Around Town | September 28, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 28, 2012

Around Town

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH ... The Palo Alto City Council spends most of its time dealing with local issues such as budgets, utility rates and planning developments. But this Monday, the group will have a chance to address a subject with sweeping implications far beyond city borders — California's death penalty. Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Councilwoman Karen Holman have authored a memo urging their colleagues to support Proposition 34, which would repeal the death penalty and establish a $100 million fund to support law-enforcement agencies. The proposition would apply retroactively to prisoners already on death row. In their memo, Yeh and Holman noted that the death penalty has been costing the state $130 million annually. As a result, state grants for capital projects relating to public safety have been dramatically shrinking in recent years. "State Homeland Security Grants, typically used by cities for training, exercises, overtime and equipment projects such as contribution to our Mobile Command Vehicle, are more competitive because fewer funds are available." If the council goes along with the memo, it won't be the first time the city has taken a position against the death penalty. The council asked for a moratorium on the death penalty in 1989, according to the memo, and in 2003 passed another resolution in support of Resolution 8302, which sought to establish a moratorium on the death penalty.

SELF-DRIVING MISS DAISY ... Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill at Google in Mountain View this week to allow the testing of driverless cars on California's roads. And how did he get there? Da Gov rolled into the campus alongside Google co-founder and Palo Alto resident Sergey Brin in one of the company's self-driving vehicles. Brown told an audience that the state government "can either get in the way or we can help and set the framework" for allowing self-driving vehicles on the road. The bill, authored by state Sen. Alex Padilla, will allow licensed and bonded drivers to operate self-driving cars for testing purposes and requires that a human be at the wheel in case of emergencies. Brin said Google plans to have a "broad subset" of its employees test the cars in the next year, and that the technology will be available to the general public "several years after that." Proponents of the cars say they will make roads safer, reduce traffic and even make more efficient use of parking lots because the cars can park themselves. "You can have the car drop you off, and it goes off and takes somebody somewhere else," Brin said. When asked about the hesitancy of law-enforcement groups to embrace the concept, Brown said, "Anyone who sees the cars driving will get a little skittish, but they'll get over it."

CARS AND STRIPES ... Depending on whom you ask, the recent road configurations along Charleston and Arastradero roads were either much-needed and made the busy stretch safer for bicyclists and pedestrians or a misguided effort that made the street confusing for drivers. The project, which the city began in 2010, targets the busy 2.3-mile stretch between El Camino Real and Gunn High School. It includes reduction of lanes from four to three in certain stretches, dedicated left-turn lanes, a westbound right-turn lane from Arastradero into Gunn, an enhanced crosswalk at Arastradero and Clemo Drive, a median island at Arastradero and Hubbart Street and various traffic-signal modifications. So far, the changes were touted by the city as a "trial," but after observing the new configuration for two years, staff is proposing making them permanent. The City Council will consider this recommendation at its Monday night meeting. In a new report, Traffic Engineer Rafael Ruiz wrote that throughout the trial staff has received mixed feedback from residents. Some were concerned about increased congestion during the morning rush and increased cut-through traffic. Others cited a "general feeling of a much safer road to cross and travel along." Barron Park resident Nick Briggs, who falls into the latter camp, wrote to the council that he has been "overall, very happy" with the re-striping. "It has reduced the peak speeds I observe and not significantly increased the time it takes me to travel in either direction," Briggs wrote. Not everyone, however, shared his sentiment. "The present striping also is confusing and dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists," wrote Jean Wren, a Matadero Avenue resident. "Cars have difficulty figuring out where the main lane is, thus often invade the bicycle lane or turn lanes." Perhaps, self-driving vehicles could solve that problem.


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