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May 26, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2004

News Digest News Digest (May 26, 2004)

Council divided on how to elect mayor

How to best elect the city's mayor is dividing the Palo Alto City Council. At a Policy and Services Committee hearing last week, four council members were split 2-2 on the issue.

Councilmen Jim Burch and Jack Morton feel the current undefined system shouldn't be changed. But Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell wants more definition, and drafted a protocol for how to elect the mayor, which would give preference to the most senior member of the council. She received support from Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto.

The mayoral election has recently been contentious, especially in 2003 when Councilwoman Hillary Freeman and former Councilwoman Nancy Lytle sharply questioned and criticized Councilwoman Dena Mossar on the night she was elected.

The mayor is largely an honorary position, although he or she does run the meetings and appoints council members to serve on committees. In recent years, some in the community have speculated the council has been making such decisions in private, rather than in public as required by law.

During the committee's last discussion of the issue, in late March, Morton, a certified public accountant, stormed out. This time, he stayed the entire time, Kishimoto said.

Meanwhile, former Councilman Gary Fazzino is still pushing for the city to directly elect its mayor, like in San Francisco or San Jose. --Bill D'Agostino
Baby Bullets on the way

Caltrain will roll out its Baby Bullet trains June 7, adding 10 express trains daily between San Jose and San Francisco. The trains only stop at six stations, including Palo Alto.

Weekend train service will also resume June 5 after being shut down for two years to add new rails for the express trains. To thank its riders, Caltrain services will be free on the weekends of June 5-6 and 12-13.

The addition of the Baby Bullets mean that Caltrain will have 86 daily trains, the most in the rail line's 141-year history, with hourly frequencies on both Saturdays and Sundays.

With only four stops between San Jose and San Francisco, the express trains will travel the route in 57 minutes, compared to the current one hour, 36-minute schedule. A trip from San Francisco to Palo Alto will take 37 minutes compared to 62 on a local train. --Don Kazak Stanford, NASA form partnership

Stanford and NASA scientists will work together to better monitor how space travel affects people. Under the auspices of the federal space agency, the new National Center for Space Biological Technologies at Stanford will develop systems and technologies to monitor humans in space.

"This center is a chance for us in the academic community to participate in exciting life sciences research and human exploration," said Gregory Kovocs, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Stanford who will work as a principal investigator at the new center.

NASA is providing $7.5 million in funding for the new center. --Don Kazak
Chickens used to help detect West Nile

A flock of sentinel chickens is being used in Palo Alto's Water Quality Control Plant to help the Santa Clara County Vector Control district detect West Nile virus.

According to the Palo Alto City Manager's Office, the county is maintaining the flock and will test each bird's blood every two weeks for the presence of antibodies for the West Nile virus.

Last year, the chickens were housed at a site in Mountain View, but moved to Palo Alto this year after the former site became unavailable. City officials said the water plant's location near the Baylands Nature Preserve will provide an ideal location in northern Santa Clara County to provide early warning of the disease's arrival.

In April and May, the California Department of Health Services warned of West Nile's arrival in California. So far it has only been confirmed in three southern California counties, but health officials said it has had time to establish itself in local mosquitoes, which infect birds that then serve as a source of the virus to other mosquitoes. --Bay City News

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