Tel Aviv's planned NIS 200 million renovation of the City Hall building sparked an outcry when it was first announced last year, but the budget has now risen to NIS 320 million and is still climbing, reports the Hebrew weekly Yediot Tel Aviv. And among the latest items raising eyebrows is the planned spending of NIS 12 million to replace all the office furniture in the building. According to the report, the massive renovation budget has angered many people from the outset, with critics saying that for NIS 200 million an entirely new, larger and more suitable building could be constructed. But the city decided to stick with renovating the 40-year-old original building, deciding to reinforce the structure, replace the windows and toilet facilities, place new flooring over the old floors and repair the old plumbing system. Since then, the approved budget has risen to NIS 320 million, with the city explaining that extra money was needed for unexpected infrastructure work. Regarding its vote to allot NIS 12 million to replace all the office furniture in the hundreds of rooms throughout the building, the city's Finances Committee said unneeded furniture would be offered for sale at a minimum of 30 percent of its value, and if this price could not be obtained, the city would consider donating it to public bodies. Deputy Mayor and environmental leader Pe'er Visner was furious at the latest plan, saying it was a waste of public money. "In an era in which the entire world considers how to save and recycle, the city of Tel Aviv thinks only how to waste," he said. Visner added that the furniture in the building was replaced regularly and that much of it was quite new, including the recently replaced councilors' furniture. "It is not as if we have furniture from 40 years ago â€¦ I see no reason why they should now change everything again," he said. But a municipal spokesman said replacing the furniture was "an integral part" of the renovation project and that much of it was old and needed to be changed. The spokesman said the furniture would be replaced over the next five years, by which time the renovation work would be complete. Northern schools to take in refugee children The city of Tel Aviv has decided to absorb Sudanese refugee children into schools in the city's north as well as its south in an apparent attempt to distribute the refugee burden more equally, reports Yediot Tel Aviv. The decision follows months of complaints from parents in the south that the absorption of the refugee children is weakening their already disadvantaged schools, which cater for many children from the lowest socio-economic sectors as well as the children of foreign workers. According to the report, while many refugee children have already been absorbed into schools in the city's south, about 110 have remained without any educational framework. A municipal statement that they too would be taken into schools in the south sparked an outcry from parents and from local councilor Shlomo Maslawi, who insisted that the wealthier north share in the task of absorbing the children. Maslawi initiated an official meeting on the subject last week, and the city's Education Department agreed to absorb the children into northern schools. "The education department has taken a wise step in order to create equality between the districts of the city," Maslawi said. "This gives the children of foreign workers and refugees the opportunity to be integrated into the education system in a good way, and also leads to quiet among parents in the south of the city." The report did not say how many refugee children have been absorbed into the education system in total. Woman sues over anti-Arab statement An Arab woman from Jaffa has issued an NIS 100,000 lawsuit against a Tel Aviv employment agency after the agency's head said he did not want to employ Arabs, reports Yediot Tel Aviv. The 33-year-old woman issued the lawsuit in the District Labor Court on the grounds that the manager breached equal opportunity and freedom of employment laws. According to the report, the woman had sought work at her local government employment bureau, which sent her to the Dror Kanaf manpower agency, a company which among other placements supplies cleaners to the National Insurance Institute's offices in Jaffa. In her lawsuit, the woman said that when she arrived for an interview with the agency's head, Moshe Moalem, he noticed her traditional Muslim head covering and immediately sent her away, saying: "We don't employ Arab workers." Moalem also wrote a letter to the employment bureau stating that he could not accept Arabs as workers at the National Insurance Institute (Mossad LeBituach Leumi), writing: "Please do not send me Arab workers." The Ministry for Industry, Trade and Commerce began an investigation, and Moalem apologized for his statements, saying he was "very sorry" and that he had "made a mistake" by writing that he would not accept Arab workers. He said he had no explanation or reason for saying what he had said, and added that he had since offered the woman numerous jobs elsewhere in Tel Aviv. No date was reported for the case to come to court. Residents lodge objection to tower Residents living near the Assuta neighborhood in Tel Aviv have lodged a formal objection to the planned building of a 38-story residential tower in their area, reports Yediot Tel Aviv. The residents say the 155-meter tower, which would contain 220 apartments, would destroy their quality of life by casting a gigantic permanent shadow and creating a powerful wind tunnel in their neighborhood. According to the report, the planned tower is the initiative of a coalition of businesspeople headed by millionaire US real estate developer Shaya Boymelgreen. Several months ago, residents signed a petition against the project and now they have lodged their formal objection with the District Planning and Construction Committee. In their objection, the residents say that before the project was ever discussed, the planners should have been made to conduct a study on its potential environmental effects and to come up with plans for infrastructure work that would be needed to integrate it into the area, including for transport, water, sewage, garbage disposal and electricity. No date was