RISKS AND REWARDS ... New board members and a new business plan have nudged California's proposed high-speed rail project into a new direction, but local officials along the Peninsula still aren't buying what the California High-Speed Rail Authority is trying to sell. This week, members of the City Council decried the soon-to-be-adopted agreement between the rail authority and various regional transportation agencies, including Caltrain and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). The agreement would further cement the rail authority's decision to use the Caltrain corridor for the line and would detail a variety of "early investment" opportunities that the rail authority can make in the Bay Area. On Thursday, the Palo Alto City Council's Rail Committee characterized the new agreement as a "rush job" that gives the rail authority all sorts of rights without adequately considering feedback from cities along the rail corridor. "It's rare that good public policy is made in such a rushed manner," committee Chair Larry Klein said. Local officials aren't the only ones skeptical about the rail authority's "new vision." The authority's peer-review group released a report on Wednesday that continues to question the agency's strategy for funding the new project. The group, headed by Will Kempton, noted in its review that while it continues to support the "concept of high-speed rail" in California it remains concerned about funding sources beyond the project's first phase. The report also notes that "international experience with high-speed rail, confirmed by the direct personal experience of the members of the Group, shows beyond any question that HSR is a prototypical 'mega-project' with significant risks in terms of potential optimism in the identification of demand, the estimation of costs and schedules, and the allocation of benefits."
SECURITY! ... The Palo Alto City Auditor's Office learned last year that the computer system that stores sensitive employee information has "significant security vulnerabilities." The SAP Enterprise Resource Planning System, which stores records for thousands of current and former employees (including birth dates and Social Security numbers), allowed about 300 users access to sensitive information through the system's search function. Though staff did not hear of any instance about misuse of this information, the findings were worrisome enough to instigate a long discussion with the city's Administrative Services Department and vendors about cyber security at City Hall. This week, City Auditor Jim Pelletier released a special memo detailing the progress on this front. Early results are positive, according to the memo. Personal information is no longer susceptible to search functions, it notes, and the Administrative Services Department has demonstrated improvement in its ability to respond to problems. Still, the recently discovered security vulnerability "raises concerns regarding the overall security of the City's information systems and the City's ability to timely detect vulnerabilities," the memo stated. The city may soon beef up its security efforts further. Palo Alto's Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental is requesting that the city create a new full-time position — an Information Security Manager.