Letters to the Editor
Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 30, 1996

Letters to the Editor

Unintended results


The Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce urges the public to vote no on Proposition 218 on the November ballot.

This measure would require that all taxes that pay for "general government purposes" be reviewed and approved by voters. "Special taxes" raised for specific purposes would need approval of two-thirds of voters. Joining a number of organizations in opposition, including the League of Women Voters of California, the Chamber feels strongly that this proposition is a classic example of the "law of unintended consequences." Not only would the measure invalidate many assessment districts, it would also nullify parcel taxes, which for many communities pay for critical services.

According to legislative analysis, if Prop 218 is approved, local governments will lose $100 million in the short term and potentially hundreds of million of dollars annually. The measure will severely damage local government services and limit the flexibility of cities to respond to the needs of their residents. The Chamber encourages a no vote on 218.

Hal Mickelson
Vice President
Susan Frank
Executive Director
Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce
Forest Avenue
Palo Alto

Justice in society


Contrary to Rabbi Block's Board of Contributors article (Weekly, Oct. 16), I believe that the passage of Proposition 209 will advance justice in our society. The current system of racial and other group preferences is asinine. It is against the true ideal expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, that all people should be treated equally.

It is true that this ideal was once officially circumvented by the Jim Crow laws, segregation, and separate but (un)equal legislation. But that is why we fought for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s, where desegregation and integration were the goals, leading to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the 30 years since then, these goals and ideals have been stood on their heads with the pernicious, bureaucratically ordained, group preferences. I think that Proposition 209 is well written, and its passage will move us to providing the just society envisioned by the framers of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Arthur Cohn
Mesa Court
Palo Alto

Dishonest, damaging


I greeted Rabbi Block's statement in the Oct. 16 Weekly with great relief, and I am building on his words.

Of all the propositions in the ballot, Proposition 209 is the most dishonest and damaging to the public good. Its proponents copied the wording of the civil rights bill of the 1960s, which was passed then to deal with the discrimination against Afro-Americans. They used the same wording so that the wording could avoid challenge in the courts.

It deliberately misrepresents the meaning of the phrase "affirmative action." Affirmative action is one way to arrive at diversity. By the millennium, California will be a multi-cultural state. How can one approve of an all-Caucasian work force or educational institution in a diverse cultural setting in the year 2000?

Affirmative action speaks to working toward a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, etc. in all venues of public work and institutions of higher education. It does not mean hiring persons unqualified for such work and education. It means bringing further into the multi-cultural mainstream those who have been left behind because of prejudice or fear, are qualified for the job or show the necessary skills and determination for success in their education.

Proposition 209 is a strategic political gimmick which will close off the American dream in California. What happens in California has influence well beyond the state's borders. Please remember that when voting.

Agnes C. Robinson
Fulton Street
Palo Alto

Program has strayed


A corollary to the U.S. Constitutional principle of separation of church and state is a natural reservation about the interjection of theology into political debates. Specifically, Rabbi Richard Block's statement that "Scripture forbids" Propositions 187 and 209 (Weekly, Oct. 16) is objectionable on this ground. While he may oppose these propositions and recent federal welfare reform on religious grounds, let him state his case without invoking the Almighty in an attempt to intimidate those who honestly disagree with him.

For example, affirmative action has strayed so far from its original intent that some argue it should be scrapped, hence Proposition 209. Recall the original objective of President Johnson's 1965 Executive Order 11246 was primarily administrative redress of historical economic injustices against American blacks. Most now agree this was necessary and justified. During the ensuing 30 years, however, this objective has been distorted. One case in point was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, where Congress effectively entitled immigrants to affirmative action programs. Thus three quarters of incoming and legalized immigrants in 1993 qualified as members of protected racial/ethnic minorities. Hence many employers could meet affirmative action goals hiring immigrants, rather native American blacks.

