Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 29, 2011

Around Town

SO LONG, FAREWELL ... After more than 70 years of collecting local trash and dishing out compost, the Palo Alto Landfill closed its gates for the final time on Thursday afternoon. The Baylands facility has been the subject of much intrigue over the past two years, with city officials still undecided on what to do with local yard trimmings in the long haul. Local environmentalists are unlikely to shed any tears for the vast facility, which will soon be converted to parkland. Several planned to mark the occasion by sinking shovels into the dump for the last time on Thursday. But the local dump wasn't always seen as a pariah. According to "Palo Alto: A Centennial History," back in the day the landfill was a "social center of sorts," noxious fumes notwithstanding. "Friends and neighbors hailed one another there, and children who rode with their parents found it a treasure-hunting ground. So did residents rummaging for just the right piece of wood or metal. For some years the dump was the launch site for municipal fireworks." City Manager James Keene said the city has been making significant outreach to businesses and residents to advise them of the landfill's closure. With the dump gone, residents who wish to dispose of their garbage and yard trimmings are asked to bring them to the Sunnyvale Materials and Recovery Station (SMaRT) at 201 Carl Road, Sunnyvale.

SPEAKING OF WASTE ... Beauty, it is often said, is in the eye of the beholder. So, apparently, is waste. The City Council on Monday approved the creation of a new "fraud, waste and abuse" hotline for employees, but only after a lengthy debate over whether "waste" should be included in the hotline's title. Council members Pat Burt and Greg Scharff both argued that unlike fraud and abuse, which are fairly easy to define because they entail illegal activity, defining "waste" is a tricky, highly subjective process. City Auditor Michael Edmonds said "waste" generally would mean excessive and careless purchases and "poor use of city resources." But Burt and Scharff both wondered if the city's newly created anonymous hotline should focus on waste. City Manager James Keene also expressed some concern about potential "waste" complaints. "If we waste a lot of resources looking at waste complaints, that may be a factor we need to bring to the council," Keene said. The council ultimately decided (with Burt and Scharff dissenting), that "waste" should remain part of the hotline's title. The new line will be instituted for 18 months on a trial basis. Though the council approved by a 7-1 vote, with Scharff voting no, some city officials had expressed anxieties about the fact that workers can now issue complaints behind the mask of anonymity. "I would hope that the majority of complaints that we get do not require an anonymous hotline for them to come forward," Keene said Monday. "If they do, we have a very big cultural problem in this organization."

DEFYING GRAVITY ... San Francisco residents could be forgiven if they mistook Palo Alto police and fire Chief Dennis Burns for Spider-Man last Saturday. Burns was one of about 70 people who raised money for Special Olympics by rappelling from the 38-story Grand Hyatt hotel in Union Square. On Monday, he received major kudos from City Manager James Keene and Mayor Sid Espinosa for raising close to $4,000 in the event. But there was one thing that the chief refused to do, Keene said. "We did, as staff, put together a spandex superhero suit for him to wear, which he declined to wear," Keene said.

FOUR-WHEEL HOMES ... Palo Alto's plan to ban living in vehicles was put on hold this week, after a chorus of protests from homeless residents and advocates. But the council's decision to delay the discussion until September didn't stop about 15 people from addressing the City Council on the topic. Given that item's postponement, the council took the rare step of voting to give each speaker only one minute to say his or her piece (speakers typically get three minutes). Councilman Larry Klein said that because the issue will be discussed in detail by the council's Policy and Services Committee at a future date, it would be a "waste of council's time or public's time for any meaningful discussion to be had on the merits or demerits of the problem" at Monday's meeting. Most speakers used their minute to thank the council for delaying its decision. In the meantime, concerned residents and homeless advocates plan to hold meetings and come up with an alternative plan.

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