Letters | April 29, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - April 29, 2011


Measure N drawbacks


I'm getting cheesed all over again as I watch the rusty-fingered I-beams for our Mitchell Park library reach out into the Palo Alto dawn. I know, I know, 70 percent of voters in 2008 wanted it this way, but can we think this thing through?

We've approved $76 million for extra space and better facilities. With luck and a construction crash, the actual cost may be 25 percent lower, but have we thought about what, exactly, we're going to put in this extra space?

About five years ago I checked out a copy of "Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant." At present, there are only two physical copies of this book in our library system. I remember having to wait a week or two for the book to be available for me to read.

So right after we approve this bond measure, along comes the Kindle. And the Nook. And the iPad. The other day, I downloaded a free copy of "Personal Memoirs" to my iPad in about five seconds. Plutarch's work is available also. In fact, I can find obscure engineering tracts from the turn of the last century with Google.

Any and every book off copyright is finding its way into the info sphere; the dead-tree versions of the original books won't need new libraries to house them.

So will we need lots of library space for new books? Nope, e-book sales have outstripped print sales. Will we need space for video or music? Well, with Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and Pandora, no.

It appears we'll only need book space in libraries for few short years for a fast-shrinking base of on-copyright, non-new books.

So what could we have done with our $76 million, when for $32 million we could have bought an iPad for each and every resident of Palo Alto? To put it another way, the tax assessment on the median Palo Alto home value amounts to $200 a year. Each Palo Alto household could buy a new Kindle every year or a new iPad every other year.

So I'm getting cheesed all over again. At the end of the Measure N library project, I'm sure that we'll have beautiful facilities where we can gather together as citizens, share cups of coffee and read our iPads.

John Harrington

Cowper Street

Palo Alto

Nurturing teens


As a pediatrician, I read with interest "Nurturing happier, healthier youth" (April 22). I want to stress the important role that we all play in asset-building in today's youth. Too often in clinic I see teenagers with vague suicidal thoughts, some even so unhappy they have created a plan to carry out their death. Did you know that one in every five teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood? This is an alarming statistic. As adults and role models for the next generation we need to ask ourselves, "What can we be doing to make things better for our children?"

Please remember to take time for teens whether you are their parent, teacher, neighbor or employer. Teens want to be heard, they want to be valued, and they want to know you think they can make a difference in this world because of their potential. Take part in protecting our children.

Alisa Arunamata

Lucile Packard Children's Hospital


Rebuttal to Renzel


The purpose of the Palo Alto Green Energy and Compost Initiative is to give the city the opportunity, instead of shipping its waste elsewhere, to utilize anaerobic digestion to convert it to clean energy and compost. Since the only feasible location for such a process is on landfill dedicated as parkland, city ordinance requires a popular vote to undedicate even a small portion. Emily Renzel's letter of April 22 argued that the decision to allow such a vote should be left solely to the City Council. Since there is some division in the community, however, an initiative petition to require a popular vote was appropriate (and signature gatherers encountered overwhelmingly positive responses).

Renzel's letter also suggests that public works or some other city department might make some unknown use of the parcel. In fact, the Initiative provides that the portion of the current dump to be undedicated (only 10 out of 126 acres) is to be used exclusively for converting our wastes, and it allows the council to rededicate it to parkland in 10 years if not so used.

Finally, her letter claims that the current financial analysis is "unfavorable." In fact, the consultant conceded that its initial draft omitted key favorable factors, and analysis by Compost Task Force Chair Cedric de La Beaujardiere indicates that "on a 30-year time-frame, local AD should save the city and rate-payers $22 to $57 million," making the $250,000 (not $2 million as Renzel claims) for the feasibility study an excellent investment. See pagreenenergy.org.

Walter Hays

Parkside Drive

Palo Alto

Train plans


The new high-speed rail proposal by State Senator Joe Simitian, State Assemblyman Rich Gordon and U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo (April 22) has huge advantages compared with the four-track system proposed by the High Speed Rail Authority. The Authority would be wise to evaluate this proposal in detail for decreased construction costs, much-reduced needs for property acquisition, operational impacts (additional running time between San Jose and San Francisco), and much lower environmental impacts, and therefore a much greater chance of community acceptance, meaning this proposal stands a much greater chance of actually being built.