Professor William Julius Wilson of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard points out in the New York Times Magazine of Aug. 18, 1996 that blacks tend to be hired last, certain immigrants groups hired first. This tendency, along with other factors, is leading an economic disaster in America's central cities. Hence affirmative action, as currently practiced, may soon become racially divisive and counterproductive to the interests of those it was originally intended to help.

The complex interactions of open-door immigration policies, affirmative action programs and liberal welfare policies have lead to significant unintended consequences, which Rabbi Black seems to cast as a form of "intolerance."

Perhaps. An alternative view is that recent federal welfare reform and the California Propositions are partially public reactions to these problems. In any event, these "solutions" should be debated on their own merits or demerits without recourse to Biblical injunctions that further polarize the issues.

William E. Murray, Jr.
N. Balsamina Way
Portola Valley

Bitter pills


In response to a number of questions from patients and friends about Propositions 214 and 216 on the Nov. 5 ballot, I would like to state my belief that these two measures would cause great harm to the process of improving the delivery of health care--a process in which everyone has a stake.

Either of these measures will increase costs, increase regulation and actually prevent medical groups, hospitals and physicians from restructuring the delivery of health care in a way that improves both the quality of care and the efficiency with which that care is provided.

Few would disagree that we have far to go in the process of reforming health care in the United States. But people should beware of sweeping plans put forth in the name of "reform" by special-interest groups of any persuasion, particularly when they are put in the rigid form of a statewide initiative.

Caution is particularly vital in an area as important, complex and challenging as improving the overall quality and efficiency of health care, and fixing some of the inequities and inefficiencies that have grown up over many decades. Propositions 214 and 216 are essentially job-protection "featherbedding" plans that will set back substantially the cause of achieving true improvements, and would prove to be bitter pills for both the public and medical profession.

David Druker, M.D.
Chief Operating Officer
Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Homer Avenue
Palo Alto

Yes on 215


I am legally blind, which means my world is a very blurry place. At age 43, my remaining vision is 20/640. With the help of visual aids, I have painted California landscapes. ZYT Gallerie in Los Altos, has sold my works for five years. You may see me walking with my white cane around the area.

My glaucoma came on just as our federal and state governments added punitive civil forfeiture laws to drug war policy. The ban on marijuana medical use and research continued as it had for decades.

All my life I've had familial bilateral exudative vitrio retinopathy, and now I have glaucoma. This was caused by an autoimmune reaction to cataract extraction and lens implant surgery performed in 1989 on my right eye. In 1993, drops either caused retinal problems or would no longer control my rising eye pressure. My ophthalmologist sent me to a glaucoma specialist.

I asked both doctors about Maridol and marijuana. Both insisted that surgery was the only option. Even by asking questions I had crossed "the line." Intimidated and confused, I went to the second recommended specialist and submitted to two operations, both causing irreversible scarring, hemorrhaging and greater blindness. The glaucoma was reduced, but what a terrible price my family and I have paid.

I can't help wondering if Maridol or marijuana might have been a better answer to my glaucoma. I will never know. I was too cowardly to push the matter with my doctors or my government. I feared our home might be taken from us by civil forfeiture if I broke the law and used marijuana. Now, my only recourse is to vote for Proposition 215--medical use of marijuana, and I urge readers to do the same.

Christina Romano Puckett
Rocky Way

Choice is clear


Voters have an opportunity on Nov. 5 to vote for two candidates who are committed to maintain the quality of life we now have in Menlo Park. This election will decide forever how Menlo Park will be in the 21st century. The choice is very clear. We can support Paul Collacchi and Chuck Kinney, who will join with Steve Schmidt in challenging the massive development that Stanford University is demanding residents accept. Voters have the power to maintain the uniqueness and specialness that has been Menlo Park's. Please closely examine the positions of the four candidates for I believe only Chuck Kinney and Paul Collacchi deserve our votes.

Margaret H. Carney
Claremont Way
Menlo Park

Sand Hill pledge


Recently, several Menlo Park homeowners came together and asked all candidates for the Menlo Park City Council, as well as all continuing City Council members, to sign a "Sand Hill Pledge" concluding that Palo Alto's draft EIR is inadequate and vowing to withhold approval of the widening of Menlo Park's portion of Sand Hill Road and to institute legal action to protect Menlo Park's interest.

