Youth Ambassador applications now available

The "2014-15 YAE!! Student Exchange" with Walnut Creek's Sister Cities of Noceto, Italy and Siofok, Hungary is open for applications.

This student youth exchange year, eight eighth-grade students went to Italy and 11 students went to Hungary. Exchange students from Italy and Hungary will arrive in Walnut Creek for a week this April.

Seventh-grade students chosen will attend orientation meetings in the spring and summer to prepare to travel to their host countries for a week. In October, they will stay for a week with a local student family in the sister country and go to school with them.

Students also will have excursions in those countries; one day will be a special tour of Budapest or Milan. In Spring 2015, their student partners will come to Walnut Creek for a week, with plans for attending school with their host student and a special tour of Walnut Creek. There will be day excursions to Muir Woods and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco and Santa Cruz.

Seventh-grade students who live in Walnut Creek may apply for the 2014-2015 Exchange before March 7. This past year, participating students were from Walnut Creek Intermediate, Foothill Middle and Pleasant Hill Middle schools.

Students with a 3.0 grade-point average and can enjoy a week with a Hungarian or Italian host family must talk with their core teacher before applying. Ask for an application by email from walterschick@astound.net

Walnut Creek park playgrounds reopen safer

Park playgrounds are reopening this week safer and more accessible to the disabled.

Earlier this week playgrounds began opening at Larkey, Walden and Arbolado parks with upgraded equipment. The city spent $500,000 on the state- and federally-mandated upgrades, including new play structures and mulch instead of sand. All city playgrounds will now meet state safety and American with Disabilities Act standards.

But Larkey, Walden and Arbolado parks had the most work done, said Mike Vickers, Walnut Creek's public services manager.

And the 26-acre Arbolado Park, with two playgrounds, has new amenities including shade structures, sand diggers, rockers, climbers, slides and a sand zone. This replaces a 22-year-old playground structure.

"Whether it was required by the state or not, it was necessary to replace some of these structures," Vickers said.

The city held a ribbon cutting at Arbolado at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Children from nearby Walnut Acres Elementary School were on hand for the ceremony, along with Mayor Kristina Lawson and members of the City Council.

The playground improvements were paid for through park in-lieu fees, which are paid to the city by developers for parks.

Mechanics is Centennial's lead sponsor

Walnut Creek's Celebration of the Century has begun, with Mechanics Bank as its "Sponsor of the Century."

The 108-year-old community bank is lead sponsor for the city's community-led, community-funded Centennial Celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of Walnut Creek's 1914 incorporation.

"Mechanics Bank has helped our community grow and prosper over the years, and we are so thrilled they could partner with us for this tremendous community celebration," said Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson in a news release. "Walnut Creek and Mechanics Bank have practically grown up together."

Mechanics Bank was founded in 1905 to serve the financial needs of railroad and shipyard mechanics and other workers when banks in the East Bay were few and far between, according to the release. Four generations later, the founder's descendants still own the majority of shares. Dianne D. Felton, chairman of the board, is the great granddaughter of the founder E.M. Downer.

"Our East Bay roots go very deep," Felton said in the release. "As a community bank, our mission is to support the communities where we operate. In Walnut Creek, we have over 800 business clients and actively support more than 60 nonprofits. We are so pleased to be a part of celebrating the wonderful history of this community."

The Centennial Steering Committee is partnering with a vast array of community groups to offer "100 Ways and More" to celebrate Walnut Creek. A special interactive website offers calendar listings, historical timelines and quizzes, and information about ways to support this signature year. WalnutCreek100.com

Applications available for commissions

Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis for vacancies on the Transportation Commission and the Contra Costa County Library Commission.

Applicants for both positions must live in incorporated Walnut Creek and must be registered voters. There are two openings on the Transportation Commission and one opening for a Walnut Creek alternate representative on the Contra Costa County Library Commission. Appointments to the Transportation Commission will be made for a term of four years. The Contra Costa County Library Commission appointment will be for two years.

Applications are available on the city's website at www.walnut-creek.org; at the City Clerk's office, 1666 N. Main St.; by phone at 925-943-5818; and via e-mail at smartinez@walnut-creek.org. Completed applications and the supplemental questionnaires must be submitted to the City Clerk's office.

For additional information, please contact City Clerk Suzie Martinez at 925-943-5819.

City works on plastic bag ban

Walnut Creek is pursuing an ordinance to prohibit the distribution of single-use carryout plastic bags by any retailer, with the exception of restaurants and nonprofit charitable thrift stores. Under the ordinance, all grocery and retails stores in Walnut Creek would no longer provide plastic bags at checkouts. Stores may sell paper bags for a minimum of 10 cents for each bag. Protective plastic or paper bags, without handles, for items such as meat, fresh produce, dry-cleaned clothes and prescription medications will be allowed. Consumers will have the option to bring their own reusable bags or pay for paper bags. The City Council will consider the proposed ordinance March 4.

Public comments are welcome now through Feb. 28 through an online survey (www.walnut-creek.org/opentownhall).

To view the proposed ordinance language, visit www.walnut-creek.org/bringyourbag. A community meeting will be held 6 p.m. Feb. 11, City Hall, 1666 N. Main St., Walnut Creek.

Diablo Dems' trans-Pacific trade deal talk

Carleen Pickard, managing director of the human rights organization Global Exchange, will discuss the proposed trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement at the meeting of the Diablo Valley Democratic Club at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at the Ygnacio Valley Library, 2661 Oak Grove Road in Walnut Creek.

The agreement would govern 40 percent of U.S. imports and exports and is expected to affect the environment, economic justice, Internet accessibility, availability of generic drugs and basic human rights. Pickard will explain what is known so far about the agreement, who is supporting it and how the public can work toward fair trade and environmental sustainability.

For more information, call 925-946-0469 or go to www.dvdems.org

Civil grand jury members needed

The Contra Costa County Superior Court is seeking applicants to serve on the 2014-15 civil grand jury.

The 19-member civil grand jury monitors and reports on city and county governments, special districts and school districts. Terms are for one year.

The civil grand jury's membership is supposed to reflect the demographic makeup of the county. Approximately 60 applicants will be interviewed by the grand jury selection committee, made up of Superior Court judges.

The judges will nominate a pool of about 30 applicants who will then be fingerprinted. The 19 new grand jurors will be selected from the pool by random drawing June 13 and be sworn in the same day.

The new grand jurors should be available the last two weeks of June to get acquainted with each other, meet with outgoing jurors and department heads, tour county facilities, select committees and familiarize themselves with responsibilities and procedures.

Grand jurors should expect to devote 20 hours a week to grand jury service. If employed, they should apply only if they can be released from their jobs to perform grand jury duties.

Grand jurors will receive a stipend for attending meetings and will be reimbursed for allowable travel expenses and receive a permit to park in Martinez while performing grand jury duties.

Applicants must be at least 18, a United States citizen, and must have resided in Contra Costa County for at least a year before being selected. Grand jurors cannot hold any elected office within the county while serving on the grand jury.

Prospective applicants should contact the Office of the Civil grand jury at 925-957-5638 or visit www.cc-courts.org/grand jury for more information.

The deadline to apply is March 28.

-- Compiled by Elisabeth Nardi.