Around Town | March 1, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 1, 2013

Around Town

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER ... Three years ago, artist Sam Yates was a local hero of sorts. After years of snapping and compiling pictures of every city property, he earned a standing ovation from the City Council when he unveiled the not-so-shocking finding that the "Color of Palo Alto" is in fact green. Or, to be accurate, four types of green, depending on how you measure the "average" color (residents ultimately voted on a hue described as a "GI Joe green"). Since then, the public-art project has been fading in the public minds like a discarded watercolor. This month, however, "The Color of Palo Alto" sprung back to life when Palo Alto officials began to wonder whatever happened to the database of 120,000 photos Yates had promised the city as part of the project. While officials say the database is long overdue, Yates begs to differ. In an email to the city, the artist attributes officials' desire to have the $75,000 project completed to "the nature of our society, broadly interested in short-term rewards rather than long-term views of culture, community, and our environment." Local opinions may vary about this project, but Yates seems to think history will vindicate his work of art. "When we walk by a cathedral that took several generations to build, or the Watts Towers that took one man a lifetime, we generally do not say, 'What a waste of time,'" Yates wrote with no hint of irony. "And now, against all odds, through sheer perseverance and heart in the absence of money and despite naysayers, an artist is slowly building something from nothing. Every day I work on the project it increases its value to the community." While his response was filled with philosophical musings, it did not have the one thing the city was hoping to get — a date for when the database will be completed and handed over to the city. The Public Art Commission, which discussed this artistic hiccup last week, expressed optimism that Yates will complete the project some time this month.

WHEELING AND DEALING ... Palo Alto's love affair with electric vehicles was on full display this week, when city officials huddled around two glossy Tesla Roadsters minutes before Mayor Greg Scharff presented his "State of the City" address at the company's headquarters in the Stanford Research Park. The city has been installing electric-vehicle chargers at public garages and encouraging developers to do the same on new projects. But when it comes to the city's own fleet, electric vehicles are destined to remain in the future. The present belongs to compressed natural gas. This week, the council is expected to approve a purchase of 17 new Honda Civics powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). The city's existing fleet currently has 15 Civics with fuel tanks that are set to expire in 2013, at which point they can no longer be operated. The city wants to get rid of these cars before the expiration so that there is "an opportunity to benefit from the resale value," according to a new report from the Public Works Department. "There is currently a strong demand for alternative fueled vehicles, which is creating higher than normal resale values on CNG vehicles, as long as the vehicles' fuel tanks are not yet expired," the report states, noting that the cost to "re-tank" a CNG vehicle exceeds the vehicle's resale value. The city plans to spend about $460,000 to buy these vehicles from Stevens Creek Honda.

QUICK FIX ... Bringing back to life a toaster from the '30s, lamps, computers, CD players and some favorite shorts — all were projects tackled by more than 50 volunteers at the second Repair Cafe that took place at the Museum of American Heritage last Sunday. More than 300 people showed up with their broken stuff, with a line snaking around the block. Only about two-thirds could be helped — still nearly twice as many as at the first event last October. "Clearly, this is something that resonates with many, many people," organizer Peter Skinner wrote in an email. He's now planning events on April 21 and July 21. Oh, and the people who left behind an olive green jacket, a sun hat and a small screwdriver can contact Skinner at Peter@RepairCafé


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Posted by Ariel Arieff
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2013 at 11:43 pm

The complexity of this undertaking— from the obsessive/compulsiveness of the documentation process (17,000 parcels photographed, which predated Google Street View by six years) to its art historical roots in the work of artists as varied as Marcel Duchamp and Sol Lewitt, from Ed Ruscha to Andy Kauffman, to Sam Yates’s commitment to making this a project about sustainability (his means of transport while photographing was a zero-emission electric scooter that he charged nightly in a portable solar garage) — points to a real lack of analysis, or creativity for that matter, that goes into so many contemporary HOA decisions.

If only the average HOA board member had a smidgen of Yates’s sense of humor (and of the absurd). His next near term project is a campaign video for a color trio (to be voted upon) that will include lawn signs and competing opinions expressed on opposite sides of a residential street.

Maybe by "sustainability he means that people will keep talking about this long after he's gone.

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Posted by I recall
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Apropos compulsivity I remember thinking it was odd that he photographed streets in alphabetical order, not in order of convenience, that is, streets next to one another.
The essense of a database is usually that you can sort the data in different ways and I would expect that you sort in alpha later, and at first just accumulate as much and as efficiently as possible.

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Posted by area man
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm

The only art Mr. Yates seems to be practicing is that of the scam.

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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2013 at 9:44 am

"electric scooter that he charged nightly in a portable solar garage"

'Scuze me, but how do you charge anything in a solar garage at night? Don't you need at least some sunshine?

Or did our "tech-savvy" city fall for that yarn too?

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 4, 2013 at 9:49 am

Local hero to whom? The city council that thought this was great? To Cedric, his defender on this forum?
Many of us said this was a joke and a waste of money and guess what?