Only three of the seven recipients returned a substantive written response: Steve Schmidt, Paul Collacchi and Chuck Kinney. We saw the pledge as a way to find out more about what kind of alternatives all the potential members of our next council would like to see. Mainly, we wanted to hear their specific views and to know what they would do to protect Menlo Park.

We are pleased that Schmidt, Collacchi and Kinney have responded and generally agree with the ideas in the Sand Hill Pledge. We were disappointed that none of the other candidates was at all willing to respond substantively to our concerns.

There is a clear difference in the willingness of the City Council candidates to respond to neighborhood concerns with meaningful actions and substantive answers. I hope other concerned Menlo Park voters will take note of this important difference on election day and elect Paul Collacchi and Chuck Kinney. This would shift the balance in our Council to a responsive, pro-active majority that is sensitive to neighborhood concerns like ours.

Mary Jo Borak
Santa Rita Avenue
Menlo Park

Pennywise, pound foolish


I have just decided for whom to vote for the county Board of Supervisors, in the race between Barbara Koppel and Joe Simitian. I was leaning toward Koppel anyway, for her role in passing the county library tax, but Simitian's flier was decisive. He tarred and feathered her for extravagantly spending taxpayers' money by spending three days in a hotel in San Francisco while attending a conference instead of driving back to Cupertino each night.

Hey, Joe, from 1990 until early this year I lived in a house in Cupertino exactly 50 miles door-to-door from the Sutter/Stockton Garage. Whenever I had a multi-day meeting in the city I always stayed on-site or with nearby friends. I could see no reason to waste three hours of my time commuting at rush hour (an hour and a half each way) and burning more fossil fuel for at least 200 miles unnecessary commute (the train was not an option). The point of a conference, especially for a public official, is to schmooze with her fellow attenders.

Pennywise and pound foolish is not a quality I seek in my elected officials.

B. Meredith Burke
Tennessee Lane
Palo Alto

Progressive education


It was most gratifying to read in the Oct. 16 issue about the fourth grade class of Lucinda Surber using experimentation to enhance thinking and learning. Hoover School should be praised for having encouraged or even allowed this kind of progressive education to transpire. Comments such as those by Kent Carey reflect the atmosphere at the school ". . . they can exit the sixth grade with a lot of excitement and discovery. They are able to feel comfortable in situations where they don't know the answer right away." and "It is inquiry based learning; there isn't a set of facts that you are supposed to memorize out of a book." Jan Hustler went on to say that it "relieves some anxiety about having to have a 'correct' answer," and Surber summed it up by saying "This is so much fun that kids love doing it."

It may come as a shock to some to say that Stanford University could do well to emulate this primary school. A number of years ago I embarked on a similar theme at the university level in the Stanford Biology Department, developing a curriculum that allowed students to experience the process of science as opposed to traditional cookbook approaches. Needless to say these efforts were curtailed after three years, much to the chagrin of students, with the rationale that it was too difficult for students and asked too much of them. Now I see the basic idea that we developed being used in the fourth grade. I argued that no one is too young or inexperienced to learn how to think and create rather than memorize and follow.

What was being asked of my students was to use supplied information about a biological system as the basis for formulating a question, preferably a question aroused by their own curiosity. They were to use their question to design an experiment that might provide an answer, request equipment necessary to conduct the experiment, collect results, interpret them and write it up. Open labs allowed them to work at their own pace and convenience with TA's always available to answer questions and help out. Obviously it was more involved than what is being done in Surber's class but the process is the same and can be adapted to any level, giving students an opportunity to practice thinking and creating, the stuff of which science is composed, as opposed to what they are normally required to do, follow instructions and memorize. Power to Surber and Hoover School to continue to pursue progressive and effective education rather than muck around in teaching traditions of the past.

