Midtown Residents Association Neighborhood Newsletter
Fall 2005

FROM THE CHAIR & VICE CHAIR: Annette Ashton and Sheri Furman
This year is an important election year for city council, as well as for the school board. The next 10 years will see many changes in Palo Alto - we will experience unprecedented population growth. Significant land use issues will come before the council as the City of Palo Alto struggles for the right balance between retail, office and residential. Property rights, state propositions, and parkland usage will be challenged. It is more important than ever to understand the issues, meet the candidates, and listen to them talk about the issues. We urge you to attend a candidate's coffee (or host one). Get involved and support your favorite candidates. Walk a precinct, donate to the campaign, or post a lawn sign. Finally the most important thing is to "take the time to vote." It is easier than ever with an absentee ballot. You can even request a permanent absentee ballot to vote at your convenience.

Please come to our October 20th South Palo Alto City Council Candidates forum to meet and hear the candidates held at the Mitchell Park Community Center. We also invite you to meet the candidates informally at our Issues in the Park social on the afternoon of October 23rd at Hoover Park.

As you examine the issues and the candidates, we propose you consider the following criteria as you decide who will be our city council members and lead us in the future. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.

Proven Commitment to the Community: Let's elect leaders who have demonstrated that they care about Palo Alto. Choose candidates who have spent their time and energy on significant projects and issues that make Palo Alto the best place to be. Those who are in touch with residents, and who have promoted appropriate change in a positive collaborative fashion.

Analytical Skills: Financial stresses and difficult city budget decisions will continue to be a challenge. Balancing our city budget will require independent thinking, hard work in examining details, and determination in questioning staff's priorities. Palo Alto will continue to have thorny issues with passionate advocates on both sides. Our council members will need to examine issues and separate emotion from the common good.

Leadership/Vision: Participation on a city/county board or commission gives candidates a strong awareness of the public process. Leadership on a neighborhood association board and/or advocacy on neighborhood issues is the other size of the coin. Either of these routes will give us, the voters, a strong indication of how effective candidates might be on the council in setting a vision, building consensus by working with others, and getting to "yes.

Willingness to Listen: Palo Alto faces many complex issues, but is fortunately home to residents who are committed to in-depth research of those issues. Instead of dismissing such research, council should welcome the input from the residents on the many items that come before them as additional information to help them make a decision.

Time and Energy: Being on the Council and its many subcommittees is a demanding job, in additional to the full-time jobs many members hold. However, part of the job is also researching the issues and talking to those involved, be it neighborhood groups or the business community. We need council members who are willing to devote those extra hours to the community.

Register to vote 15 days prior to any election. For this city council/school board election, your registration request must be postmarked (or brought into office) by Monday October 24.

ABSENTEE BALLOTS make voting a breeze. Request an absentee ballot from the County of Santa Clara.

Absentee ballots must be requested in writing at least seven days before an election. For the November 8th election
that date is October 26, 2004. It's easy! Just follow these steps:
Write or Fax:

Absentee Division
P.O. Box 1740
San Jose, CA 95109

FAX (408) 293-6002

Phone (408) 299-8640

Toll Free: (866) 430-VOTE [8683]

Include the following information:

Your Name
Your Registered Address in the County of Santa Clara
Your Mailing Address (if different)
Your Signature

If you are requesting multiple Absentee ballots for your household, include each voter's name and signature.
You may also complete the form on the back of the sample ballot pamphlet that you received in the mail.

Obtain a PERMANENT ABSENTEE BALLOT application by printing the form at
or have one mailed to you by calling (408) 299-8640 or toll free: (866) 430-VOTE [8683].

You must sign the envelope in order for your ballot to be counted.

Mail your voted ballot back to the county or turn it in on Election Day at any Santa Clara County polling place.

Voters who do not vote their Permanent Absentee Ballot may lose their Permanent Absentee Voting status,
but will continue to be registered to vote.

