Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 22, 2013

Around Town

BY CONSENT ... Palo Alto officials really want to speed things up at City Council meetings, even if it means holding late discussions focused on how to do so. Last week, the council once again tackled the thorny subject and agreed to make one change designed to make the meetings faster: requiring three rather than two council members to pull an item off the "consent calendar." The calendar, a list of usually non-controversial issues, is approved as a slate each week by the council with a single vote and without discussion. With only two council members, it was easier to pull an item off the consent calendar and hold sometimes lengthy discussions prior to a vote. On Feb. 11, the council approved the change. Councilman Larry Klein, who dissented along with Greg Schmid and Karen Holman, said he doesn't think the rule change would make any difference because council members generally have no trouble getting support of colleagues for pulling calendars off consent as a courtesy. Mayor Greg Scharff disagreed and criticized the practice of pulling items off consent "for discussion purposes only," even if the outcome is certain to remain the same. He argued in favor of the change: "I think it will streamline our meetings." The council also considered automatically placing all recommendations from local boards and commissions on the consent calendar, rather than reviewing them, unless the mayor, the commission or the city manager recommends otherwise. The change would have potentially given more decision-making power to the commissions and boards. But the proposal failed by a 3-6 vote, with only Scharff, Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilwoman Liz Kniss voting yes.

NEW FACES ... Palo Alto's commissions welcomed some new members earlier this month, when the City Council voted to fill vacancies on the Planning and Transportation Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Public Arts Commission. Carl King, a former member of the parks commission, edged out architect Elaine Uang for a seat on the powerful planning commission, which is responsible for vetting all major developments and transportation projects. King wrote in his application that the top goals he would like to see the commission achieve are greater clarity of the planning process for stakeholders; "alignment of any land-use changes with the needs of the City"; and encouragement of bike safety. The Parks and Recreation Commission will soon greet two new members — Keith Reckdahl and Abby Knopper. Reckdahl, a father of two who likes to bike and who works at Lockheed Martin, was appointed unanimously by the council. Knopper, a school volunteer who served as co-president of the Duveneck Elementary School PTA board, joined the commission after getting six of the nine votes. The council also chose Kathleen Kavanaugh, a self-employed art lover, from a pool of 10 candidates for a seat on the Public Arts Commission.

BOWL GAMES ...The Rose Bowl may be over, but Palo Altans thirsty for the thrill of competition need not despair. Science Bowl is almost here. Budding scientists from three local middle schools will test their knowledge March 2 in the National Science Bowl competition, which will pit four-student teams from JLS, Jordan and Terman middle schools against students from 19 other public and private middle schools in the region between San Jose to San Francisco. Competition, which the public can watch, begins at 9:20 a.m. at NASA Ames Research Center. The local students join more than 4,400 middle schoolers from across the country seeking regional prizes — fully paid trips to Washington, D.C., for the national finals at the end of April. Topics of questioning include astronomy, biology, earth science, math and physics. Science Bowl has been sponsored for the past 23 years by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science as a way to encourage students to pursue scientific careers. The young scientists will also have to contend with the high bar that was just set by local high school students. Earlier this month, Palo Alto High School's Science Bowl team prevailed in the regional competition and will head to Washington for the national finals in April.

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