Dow Woodward
Professor Emeritus
Stanford University
Wayside Road
Portola Valley

Supporting strong schools


On behalf of the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation I would like to thank all the merchants who so generously donated goods and services to our Annual Autumn Auction recently. The event was a tremendous success, and we owe much of that to the community spirit of the business owners in Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Redwood City and surrounding towns who recognize that strong schools build strong communities. We are grateful for their support in helping us make our schools the very best they can be.

Nancy Serrurier
Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation
Berkeley Avenue
Menlo Park

Teacher guidance


I want to thank intern Leslie Donaldson for her recent article about our school, "Palo Alto School teaches children to think globally" (Weekly, Sept.18). The school's success and growth over the past year has been exhilarating and encouraging. In her article, Leslie captured many of the aspects of The Children's International School (CIS) that make it unique, interesting and advantageous to some Peninsula students. There were, however, two statements about the school I would like to clarify.

First, although CIS is a self-directed school that provides choice and freedom to its students vis a vis the ordering and time of student work during the school day, it goes a little too far to say that teachers have "no say" in these matters. Even in self-directed classrooms, teachers provide "guidance" for student decision-making. With our current 1:8 teacher-student ratio, our teachers have ample time and opportunity to provide this kind of "guidance" when needed.

Secondly, the founding parents of CIS did have a vision for the school. They wanted a school that could provide: a strong, traditional academic program in a self-directed environment; an integrated global perspective; and innovative support for working families. Beyond these basics, parents have not contributed to the school's curriculum design as the article suggested. The CIS academic curriculum is based on very detailed developmental continuums for academics that are supported by a rich assortment of materials that can be individualized for student needs. Parent input is welcome, but less prevalent than the article might have suggested.

The school is delighted to contribute to and be a part of the rich tapestry of educational opportunities in Palo Alto. We want to thank Leslie again for helping share our story with the broader Palo Alto community.

Margaret B. Ricks
Children's International School
Middlefield Road
Palo Alto

Plea to parents


As usual, the Stanford mall and the Palo Alto Recreation Department are putting on a safe trick-or-treating and Halloween party. My family has been going for two years, and we will probably go again this year, but there is a drawback to safe candy for my two preschool children: thoughtless behavior.

For some reason that is not clear to me, being in a crowd makes people who are usually very polite act very rude indeed! Last year my children were pushed and bumped, not just by excited children, but also by their parents as they positioned their children to best advantage! This event is carefully planned, and there is plenty of candy, so why all they running and pushing?

This letter is a plea to other parents: if you and your children act the same way at this large public event as you would at a small family gathering, we could all have a fun time and no tears. I will try to be smarter this year, taking my kids to the sides of the mall instead of right down the middle with the main crowd. I will start at the back of the mall to miss some of the crowd. At the same time, I could love to see people keeping their kids under control and watching out for the little ones--I always try to notice when little kids are struggling, won't you do the same for my kids? After all, it really does take a village!

Sabrina Cuddy
Charleston Road
Palo Alto

Dangerous crossing


Recently, my attention was called to a dangerous situation. Coming from the north on Greer I was stopped at the Oregon light. The light changed to green. Since I wanted to turn left onto Oregon and since I am very wary here because cars coming from the south out of Greer sometimes turn in front of and sometimes turn behind a car coming from the north, I continued to pause to let all traffic clear before entering the intersection.

A child of late elementary or early middle school years, coming from the south on Greer Road, started to cross with the light. He almost reached the center island when his eyes darted left and right to check traffic, he lost his balance, and he and bicycle sprawled in the roadway before the waiting left-turn car from Oregon. He seemed not injured, righted himself, and continued somewhat bravely past the island and on to the safety of the other side of Oregon.

I firmly believe that this crossing is not safe for either pedestrian or bicycle traffic. Cars coming from the freeway often do not drop speed until after the Greer intersection if they have encountered a green light at West Bayshore Road. At the very least a crossing guard should be maintained here during the hours when children pass to and from school.