If you move (or have moved) within Santa Clara County you must change your address with the Registrar of Voters.
Assuming you are already registered in Santa Clara Co. you may change your address by letter (P.O. Box 1147 -
San Jose, CA 95108) or by fax (408-998-7314) by sending a note to the Register with your name, old and new addresses,
birthdate, and your signature.

EDITORIAL by Jack Morton, City of Palo Alto Council Member
Community Zoning & Council Myopia
My first political experience in Palo Alto, soon after we returned to Mary Ellen's girlhood home from Toronto, was to take 16 month-old Dawson in arms and join our neighbors on Webster to defeat an overpass at Middlefield.

In the years that followed, the community has protested zoning changes that would have permitted a Super Block on University Avenue or the replacement of the Art Center with a grocery store. After that, and literally closer to home, we fought the battle against the re-zoning of Middlefield for high-density housing -- that re-zoning had all but spelled the demise of the Winter Lodge and Midtown as we knew it. We battled almost block for block to save our neighborhood, fighting for Century Market at Loma Verde, then Peninsula Hardware at Bryson as well as the Emergency Vet, the Arco Service Station plus the Winter Lodge. I don't know what amazes me more in retrospect: that we succeeded in saving both our neighborhood services plus the City's most popular recreation activity or that the Council never seems to get the message that Palo Alto is primarily a single family residential community that likes a reasonable residential and commercial mix.

This past year, the Council failed to craft a reasonable zoning measure that would reserve enough acres to allow recycling and composting to continue beside the water treatment plant. The community also had to turn out to defeat a change in single family zoning that would have permitted a second unit on lots over 6,000 square feet.

We may have lost a neighborhood grocery store at East Meadow and Alma and we have yet to figure out how to retain automotive dealers within our residential community. Both of these types of businesses provide sales tax for our community programs.

More recently, a Council majority (that did not include me) asked staff to explore changes in commercial zoning that would prohibit medical or dental services in the empty buildings on East Embarcadero. As Stanford reclaims the buildings on Welch Road, this zoning change would all but ensure the exodus of our family doctors and dentists to Menlo Park or Mountain View. Some members of the Council have even suggested that the requirements for forming a single story overlay be changed from a clear majority to a super majority, making it harder for neighbors to protect themselves from mansionettes. It has been 20 years since voters passed citizen initiatives to save the Winter Lodge but we are still fighting for a vision of Palo Alto that understands that neighborhoods are dynamic systems and that zoning changes need to safeguard what most of us want to preserve.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts. In thinking about what I wanted to say, I realized how much energy has gone into simply keeping the services and community activities that we Midtowners value. Re-viewing the history was for me very informative. I hadn't realized how much we all have worked just to keep Midtown vibrant.

MIDTOWN - People define our history…a continuing story… Places are just dots on the map until we connect them with the people who bring them to life and give them significance. In our series on notable people in the MRA News, we connect these people to the places we pass every day and show how our neighborhood has evolved.

Photo by Sharon Fox

It wasn't shoes that Robert Babekian first worked on when he came to California, although at 22, he had been manager of high end Ernest Hoffman Shoes in Europe.

No, when Robert first came to California, in 1975, it was steaks, not shoes that he handled. He sometimes grilled as many as 100 a night at his friend's Cable Car Restaurant in San Francisco. "Two minutes and the steak's done."

The Lebanese native worked seven days and seven nights at the grill and saved enough so that by 1979, he was able to buy the Deleon Shoe Shop and change its name to Midtown Shoe Repair. It has been a Midtown fixture for more than 26 years.

Whether it's his smile and easy going way or his ability to fix what is brought in, Robert prides himself that when "people come in unhappy, I make them happy." He's magically opened unopenable suitcases, fresh from a trip. He's patched together a worn out, but favorite pair of soccer shoes. And sometimes he just tells a would be customer the shoe is fine as it is.