reported for any hearing. Ra'anana woman sues city for 'unlawful' parking fines A Ra'anana resident has issued a class-action lawsuit for NIS 2.5 million against the city, alleging that it is issuing parking fines illegally, reports www.local.co.il. The lawsuit, lodged in the Tel Aviv District Court, says that the city issues parking fines for cars without a local parking ticket, despite it having no authority to do so because it has no by-laws on such tickets and offers no explanations on how to go about obtaining them. According to the report, the resident was first alerted to the issue after her car was booked for having parked in an area marked with a sign stating that parking there was restricted to cars with local parking tickets only. The woman's car did have a Ra'anana residents' sticker on its windshield, a sticker that has been widely and publicly promoted by the city and is carried by many car owners in the area. But when she asked for the fine to be cancelled, she was told that the sticker was not adequate and she needed to have a local parking ticket. It was then that she discovered that there was no by-law pertaining to such tickets and no explanation of how to obtain one. The woman refused to pay the fine and in February had her case heard in the Kfar Saba Court for Local Matters, where, at the recommendation of the court, the city prosecutor cancelled the fine. But the city continued to issue parking fines to others for the same "offense," including two to the woman's parents. They complained and had their fines cancelled, but when the woman's brother was then fined, she issued a class-action lawsuit, demanding that the city cancel all fines of this sort and return all the money it had collected from them. She said the city was still continuing to issue fines for this "offense" and drivers who were unaware of the law felt they had no choice but to pay the NIS 100 fine. The lawsuit estimated that the city's earnings from such fines were at least NIS 2.5 million, based on figures in the city's annual report. A municipal spokesman described the lawsuit as "frivolous" and without foundation, saying the city was acting within the law. The spokesman said residents could obtain local parking tickets from the city's parking authority. City makes sport of summer The city of Herzliya has decided to make sport of the hot summer nights by running a "Midnight Sports" program through the summer vacation for the seventh year in a row, reports www.local.co.il. The activities, aimed at teenagers, will run every Monday and Thursday night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the city's Sportek and Hakochav Hashmini youth club. Participants will be able to choose from a range of activities, including soccer, basketball, table tennis, backgammon and checkers. Meanwhile, it appears that the summer heat has begun to fray more than a few tempers in Herzliya and other cities. According to reports in www.local.co.il, police are investigating an incident in which 12 cars were damaged on Herzliya's Rehov Rakefet one night after an argument over a noisy party broke out between unhappy residents and party-goers. And three young men have been arrested over two separate attacks at Herzliya nightclubs. In the first incident, two men, one of them armed with an iron bar, allegedly attacked a security guard and other people. In the second incident, a young man attacked a nightclub security guard, apparently after being refused entry. And in Kfar Saba, residents of the City Heights building above Kikar Ha'ir are complaining that skateboarders and roller-bladers are disturbing their sleep by night and destroying their quality of life during the day, reports www.local.co.il. The residents say that despite repeated requests to the city, the problem has only grown worse since the beginning of the summer vacation. According to the report, the residents are demanding that there be more stringent enforcement of noise, litter and vehicle laws at the plaza, saying that cars and motorcycles frequently drive onto it and disturb their rest, and that youngsters riding skateboards and rollerblades create noise, leave litter behind and scratch the plaza's surface. A Kfar Saba municipal spokesman said the city invested "great efforts" to enforce the public order, and municipal inspectors visited the site regularly, while police had also been called in when required and had arrested several youths. The spokesman urged residents to help these efforts by calling the city's Moked service to report incidents. Mayor moves for separate fire station Ra'anana Mayor Nahum Hofree has met with senior firefighting officials to propose that Ra'anana get its own fire station instead of sharing with Kfar Saba, reports www.local.co.il. And a representative from the national fire services command reportedly agreed that there was justification for the idea. According to the report, Hofree and other Ra'anana municipal officials met with representatives from the national fire services command and from the Kfar Saba fire station to discuss the idea. At present, Kfar Saba's fire station services Kfar Saba, Ra'anana and Hod Hasharon. At the meeting, Hofree said that while he was satisfied with the functioning of the Kfar Saba station, traffic at certain times of the day prevented a swift response, and Ra'anana should have its own station. He said there was a 14-dunam block of land available for a fire station in Kiryat Etgarim, a site removed from residential areas and near the main Ra'anana intersection. A national fire services official said there was "operational justification" for the idea, and said the suggested block of land was appropriate for such a station. Fading road crossings pose increasing danger to pedestrians Dozens of pedestrian crossings around Haifa are faded, unclear or erased and pose a safety danger to residents, according to a survey conducted by the Hebrew weekly Yediot Haifa. The newspaper found substandard pedestrian crossings in virtually every neighborhood of the city, with the situation worst in the ultra-religious neighborhoods, where it was difficult to find a single clearly marked pedestrian crossing. According to the newspaper, the Haifa municipality is responsible for 418 square kilometers of