Letters to the Editor

Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 8, 1998

Letters to the Editor

Logical proposal


Proponents for continued use of leaf blowers powered by internal combustion engines claim that denial of this labor-saving device would force an increase in their service rates. l propose that a logical percentage increase would be the same as the decrease in rates when this marvelous device was first introduced. Were the rates decreased at that time?

About 25 years ago l conducted a study on the leaf blower noise problem. Two facts came out. First, the combination of sound level and time in use might be over the then-existing noise exposure limit for hearing damage to workers, set by the State Occupational Health and Safety group (Cal OSHA). This group asks that the noise be reduced by engineering means. If the company can demonstrate that this is not feasible, then hearing protection can be used. Thus an important question is whether or not the noise exposure to the worker is over the limit. Overexposure can lead to Cal OSHA action as well as worker's compensation claims.

The second fact was that several manufacturers at that time did offer leaf blowers with adequate mufflers and other noise control means. Presumably some are still available. And of course, electrically driven models are on the market.

The problem that decision makers face is the old one of people rights versus property rights. Property owners who are away at work during the day will never be subjected to the noise, and thus would not like the claimed rate increase. I suspect that if the away-during-the-day voters are in the majority, those voters who are trying to preserve a high quality of life will lose again.

Vincent Salmon, P.E.
Hobart Street
Menlo Park

Rising sea levels


For further confirmation of the effect of the changing temperature of the Pacific Ocean producing high tides and rising sea levels which contributed to flooding in our area, see the dramatic color photos on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday, March 18. I quote, "Temperature Changes--These maps, based on data from a satellite called Topex/Poseidon show how El Nino altered the surface of the Pacific Ocean between last April and last week. As El Nino's influence strengthened, sea surface temperatures warmed across the (eastern) Pacific, and the level of the surface rose above normal caus(ing) such destruction from floods and landslides." (David Perlman)

Neither in Palo Alto's current flood information leaflet to householders in the flood zone nor in any newspaper article published in Palo Alto has there been any mention of the tides or rising sea levels creating either the floods of 1982 or of this year. Nor has there been any reference to the role of El Nino in raising the tidal waters.

The evidence is now overwhelming and it is time for Palo Alto to face up to the fact that the runoff water from large rain storms flow into San Francisco Bay which sometimes acts as a water barrier and produces flooding by backing up our steams and raising our ground water tables. Failure to take this into account in planning for future flooding would be irresponsible.

Marvin E. Lee
Harker Avenue
Palo Alto

Neighborhood speed limits


The city manager's report to the City Council on the results of the Traffic and Engineering Surveys on Major Arterials has been released. The consultants' only task seemed to be measuring the speeds people are driving on the four residential arterials--the key word being "residential"--and suggesting that speed limits be raised on sections where the 85th percentile drives faster than the posted limits. In other words, change the law so people will not break it. Although they took a perfunctory look at the safety records of these roads, they suggested raising speed limits if the safety record was at least equal to or better than the Bay Area average accident rate.

These four roads already carry their unfair share of traffic which is a burden to the people who live on them. We too, are city residents with children who also play in our front yards. We have friends and family who live on the other side of the street. Our children go back and forth in order to play with the neighbor's children. Many schools and parks are situated along these roads. It's bad enough that we have to shout over the traffic noise, but we shouldn't have to face a death of a child or get hit as we are either pulling into or out of our driveways.

I understand that people today are always in a hurry. This is unfortunate in itself. But even if one drives down one of these roads for 3-5 miles at 10 mph faster than the speed limit, the amount of time saved is negligible.

I don't understand how fellow residents of Palo Alto have the gall to suggest raising speed limits on roads they do not live on. If someone wants to raise speed limits, I suggest that they start with their own street. We are not asking that freeways be moved, overpasses be created, or dead ends be constructed. We only ask that people respect our neighborhood as they do their own. When we are in your neighborhood, we give you and your neighbors the courtesy you deserve. As for those of you Palo Altans who don't give a damn about their fellow residents who live on these streets, please remember, there are many schools and parks on these streets which your children attend.

The City Manager has not made any recommendations based on this report and I am confident that the City Manager and members of the City Council have the wisdom to see the flaws in the consultant's recommendations. I hope that you do too and that you give us "residential arterial" dwellers the courtesy you expect and that we also deserve. Let us together make Palo Alto a more livable city.

Thomas Brenner
Middlefield Road
Palo Alto

Still an offer


Please let me offer one modification to the letter from the Board of Palo Alto Stanford Heritage which appeared in last week's Palo Alto Weekly.

