In the latest Around Town column, a Palo Alto resident who has become a voice for sexual assault victims joins a list of influential people, the Adobe Creek underpassing reopens and the Palo Alto City Council will consider a measure to include in the 2020 general election ballot.
STANDING THE TEST OF TIME ... Palo Alto resident Christine Blasey Ford, who has become known for her sexual-assault accusations against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, is among Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People for 2019. Ford was placed in the "Icons" category of the list released Wednesday. In a short piece for the publication, U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris commended the Palo Alto University professor for her courage in coming out with the allegations that emerged in September while Kavanaugh (also on this year's list) was a nominee for the nation's highest court. Time stood still as she testified later that month before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a moment that captivated the nation. "Her story, spoken while holding back tears, shook Washington and the country. Her courage, in the face of those who wished to silence her, galvanized Americans. And her unfathomable sacrifice, out of a sense of civic duty, shined a spotlight on the way we treat survivors of sexual violence," Harris wrote. "Christine Blasey Ford's ambition wasn't to become a household name or make it onto this list. She had a good life and a successful career — and risked everything to send a warning in a moment of grave consequence."
UNDERCROSSING REOPENED — FOR NOW ... After a long winter break, the Adobe Creek bike and pedestrian underpass reopened to the public on April 12, three days ahead of schedule. The passageway had been closed during the winter months as rainy weather brought in silt and debris that built up inside. Roger Nguy, maintenance operations manager for the Public Works Department, said a record amount of the material was removed by crews before the public was allowed to use the connection, which is typically opened between April and October. The undercrossing, often flooded, won't stay open for long. The city plans to replace the structure by 2020 with a new bicycle and pedestrian overcrossing that will be opened throughout the year, bridging residents over U.S. Highway 101 from where Adobe Creek meets the freeway to the city's border with Mountain View.
A TAXING JOURNEY ... Nearly two years after Palo Alto halted its plan for a new business tax, the city is preparing to try again, with an eye on the 2020 general election. On Monday, the City Council will consider its path toward a tax measure, a journey that promises to include surveys, stakeholder groups, copious discussion by the council's Finance Committee and, ultimately, a council decision. Based on the council's prior discussions, revenues from the new tax will likely be used to support the city's effort on "grade separation," the redesign of local rail crossings so that railroad tracks and streets no longer intersect. Yet, as council members know all too well, it's far too early to bank on the new revenue stream. Palo Alto's last attempt to create a business tax faltered in 2009, when voters rejected a general tax. The city has had better luck in its recent efforts to raise the hotel tax rate, with voters approving hotel tax hikes in 2014 and 2018 (in both cases, proceeds from the tax were allocated for infrastructure). For Palo Alto, one key challenge will be engaging the business community, which strongly opposed the 2009 measure. Last month, during a discussion of grade separation alternatives, Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce President Judy Kleinberg complained that members of the city's business community "have not been asked to participate" in discussions of how to fund grade separations. Under staff's proposed schedule, the city will hire a consultant in May to assist in putting a revenue-generating proposal together. The city would then spend the next year refining the analysis, polling residents and conducting stakeholder outreach. If things go as planned, the council would finalize the ballot measure in June 2020. The city's debate over revenue sources is expected to have a major impact on its grade-separation decision, with residents more likely to support ambitious proposals such as tunnels and viaducts if the projects are funded through county grants or employer taxes. As City Manager Ed Shikada told the council on March 18, "we'd get great polling results if someone else is picking up the tab."