Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 17, 2013

Around Town

WHAT'S THE 311? ... Remember the good old days when residents used to go to City Hall to pay parking tickets or call Public Works to lodge complaints about fallen branches of deep potholes? Those days haven't completely disappeared, though the city is trying hard to make these activities obsolete. To that effect, the city will unveil in the coming weeks its latest digital endeavor: Palo Alto 311. Like dozens of other cities — San Francisco and Philadelphia among them — Palo Alto is unveiling the new service to accommodate the changing needs of residents. Along with giving users a list of standard functions — a calendar of city activities, press releases and access to the library catalog — it will give them a new tool to report cracked sidewalks, graffiti and other infrastructural scabs. The tool, which will debut on June 1, will enable residents to use a smartphone to take a photo, hit "Submit," and then relax while their request goes to the appropriate City Hall official. Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental said the city will formally unveil the service at the downtown Hackathon that the city will be sponsoring on June 1, which has been dubbed the "National Day of Hacking." The goal is to register a few hundred users that day. The hope is that it will ultimately reach thousands.

"Palo Alto 311 really reflects the expectation of the new generation," Reichental said at the Tuesday meeting of the City Council Technology and the Connected City Committee. "A lot of people don't expect to come to City Hall to request services. They should be able to use the device that they have on them to request services."

LOTS OF OPPORTUNITY ... In a few months, a driver looking to park in a downtown Palo Alto garage might be approached by an attendant asking for car keys. The attendant would be part of the new valet program that the city is exploring to deal with downtown's famous parking shortage, a problem that area residents say has reached an unbearable level in recent years. The valet program is just like it sounds. When there are no spaces in the garage, the attendant would "stack" vehicles in the garage aisles and park them as spaces become available. If the council approves a staff recommendation, the city will seek out estimates for the new parking program this summer, with the goal of establishing a one-year pilot program. But that's just one piece of the puzzle. A more complicated topic, which the council will also consider Monday, is the prospect of building more downtown garages. In recent months, planning staff and consultants have analyzed five downtown parking lots that are being evaluated as possible sites for a new garage. The candidates are: Lot D, on Hamilton Avenue and Waverley Street; Lots E and G on Gilman Street; Lot O on Emerson and High streets; Lot P on High Street and Hamilton Avenue; and LOT UL on Urban Lane. According to a new staff report, some of these lots could accommodate a garage along with mixed-use developments, possibly with a private partner. On that note, the council is also scheduled to consider in June a proposal from developer Charles "Chop" Keenan, who is looking to build a commercial development at 135 Hamilton Ave. Keenan had offered to help the city build a garage on Lot P.

REAL TIME ... Palo Alto residents curious about that pile of gravel in the neighboring lot or the construction noise down the street have a new tool at their disposable. The city this week announced the latest installment in its "Open Data" effort — a record of Development Center permits that gets updated every day, on a nearly real-time basis. The latest dataset, according to the city's announcement, "is designed to engage developers and innovative thinkers to explore and share this valuable public data." City Manager James Keene said it "continues to propel our advances in open government. ... It is civic innovation like this that drives collaboration between City staff and developers, and fosters a deeper level of interaction with our community," Keene said. Jonathan Reichental, the city's chief information officer, noted that publishing data as soon as it's available has to be one of the city's goals. "Current data is exponentially more valuable than old, static data."

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