The "groundswell" that resulted in the interim historic preservation ordinance was not so much caused by the loss of particularly notable structures or landmarks, as it was by the ugly structures that replaced them.

Although there is a position for preservation of historical and landmark structures these need be limited in numbers to allow for the changes necessary to preserve Palo Alto as a living, vibrant city. We need to concentrate on establishing aesthetic standards for new construction, not as Bunthorne puts it in Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience, "Be eloquent in praise of the very dull old days which have long since passed away. And convince 'em if you can that the reign of good Queen Anne was Culture's palmiest day. Of course you will pooh-pooh whatever's fresh and new, and declare it's cruel and mean, for Architecture (sic) stopped short in the cultivated court of the Empress Josephine."

Michael Goldeen
Palo Alto

Keep Briones name


Families of Juana Briones Elementary School students are receiving Name Change Ballots which will be used to determine whether the name of the school should be changed to reflect "significant boundary changes" and a "new beginning for this community". I would like to ask those considering a name change why "boundaries," at a school that actively eliminates boundaries, and "beginnings," at a school whose name has historically represented the beginning of a new life by the phenomenal woman, Juana Briones, should even warrant discussion?

I would also like to ask that our family ballot reflect the convictions of not one, but seven, voters. This single ballot reflects the voices of one child who is currently enrolled at Briones, four children who are "graduates" of Briones, one parent who formerly taught at Briones and a second parent, who took the time to look beyond the district test scores that real estate agents show "newcomers"--all of whom oppose the changing of the school name from Juana Briones to any other name.

When we moved to Palo Alto seven years ago, my husband and I chose the location of our home based on what we saw at Briones Elementary School. The cultural diversity (45 home languages spoken among the student/parent population), the full inclusion of students from the Orthopedically and Visually Handicapped wing of Briones Elementary and an outstanding staff whose cultural diversity reflected that of our community, bespoke an extraordinary school--unlike any other in Palo Alto.

This remarkable school, its inhabitants, and its mission statement are epitomized by the very name of Juana Briones. What better name could the school carry than that of a Hispanic single mom who not only succeeded within a business venue previously open only to men, but established a reputation for strength, integrity, generosity and caring unrelated to race, color or gender? Our responsibility to educate our children goes far beyond the messages carried inside textbooks. We are morally obligated to educate the character and spirit of our children. By maintaining the name of Juana Briones for our school, we clearly, eloquently and proudly state what we, as the Briones community--past, present and future--are all about.

Shauna Lazazzera Rockson
Chimalus Drive
Palo Alto

Emotional postscript


Major League baseball is just starting its season, and it's not the same anymore. Money rules everything. Loyalty of players to teams and cities has disappeared. Is it any wonder that attendance is down?

This is the story of one college game that involves real baseball and some verities: heroes and non-heroes (and their reversing those roles), incredible excitement, and the maxim that it ain't over until it's over. This was everything the game is supposed to be.

The game, between Stanford and UCLA, took place March 31 at Sunken Diamond. Stanford earlier had destroyed UCLA by a total of 54 runs to 19 in the first three games, and the Bruins are not having a very good season. Now Stanford had won games four and five here.

But suddenly UCLA's hopes were soaring. It was the ninth inning and they led 6-3. Stanford had made three errors, and UCLA had hit three homers. However, remember the maxim.

In the bottom of the ninth, Stanford loaded the bases with a hit, walk and error, and the Bruin pitcher walked the next batter, forcing in a run to make it 6-4.

Up to bat came our first hero/non-hero. The day before and during this game, Nick Day had lots of trouble, 0-4 in both games. Now he had a chance to be the hero. And he came through with a long line drive to right field, where our other hero/non-hero was playing for UCLA--Eric Byrnes (from Portola Valley). Earlier, he had been the Bruins' hero, catching a long fly and throwing out a Stanford runner at home, a beautiful double play. Now he tried a diving catch of Day's blast, but missed and the ball squirted away.

Three runs scored, and Stanford won, 7-6.

There was an emotional postscript which many fans missed. As the two teams met near home plate for the traditional end-of-series handshakes, the entire rest of the field was empty, except for right field, where Byrnes still was on his knees.

It ain't over until it's over.

Harry Press
Escobita Avenue
Palo Alto

Traditional public libraries


It seems rather tactless to ask Palo Altans to lose their small, convenient libraries at the same time that they are losing their charming neighborhoods, convenient stores, and streamside open space to an epidemic of bigness, and impractical, too, now that computers have made outreach libraries more useful than ever.

