Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 20, 2011

Around Town

A NEW FACE ... Every month these days seems to bring with it a new department head at Palo Alto City Hall. On Monday, the council unanimously approved the contract for the city's new Library Director Monique le Conge, who most recently served as director of library and cultural services in Richmond. The city hired le Conge after a national search that included an executive search firm, two interview panels and a six-candidate pool that was gradually winnowed down. Le Conge, who is replacing retired Director Diane Jennings will receive a $165,000 salary and will begin her duties on May 31. She introduced herself to the council Monday night and said she looks forward to working in Palo Alto as "such an exciting time for the libraries. ... Thank you, and I'll see you at the end of the month."

DROPPED CALLS IN YOUR VILLAGE ... Palo Alto may fancy itself a technological mecca, but when it comes to good old-fashioned cell phones, the city is lagging behind Tibet. Yes, Tibet. That's according to Mayor Sid Espinosa, who took a trip to Mount Everest last year and was shocked to hear his sherpa's cell phone ring 17,000 feet above the ground. Espinosa, who related the story at Monday night's discussion of cell-phone facilities, said the sherpa, Dopjar, told him, "No dropped calls in Tibet," and then asked him, "Dropped calls in your village?" "Yes, Dopjar," Espinosa responded. "Dropped calls in my village, dropped calls on my street, dropped calls in my house. Then he said, 'Cell phone not new technology.' I couldn't agree more." The situation could improve soon, with AT&T and other telecom companies planning to build new towers and antennas throughout the city — an endeavor that is sure to excite residents who are sick of the dropped calls and frustrate those who worry about the aesthetic and health impacts of the new facilities.

PHONES AND LAWNMOWERS ... There was no shortage of expert consultants at Monday's City Council discussion of wireless facilities. One of them, Sunnyvale planner Andrew Miner, has a particular brand of expertise, having spent about a dozen years in the telecom industry before joining Sunnyvale's planning staff. Miner offered the council an assortment of general observations about wireless proposals and tips for dealing with the applications. One observation: If you ask telecoms to perform landscaping improvements, prepare for the worst. "Don't ask them to do landscaping," Miner said. "Telecom companies are the worst landscapers known to man." He also encouraged the council to keep applicants to their promises when it comes to aesthetics. "If they build a tree pole and say it's going to look like a tree, it should look like a tree, not like a pipe cleaner or something like that."

ENERGIZED ... Last week's "Bike to Work Day" was once again a success, City Manager James Keene said this week, with more bike riders taking it to the Palo Alto streets than a year ago. Keene said 1,380 cyclists visited the four energizer stations throughout the city between 6:30 and 9 a.m., a 2.5 percent increase from 2010. The California Avenue station led the way with 621 cyclists. Keene said he and Mayor Sid Espinosa biked to all four stations. "We were really impressed with the enthusiasm and the energy of volunteers and cyclists." Minutes after that announcement, the council approved, unanimously and without discussion, a $50,000 sponsorship for two bike rides on Sept. 17, including the "Gran Fondo" race for serious racers and the "Echelon Challenge" for everyone else.

GOOD BYE, PAPER ... The Palo Alto City Council will soon bid farewell to their weekly paper packets and say hello to new iPads. The devices, which the council expects to receive this summer, will cost the city about $6,200, as well as $4,092 annually for an unlimited data plan. The new gadgets will not only empower council members to fluidly sift through staff reports and emailed correspondence (not to mention stream movies and play Angry Birds, should the urge strike), but city officials also expect the iPads to save money. City Clerk Donna Grider said her office is working with the Office of the City Attorney and Administrative Services Department to come up with cost comparisons and determine exactly what those savings will be. "I believe it will save money because of the volume of the packet," Grider said. "That's a lot of money, when you consider that it's out three times a week."

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