News Digest | August 12, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 12, 2011

News Digest

Burglars hit Duveneck school — again

Burglars have preyed on Duveneck Elementary School in Palo Alto a third time in four weeks, striking again on Sunday (Aug. 7) through the same window that was smashed only two weeks ago.

The thief or thieves removed a board covering the window, which was attached with nails or screws after the previous incident, police Officer Heather Souza said.

The theft was discovered at 12:30 p.m. Four digital cameras valued at $300 total were taken, she said.

The burglary is the latest in a series of break-ins at Palo Alto public schools in which thousands of dollars of digital equipment, from laptops to cameras, have been stolen.

In two earlier incidents at Duveneck, burglars took $6,000 worth of cameras and computer equipment on July 8 or 9 and stole $23,000 worth of equipment on July 25, police said.

Six digital cameras worth $3,600 total were taken from a Palo Alto High School classroom during the July 23 weekend, and two laptops valued at $2,200 total were taken from a classroom at Gunn High School either July 21 or 22.

Jordan Middle School was burglarized July 28 when thieves stole five Apple Macbooks valued at a total of $2,500 to $4,500, according to police.

Two 18-year-olds, Alfredo Gonzalez and Nayely Castillo of East Palo Alto were arrested Aug. 3 in connection with the Gunn thefts.

Firefighters withdraw challenge to ballot measure

Palo Alto firefighters have withdrawn their challenge to a ballot measure that would strike the binding-arbitration provision from the City Charter, city and union officials said Monday.

The firefighters filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) on Aug. 1 seeking an injunction that would stop the labor-reform measure from appearing on the November ballot. If the voters pass the measure, contract disputes between the city and its public-safety unions would no longer be required to go to arbitration.

The council voted 5-4 last month to put the measure on the ballot after debating the issue for more than a year.

In its complaint, the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1319, argued that the city violated a state labor law by not conferring with the union before placing the measure on the ballot. The city responded by arguing that binding arbitration is not subject to a "meet and confer" requirement with unions.

Representatives from the union and from city management got together for a settlement conference on Aug. 4 to discuss the union's complaint. They have scheduled another meeting for Sept. 13 in PERB's Oakland office.

Meanwhile, the union has withdrawn its request for an injunction and asked the labor board not to take any action on the "unfair practice charge" until the second meeting takes place, according to a letter from the union's lawyer, Duane W. Reno.

Tony Spitaleri, president of the firefighters union, told the Weekly that the union decided to pull back its complaint pending further conversation with the city. It has also asked the labor-relations board to hold the unfair practice "in abeyance," which means it would remain in the court system but no action would be taken on it until a later date.

Green camps gear up for campaign battle

Palo Alto City Council members, a developer and other residents are contributing their cash to two competing campaigns over a November ballot measure that could determine the future of local composting.

The two camps are at odds over whether the city should make a 10-acre portion of Byxbee Park in the Palo Alto Baylands available for a new waste-to-energy facility. The proposed facility, an anaerobic digester, would process local food waste, yard trimmings and, possibly, sewage sludge and convert them to gas or electricity.

One group, led by former Mayor Peter Drekmeier, believes the parkland should be undedicated to give the city an option of keeping composting local. The other group, led by former Councilwoman Emily Renzel, is arguing that an industrial facility has no place on Baylands parkland.

According to campaign-finance documents filed this week, Drekmeier's side has the early lead when it comes to campaign cash. The Committee in Favor of the Palo Alto Green Energy Initiative, as the group is called, has raised $7,861 this year and now has $8,765 in its campaign chest.

Renzel's group, known as the Save the Baylands Committee, has received $5,572 in contributions and has spent $412, ending the current period with a balance of $5,159.

Proponents of the ballot measure received a major boost from local developer Jim Baer, who according to the documents contributed $5,000 to their committee. Other top contributors include William Reller, owner of EWS Real Estate Investments, Inc., ($1,000); Cedric La Beaujardiere, member of the citizen task force that recommended the anaerobic digester as a top solution to the city's composting dilemma ($200); and local residents James Phillips, John Dawson and Norma Grench ($250 each).

Contributors to Renzel's campaign include two council members, Greg Schmid and Karen Holman, who donated $125 and $120, respectively. The campaign also received a $1,500 contribution from the group Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge. Other contributors include committee Treasurer David Bubenik ($600), residents Nat and Betsy Allyn ($300), land-use attorney Thomas Jordan ($250), Renzel ($250), former Councilwoman Enid Pearson ($250).

Google's self-driving car in five-car crash

Google's self-driving cars have traveled 160,000 miles without incident, but that changed last week when one was behind a five-car collision on Charleston Road.

A Google spokesperson said the robotic Toyota Prius was clearly being driven by a human during the trip when the crash occurred on Friday, Aug. 5.

Tiffany Winkelman, who witnessed the crash, reportedly said that Google's robotic Toyota Prius rear-ended a second Prius, which then hit the Honda Accord she was riding in, which pushed another Accord into the fifth car, another Prius. A Google spokesperson said he did not know how many cars were involved.

"We regret that a Google driver recently caused a minor accident, and we're grateful that no one was hurt," said a Google spokesperson in an email. "Safety is our top priority. One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car."

The incident came to light when a reader of online blog sent in a photo of the car after the crash. It appears to have occurred behind Mountain View's Costco, near Google headquarters. The car is not shown with any major damage.

Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The self-driving Prius uses special sensors and cameras to navigate roads that have been pre-mapped. The goal of the project is to reduce the number of deaths caused by car accidents and to reduce traffic.

Google claims the Google car was in between tests and that the accident was on a road that had not been mapped previously to allow it to drive autonomously on the street.

Palo Alto officers honored for Zumot investigation

Two Palo Alto officers who used cell-phone records to help convict Bulos Zumot in the October 2009 murder of Jennifer Schipsi were recognized this week by a consortium of law enforcement and security professionals.

The International High Technology Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA) awarded its annual "Case of the Year" honor this week to Palo Alto Det. Aaron Sunseri and Sgt. Con Maloney, both of whom played critical roles in the investigation and testified during Zumot's trial.

The consortium is also recognizing Jim Cook, a consultant who used cell-phone records to map out the location of Zumot's and Schipsi's phones on the day of the murder; Det. James Eichbaum from the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office, who helped recover deleted text messages from the two phones; and Deputy District Attorney Charles Gillingham, who prosecuted the case.

Zumot, former owner of Da Hookah Spot in downtown Palo Alto, was charged with killing his girlfriend, Schipsi, on Oct. 15, 2009, and then burning the cottage they shared on Addison Avenue to cover up the crime. Gillingham relied heavily on text messages and phone records from Zumot's and Schipsi's phones to detail their history of domestic violence and to describe the events leading up to Schipsi's death.

The text messages included several heated exchanges between Zumot and Schipsi on the night before and the day of her death. Zumot had admitted during the trial that he deleted many of these messages from his phone on the day of the fire. Investigators were able to recover most of these deleted messages.

The jury found Zumot guilty on Feb. 10 of first-degree murder and arson. He is scheduled to be sentenced in September.

— Gennady Sheyner


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