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By Diana Diamond

'But baby, it's cold outside'

Uploaded: Aug 18, 2020

Local cities have been opening up their main streets to outdoor summer dining, providing a lovely way to spend a warm summer evening. The restaurants have carefully placed tables and chairs more than six-feet apart, all the staff are wearing masks (as are the customers who enter) and residents rave about what has been labeled as the "Summer Streets" program. All in all, it's great!

But Palo Alto has decided to keep this program open until Dec. 31. 2020 -- New Year's Eve. In large part that decision was made to keep the restaurants in business as long as possible this year, as their income has dropped considerably because of the coronavirus, but also because restaurants are building parklets by their front sidewalks, to provide an extended seating area for diners. The restaurants have to pay for the parklets, and evidently the city is extending the outdoor program to Dec. 31 so the restaurants can continue to earn some money.

But there are a couple of problems that haven't been solved yet.

Consider this scenario: It's Saturday night, Nov. 28, and a great night out for dinner. Restaurants are still serving, but only outside. A storm has come in, temperatures have dropped to 40 degrees, the wind is blowing hard, it's raining, and the restaurant table umbrellas are swinging back and forth. Their heaters are on, but the winds carry the heat away. The forecast is for a week of this weather. I don't know about you, but I'm not eating out in the cold and rain.

I've thought about putting heavy plastic curtains around the area, but then the restaurants created an outdoor room, where COVID-19 can easily spread. Forget that thought.

One other big problem is that University will be closed to cars during this entire period. That's great for restaurants, but what about other downtown stores, like Apple, CVS, Chico's, Footwear and other clothing stores. And what about stores on side streets -- they are losing money daily. Several closures -- and bankruptcies -- have already occurred.

"The city is working on these issues," Councilmember Eric Filseth told me. I sure hope so because what is imagined for summer evenings doesn't always work during late fall and winter days. It call it, "Plan Ahead."

Short agendas — long council meetings

Last week the Palo Alto City Council had two action items on its agenda. The first came up near 7 p.m. The second followed. The meeting ended at 11 p.m. This week there were also two items.

The first was on an application to tear down a one-story home at 2352 Webster St. and build in its place a much larger two-story home with a big basement.

The second agenda item asked the council to" amend the city's supply portfolio neutral plan and electric utility reserves management practices." Sounds like a real sexy topic, doesn't it.

The first item was really about an old house, a new house, and a very old tree on the property. Neighbors feared that the new basement would endanger this old tree, and the city arborist's view was different from a hired arborist's idea.

The discussion went on -- and on -- and lasted until midnight. The council never got to the second item.

Why does one single-family project take up nearly five hours of seven council members' time over what seems like a relatively routine item? Aren't there more important things to discuss? And why devote council meetings to just two items, when members used to tackle numerous issues?

When Jim Keene was city manager, there typically were several action items that drew a lot of public attention. I can't help wonder what happened. Are we more efficient as a city or is it the less discussed, the less the staff has to do? Your speculations are welcome.

"We're opening safely"

That's what the postcard from Palo Alto's Rec Department declared introducing their new fall programs, adding masks are needed and social distancing will be enforced. Will it? A lineup of activities makes me wonder: middle school athletics (girls volleyball, flag football and cross country), youth and teen Children's Theatre, outdoor cardio dance, tennis, and kids soccer, to name several.

I question whether this is the right time to hold these classes, especially when schools are staying shut and the number or coronavirus cases in Palo Alto is increasing. And BTW, we know kids have a hard time keeping on their mask, especially when playing volleyball or soccer.