pstyle:newitem>IN RETREAT ... Every winter, Palo Alto's elected leaders, top staff and a handful of gadflies and neighborhood leaders gather on a Saturday morning at a designated location outside City Hall to eat bagels, look at complex charts and discuss which issues should take up the most time in the next 12 months. This time-honored tradition will continue Saturday, when the council meets in Ventura Community Center for its annual retreat. The 8:30 a.m. meeting should have a ring of familiarity. At its retreat last year, the council agreed to keep all three of its 2013 priorities — the future of downtown and California Avenue; infrastructure strategy and funding; and technology and the connected city — in place in 2014. That is not to say, however, that this year's retreat will be devoid of big-picture thinking. The council will also consider on Saturday the city's "core values" — qualities that represent the community and that hold steady even as the action plan changes. So far, the subject has netted 109 statements from residents and others via Open City Hall, the city-sponsored online forum. One anonymous responder from University South is asking the council to "stop adding housing" and to "ignore obsolete ABAG philosophy" (a reference to housing mandates set by the Association of Bay Area Governments). Dan Bloomberg from Barron Park struck the same note with a little more flair. "Tell ABAG to stuff it," he wrote. "Tell developers that no high-density variances to zoning will be permitted. Require all development to provide sufficient parking."
ANOTHER SIGN OF THE TIMES ... When the City Council reluctantly agreed on Dec. 17 to allow the Grocery Outlet supermarket to put up a sign at Alma Village that far exceeds local regulations, resident Tom DuBois predicted that the decision will kick off an "arms race." "If I owned a store and saw a large sign, I'd definitely want one too," DuBois told the council shortly before the vote. Since the council voted to reject an appeal of the Grocery Outlet sign, two more requests for sign exemptions have come forward, one from the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and another from a local car company that needs very little help in the name-recognition department — Tesla Motors. Now, the latter proposal is going through its own appeal and DuBois is again part of the effort, as are other members of the nascent citizens group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, which formed last year to oppose the Maybell Avenue housing development. The council is slated to consider on Feb. 3 an argument for rejecting Tesla's request (which the Architectural Review Board approved last month) for two signs for the Tesla dealership at 4180 El Camino Real. The city has already approved two wall signs for the dealership. The new plan includes two more signs, one freestanding and another on a wall. When the new wall sign's square footage is combined with the square area of the previously approved signs, they total 141 square feet, exceeding the 100-square-foot limit on signs that the code allows. The architecture board argued that the red background of the new wall sign should not be counted in the calculation and that the only area that should be counted is the actual logo, which is 32 square feet. Under that logic, the exemption isn't needed. The group appealing the sign exemption — which also includes "No on Measure D" leaders Cheryl Lilienstein and Joe Hirsch — strongly disagrees with this logic.