paved roads and 165 square kilometers of sidewalks, and the city has a special budget dedicated to the marking of roads with pedestrian crossings. Yet despite renovations having been done in several areas recently, many pedestrian crossings remain unpainted and unclear. A municipal spokesman said that for the past four years the city had been running a project to rehabilitate long-neglected roads, sidewalks and infrastructure, with the emphasis on increasing the safety of pedestrians and drivers. The spokesman said the city was widening sidewalks and main roads, constructing traffic islands and roundabouts, placing posts on sidewalks to prevent vehicles from parking there and hindering pedestrians, and increasing lighting at intersections and along busy roads. He said the work had already been done in many neighborhoods and would continue in the remaining areas. The spokesman also said statistics showed that most pedestrians injured in accidents had actually been hurt at pedestrian crossings, and that this danger grew when there was more than one pedestrian crossing in a particular street. He said specialists had concluded that in such cases it was better not to have pedestrian crossings at all, and the city had asked the Transport Ministry to approve a budget for the construction of traffic lights on a number of streets known to be dangerous for pedestrians. The spokesman also said that pedestrian crossings needed to be repainted twice a year, at a cost to the city of NIS 2 million every year. He added that in the vicinity of schools and other educational institutions, this work would be done just before the start of the coming school year. "The paints used in Israel fade and are even erased within a few months," the spokesman said. "The city was a partner to an experiment led by the Transport Ministry to try different types of paints and painting techniques, but the results were not significant. Now, together with the National Authority for Road Safety, the city is checking the feasibility of making pedestrian crossings stand out by using colored asphalt and roughened road surfaces. The city is also testing the possibility of using flashing lights and signs at pedestrian crossings." Wildlife breedingset back by explosions Local environmentalists and zoologists are warning that the continuing explosions in the Carmel Tunnels are interfering with the mating habits of native animals and have caused a significant reduction in the number of young born this season, reports Yediot Haifa. They say deer and hyrax (shafan sela) have been particularly affected by the explosions, which are being carried out as the NIS 1 billion Carmel Tunnels project carves its way through the mountain beneath Haifa. According to the report, local zoos have noticed a reduction in the number of litters this year, especially among their deer, while naturalists have reported seeing far fewer hyrax. One zookeeper said it was likely that snakes and porcupines were affected as well, as animals that lived in burrows were especially sensitive to vibrations in the ground and probably thought they were caused by earthquakes. He said the animals were behaving just as humans would if they feared their house might collapse on them in an earthquake - they were fleeing to open ground, "making it difficult to focus on procreation." A spokesman for the Carmel Tunnels project said that before the work ever began a study had been done to examine the likely effects on local wildlife and the best ways to minimize them. He said a project of this scale was bound to cause disturbances, but once it was complete, traffic and air pollution would be less than they had been previously and the quality of life would be improved for both people and animals. The spokesman said that during the construction of the famed Bahai Gardens in Haifa, a project that took 11 years to complete, the local wildlife had fled the area, but today all the native fauna had returned. Bomb shelters still inadequate - warning Two years after the Lebanon war, Haifa's Home Front Command is warning that the city has still not brought its 102 public bomb shelters up to the recommended standard, reports Yediot Haifa. The Command says that not one shelter in Haifa could withstand a direct missile strike, and that in any case there are too few shelters for the city's 270,000 residents. According to the report, the Command said that many recommended improvements to the city's emergency preparations had been made over the past two years, including practicing emergency measures and doubling the number of warning sirens in the city so that all residents would now be able to hear them. But nothing had been done to strengthen the bomb shelters or to increase their quantity, and residents who did not have a protected room in their homes or who were caught out in the open would be in danger. Study finds link between stress and sclerosis A new scientific study has found that the number of Haifa residents suffering from sclerosis (hardening of the arteries) increased drastically during the 2006 Lebanon war and then returned to normal after the war, reports Yediot Haifa. The study, conducted jointly by doctors at the Carmel Hospital and scientists at the Technion, indicates a direct connection between a stressful situation and the outbreak of this disease. According to the report, direct connections have been established in the past between stress and diseases of the heart and blood vessels, as well as asthma and inflammations, and now a direct link has been established with common sclerosis. The report said the study showed that doctors should consider preventative medication and treatment for at-risk patients during times of stress or fear. Barren woman forced to divorce The Haifa rabbinical court has forced a woman to accept a divorce because her proven infertility is preventing her husband from fulfilling the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply," reports Yediot Haifa. The court ruled that the husband had the right to create a family of his own. "From the perspective of Halacha (Jewish law) and factually, there is cause to obligate this woman to accept the divorce," the rabbis said. They ordered the man to pay an unstated amount of compensation to his ex-wife.