In 1980, he bought a duplex in Redwood City and rented out the apartment he didn't live in. By 1984, he was ready to get married and went back to Lebanon and the Armenian community there to marry Silva who lived next door to his brother. They have three children - Marielle, "Saco" and Peter -- whose faces were familiar around the shop as they were growing up. Marielle is studying to be a dermatologist, Saco, a mechanical engineer and Peter is still young and "everywhere."

A long time soccer fan and player, Robert has played with the Minute Men for 10 to 12 years. The same men also field a basketball team. He still lives in Redwood City, but up the hill from the duplex. Now in a hilltop house, he enjoys Sunday projects like building a gazebo and a barbecue to grill those two minute steaks.

GLORIA HOM - Woman of Legends story by Annette Ashton

Gloria's story is the stuff that books are written about. Gloria, a fourth generation Californian, was born in San Francisco. Gloria's father, Patrick Pichi Sun, took a diplomatic assignment with the Nationalist Chinese government and moved his family from San Francisco to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia when Gloria was one month old. Patrick Sun came over as a foreign student to complete his graduate studies at Stanford University. He married May Lan Chew, the daughter of Thomas Foon Chew, founder of Bayside Cannery in Alviso, California. In its time, Bayside cannery was the third largest cannery in the United States, after Del Monte and Libby's. Bayside had one of their branches in Mayfield, the current site of Fry's Electronics in Palo Alto. World War II had started, and the Japanese had invaded Malaya and Singapore. Gloria's father was awaiting transfer orders, but all communication channels were cut. Refugees wanting to leave could do so with only what they could carry. Gloria's mother bundled her older sister, Gloria and a small suitcase and left her father with her younger sister, Sylvia. They went to China but the war was raging throughout China. They took a freighter by way of Australia, and the three of them finally returned to San Francisco to live with her maternal Grandmother in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Photo by Sharon Fox

It was not until the close of the war that Gloria's father rejoined the family. Through the good work of the American Red Cross, Sylvia, her younger sister, was located in the Malay jungles and reunited with the rest of the family when Gloria was ten years old.

Patrick Sun was a member of the Chinese delegation at the Inauguration of the United Nations meeting in San Francisco in 1945. After the San Francisco Conference the family left for the Philippines. Manila was recovering from Japanese occupation and "it was a unique period of our history...I always feel that I am so lucky to be part of a transitional time."

Gloria spent junior high and high school in Bangkok, Thailand. In her words, "Thailand is the most beautiful country in the world - the people are gentle and graceful." She loves to visit and is constantly amazed at the growth and development of the country. The Sun family moved to Taiwan where her father was the government spokesperson for Chiang Kai-Shek. Gloria attended high school with the Providence nuns in Tai Chung.

Once again, her family returned to San Francisco. This time her father was Consul General. Subsequently Gloria's father retired from the Diplomat service as an Ambassador.

Gloria went to Dominican in San Rafael for her undergraduate work; these 4 years were one of the benchmarks of her life. At the time, there was only one other Chinese girl in the entire college, "so I had to learn English... I loved the liberal arts and Western Civilization was new and exciting to me."

Following the example of her father, Gloria came to Stanford for graduate work. She holds a masters degree in Political Science and Economics from San Jose State University and completed a doctorate at the University of San Francisco in Education. She was a Price Economist for the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and an Internal Revenue Auditor. Gloria's passion had always been in teaching Economics, Political Science and History. Starting her teaching career at Foothill and De Anza she moved to West Valley/Mission College. One fond memory is of taking her classes to the Sunnyvale city council to see democracy in action. Gloria was also an adjunct instructor at San Jose State University and UC Santa Cruz. Last year she retired after 35 years in the classroom.

Gloria travels to China frequently introducing interesting and eclectic groups of women to her homeland. "There was so much development, that the national bird was the (building) crane," jokes Gloria. "There is a sense of energy and excitement in China's development that will change in the very near future if we don't capture the experience now."

