Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 29, 2012

Around Town

THE RUMOR MILL ... After Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state budget on Wednesday, much of the buzz in Sacramento swirled around what wasn't in the document. This includes high-speed rail, a project that is expected to be the focus on a budget-trailer bill that will be released in the next week or two. The suspense around this trailer bill has created a flood of rumor-mongering around the Capitol, with both advocates and opponents of the controversial project ramping up their efforts to influence its immediate future, Palo Alto's lobbyist John Garamendi told the City Council's Rail Committee Thursday morning. "We've got an absolute million pieces moving as we try to figure out what's real and what's not real," Garamendi said. "What is real is that there is a tremendous amount of concern around Sacramento." The uncertainty, he said, has prompted labor unions and other proponents of the voter-approved project to step up their lobbying efforts, he said. "It's literally packed in the hallways," Garamendi said. "Not just labor but engineering firms are worried that this might be slipping away." One of the major questions revolves around a controversial proposal by Brown to give high-speed rail exemptions from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). After pressure from environmental groups, Brown backed away from this proposal, Garamendi said. But by the end of the week, Brown's office had indicated that the proposal to give the project exemptions from environmental law is still on the table. "We thought we won that by Thursday," Garamendi said. "By Friday, the governor said we aren't quite done with that discussion. A lot of people on the environmental side quickly realized that this is very much in play." Palo Alto, which officially opposes high-speed rail, has consistently voiced concerns about exempting the $68 billion project from CEQA. Earlier this month, the city sent a letter to state Sen. Joe Simitian urging him to vote against any further appropriations for high-speed rail. But the letter noted that if the Legislature were to move forward with the project, the appropriation language must guarantee that there will be "no modifications of any kind" to the environmental-review process.

ONE BRIDGE LED TO ANOTHER ... A proposal to rebuild the small and quaint Newell Street bridge between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto was greeted with enthusiasm last year by officials from the two cities. Many view the new bridge as an important component in a regional plan to improve flood control around the volatile San Francisquito Creek. But the project has also prompted some residents around Crescent Park to ask, "What about us?" The Pope-Chaucer Street bridge, which connects their neighborhood to Menlo Park, has been a particularly poor bulwark against flood water. This week, City Manager James Keene announced that the Chaucer Street bridge is next on the list for a possible replacement. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is soliciting proposals for consultants to work on the project, he said, and the cities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park will work with the regional agency, San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (of which both cities are members) on the selection process. Design work is slated to begin in November, Keene said.

EXPLOSIONS, EXPLOSIONS ... July 4th revelers in Palo Alto should be cautioned against violating city fireworks ordinances. About 20 volunteers who are part of the city's Emergency Services Volunteers will be doing a safety watch on Wednesday to deter criminal activity, said Kenneth Dueker, Palo Alto's director of emergency services. The group will be deployed throughout the city with walkie-talkies and will focus on fire prevention and shenanigans, he said.

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