Main Library Reference recently found me a piece of obscure Persian poetry, from the Web page of some high school student in Kansas City, Missouri. You don't need a bigger library for that; all you need is a good librarian with online access.

Decentralization and redistribution of resources could relieve overcrowding at Mitchell and Main. Mitchell Park library has a computer that can read the newspaper out loud to a blind person. Why shouldn't the Bliss Imager be in the Downtown Library, which serves many elderly apartment dwellers, and may serve more if the Palo Alto Medical property becomes senior housing? Why does the city history collection have to be at the Main Library? And, be the Main Library as large as the Cow Palace, it will still have to make room for new books and periodicals. What are they going to do with four copies of "Silas Marner"?

A VCR and cable-watching facility for C-Span would serve residents who don't have cable, and students who need to watch a play or documentary for homework could watch it in the public library, in groups. Terman has many classrooms which could be used for this purpose and other study sessions.

The large economy-size for institutions which serve the public is not user friendly, because the economies are in the personnel. Palo Alto may want to get rid of its librarians for the same reason it got rid of gardeners: to save on employee health insurance, but our traditional public libraries are too integral to Palo Alto's identity as a community to sacrifice to the bottom line.

Stephanie Munoz
Alma Street
Palo Alto

Math changes


When we wake up and find that our children cannot read, spell or do simple math we should not be blaming the bureaucrats in far away Washington or Sacramento. "Invented" spelling, "whole language" reading and "estimated" math are symptoms of a lack of focus on fundamentals in our own Palo Alto schools. As we let go of basic standards and adopt a feel-good curriculum, we accept a short-term increase in student "self esteem" in place of long-term student achievement and the ability to compete in the next century.

We are about to "dumb down" instructional materials in math for kindergarten, first and second grades in the Palo Alto schools. On Tuesday, March 31, the Palo Alto school board voted to adopt two new math book series. One of these series has already been rejected by the state Board of Education as being factually incorrect and unsuitable for students. One text requires the use of handheld calculators to solve arithmetic problems in first grade. Why can't our children learn the basic math facts during their elementary school years? If our kids learn the basics early on, they will be in a position to attain higher level skills without stumbling over the lack of basic computational skills.

Larry Clark
Center Drive
Palo Alto

Make park a reality


Palo Alto City officials are being presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something wonderful for the entire city, the downtown area, and the people that live south of downtown. Specifically I'm referring to the soon-to-be-vacated block where the Palo Alto Medical facility is located. Never again will such a large parcel, so close to the downtown area, be available to be put to public good. The city should exert every possible means to acquire the entire block and set it aside as an urban park.

This park could be a central focal point of the downtown area. Given the increasing development downtown, local residents deserve an oasis from the crowded and busy downtown area. The thousands of families who live in the south of University area have waited decades for a park. But this park would be available not only to local families but also to the people who work downtown and visit downtown, as well as the many seniors in numerous senior facilities in the area.

It would provide a place for civic functions, family play, exercise and socialization. Making the entire block into a large and beautiful park is the right thing to do and fits in well with the goals of the comprehensive plan to make neighborhoods more walkable and supply facilities locally. This block also has the benefit that no one has to be forceably removed to build this facility. The current tenants are vacating voluntarily.

The city should do whatever it takes to make this park a reality. I'm sure with the diverse areas of expertise of many Palo Altans funding can be arranged. There are currently nine new development projects going on along El Camino. The 194-room expansion of the Holiday Inn alone, is estimated to bring in close to $1 million a year in occupancy tax. Other developments along El Camino and downtown will also bring in large revenues. Certainly this money can be used for a local park to improve the downtown area and the lives of the people most affected by the developments. If all else fails we could put in a layer of underground parking under the park (a la Union Square). Not only would this raise money, but it might avoid the development of two ugly parking structures planned for downtown.

Residents of Palo Alto, support making the entire block a large park. Our city officials should do the same. Let's not pass up a great opportunity to make our city even more special and provide much needed urban open space to make the downtown area more livable. Please e-mail, fax, write or call City Hall today. We all need to let our officials know this is what we want.

Tina Peak
Palo Alto Avenue
Palo Alto

Iron out the details


I appreciated your editorial about the proposed library plan in which you ask the question that is on many minds here in College Terrace, and all around town: Why do we have to close the branches in order to build the big, new libraries? We need to know how much it costs to run College Terrace library and the other branches slated for closing in order to evaluate this proposal.

We also need more details about the proposed cost of the new libraries. I believe that the costs are projected to be anywhere from $24 to $40 million, a huge range. If the costs of the new libraries can't be pinned down with any greater accuracy than a $16 million range, how is it possible to claim we can only afford them by shutting down our little branches? Something doesn't compute.

