PREPARING FOR THE BIG ONE ... Few things rattle the nerves of Palo Alto's land-use watchdogs like "planned community" (PC) projects, which allow developers to far exceed the city's zoning regulations in exchange for "public benefits" that are often negotiated in real time during council meetings. In recent months, major PC-zoned projects such as the College Terrace Centre on El Camino Real and College Avenue and, more recently, the Lytton Gateway development downtown, earned council approval after months of negotiations over these benefits. On Monday night, the council will get its first look at a highly anticipated PC project proposed by Jay Paul Company, a San Francisco-based commercial developer. Though no details about the project had been publicly released, city officials expect the proposal for 395 Page Mill Road (near AOL's Silicon Valley headquarters) to be a dense office building. But what gets the city excited is one potential "public benefit" — a new public-safety building. In June, City Manager James Keene mentioned that the tentative proposal includes a new underground garage at Park Boulevard and Olive Avenue. The city's new police headquarters, which is one of its top infrastructure priorities, would stand on top of that garage. The council was so intrigued by this proposal that they scheduled a special "prescreening meeting" to consider this proposal. They will not, however, be making any decisions on this proposal Monday night.
GOING UNDER ... Palo Alto's effort to take down its overhead electric lines and to bury them underground began nearly half a century ago and the end remains nowhere in sight. With about 46 percent of the city currently "undergrounded," Utility Department officials expect that it will take about 70 years to extend the project to the entire city, according to a report that the Utilities Advisory Commission discussed Wednesday night. The city spends about 2 percent of its electric revenues on the undergrounding effort. But is the effort of removing dangling wires worth the cost? That's the question the city is now trying to answer. According to the report by Senior Resource Planner Nicolas Procos and Engineering Manager Tom Ting, the impact is "primarily based on aesthetic values and is not a critical component of providing electric service to the residents and businesses in Palo Alto." Thus, they write, changes to the program will be "based on individual considerations and value judgments." Staff recommended reaching out to the public to determine how badly residents want their electric lines buried. "Due to the very high cost of the conversions, it is preferable to engage the community early in the discussions on policy formulation." The commission agreed and voted unanimously on Wednesday night to recommend that the City Council appoint a new citizens advisory commission to consider the pros and cons of proceeding with the effort and to think about ways to pay for it.
RIDING ALONG ... School commuters in Palo Alto now have a new tool at their disposal. The city this week launched a new online program, "Schoolpool," which helps parents and students plan their trips, whether by car, bike or foot. The pilot program is sponsored by the city and by Ohlone Elementary School and is powered by the online service, Carpooltoschool.com. In announcing the program, the city touted as an "important option to the City's Safe Routes to School program," which encourages biking and walking to school. The city's Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez called the new online program "another element of our alternative transportation toolkit."