Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 8, 2013

News Digest

Palo Alto to light up California Avenue

California Avenue merchants and Palo Alto officials reached accord this week on one portion of the controversial, planned streetscape project — the need to install new streetlights all over the city's "second downtown."

Despite some concern about escalating costs of the much debated project, the City Council voted unanimously March 4 to add up to $1.2 million to the project's budget for installation of at least 37 streetlights along California between El Camino Real and the Caltrain station. These would include both roadway lights and lower, pedestrian-scale lights, with the types sharing existing poles. The number of new streetlights could be raised to 48 if staff were to decide to decrease spacing between the poles, an option that would add $200,000 to the $1 million project.

The council's approval is the latest addition to a project that has been steadily evolving since its inception in 2010. Originally envisioned as a $1.8 million project, largely funded by grants, to reduce the number of lanes from four to two, the effort has morphed into a dramatic transformation of the commercial strip, which will now include wider sidewalks, two public plazas, new trees and street furniture and a budget of more than $4 million.

Staff attributed the escalating budget to a variety of factors, including rising construction costs, a reduction in grant funds that resulted from a recent lawsuit by California Avenue merchants and the council's decision to broaden the scope of the project by requiring widened sidewalks and other amenities that they hope will turn the commercial strip into a popular thoroughfare like Castro Street in Mountain View.

Councilman Greg Schmid said that while the process has been a long one, it does help the city achieve its vision for California Avenue of making it "an accessible, vibrant place that draws pedestrians in." The project, he said, will help bring in more people, and the brighter lights will help.

Palo Alto goes 'carbon neutral' with electricity

Palo Alto's green community buzzed with excitement Monday night, March 4, as the city joined an elite club of municipalities that draw all their electricity from carbon-free sources.

With little discussion and no dissent from any council members or from the public, the City Council voted unanimously to approve a staff plan for achieving a 100 percent carbon-free electric portfolio this year.

The plan, which had also been approved by the Utilities Advisory Commission, specifies that the carbon-neutral portfolio would not have a cost impact greater than 0.15 cents per kilowatt-hour. Staff estimates that the new policy would cost an average residential customer about $3 per year.

To get to 100 percent carbon neutrality, the city is relying on its existing renewable-energy sources, including wind farms, solar energy, renewable gas captured from landfills and hydro-electric generation, which provides about half of the city's entire electricity load. While these sources make up the vast majority of the portfolio, the city would fill in the remaining gap with new contracts and, if needed, by purchasing "renewable energy certificates" in the short term. These certificates support renewable energy from other regions of the state and country and allow the city to claim credit for the carbon-free energy.

Three robberies, one armed, hit Palo Alto

A man with a semi-automatic handgun walked into Public Storage on East Bayshore Road in Palo Alto on Saturday, March 2, and made off with cash and various items in what Palo Alto police said was one of three robberies that occurred in the city throughout the day.

The victim described the robber as a black man in his 20s, about 6 feet tall with a thin build and wearing a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head, blue jeans and dark-colored gloves. He also had an inch-long beard or goatee. Police said they are investigating this robbery's possible connection to any others that have occurred in the city since early December.

The Public Storage robbery was one of three robberies that police said occurred in Palo Alto over the span of about eight hours. The other two strong-arm robberies both occurred in downtown Palo Alto and, in one case, an arrest was made. The two downtown robberies were allegedly committed by different suspects. Police do not believe these robberies were connected to each other or to the one at Public Storage.

Police said that of the three victims in the robberies, two were unharmed while a third was treated for an injury and released at the scene.

Police announced Sunday that they are increasing patrols in the downtown area in response to these robberies while they're conducting follow-up investigations.

Anyone with information about the public-storage robbery can contact the Police Department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413.

Anonymous tips can be e-mailed to paloalto@tipnow.org or sent via text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984.

— Gennady Sheyner

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