Maintaining our branch libraries is not about money, I think; it's about priorities. The truest reasons for keeping them open have to do with priceless things like neighborhood, community spirit, reduced dependence on cars, public services that can be reached safely on foot or bike by people of all ages and degrees of mobility, and the provision of child-friendly places where a kid can bond to books--and reading--before being swept away by the computer tsunami. But as we begin to debate our priorities, it would be useful to have all the financial details out on the table where everybody can look at them.

Sally Schuman
College Avenue
Palo Alto

Alternative to the ban


In regards to the current issue of leaf-blower banning, I would like to throw out an idea to the public. What if the ban were in effect only on particular days of the week, and neighboring cities could have the ban on different days? For instance, Menlo Park could ban blowers on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Palo Alto could ban blowers on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and all cities could ban blowers on Sunday.

I mentioned this idea to the mayor of Menlo Park who responded "It had been tried before by different cities and was too hard to enforce." If that is really the case, then why not look upon the enforcement issue as an opportunity to raise revenue for the city by having very stiff fines for offenders and confiscation of equipment for repeated offenders? I believe that the gardeners would self-police themselves and fellow gardeners as an alternative to a total ban on blowers.

James Victor
Byron Street
Palo Alto

Palo Alto History


I am a victorious veteran of a battle fought against the historic preservationists in Cincinnati, Ohio. For two years we waged an exhausting skirmish against the self-righteous who were determined to take control of our property and downgrade our property values by tacking the dreaded notice, "historic designation," to our homes. As in Palo Alto, the forces favoring historic designation held secretive closed-door meetings. We ultimately held the self-righteous in check by a unified counterattack asserting:

Our homes are our major investments, not a place for busy bodies to snoop.

With "historic designation" will inevitably come a bevy of bureaucrats to enforce and deal with problems that arise.

With "historic designation" comes an obvious increase in the cost of making changes to property. The time required to plan even minor alterations increases dramatically too.

The "historic designation" policy is guaranteed to create ill community will. Just watch the local litigation increase. On the positive side is a big zero, especially if you believe that architectural innovations are an exciting and expressive form of art.

Why would anyone want to threaten that enviable stature of Palo Alto which is known as an exquisitely intelligent community, located in the midst of the most innovative area on the globe, in order to satisfy some small but well-organized group who claims to know what's right for the rest of us. Fight back. Don't Make Palo Alto history.

Mickie Winkler
Menalto Avenue
Menlo Park

Planning Department


Recently the Palo Alto Weekly ran a feature editorial, March 18 summarizing the Zucker report on the state of the City Planning Department. The editorial concluded, from the consultants report, that the City Manager and Planning Director are responsible for the departments present state of crisis. I don't agree with this position.

The Planning Department for any given city is generally a direct reflection of the Council's philosophy, and that message is usually made clear to new staff. The Zucker report emphasizes how much this city "likes to talk," the endless number of studies and deadlines given to the planning staff, and how applicants reviews and approvals should be streamlined and speeded up.

The planning staff is selected from among the best available. Given a healthy planning environment, they will do their job well.

The Council needs to read the report, but in addition, they also need to take the time and discuss this issue with builders, contractors and consultants that have worked with the Planning and Building Departments over the years.

Council needs to give clear direction to its staff, refrain from requesting time-consuming and additional reports, and then let staff do their job.

We need to remember that Palo Alto is considered to be an excellent training ground for planners. They all can't become Planning Director here, but they can elsewhere. We shouldn't be so quick to blame their departure on senior management.

Bill H. Bocook, A.I.A.
El Camino Way
Palo Alto

Gardeners viewpoint


As a professional gardener for over 25 years, I am compelled to respond to a letter to the editor that you published in your March 20 issue.

Mr. Scott Young of Menlo Park recommends that gardeners "learn a new trade" and "pick up the rake and broom like it used to be done". He also states that this method may take "what, five minutes longer"? The reality, as I see it, is simple: If, for example, it requires 10 minutes to blow an average-sized property, it will likely require more than three times that amount of time to manually sweep and rake up the debris. By adding 20 minutes to every account, at eight accounts a day, I will lose two-and-a-half hours of billable time each and every day. That equates to being paid for five and one half hours after working eight. Would Mr. Young be pleased if this happened to him?

I am very willing to comply with the new ordinance, but I still have to make a living and feed my two young children. My fear is that when I have to ask my customers to pay more for the same service, l may lose several accounts. Gardeners are not afraid to use manual tools, but they deserve to be paid fairly for their time.

