the discussion as an example of everything that's good about Palo Alto. "I think having the kind of engagement on a subject like this is exceptional, and I think it's a good part of the 'Palo Alto Process' and one we should embrace," Councilman Pat Burt said. "What a cool town this is," Keene added at the end of the public-comment period. "It's amazing to listen to this discussion." At least one member of the public agreed. "The 'Palo Alto Process' is pretty darn amazing," said Annette Isaacson, a Midtown resident who is supporting the new plant.

SPEAKING OF 'PROCESS' ... Palo Alto officials hear no shortage of complaints about the city's frustrating permitting process. Jim McFall, a local architect who is part of a citizens group advising the city with the reforms, illustrated the complexities at this week's City Council meeting when he unfurled two scrolls, each longer than 4 feet, and displayed them to the council and the public. One was a list of Palo Alto's application and permit types; the other was a list of city regulations. "As you can see, it's not often times a simple process," McFall said as the scrolls dangled from his shoulder level to the floor.

SPEAKING OF COMPOST ... Palo Alto residents are invited to grab their shovels and buckets and come out to the city's soon-to-be-closed landfill for some free compost. The city will be holding "Compost Giveaway" days on March 26 and April 3, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Each visitor will be able to come away with up to 1 cubic yard of compost.

ON THE ROAD ... The Palo Alto Art Center will be shutting its doors April 4 for its long-awaited renovation and is not expected to reopen until summer of 2012. But art lovers needn't fear. According to Art Center Director Karen Kienzle, the center will be able to maintain its art classes and programs for kids and adults by holding them at other locations throughout the city, including at Lucie Stern and Cubberley community centers. The center's "art truck" will also hit the road, bringing art projects to events throughout the year. The city is soliciting input on potential names for the truck, which can be offered in a suggestion box in the lobby of city hall. Arts Producer Rebecca Barbee said the art center's Facebook page,, is currently the best way to get updates and information on all the center's happenings.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING? ... It's been a wet, gray week throughout the Bay Area and the weather prognosis for the weekend is no better. But Palo Altans have at least one reason not to feel too gloomy. Councilman Larry Klein, who sits on the board of directors at the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, told his colleagues that as of last week, the water supply at the Hetch Hetchy system (from where the city gets its water) was at 159 percent of the normal level. Even if the weather were to dry up for the rest of the fiscal year (which ends June 30), the water agency would end the year at 120 percent of the normal level. These numbers don't include the wet week that is just concluding and the rainy days ahead. As Klein put it, it's been "a great year for water."


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