Gloria and Peter moved to their Midtown home in 1968. All three of the Hom girls were born and raised in Palo Alto. Gloria loves the neighborhood, "We are so lucky to live in Midtown. Everything is nearby - interesting people, shops and all vital services. Midtown is constantly evolving and reflects the times."

Participation in community activities plays an important part of Gloria's life. She is experienced in fund-raising and community coalition building. She has been a member or president of various boards and associations, such as the Rotary Club, San Jose Historical Museum, Chi Am Circle, YMCA, California Teacher's Association, and the Palo Alto Woman's Club.

Her public service is extensive. Gloria has received awards for her service from many organizations, including the California State University Board of Trustees, California Board of Education, U.S. Department of Education the White House Conference on Libraries and Information Service, the Sallie Mae Board and the California and Santa Clara County Republican Party. She currently holds membership on the Selective Service Board of Governors. Governor Schwarzenegger appointed her to the State Teachers' Retirement System, Board of Directors where she retired this year.

ELLEN AND TOM WYMAN story by Annette Ashton

Tom came to Palo Alto in '36 from a mining and moonshine hill mining camp in Tennessee. Their house was the only one around that had indoor plumbing so that when friends came to visit a trip to the bathroom was the first order of priority. After his father died, his mother felt that California would be a great place to bring up two "wild Indians', since she had once spent a winter here. After a brief stay at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, they came to Palo Alto. His mother - Dorothy Wyman was very popular in local theatre playing character parts - but that's another story.

Tom went to grade school at Walter Hays and was in the first class that graduated from Jordan. He reminisces about the days when Midtown was just a mud field - not pretty but great to fly model airplanes. The Mayfield theatre was packed on Saturday afternoons, where you could see a cowboy movie, a short, the news, a cartoon, and a serial - all for 10 cents!

Photo by Sharon Fox

From Palo Alto High, most of his classmates went right into the military. Tom had just turned 16 and went on to San Jose State. After 2 years, Tom joined the U.S. Navy and toured the Pacific on the Lexington. While at sea, his mother filled out the forms for Tom to attend Stanford, which he did in the fall of '46, majoring in mining engineering and geology. After working in a couple of mines, he decided that wasn't a great career; so he joined Chevron, retiring after 42 years. In Taft, Tom lived in a bunkhouse with the guys, and ate at the cookhouse. Life there was so "good" that some of old timers retired and lived in the bunkhouse.

Ellen got her start in Illinois, and majored in liberal arts at the University of Illinois. Next, she moved to Chicago to work in opinion research. She came out to California to visit her college roommate, who married a man who worked in the oil fields with Tom. After they married, they lived in Bakersfield. Ellen taught business at the junior college and ran the placement bureau. She kept one step ahead of her students, since she never had taken a business course. She remembers the long weekend when she learned the international monetary fund.

Tom and Ellen enjoyed long weekends camping, sailing and enjoying many outdoor activities. After 5 years, they moved to Alaska in '58/9 just after Alaska had become a state; they voted in the first election! Ellen taught high school English and History. Ellen's business background and education dazzled the local folks; she was recruited to join the League of Woman Voters (LWV). Fascinating times - the League worked on such issues as how to organize Alaska into counties or bureaus.

After almost 2 years, they moved to San Francisco to a marina apartment with a stunning view of the Golden Gate. The issue that got Ellen involved again with the LWV was a non-partisan voters guide that was lauded by the Christian Science Monitor (the WSJ of the day.) Ellen took it on herself to distribute tens of thousands of copies. Her method was to go to the largest SF companies (Crown Zellerback, March McLennan Insurance) demanded to talk with the CEO, and then convinced him to distribute these pamphlets to his employees. It did not occur to Ellen that this was unusual; she says it shows that one person can do a lot if they want to.