Grace Mason
West Bayshore Road
Palo Alto

Air and noise


Most of the discussion so far of Stanford Management Company's proposed Sand Hill Projects has centered around traffic. However, there are two major impacts analyzed in the Draft EIR that need more public scrutiny.

The project as proposed will raise the level of air pollutants in our region so they exceed Bay Area Air Quality Management Board significance thresholds, making it impossible for our area to meet state standards. The Draft EIR included projections of increased fuel efficiency, increased uses of shuttle services and optimistic projections of residents of the new housing strolling or bicycling across the equivalent of the Oregon Expressway to shop for their daily necessities. Even with those projections, the DEIR found the increase in air pollution unacceptable and stated that there are no mitigation measures available to reduce this environmental impact to a level below significance.

The Santa Clara County General Plan includes a specific policy of avoiding placement of facilities for the old, young, or ill near major concentrations of air pollution. In the epicenter of all this increased pollution there are already the Ronald McDonald House--for very sick kids and their families--and the Children's Health Council, now being reconstructed. The air pollution level makes "Children's Health" an oxymoron! The location of a senior housing project in an area of such concentrated air pollution is irresponsible. It's certainly a good thing for the potential residents that the senior center will be so convenient to Stanford's medical facilities!

The noise level at and near the project will exceed normally acceptable neighborhood levels under both State and Palo Alto regulations. A "normally acceptable" level is illustrated in the DEIR as the noise of a vacuum cleaner running 10 feet away. Both Palo Alto and Menlo Park Comprehensive Plans say that noise levels above that limit are not compatible with residential land use. Palo Alto's noise policy ensures compliance with existing noise laws and protection of residents from unnecessary noise. Thus, according to the Draft EIR, the project could not be approved by the Palo Alto City Council under its general plan if the project were in a Palo Alto neighborhood; that is to say, Palo Alto could not approve this project were it in Greenmeadow or Crescent Park. Unfortunately, directly adjacent Menlo Park neighborhoods are not assured this protection.

Traffic is a major concern of the citizens of our region and deserves an adequate proportion of the Sand Hill Projects discussion. However, air pollution and noise pollution are health hazards that need serious consideration. Each new development brings with it a reduction in our quality of life. Isn't it time we just said no?

Lucille Spurlock
Creek Drive
Menlo Park

Trouble upstream


Do those who are so eager to have Sand Hill road connect directly to El Camino Real recall the TV scenes of the recent floods elsewhere in the U.S.? How will they feel when their own flooded homes are shown on the evening news? It's happened here before! The proposed road is only part of the total construction: roads and roofs don't store water; they rapidly drain it. The creek is higher than its surroundings, so water that tops the banks will flood Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Stanford doesn't care: it's upstream.

Better check your flood zone designation. And don't be swayed by talk of "small incremental increases" or some such; look at the big picture of what is being done to you upstream.

Lawrence Fried
Palo Alto

Irresponsible growth


I have lived in or near Palo Alto for 12 of the past 17 years. Four years ago my husband and I purchased a home in North Palo Alto, approximately four blocks from downtown, and near Emerson street.

Since we live near downtown and have been acquainted with that area for almost two decades, I would like to comment on growth in the downtown area and the proposal for expansion and development along Sand Hill Road. I believe that Palo Alto cannot continue to increase the density of housing and commerce without adversely affecting the quality of life of current residents of Palo Alto. There are several issues.

The first one involves downtown congestion. The combination of housing developments (and the Sand Hill project will add to this) and too many large new buildings downtown has made a mess of University Avenue and the surrounding area. It is already virtually impossible to drive and park downtown, and replacing one and two story buildings with four and five story buildings (such as at the corners of Emerson and Lytton, and Cowper and University) will only add to the problem, as the people who work in these building search for places to live and park.

At one of the recent planning commission meetings about the Sand Hill Road expansion, a real estate agent raved about the "vibrant and growing" downtown area. Well, the downtown area I see today is dirty and crowded and lacks character and useful stores. Restaurants and overpriced specialty stores have replaced what used to be a diverse downtown. These days I only go downtown to Longs, the library or to the bagel store. I can walk to these places from my house. If I had to drive I'd go to Menlo Park and Mountain View (Safeway, Payless, San Antonio Center area).

