Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 29, 2013

Around Town

RAINBOW SEASON ... The rainbow flag may soon fly high over Palo Alto's King Plaza as a colorful reminder to the world where the city stands on the topic of same-sex marriage. The city is considering joining other cities and counties in the area in showing its support for gay marriage and its opposition to California's Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage and which passed in 2008 (76 percent of Palo Alto voters rejected it). The only problem is that the city currently has no policies that allow the city to fly a flag unless someone dies. On Monday night, the City Council will address the issue when it considers a request from City Manager James Keene for authority to fly the flag. The request comes at a time when gay marriage is dominating headlines across the nation, with both Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act undergoing hearings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court this week. In his request and a proposed resolution, Keene notes that other cities in the area, including Oakland and San Leandro, are flying the rainbow flag. An even greater coalition of cities, led by San Francisco and including Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Cruz, have joined a legal effort challenging Proposition 8. Palo Alto hasn't joined any lawsuits when it comes to gay marriage, but if Keene's request is accepted, it will become the latest member — however symbolic — of a growing coalition of cities and counties calling for legalization of same-sex marriage.

BOOK OF TREES ... How do Palo Altans love their trees? Let Walter Passmore count the ways. The city's recently hired urban forester is in the midst of putting together the city's first Urban Forest Master Plan, an ambitious compendium of facts, values and recommendations for preserving the city's lush urban forest. Passmore discussed this project Wednesday night with the Planning and Transportation Commission, which heard a brief presentation and saw a giant table of contents for the master plan (chapter titles include "Disparity between north and south Palo Alto," "Conflict between overhead power lines and tree canopy" and "Availability of less thirsty trees"). Passmore told the commission that one of the major goals of the document is arriving at a community vision for the urban forest. The tentative vision statement, which is subject to revision, states that the city's urban forest "will be a model of form and function — a complement of diverse yet symbiotic ecotypes that mirrors the city's vibrant and thriving population." Commissioners had a few questions, with Vice Chair Mark Michael wondering whether the city's redwood trees are native species. Passmore said there is a "substantial debate" in the tree community about this topic, though he made no secret as to where he stands in this debate. "There are people who say redwoods are not native to Palo Alto. However, El Palo Alto — the tree that the city is named after — is over 1,000 years old. I'd say that qualifies redwoods as being native to Palo Alto."

VIKING TURF ... The Embarcadero Road tunnel underpass next to Palo Alto High School may soon look a lot more like Viking territory. The city's Public Art Commission on March 21 approved a proposal by Paly's associated student body to adorn the walls of the 111-foot tunnel with Viking-themed murals. Under the plan, each class through 2023 will have a 10-foot space to paint a mural that fits a theme related to the school's mascot, the Vikings. The class of 2013 will use the first 11 feet and the last 10 feet of the tunnel for their own murals. The commission approved the plan but said that each year's design would be approved by the commission before being put up in the tunnel. Class President Michael Wang, who delivered the proposal to the commission, said the murals would be a "gift" from this year's senior class and that adding space for "a decade of Vikings" was aimed to help connect the school to the city of Palo Alto. Since funds for creating the mural would come out of the student body's discretionary fund, no public money would be used to paint the walls. The artistic directors of the project, Paly seniors Claire Marchon and Lisie Sabbag, said they hadn't yet chosen designs for 2013's spaces but that they would probably feature geometric background patterns of the Palo Alto tree.

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