NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND ... In 1965, Lyndon Johnson established Medicare, Bob Dylan went electric and Palo Alto began a massive effort to bury its wires providing electricity underground. All three gifts have gone through transformations but keep on giving. Palo Alto has converted about 46 percent of the city's overhead lines to underground, and officials estimate that the expensive effort will take another 70 years to complete. At the City Council level, however, the project seems to be losing momentum. This week, the council nixed a proposal by staff to establish a new citizen committee to gauge community sentiment about the ongoing program. Some council members said the committee could be a valuable means of explaining to the public why a neighborhood's electricity hasn't been undergrounded yet. "I think very often it takes our public getting involved to be able to understand and explain to others why something hasn't happened," Councilwoman Liz Kniss reasoned. Mayor Greg Scharff alluded to the effort's "astronomical costs" and said it's important to have a committee that would engage the greater community on what he called a "lingering issue." Councilman Larry Klein disagreed and said the council doesn't need to create a "buffer zone" between itself and the community for the purpose of explaining to constituents that the city doesn't have the dollars to bury the wires. He also argued that the city has recently become a little too eager in setting up citizen committees, which he said consume staff time and resources. "I'm in favor of birth control on committees," Klein said. "We've been adding them quite rapidly in the last few years." His argument carried the day and the council shot down the staff recommendation by a 4-5 vote, with Pat Burt, Karen Holman, Gail Price and Greg Schmid joining Klein in opposition.
POLLS ... In November 2014, Palo Alto voters will likely head to the polls to vote on a bond measure to fund repairs of the city's buildings, roads and other infrastructure. More immediately, though, city officials have polls of a different sort on their minds. The City Council on Monday discussed projects that may end up on the bond measure with its pollster, David Metz of the firm Fairbanks, Maslin, Maulin, Metz and Associates. The firm will start polling Palo Alto residents next month to gauge their "initial temperature" about the proposed projects, which range from building a bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 to repairing sidewalks. The council agreed to drop acquisition of the downtown post-office building and completion of Byxbee Park from the list of potential bond-supported items and to add funding of the new Palo Alto History Museum.