Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 4, 2011

Around Town

OF HUTS AND TREES ... When the Palo Alto Housing Corporation barred Abraham Berman last month from erecting a sukkah on a little-used, second-story patio of the Sheridan Avenue apartment building where he lives, it not only ended an 11-year tradition but it also rubbed the area's religious leaders the wrong way. Berman, 81, had been erecting the sukkah, a temporary hut, every year to commemorate the Jewish holiday, the Feast of Sukkot. The Housing Corporation, a nonprofit group that manages Sheridan Apartments, argued that he was putting up private property in a public area, in violation of the building's policy. Berman countered that the corporation routinely puts religious symbols into common areas, most notably Christmas trees and as evidenced last week Halloween decorations. Now, Berman has plenty of allies. Karen Stiller, director of the Peninsula region of the Jewish Community Relations Council, wrote a letter to the Housing Corporation saying the council was "greatly upset" by the decision on the sukkah and requests that Berman be allowed to build his sukkah in future years. "It is our understanding that other religious and cultural celebrations take place on the property of Sheridan, some even sponsored by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, such as for Christmas and Halloween," the letter stated. "We believe that Mr. Berman should be allowed a similar right. Putting up a Sukkah for just over a week in a common area that is not frequently used seems to be a very reasonable request and would help build community and celebrate the diverse traditions of the residents at the Sheridan." The letter was co-signed by 26 religious leaders, including more than 20 prominent rabbis; Maha Elgenaidi, CEO of the Islamic Networks Group; and the Rev. Bruce Bramlett, an Episcopal priest and scholar.

ROOKIE YEAR ... Assemblyman Rich Gordon's first year in Sacramento had its share of challenges and frustrations, but when all was said and done, the freshman lawmaker had plenty to smile about. Gordon, whose district includes Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton, authored 19 bills in his first year in Sacramento and saw Gov. Jerry Brown sign 15 of them into law a success rate that Gordon said was the highest of any state lawmaker during the past legislative session. To be sure, the longtime San Mateo County supervisor wasn't exactly trying to close prisons, legalize drugs or overhaul the state's pension system. Instead, his bills focused on such issues as tax exemptions for open-space trusts, exemptions for volunteers from prevailing-wage requirements in public projects and extension of California's plastic-recycling program hardly the types of hot-button issues that keep Republicans stewing at night. But Gordon said his bills will "address everyday problems with common-sense solutions. ... Many of the issues I chose to tackle this year are problems that are evident statewide, and this was reflected in the bipartisan support many of my bills received," Gordon said in a statement.

BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE ... When it comes to going green, "energy efficiency" programs often play second fiddle in the public imagination to sexier initiatives such as smart meters, solar panels and electric cars. But this week, Palo Alto officials renewed their commitment to encouraging efficiency when they approved several contracts aimed at lowering the city's energy use. These include a $250,000 contract extension with the company OPower, which sends "home energy reports" to residents informing them how their energy use compares to that of other residents. According to staff, these reports have made a significant difference since the city first started using them 11 months ago. Residents who receive the reports (about 20,000 accounts) have seen savings of about 2.5 percent of their electric load and 2 percent of their natural gas use when compared with those who have not been receiving them. The City Council's Finance Committee on Tuesday recommended extending the OPower program, with several council members praising it for enhancing the city's knowledge about the impact of information on customers' behavior. "I think it's fascinating to watch the behavior change," Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd said. Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh agreed and called the program a "precursor to smart meters" and a "bridge" to more ambitious energy-efficiency programs.

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