Around Town | July 13, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 13, 2012

Around Town

THE DEPARTURE ... After four years on the City Council, Sid Espinosa is preparing for the next chapter in his life. Espinosa, who in 2011 became the fourth youngest mayor in the city's history (he dropped to fifth after his friend, Yiaway Yeh, ascended to the mayor's chair this year), announced Thursday that he will not be seeking a second term. Espinosa, a Microsoft executive who directs the company's philanthropic efforts in Silicon Valley, said he is weighing various opportunities in the private and public sectors and plans to spend some time between now and the end of the year figuring out which of these to pursue. He called his time on the council "an incredible experience." "I definitely intend to remain actively engaged in Palo Alto and in the Palo Alto community," Espinosa told the Weekly. Espinosa's departure further opens up what promises to be a busy race for the four council seats that will be up for grabs in November. Yeh, and Councilmen Pat Burt and Greg Schmid, were all elected in 2007 and are up for reelection this year. Schmid is the only member of this quartet to publicly announce his decision to seek another term. Former mayor and current Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss and attorney Marc Berman are also seeking seats on the nine-member council.

SMOKY SUBJECT ... Palo Alto often touts itself as a "green" giant, but the topic of marijuana has traditionally been a buzz kill for city leaders. In 1996, the City Council decided that pot dispensaries have no business being in the city and adopted an ordinance prohibiting these establishments. But this week, a reluctant City Council will once again be sucked into the murky national debate over pot laws. The council is scheduled on Monday to place on the ballot a measure that members have little appetite for — one that would allow up to three medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Palo Alto. The council has little say in the matter. A citizen initiative last year succeeded in drawing enough signatures for the November ballot measure. But even if it passes, the initiative could find itself in legal limbo because of the inconsistencies between state law, which allows pot dispensaries, and federal law, which doesn't. According to a new memo from the office of City Attorney Molly Stump, there are four pot-related cases pending with the California Supreme Court. This puts a cloud over Palo Alto's pot initiative. Stump notes that even if the measure is adopted, "it is possible that it would be vulnerable to judicial challenge." At the same time, the memo notes, "if the Initiative Measure is not adopted, the City's existing ban may also be vulnerable to challenge." To deal with this dilemma, Stump proposed another option: preparing a companion measure for the voters that would keep the pot initiative from taking effect "until there is a definitive judicial decision removing any question that local jurisdictions may lawfully regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in the manner that the Initiative Ordinance regulates ..." It might, however, take a while to get these issues resolved. According to Stump's memo, briefing is currently under way in the cases accepted by the state Supreme Court. Because federal laws are involved, it's possible that some of the issues may ultimately be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

WHAT'S IN THE WATER? ... When Palo Alto's utility officials were testing customers' water quality in May they uncovered something strange — an unusually high amount of coliform bacteria — a bacteria that is generally considered to be nonthreatening but that can indicate the presence of other unsavory organisms. The city responded by notifying its water supplier, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and asking the agency to clean the grates at its connection to Palo Alto's water system. It also sent out notices to all water customers, advising them of this unwelcome finding and began follow-up testing to determine whether harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, is present in the water. There wasn't and after nearly three weeks of testing, the Utilities Department determined that the water is clean and safe. In its notice to customers, the department states that "bacteria are no longer present and this is not an emergency." City Manager James Keene re-emphasized at Monday's City Council meeting that "there was never any emergency." "However, because this temporary water-quality change was a violation of state drinking-water standards, we are required by law to notify everyone about what happened and what the city has done to rectify the situation."






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