Ellen and Tom moved back to Palo Alto in '64 to raise their children, a son and a daughter. The time was right after the Oregon Expressway decision and just before the council recall. They co-managed Byron Sher's campaign for re-election. In those days, there were slates of candidates; a big force was ABC (Association for a Balanced Community). Ellen was very active, training ABC precinct workers 3-4 nights a week at her home, and using skills from her market opinion research training. In those days, precinct walkers knocked on doors and talked passionately about issues. For city council elections, ABC interviewed candidates and asked tough questions before endorsement. After this grilling, the precinct workers were fired up about their candidates and were very convincing when they knocked on doors.

The next big issue in Palo Alto was when the Palo Alto Medical Clinic (PAMC) wanted to build a downtown hospital. People were stunned when they realized the height planned was 18 stories in an area of one story homes. Tom designed a set of wooden blocks, used by precinct walkers, which dramatically demonstrated the relative heights of the proposed hospital, city hall, and the one story homes. When a physician complained to Tom that the blocks were not accurate, Tom said "you may be a great doctor, but a bad engineer" since he had designed them using the building's architectural plans. Ellen was the precinct chair and covered the town with flyers, including a last minute one to refute incorrect information from PAMC. Years later, Dr Jamplis (PAMC CEO) told Ellen that in hindsight, it was better that the hospital was not built.

It was an era of activism; there were no computers or TVs. Most women remained at home with their children. People were concerned about how the town would develop and about the future for their kids. Constantly issues were coming up and the town was growing. The LWV was very strong in those days. Ellen was again on the board. When there was discussion of moving the Carnegie library (on the current city hall site), the League urged the city to establish two libraries - one at the current location of Main athe other south of Oregon. The city manager wanted his own analysis; his blue ribbon committee's plan was a carbon copy of the League's.

In the late 80s, citizens were concerned about the growth and development in Palo Alto. Ellen was part of a group that petitioned the City Council and the Planning & Transportation Commission to place a percent limit of growth downtown. The City took steps to adopt a policy and place a development cap in the inner core of downtown. This cap is still in effect.

As a change of pace, Ellen joined the Friends of the Palo Alto Library (FOPAL) and served as President. Many years later Tom and Ellen discovered that Tom's mother was involved in forming the FOPAL and was the membership chair. Tom and Ellen both got involved with the FOPAL book sales. When they started the book sale was making about $1000-1200/ month; when they left it was up to $10,000 a month! It was so satisfying doing this work that benefited the community in many ways - a place to drop off books, less books sent to the landfill, money raised for libraries. Tom wrote the "Palo Alto and Its Libraries, a Long Time Love Affair" in 1999. Also in that year, Ellen was influential in establishing a Library Advisory Commission, and Tom became its first Chair. Their first step was to write a "New Library Plan" which was adopted by the council and recommended two resource libraries in addition to branch libraries. This led to a bond measure that failed; Ellen feels it was due to the desire to build in dedicated parkland and an imposing size.

Looking to the future of libraries, Tom would love to see an improved Mitchell Park Library. His vision is for Palo Altans to come together, take $1.5 million slated for repairs and float a small bond issue of $7.5 - 10 million "to give the residents the library they expect and deserve." Ellen replies that Palo Alto has grown up with several libraries; it is a part of the fabric of our community. One full service library is not there. Residents are happy with convenience in neighborhood libraries. Tom is very active in writing about famous folks (stay tuned for a byline in this news from Tom) for the Stanford Historical Society, He is involved in the Palo Alto Historical Society (president for 3 years) and is on the Board of Directors of the Palo Alto History Museum (working to make the museum a reality.)

Tom and Ellen both share a love of California "Arts and Craft" ceramic tile from 1910-35. Their home is adorned with examples of tile. They collect, use, and frame tiles in a passive way. In 2001, Tom and Ellen were awarded the City of Palo Alto Community Star Award. Most recently, Tom and Ellen were honored with the Avenidas Lifetime of Achievement Award for their many years of community service.

