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Palo Alto looks far beyond City Hall for vision guidance

Original post made on May 6, 2014

Few Palo Alto residents have the time and appetite to come to City Hall for discussions of the future, unless that future includes new buildings going up on their blocks, lanes being reduced on their streets or parking spaces disappearing in their neighborhoods. On Monday, the City Council approved a plan that would, in a sense, bring City Hall to the residents.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 12:41 AM

Comments (37)

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2014 at 7:09 am

Council & city staff have not been following the current Comp Plan, and have been approving higher density variances despite many who went to city council meetings to give their feedback (examples: Lytton Gateway, Maybell Orchard development). Here's an idea - start engaging with all those who gave their feedback on those projects yet you voted for the higher density anyway - after all people with these views did win the last election (Measure D) to stop the city council's latest approval of a high density project along a safe schools route.

Instead, they want to engage "... ethnic minorities, renters and residents between 20 and 40 years old." Kind of sounds like voter outreach to me in an election year. And present propaganda like at the last panel discussion about how Palo Alto is comparing badly to Austin or Seattle in housing prices (even though those are big cities with 10 times the population and square miles of space).

And look - a miracle in an election year - the Mitchell Park library will open in November, 2014!

I think we should have an election every year on the city council, and maybe we'd get more responsiveness and results.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 7:56 am

All this concern about density and neighborhoods will last until the election. The next day it's back to developer handouts as usual.


Posted by Local citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 8:15 am

I agree, Common Sense. Councilmembers are just furthering their conceit from the Maybell debates that they just need to reach out harder to find the ones who agree with them, but they'll ignore those who dusagree just the same. And that if they make a pretend effort, like the supposed "summit" with Maybell "representatives", they can claim they tried when they roll out their new Comp Pan that screws us to the wall.

Gennady, please stop writing that residents rejected a housing development. The ordinance was to allow a rezoning. Both in fact and in spirit, Residents rejected neighbrhood high density rezoning, not a housing development. The City Attorney's illegal bias in the ballot made it about the housing development, advocates' my way or the highway stance made it about the housing development, but the paper making it so only unnecessarily furthers the damage of one sde's political strategy. Language s important. Residents called for a working group and would have worked out the housng, as has been done in the same neighbrhood by the same residents. Please be accurate and impartial, or you further hurtful bias that could negatively influence future efforts.


Posted by Local citizen, a resident of Green Acres
on May 6, 2014 at 8:43 am

I think our Council spends way too much time enabling density, density, density, and far too little time dealing with important civic responsibilities like SAFETY and traffic circulation.

In fact, safety and traffic circulation are state mandated elements of the comp plan. They can be rolled into other elements (quick, let's play Find the safety provisions with a microscope!), and this worked when Palo Alto was a sleepy little university town, but it's wholly inadequate anymore. Can you magine anyone even dreaming of putting more high density on the already so congested Arastradero corridor? Our Council is thinking of putting more of that in the comp plan, because such moves woud otherwise be totally incnsistent with the comp plan.

Palo Altans: it's time we demanded the Comp Plan contain separate Safety and Traffic Circulation Elements that deal specifically with those state mandated, essental issues. At the very least, doing so will focus the City Council n those as the civic priorities they are. The bonus density rules can only be applied if consistency with the comp plan are maintained, and can be rejected for safety reasons, but lacking any standards or guidelines, City Council simply ignores that. The safety issues at maybell are really what drove the effort for most people, but they were disparaged and dsmissed, even though the City has a policy of "heightened scrutiny" of developments on school commute routes. Despite repeated calls, no analysis of the impacts to the bikes and pedestrians was ever done. At least adequately addressing safety could have saved a lot of arguing on both sides. A safety element should not only spell out the responsibilities, like in the majority of charter cities in CA - following ours, at least in regards to safety and traffic circulation, should be mandatory.

Please tell the Council to make separate Safety, and Traffic Crculation Elements in our Comprehensive Plan.
City.council@cityofpaloalto.org

Also, they can't seriously think this pathetic round of meetings with 20 people at a time is real outreach. Make it possible for all of Palo Alto to beinformed and involved in a new way, both before an issue is discussed, and in city hall meetings! It should be possible for citizens to participate remotely (with CityHall AND school board) Hackers: how about some civic hacking for Palo Alto?

Watch this TED talk why good hackers make good citzens Web Link

And lets form a hack for Palo Alto brigade, and make it REALLY possible for everyone in town to participate!
Brigade.codeforamerica.org


Posted by Local citizen, a resident of Green Acres
on May 6, 2014 at 8:54 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by Local citizen, a resident of Green Acres
on May 6, 2014 at 8:58 am

Sorry, last point. Are any of these meetings actually going to get out into Palo Alto, possibly (shudder) South of Oregon, or are they all going to continue to be basically spitting distance from City Hall and within the sphere of their echo chamberr?


Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2014 at 9:17 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Local citizen, a resident of Green Acres

Would the Elks Club on El Camino just down the street from your neighborhood qualify? The article didn't mention that there was a second session on the housing element at this south of Oregon location a few days after the Lucie Stern Center meeting. I attended both. One thing that struck me about the Elks Club session was how few Barron Park and Green Acres residents showed up. Any hypotheses about why locals largely passed up this opportunity to have their voices heard on this important topic?


Posted by Cubberley area, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 6, 2014 at 9:43 am

Regarding meeting attendance, very short notice is a major reason for low attendance. A scheduling trend has been near around busy holiday dates/weekends. In a few cases, so much of the decision making was made prior to the public meetings.


Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2014 at 9:57 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

The city has begun a community outreach program to make the public aware of the bicycle boulevard program and furnish information regarding project activities.

Meetings of particular interest to Barron Park/Green Acres:

May 15: Charleston Rd–Arastradero Rd Corridor Project, Cubberley Community Center-Rm M2, 6:30-8:00 pm
May 20: Same project as above, Elks Lodge-Palo Alto Room, 6:30-8:00 pm
June 19: Barron Park Neighborhood projects (Maybell Bicycle Blvd., Barron Park Bike Routes), Barron Park School- ..............Multi-purpose Room, 6:30-8:00 pm


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2014 at 11:38 am

"The city should determine in the Comprehensive Plan whether a developer should really be entitled to the "maximum" density even if the new project isn't consistent with the principles of the vision document, Burt said."

No sweat. Merely amend the Comprehensive Plan to make it compatible with the project, as is currently done for PCs etc.

Look, there's no point in citizens spending time and energy creating a document which is just for show.


Posted by Local citizen, a resident of Green Acres
on May 6, 2014 at 11:41 am

I don't know Jerry Underdal, I never got notice of any meetings at Elk's club, could be because I have a life, although I really don't remember even thinking, as with the bike boulevard meetings, that I had conflicts, I just never got notice.

This is supposed to be a technically advanced place -- perhaps it's time to try to invite tools that allow for much more inclusive engagement that City Council can't later mischaracterize. You have been such a bully in the neighborhood over the Measure D rezoning, that might also explain some of the lack of physical attendance by your neighbors.

The bike boulevard meetings have all taken place when I have personally had significant conflicts. Not sure it matters, as when I have bothered to attend, I'm told they can't incorporate likely development impacts or any of the significant work done by residents and the City in the last recent round of safety upgrades on that corridor.

We're overdue to just have a separate Safety Element in the comp plan, and begin to deal with safety in the context of everything going on in this town, including traffic circulation and development.


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 6, 2014 at 11:53 am

Obviously it would take too much common sense for the City Council to come HERE for our comments and discussions. I know because I've invited them here several times -- as have others.


Posted by To Local Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 12:35 pm

To Local Citizen,

It is evident that you have read neither the city's Comp Plan nor its charter in entirety. If you had, you'd know that safety and traffic are very well covered. Whether or not you agree with how these policies and goals are implemented is another matter.

Further, the Bike-Alongs have been well advertised in the Weekly. I saw them there. I "have a life", too, but I do try to make point of regularly reading the local news.



Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Local citizen, a resident of Green Acres

I read about the meetings in the Palo Alto Weekly, which is really quite informative. The city has been pushing this idea of Our Palo Alto quite hard to get more community input into the Comprehensive Plan.

I'm disappointed by the tepid engagement so far from Green Acres and Barron Park which, as you know, has a lot of concerns about city policy and practices.

Maybell Action Group, the founding branch of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning has a particular interest in Arastradero Road, which I believe to be the true genesis of the Maybell Revolt. Unlike some, I take seriously the importance of issues of traffic safety and survival of the orchard in motivating your campaign.

I hope PASZ will participate in the Our Palo Alto process. I'm uneasy with the notion that new voices will be listened to <instead of>. I think it should be <in addition to>. Good luck to us all as we work for a Palo Alto we can continue to be proud of.


Posted by Jairoskop, a resident of Professorville
on May 6, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Palo Alto looks far beyond City Hall for vision guidance? Shouldn't they be looking to the voters instead?

"Few Palo Alto residents have the time and appetite to come to City Hall for discussions of the future..."