Richard Wuydts
Gordon Street
Redwood City

Politics behind preservation


I have not heard what the City intends to do for the owners of "Historic" properties when they try to take away their property rights. I also wonder if any of the members of the secret society of preservationists own "Historic" or pre-1940 property? According to the 1990 census data only about 18 percent of the buildings in Palo Alto were pre-1940 structures. It appears to me that a minority of the majority is seeking to control the minority to the advantage of a minority of the majority and to the disadvantage of the minority. It also appears to me that a few of the relatively rich Realtors in Palo Alto are trying to have the City make an oppressive ordinance for their own profit and I wonder why this is happening.

I sure hope that the City for the people of Palo Alto have considered all the costs of litigation that this new ordinance will most likely produce in the years to come. I sure hope that the owners of the remaining 82 percent of the property understand that the pre-1940 line can be moved to 1950, 1960 and then 1970 with relative ease once this stupid, pre-1940 ordinance takes a more permanent place in the City's code.

Even offering a free paint job every five years to the owners of pre-1940 property would go a long way to helping this situation. The City could even throw in a free roofing job every 20 years. To just make a stupid and oppressive ordinance without giving anything back to the owners is simply not American and will employ lots and lots of lawyers. Lawyers do not make homes look beautiful and so I predict that lots of ugly, pre-1940 homes will begin to appear if this Heritage stuff is made into a permanent ordinance.

Stan Faust
Palo Alto

Light Aircraft Nuisance


Thank you Paul Mendelowitz ("Light Aircraft Nuisance", Weekly, March 18). Since November 1996, I have had a continuing dialogue with the Joint Community Relations Committee (JCRC) for the Palo Alto Airport. We are trying to enforce an existing "good neighbor policy" so that aircraft do not fly loud and low over our neighborhood which is just west of 101 in midtown Palo Alto. Frankly, we don't want them to fly over at any altitude.

The JCRC has been very supportive, and has attempted to spread the word to their colleague pilots, but it isn't working. And, on busy days aircraft are deliberately routed over our homes as they await landing clearance. This traffic flows between 6:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. On weekends we can forget relaxing in our yards.

So now we live near the freeway, a choice we made, and under a freeway. Between the continuous commercial traffic on its way to SFO and, on windy days, into San Jose, we experience an endless assault of engine noise and vibration from small aircraft--helicopters, student pilots, joy riders, hobbyists. The noise from helicopters, in particular, which cruise with abandon up and down the Peninsula and are not bound by altitude restrictions, is brutal. As Mr. Mendelowitz pointed out, this is an invasive hobby, enjoyed by few at the expense of many.

Please support us in our quest for noise abatement and for some peace and quiet in and outside our homes. The JCRC meets the first Tuesday of every month at 8 a.m. For location information call Bill Fellman, who is the city staff liaison to the JCRC at 329-2472 or the airport at 856- 7833.

By the way, if you are disturbed by noise, the staff at airport operations, who has been truly sympathetic to this plight and will approach pilots to inform them of our complaints, invites you to report offenders. The challenge is tracking the offenders. So, just call 856-7833, state your location, and if you can, the altitude at which the aircraft is flying, its make, type, color and the "N" number off the side. Right.

J. Harris
Kenneth Drive
Palo Alto

Ignoring recommendations


Your March 18 editorial, "A city department in crisis mode," made good sense to me. I think the management of Palo Alto in general, and the planning division in particular, need renewed scrutiny by the City Council and the citizens.

I followed quite closely the 1994 Hughes, Heiss "organizational review" of City Hall. I was appalled then that after two years of in-depth study, the Hughes, Heiss recommendations for increasing efficiency and decreasing costs were almost entirely ignored by the City Manager's office and the City Council. In fact, the City Manager's response to the report was in opposition to cost cutting, recommending an increase of city spending by more than $200,000. I recall that Councilman (Dick) Rosenbaum, and perhaps a few other Council members expressed some dismay that the city was not going to follow the Hughes, Heiss recommendations for improvement.

Now, four years later, Zucker Systems, another consultant, cites serious management problems in the planning division. This consultant lists 130 recommendations, many of which will require large expenditures which undoubtedly must be paid to stop the huge employee turnover and the loud complaints by businesses and citizens against the planning department. The city should not ignore this Zucker Systems study as it did Hughes, Heiss.

I believe that Palo Alto is an exceptional city, certainly due in large measure to its governing bodies. But now it seems to me that it is time for us as citizens and for the management team and City Council to pay closer attention to the effectiveness of its government.

Isabel Peterson
Harker Avenue
Palo Alto

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