CELEBRATION (Who knows it might be the middle of October or early November)

Your Comments on the August 11 MRA General Meeting
At the meeting, we covered developments being planned that impact Midtown, including Greer Park, Alma Plaza, auto dealerships at the MSC, Classic Communities housing at Loma Verde & West Bayshore, Trumark housing on East Meadow Circle, and 195 Park Avenue (across Alma). Some of your feedback:
  • Tennis would be an ideal use for the site and it does not entail changing the master plan. Having lights for night play would have little impact on the neighborhood!
  • A gym for a high school 3 miles away?! It doesn't make any sense for our neighborhood or for the kids at the school.
  • Please stay with the Master Plan.
  • A picnic area for groups - 3-4 tables together for parties plus more landscape also.
  • What alternatives does the city have to replace the tax revenue generated by the auto dealers?
  • Palo Alto's layout is not conducive to large-footprint businesses. Unless we want to start wielding eminent domain like a wrecking ball, we need to find solutions using the small-footprint spaces we already have.
  • Will auto row be a viable business in 5 or 10 years? Why not work to develop more taxes from our corporate headquarters-Varian, HP, etc.?
  • If we lose Alma Plaza as neighborhood-serving, will Edgewood be the next to go?
  • What can the city do to incentivize businesses to come here?
  • It's zoned for neighborhood center. Keep it that way!
  • Grocery store, coffee shop and retail; dense housing would add burden.
  • Should have park space for kids, better street access.
  • Please consider plants, instead of concrete, for your sound wall. Appropriate planting can dissipate sound and offer other benefits.
  • It appears Loma Verde is the main throughway to the project. Loma Verde is already a very busy street. A speedway between Ross and the Bayshore.
  • We didn't see any visualization of the type of buildings.
For more comments, visit the MRA website (www.midtownresidents.org). You can also discuss the issues with your neighbors on the listserv http://groups.yahoo.com/group/PaloAltoMidtown.

Get the Latest Midtown News By E-mail or Let Us Know if Your Email Has Changed
To receive enews updates about events of importance to Midtown, just send your email address, name and phone to MidtownNews@att.net. If your email has changed send your new address to our editor at MidtownNews@ATT.net. You can also share your thoughts on our listserv at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/PaloAltoMidtown. As a member of the group you can easily send messages to the group by emailing PaloAltoMidtown@yahoogroups.com.

Support MRA
Midtown Residents Association is staffed by volunteers, and we do a lot with a little. But we need a little money from time to time to put out mailings, fliers, support our web site etc. Our regular dues are only $10/year. If you're not a current supporting member, please become one. If you already have your annual support in, we thank you; if you want to donate a little extra, that would be very much appreciated.

How to Renew
Please note the date on your label on this hard copy newsletter is the date you last paid or sent a check. To join or renew online: go to our web site www.MidtownResidents.org and click the left icon "Become a Member". If by check: please make your check out to MRA, and send to our treasurer, Sylvia Gartner, at 824 Moreno, Palo Alto, 94303.

  Jose Arzate
Ken Blanchard
Barbara Childs
Ben Griebe
Norm Gussin
Katherine Lose
Andrew & Carol Mellows

What's Happening in Midtown?
  • September 15 - Zoning 101, 7:00 PM Speaker Steve Emslie, Director of Planning & Community Environment, Friends Meeting Hall, 957 Colorado
  • September 29 - Palo Alto Neighborhoods Forum on "Costs to Palo Alto of the Housing Boom" 7:00 PM at Mitchell Park Community Center
  • October 20 - NOTE DATE CHANGE

  • MRA Co-Sponsors South Palo Alto City Council Candidate Forum at Mitchell Park Community Center
  • October 23 - Seventh Annual "Issues in the Park" Social
    Hoover Park, 2901 Cowper - 1 PM till 4 PM
  • Celebration & Unveiling of the Greg Brown Mural - Watch for News
  • November 8 - PLEASE VOTE
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