Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 23, 2012

Around Town

IN WITH THE OLD ... Little George. Baby George. George Jr. Georgina. George II. Boy George. Whatever you call him, her or it, Cowper Street's newest resident received a hearty welcome from city leaders and area residents this week. The oak tree that the city planted on the corner of Cowper and Homer Street stands at a spot previously occupied by George, a coastal live oak that had graced the corner for about 150 years. George got the ax in February after various arborists had determined that its root system was weak and the danger of its toppling too high. About 20 people, including block residents, members of the urban-forest advocacy group Canopy and city staff joined Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Councilwoman Karen Holman for the brief ceremony and heaped shovelfuls of dirt around the new oak. The event, Holman said, "really expresses how the neighbors, neighborhoods and community can come together for a special cause." George also made a surprise appearance, albeit in a different form. The company Michael Meyer Fine Woodworking has taken parts of the oak and made several "George bowls" out of it. The cured and finely sanded bowls vary in diameter from 7 inches to 15 inches. They were created by Seth Harpending, a cabinet-shop foreman at the company who detailed the process in a Youtube video. The company also highlighted its work with George on its website and noted that the new bowls "are not intended to be 'salad bowls' but objects in homage to a magnificent tree."

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.

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