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On a Roll

By Paul Bendix

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About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Public Works

Uploaded: Mar 24, 2014
Let's hear it for the City of Menlo Park, whose crews have leveled and flattened some of the roughest patches of sidewalk in my downtown neighborhood. One particular peak, a place where concrete sections had tilted into a sort of A frame, has vanished. My wife and I went searching for it on our morning way to Peet's, casting us into one of those moments of middle-aged, memory-compromised confusion. Had it ever been there, that steep sidewalk protuberance? What happened to the place where my wheelchair threatened to snag? Gone it was. And I not only thank, but salute, the city department responsible.

What city department is responsible? That is the thing about public services. I tend to take them for granted. I scream when things aren't working, take it for granted when they are. But judging by the look of much of America these days, public services – and more specifically, public servants – are not to be taken for granted.

Take Caltrain. Okay, maybe you don't take Caltrain, but I do often. And after 10 years on the commuter line's advisory committee, I have at least an amateur's appreciation of what it takes to run the rail system. Actually Caltrain has only a handful of full-time employees. Most share their services with SamTrans, the county bus line. As transit systems go, it has one of the lowest percentages of budget devoted to management.

Fortunately, its management is devoted to it. Yes, after a decade of meetings, I have some basic understanding of how Caltrain works. But public works, the City department of same, is another matter. Whatever my limited knowledge of who does what around the Menlo Park Civic Center, I do know one thing. It doesn't just happen?the City has my thanks.
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