However, the article notes that Senator Simitian's comments include, "The newly electrified Caltrain infrastructure would enable trains to achieve the same speed — 120 mph — as the proposed high-speed rail system is expected to achieve on the Peninsula, he said."

Caltrain trains stop at stations usually only a few miles apart. This distance is simply not sufficient for any train to accelerate up to 120 mph and then decelerate to stop at the next station. This includes all weekend service and weekday trains with 100-series numbers. For limited stop or Baby Bullet trains, 200- and 300-series numbers, higher speeds, perhaps as high as 120 mph, might be possible but only for small portions of the total trip between San Jose and San Francisco.

This plan calls for running high-speed rail trains on the same tracks as Caltrain tracks. Along most of the Caltrain right of way, there is only one track in each direction, and thus HSR trains would have to be "slotted" in between regular Caltrain trains stopping at all or most of the stations along the way, although the HSR trains would not stop at all these stations. Thus, HSR trains would be limited to the average speed of electrified Caltrain trains, well under 120 mph, but certainly faster than the current diesel-hauled trains.

The tradeoff for the additional running time is that HSR trains could make more station stops between San Jose and San Francisco than in the current plan, without increasing total travel time along the Peninsula. These additional stops would lower time and cost of passengers to go from their homes or business to the nearest HSR station, reducing environmental impacts and making HSR a more desirable way to travel, possibly increasing total ridership.

Phil Burton

Cowper Street

Palo Alto

Police critics


San Jose's new Police Chief Chris Moore has done the "unthinkable" and appointed several of the most vocal and aggressive police critics to the City's Police Advisory Board.

Q: Why would you put your worst critics on a public stage and give them the microphone in meetings that are open to the public?

A: Because it is the smartest way to mend relationships, and comes from the same playbook used by the savviest corporations and public agencies to build community relations.

Surely Palo Alto, the city known for its advanced thinking, already has this standard relationship in place. Right? Well, just the opposite. While we do have a group with a title that is semantically similar, it operates as the police chief's PR focus group, and is convened behind closed doors.

The residents' mandate for broad community outreach and allowing a format for public feedback remains unheeded by the current format. That doesn't jive with Chief Dennis Burns' inaugural declaration that police/community relations would be his number-one priority.

San Jose's inclusiveness demonstrates a degree of openness, transparency and enlightenment that should be imitated by Palo Alto. This is the benchmark, or best standard of practice, and is an obvious next step for Palo Alto. We cannot accept anything less.

No criticizing the past. Let's get going on transparency and make this kind of action a priority for Palo Alto ASAP. Palo Alto must act now to maintain our progressive standards and be of true service to residents. Trust begins with openness and listening.

Tim Gray

Park Boulevard

Palo Alto

Don't pave paradise


Saltworks developers claim to be saviors of the Baylands. They will restore some of the salt ponds — if we let them pave over 70 percent first.

They argue that preservationists couldn't raise money to buy and restore Redwood City's Baylands. Yet many groups have saved land for future generations:

After the proposal to develop Bair Island was defeated by voters, the Peninsula Open Space Trust bought the 1,623-acre site (twice the size of the salt ponds) for $15 million.

Save the Redwoods League raised $7.5 million to buy 426 acres along the historic Skunk Train route, saving an old-growth forest from logging.

Five Silicon Valley land trusts joined forces to preserve 80,000 acres of open space over the next 20 years. They've already raised $15 million.

Over the past 20 years every private, restorable Bay shoreline parcel offered at fair market price has been acquired by land trusts for the benefit of residents and wildlife.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already reported that multiple parties are interested in purchasing and restoring Redwood City's Baylands.

All we need is for Cargill to be a willing seller and Redwood City's salt ponds can join this list.

Pat Marriott

Oakhurst Avenue

Los Altos


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