Never mind. Democracy does not work when the electorate is too lazy to participate, or even think before they vote. Palo Altans have the wasteful government they deserve. Of course, it is easy to shrug our shoulders when elected officials can't even get new libraries built, and waste large sums of tax money in the process. Not to mention the huge overspending on the new (yet initially semi-functional) city website a few years back. And whose fault is that? Ours for letting it happen over and over again.


Posted by Debbie, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Anyone thinking of serving on a special advisory committee for the city council.....beware!
I was once on a special citizen committee to draft a report to the city council about a particularly contentious issue at the time. Our committee consisted of about 8 intelligent, involved PA citizens. We worked hard on our written report for the city council. After all our work, the city council never even asked for our report, and never even asked to talk to us about our findings. Without advance notice, the council made a decision on the matter without letting us know they were about to make a decision on the issue. It was outrageous. Citizen advisors will be "used," just so that the council will look like they really care about community input.


Posted by Kookaroo, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 6, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Whatever happened to listening to what the residents want? That is what they were elected to do.


Posted by Jake, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2014 at 3:09 pm

The current city council, along with the Architectural Review Board, is allowing the livability of Palo Alto to be destroyed. This council needs to exposed for what they are. Incompetent, clueless, politicians, who are in the pockets of developers. Mayor Sheppard makes me cringe. She is an embarrassment. She has no business being the mayor of Palo Alto.


Posted by Eric F, a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2014 at 4:02 pm

I suspect this council isn't sure exactly what to do, and that may be part of the reason they seem to shift quickly on some of these issues. Last night we heard a lot about density and quality-of-life; yet six months ago we were hearing about resident "bullying." In three hours last night, I don't think I heard the word "vibrant" even once. Yet according to the Development Cap Study, half of all the Downtown commercial area increase over the last 20 years occurred after 2010, ie during this council's tenure.

I think one factor is that much of the rest of City Hall, the PTC and ARB etc, has become extremely strongly pro-growth and pro-density. There's a considerable gulf between that vision and that of a majority of Palo Alto residents. I think some on council must be struggling to reconcile these things, since both visions will not easily fit into one Comp Plan.

In any case, it's good to hear more of the council than just Holman and Schmid talking about density and livability. The next four years are likely to determine a lot of Palo Alto's character for decades to come, and the council should be all over this.


Posted by Jairoskop, a resident of Professorville
on May 6, 2014 at 4:11 pm

@Kookaroo, our elected officials should listen to what the residents want. When they do not, then the residents need to pick up the figurative ruler and whack them across the knuckles.

@Jake, architects often volunteer to serve on the Architecural Review Board so that they can get their projects more easily approved. Those who do not serve on the Board can have a much more difficult time getting the same approvals and variances. One manifestation of this is the increasing number of teardowns. Beautiful older homes are levelled and replaced with no-yard duplexes that extend nearly to the property boundaries. Such changes can be quite detrimental. One example is Naglee Park in San Jose, once one of the best neighborhoods in that city. Thanks to teardowns that replaced single-family dwellings with aparment complexes, it became one of the worst slums in the South Bay. The changes were initially very profitable, however, but very shortsighted and ill-advised.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 6, 2014 at 4:42 pm

@ Jairoskop: An excpetion to your ARB theory is that the ARB has no jurisdiction over R-1 projects.


Posted by resident2, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Common Sense is right. What we are seeing is a long drawn out political response to a political crisis. What we need now is an action oriented substantive response to years of uncontrolled development including downzoning and reform of the design review process. Councilman Klein said we need a "teaching" process for the community. He had it backwards- it's for the Council- but he is right, what has happened here is a textbook case of destruction of a city.



Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2014 at 6:49 pm

The Lytton Gateway was approved by the City Council in MAY 2012 - 2 years ago to the month.

Ask yourself - Has the parking situation improved in the downtown neighborhoods? or do the residents still have issues parking? Do we really need a series of outreach meetings, data gathering, review meetings, delay after delay, to fix the parking problem? Didn't a couple of blokes around downtown already provide the city with extensive data?

The city council, supported by city staff is making a show, but will not do anything; they are just trying to get by the next election. The voting records for council members Scharf and Shepard, "The BUILDING IS THE BENEFIT", is very clear cut - more density, more office space.

It remains to be seen if the phase "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me" is going to apply to the Palo Alto voters this year.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 7:30 pm

We need to get some good candidates so that we can elect a council who will act on our behalf. Unless we get good candidates, very little can be altered.


Posted by Mike, a resident of University South
on May 6, 2014 at 7:39 pm

@Debbie

It probably wasn't really the City Council who dissed you and your fellow civic minded citizens -- it was city staff. You and the other civic minded citizens came up with the wrong answer, else you had done your job: provide the window dressing.

I've been there. Never again.

