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July 21, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Around Town Around Town (July 21, 2004)

WELCOME TO TOWN ... New Palo Alto City Attorney Gary Baum started work last week, and promptly was greeted by a "Welcome to Town" public records request from the city's self-proclaimed riff-raff newspaper, The Palo Alto Daily News. According to a city official, bulldog reporters once again demanded the salaries of all employees, as they have in the past. Last year, the paper's publisher lost a lawsuit against various nearby cities and unions who denied a similar claim. The judge ruled that most employees' privacy was more important than the public's right to know for most, but not all, municipal employees, setting the stage for Palo Alto to deny the paper's request.

GIVING JEOPARDY CHAMP A RUN FOR HIS MONEY ... The night Ken Jennings became the first $1 million winner on Jeopardy last week, Midtown resident Irene Lawrence was his closest competition. Back home in Palo Alto, Lawrence called her 15 minutes of fame an "interesting anthropological" experience. The episode was actually filmed in March, before the computer geek became a media darling. As soon as the two new competitors heard Jennings, the Mormon computer geek from Salt Lake City, had won 28 games straight, they laughed and knew they were cannon fodder. "We didn't give him the worst he's had, but we didn't give him the easiest time he had either," Lawrence said. Jennings seemed nice but the Palo Altan didn't have much interaction with him in the "bullpen" before the game. As a player, Jennings was quick with the buzzer, she said. "It's definitely an advantage, but I wouldn't call it an unfair one ... This is a game, it's not a war -- and I had fun." Lawrence was especially tickled that the announcer, Johnny Gilbert, got her occupation correct during the opening -- she is an "enrolled agent," a kind of tax specialist. Her husband and daughter encouraged her to audition in Sacramento. Her daughter Claire is now planning to try out for College Jeopardy, hoping to follow in her mother's footsteps.

BIDDING FOR DINING DOLLARS . . . Going with the axiom that the best way to people's pocketbooks is through their stomachs, the new Palo Alto Downtown Business Improvement District board is launching "Dine Downtown" in August. Modeled after the successful "Dine About Town" initiative in San Francisco, "Dine Downtown" will offer prix-fixe menus on Monday nights in August at several restaurants, including Café Fino/Maddalena's, Gordon Biersch, Il Fornaio, La Strada, Niebaum-Coppola, Nola, Nouveau Trattoria, Osteria, Spago, and Zibibbo. Gordon Biersch's prix-fixe, for example, includes a choice of drink, salad, entrée and dessert (chocolate double fudge cake or carrot cake, for those who were wondering) for $20. "Dine Downtown" is the board's first foray into promoting the downtown area since forming the district earlier this year in an effort to revitalize revenues.

WISH LIST FOR LIBRARIES? . . . When you visit sometime in the future, could the Palo Alto libraries have a wish list of books posted? That was one idea suggested by a Palo Alto resident at a recent meeting with Paula Simpson, the new director of Palo Alto libraries. The notion was part of a discussion on the future of the libraries. Mindful of the city's tight budget, Palo Alto residents put their minds to brainstorming about how to save the library system money and also suggested the use of bookmobiles, collaboration between Stanford and Palo Alto, and the perennial "competent budget management at the top."

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