Calling 2013 the "year of the future," Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff laid out a broad and ambitious agenda in his state of the city address Wednesday night that includes reviving plans for citywide ultra-high-speed Internet, setting aside more money for public art and banning smoking in parks.
"We are not waiting for the future to make progress as this is the 'year of the future' and the future is now," Scharff told a crowd of more than 100 people who gathered for his speech at electric carmaker Tesla Motors' cavernous headquarters in the Stanford Research Park.
In that vein, Scharff said the city needs to "develop and initiate" a cost-effective plan that extends an existing 33-mile-long fiber optic ring to businesses and homes throughout Palo Alto. At a minimum, he added, users should enjoy speeds of 1 gigabyte, whether uploading or downloading.
"Our computers are 1,000 times faster than those in 1996, yet sadly, the technology and infrastructure medium by which our homes and businesses connect to the Internet -- electrons over copper wire -- has not changed," said Scharff referring to the year the fiber was laid. "It is still slow and expensive."
Scharff acknowledged Palo Alto's frustrating decade-long struggle to roll out citywide ultra-high-speed Internet, but said such a system was the key to ensuring its position as a "leading digital city of the future." Startups would be attracted to the city, existing businesses would stay and traffic might even be reduced as more people telecommute, he argued.
"Ultra-high-speed Internet has been a Palo Alto vision for a long time. Now is the time to fulfill that vision," Scharff said. "Google has recently deployed ultra-high-speed Internet in Kansas City. Palo Alto can do better and has all of the elements that will make this a success."
Scharff held Palo Alto up as a leader among cities throughout his roughly 50-minute-long speech, but noted that it has slipped in two important areas: public art and smoking restrictions.
In 1995, the city council adopted a "percent for art" policy that sets aside 1 percent of the construction costs for municipal projects for public art. The policy funded the Jeff Peterson mural at the Children's Library and the forthcoming Bruce Beasley piece at the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center.
However, it's not enough to cover maintenance. For that reason, Scharff said the amount should be increased by as much as 2 percent. He also argued that the policy should be extended to private projects because space for public art is dwindling as the city continues to develop.
"With landmark public art, we build our city's identity and engage the public, which is the power of public art. It is important that new development in Palo Alto positively impact the look and feel of our city," Scharff said. "Palo Alto as a great city deserves great art."
Similarly, Scharff said the city needs to beef up its smoking restrictions. He noted that it recently received a "D" from the American Lung Association for its policies on smoking and tobacco.
The city council this year will consider smoking bans in three parks -- Cogswell, Lytton and Sarah Wallis -- and possibly explore a broader ban in all parks and open spaces in Palo Alto, he said.
"Palo Alto has fallen behind other cities in restricting smoking. Second-hand smoke, as everyone knows, not only is a huge quality of life issue, it kills you," Scharff said. "Once, Palo Alto was a leader in this area. We need to look hard at our current policies and once again regain leadership in this area."
Scharff also highlighted some of the city's recent accomplishments, which include raising the pavement condition index and renovating the Art Center. And he recapped the priorities the council recently set for itself: managing growth in the downtown and California Avenue areas, developing a strategy to pay for infrastructure work and emphasizing the role of technology.
Palo Alto is in a position that makes it the envy of cities across the country and beyond, Scharff said.
"The ideas that change the world start right here," he said. "They start in a garage, in a coffee house, in our homes, in our offices. And the future continues to be invented here in Palo Alto."