The issue is that our City Council members are too occupied primping and preening on the dais to perform their main duty: direct staff and make sure that Council directives, such as they are, are carried out.

In Palo Alto, Council does not direct staff, staff directs Council.


Posted by this year, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 6, 2014 at 8:35 pm

The decisions on what moves forward in the updated general plan will be made by December 2014, by the sitting city council.

Then, the GP will go to environmental review and get a nice stamp on it. The plan is all Visions, Plans and Policies geared for increased development, as pointed out by council member Holman.
And tomorrow night the council will be interviewing candidates for the planning and environment commission - most are pro growth, pro development, pro glass boxes.


Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of College Terrace
on May 6, 2014 at 9:37 pm

I am excited about the vast majority of posts identifying the crux of the challenge for our beloved Palo Alto: namely, over-development. As I have noted before, I recognize I can not go back to my town of 1960. At the same time, I do not endorse a continued commercial building craze and subsequent traffic density that began in the early 1980s.

No FUTURE commercial developments (or dense housing - condos, apartments, multi-family homes) should be permitted. We will have several years as it is recovering from our current density.

Here's one plan: put together an absolute no-growth ticket followed by a mobilization group (existing groups and a newly formed group) to activate a referendum and initiative voting process until a majority no-growth council is in place. As you know, the former can overturn city council votes (Measure D example) and the latter can place no-growth policies direct to the citizens of Palo Alto. Moreover, if we had the recall vote, one could explore recalling those officials who do not sign the "No-Growth Contract Palo Alto" prior to the end of their assigned terms. I have not checked the city charter on recall vote but doubt this option exists. It's just an option if it does.

As the election begins (actually, already has began given this recent effort, in my view, to reach out to voters who they hope may agree with a pro-growth agenda), the no-growth ticket will promote the No Growth Contract Palo Alto with a petition signed by fellow voters and force the council members not up for re-election to take a public position for or against the NGCPA (No-Growth Contract Palo Alto). This will help knowing who to replace on the next election cycle or curtail future development votes, or both. We can still save what's left of Palo Alto.

Recently touring San Jose - I see ALL sorts of room for upgrades. Again, spread the wealth of Silicon Valley out to areas that need not new development, but Re-development for dilapidated commercial structures and abandoned homes. Also, there is room for far more new Silicon Valleys throughout the state of California, and throughout our nation.


Posted by resident2, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 10:00 pm

It's hard to quantify how much of the responsibility for the destruction
of Palo Alto goes to the Council, how much to the staff, how much to
the developers. It's a dynamic symbiotic relationship which just feeds
on itself, like a blob devouring the City.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2014 at 10:16 pm

Interesting guest opinion in today's Chronicle, which points out how the "new-urbanists" are making us suburbanites the bad guys:

Suburbs, not just S.F., need to address housing-jobs imbalance

"These suburbs open their doors to corporate giants but cling to regressive land-use policies that result in both an inadequate number of homes and neighborhoods that are out of synch with market demand. Whole cities of pricey single-family houses with two-car garages meet neither the needs of highly paid engineers nor underpaid workers..."

Web Link


Posted by resident, a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2014 at 11:08 pm

To Jerry Underal:

I am from BP, and like many BP residents I work fulltime ( yes its not easy to afford our homes either). In addition, I take care of a family- both senior parents and my kids...no nanny help .Wish I had time to attend, just not possible.

In addition the topic of affordablity housing was not the original topic proposed. Original topic was " housing element" community workshop.

The housing element is about all housing not just affordable housing. Having the Elk's Club meeting focused on affordable housing probably left many unmotivated to attend. The meeting at the elks club was originally called a "housing element" community workshop, but then it was changed to an affordable housing workshop.

I would have been more likely to attend the "housing element" workshop, but I was not likely to leave my job early to hear more about affordable housing.

General comment- interesting the council member is focused on committee members under age 40... seems like a poor criteria... almost discriminatory- can't even hire people based on age...


Posted by resident, a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2014 at 11:09 pm

To Jerry Underal:

I am from BP, and like many BP residents I work fulltime ( yes its not easy to afford our homes either). In addition, I take care of a family- both senior parents and my kids...no nanny help .Wish I had time to attend, just not possible.

In addition the topic of affordablity housing was not the original topic proposed. Original topic was " housing element" community workshop.

The housing element is about all housing not just affordable housing. Having the Elk's Club meeting focused on affordable housing probably left many unmotivated to attend. The meeting at the elks club was originally called a "housing element" community workshop, but then it was changed to an affordable housing workshop.

I would have been more likely to attend the "housing element" workshop, but I was not likely to leave my job early to hear more about affordable housing.

