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September 08, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Around Town Around Town (September 08, 2004)

WAVY BENCHY . . . On Thursday, the directors of the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) approved a new public art project that will also serve as seating for the new Palo Alto transit center. Berkeley-artist Masayuki Nagase designed the six bench-sculptures, which will be installed in April 2005. Weighing between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds, the $88,000 seating will be made from granite boulders. The polished tops will sport different wave patterns, reflecting the artist's hope to build symbolic islands for refuge. "I would like my work [to] bring some essence of nature and to be the useful means for a moment of rest and relaxation within the ever increasing pace of a modern way of life," Nagase wrote in his application. The transit center is currently undergoing an eight-month, $7 million revamp that is forcing bus commuters to temporarily walk to new stops.

EASE ON DOWN THE ROAD . . . The Orthodox Jewish Congregation Emek Beracha was scheduled to move into its new home on Monday, Sept. 6, from the basement of an office building on Sheridan Avenue to a brand new synagogue on El Camino Real. "This is a first for us," said Jonathan Novich, the synagogue's co-president. "It's a building of our own." The congregation was last heard of in March, when they were spreading word of their new home to a nearby neighborhood. Despite Palo Alto's penchant to fear new neighbors, the homeowners seemed pleased by the news, primarily because the orthodox Jews don't drive to their weekly service -- they walk. The congregation was founded in the 1960s by a group of Stanford graduate students. Today, it boasts 100 families. For the record, "Emek Beracha" means "valley of blessing."

SOLIDARITY . . . The City of Palo Alto's ongoing strife with its workers continued last week. Palo Alto's temporary/hourly workers, hoping to form a new union, were still waiting for the city to count their signatures. But meanwhile, the city's permanent workers signed a petition supporting the part-timers' efforts. The full-time employees bemoaned that most of the temps were not, in fact, temporary. "Maintaining a second class of workers is not only unfair -- it creates a second class city," the petition argued. "Temporary workers deserve respect, a voice at work, a process for transitioning into permanent positions, and benefits that reflect their service to the City."

NOT SO FAST . . . The president of the Downtown North Neighborhood Association, Dan Lorimer, takes exception to the notion that a summer roundtable convened by the city's transportation division was productive or community-building. "It was a total fiasco," he said. As reported in last Friday's Weekly, Chief Transportation Official Joe Kott brought together a group of about 15 residents over the summer to discuss plans for evaluating the second traffic-calming trial in Downtown North, scheduled to begin this month. Lorimer said the group included far more people who were against the original traffic barriers than those in favor, despite Kott's claim that it was pretty evenly balanced. "These people came in at the end," Lorimer said. They were "self-appointed people, malcontents," rather than those in the neighborhood association who had worked for years to develop the original plan. Lorimer also reiterated his belief that the original objective of the traffic project -- to reduce traffic cutting through the neighborhood -- will not be accomplished by the new configuration of traffic circles, speed tables and signs. "I'm discouraged by the whole thing... The only real solution is to replace the (City) Council," said Lorimer, referring to the council's March decision to reject the traffic barriers. "We've got a real problem here. I'm not sure we can solve this problem anymore."

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