My second, and very serious, concern involves traffic from the proposed Sand Hill project. I have never heard really material discussion at the Planning Commission meetings on how all these people will get to the 101 freeway. Via University Avenue? I saw a planning map which highlighted Lytton, University, and Hamilton streets as "arteries." Come on, folks. Exactly which Palo Alto does the planning commission live in? You go stand at the corner of University and Ramona at 5 p.m. on a weekday, and then say that University is an "artery!"

I can't believe the commission can be so naive as to think this will not be a problem--Menlo Park knows it will be a problem! Thousands of cars will use a four-lane Sand Hill Road to get to 101 from Menlo Park, Portola Valley, and Stanford; and possibly just from Highway 280, with Palo Alto being a kind of South Bay bypass between the major freeways. Cars already speed on our street to get from El Camino down Willow to 101. The Sand Hill development will make this worse. Will Palo Altans really be better off once Hawthorne street looks like Oregon Expressway?

I'm also bothered by the environmental implications. The Sand Hill project will destroy a wonderful piece of rural open space. I drive down Sand Hill to work and love to look out at the green field and watch the birds and ground squirrels. We need to save more areas like this, not pave them over. We need to protect the creek, which is already polluted and eroded from people living near or dumping in the creek, or inadvertently by toxic runoff from their yards (fertilizers, insecticides, car wash soap).

Finally, I'm frankly pretty distressed by the process this project has taken. Part of this has to do with the makeup of the planning commission itself. How are these appointees chosen? Do they rally represent the population of Palo Alto? At one meeting only four members were present. The rest had excused themselves for "conflicts of interest." If that many have conflicts of interest, are they all developers? The chairman of the planning commission was the treasurer of the "No on R" campaign, which accepted over $60,000 from Stanford to help buy a defeat. You wouldn't call this a "conflict of interest?" How did this person end up as the planning chairman, anyway?

As you know, the Sand Hill project has been rejected twice before. This seems to me like a message: Palo Altans do not want these huge developments! Why do they keep bringing this back?

The bottom line is: $1.2 million in "extra income" is a pittance for what it will cost us in terms of increased congestion, increased traffic, damage to the environment, and quality of life. Most Palo Altans do not equate city growth with prosperity. They care more about a stable, clean and safe city, not one that is growing and building irresponsibly.

Tina Peak
Palo Alto Avenue
Palo Alto

The big picture


I think that Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents and current incumbent city councils are failing to see the big picture and adverse impact of the Sand Hill projects. It's Stanford's agenda to fully develop the Sand Hill corridor in a very profit-maximizing sense. This plan is much bigger than the snapshot building of apartments and senior complexes. It includes 400,000 square feet of addition to the hospital, 160,000 square feet to the shopping center. My question is, when are the financial coffers full enough? When is Stanford's growth and influence going to be contained, and what is best for the community and the citizens of its immediate communities?

This proposal by design is contrary to the very things that urban planning and design programs in the best universities in the country are using as a remedy to straighten out the cities of today. It's based on outmoded and ill-conceived urban planning. In support of this plan are those private interests and incumbent council members who are pro-development and have a professional and financial alliance that is based on seeing this development being pushed through. Some of Menlo Park's incumbents have received huge campaign contributions from the United Plumbers Union and from citizens who are outside of their jurisdiction. There are also a few private citizens who are led to believe that there will be space for them in the senior housing complex and are ill-informed and believe that development of this scale will actually reduce traffic congestion in their neighborhoods.

Think again, Menlo Park and Palo Alto. We are looking at high-density urban congestion, pollution and stress. If this plan goes through, say goodbye to quality of life on the Peninsula as we know it. it is the fault of the Menlo Park and Palo Alto city councils and us, the citizens, for being asleep at the wheel.

Bea Webber
Menlo Park

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