General comment- interesting the council member is focused on committee members under age 40... seems like a poor criteria... almost discriminatory- can't even hire people based on age...


Posted by resident, a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2014 at 11:09 pm

To Jerry Underal:

I am from BP, and like many BP residents I work fulltime ( yes its not easy to afford our homes either). In addition, I take care of a family- both senior parents and my kids...no nanny help .Wish I had time to attend, just not possible.

In addition the topic of affordablity housing was not the original topic proposed. Original topic was " housing element" community workshop.

The housing element is about all housing not just affordable housing. Having the Elk's Club meeting focused on affordable housing probably left many unmotivated to attend. The meeting at the elks club was originally called a "housing element" community workshop, but then it was changed to an affordable housing workshop.

I would have been more likely to attend the "housing element" workshop, but I was not likely to leave my job early to hear more about affordable housing.

General comment- interesting the council member is focused on committee members under age 40... seems like a poor criteria... almost discriminatory- can't even hire people based on age...


Posted by imbalance?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 11:40 pm

pat, midtown

"Interesting guest opinion in today's Chronicle, which points out how the "new-urbanists" are making us suburbanites the bad guys:

Suburbs, not just S.F., need to address housing-jobs imbalance

"These suburbs open their doors to corporate giants but cling to regressive land-use policies that result in both an inadequate number of homes and neighborhoods that are out of synch with market demand. Whole cities of pricey single-family houses with two-car garages meet neither the needs of highly paid engineers nor underpaid workers..."

The funniest term here is "market demand." The more appropriate term is market speculation. Or an obsession to be in a hot market.

And I wouldn't exactly say Palo Alto "opened doors to corporate giants." It's more like the giants were bred here. They are grown up now.

Inadequate number of homes? Imbalance? Only to speculators.


Posted by Local citizen, a resident of Green Acres
on May 7, 2014 at 12:02 am

@To me,
I have read the Comp Plan through more than once and onbiously undertand it more than you do. Or maybe I think a situation where the City has a policy of "heightened scrutiny" of developments on school commute routes and a repected traffic engineer says there was no safety analysis of impact to thousands of school kids on bikes and foot, and neighbors' calls to do so for months are not enough to get the City to do so - I think situations like that deserve overt attention, and safety shouldnt be dealt with in vague and general afterthoughts in a "natural environment" element.

We need a separate safety and traffic circulation element in the comp plan. Safety shouldn't take a back seat to development. Traffic circuation shoudnt take a back set to development. Residents, do you think traffic circulation and safety are being adequately prioritized in the Comp Plan? If you think NO WAY SAN JOSE! (Double meaning intended) please write city council and tell them we want a separate safety and separate traffic circulation element, and that December 2014 is too early to do this.

City.council@cityofpaloalto.org
.


Posted by Local citizen, a resident of Green Acres
on May 7, 2014 at 12:03 am

Sorry for the spelling mistakes. Onbiously I wrote this on an iZpad....


Posted by Local citizen, a resident of Green Acres
on May 7, 2014 at 12:12 am

I would like to point out that City Hall got binders full of input from people who had never before been civically active during the Maybell debates. They heard from a lot of us, too, after the election, asking for the City to either retain the property for awhile to give us residents a chance to raise the money to save the orchard, or to at least do the safety studies it should have done and place deed restrictions on it in resale. It was very clear this initative is just more window dressing as so many above posters describe.

Hack Palo Alto Democracy Now!!! If we wait for the next election, it will be too late!!! Measure D really was just a bunch of ordinary residents who got together, mostly online. We don't have to take it anymore!


Posted by For Jerry, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2014 at 11:36 am

Jerry, I suspect your assessment is incorrect. Many folks, in fact most I have spoken with and most whom I heard speak at the hearings, said they opposed the Maybell project because they objected to upzoning in a residential neighborhood on principle.

People are generally upset about how the city has been granting PCs and design enhancement exceptions that increase density of projects without regard for local impacts. This vote was an angry reaction to poorly planned UPZONING--which we have been getting a lot of in south Palo Alto over the last 15 or so years--CJL, Alma Plaza, Hyatt Rickey's (It took a SEVEN year fight to get the original proposed Hyatt project (3X the size of what was finally built)reduced to its current mammoth and ugly state. I could point to multiple other projects that amount to hundreds of new units and square feet of heavily used built space of other kinds in the last ten years.

This is what people are upset about. It would be great if the Weekly would do an article that adds up the amount of new housing and other development that has been built in this area in the last 15 years. Compare that to what the Comp Plan projected for that period. There is a stunning difference. Then look at what has been done to improve transit and other supporting public infrastructure during that period.


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