Getting to know each other after 30 years
The neighborhood of Monroe Park starts to organize -- and party
Something unusual happened in Monroe Park last Sunday.
Residents of the small South Palo Alto neighborhood -- which straddles Palo Alto and Mountain View south of Adobe Creek -- got together on Miller Avenue to mingle, eat, listen to music and play in the sunshine.
For any other neighborhood in the city, this might have been a yearly occurrence. But for Monroe Park, it was the first block party in 30 years.
"We think it's really cool," said a freckled Meg Enthoven, 9, as she played with a bright balloon in the park with two friends, tow-headed sisters Astrid Jouret, 9, and Estelle, 11.
It's no mystery why the Monroe Park neighborhood suddenly decided to throw a block party. In the past few months, school and land-use issues facing the sleepy neighborhood have galvanized the residents.
Many of the block party's 100 attendees -- including families with young children, and seniors who have lived there since the 1950s -- readily credited a threat to add more traffic to their area and another to bump kids out of their nearby elementary schools for sparking the creation of a Monroe Park Neighborhood Association in February.
Six-year resident Harry Chang, who organized the block party, called Monroe Park's newfound cohesiveness a "silver lining" following fear and uncertainty.
"We walk down the street, and we're beginning to recognize each other," he said.
One issue is the current discussion by the Los Altos School District -- where Monroe Park children attend school -- to shift attendance boundaries. Early proposals suggested moving Palo Alto children away from the nearby Santa Rita Elementary to help fill other district schools farther away.
However, it is looking possible that Monroe Park children will not have to move after all, said Charlene Chang, Harry's wife.
"We're staying in Santa Rita (Elementary) for now," she said.
The second issue, expected to change the face of Monroe Park, is the recent sale of the Palo Alto Bowl and Motel 6 properties on El Camino Real and Monroe Drive to San Jose developer Barry Swenson Builder.
Barry Swenson plans to begin construction on a hotel and housing on the 3.5 acres of land in a year and a half, neighbors said.
On Sunday, Monroe Park residents' worries about new development were replaced by optimism.
"I think it's going to be an improvement," said Knud Jensen, who has lived in Monroe Park since the early 1950s.
"I wish they could get it out there sooner. It puts in a little class," added John Avila, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1968.
Several neighbors were glad to hear preliminary plans from Barry Swenson Builder to create a bike route from Monroe Drive to nearby Cesano Court to provide kids a safe way of crossing El Camino Real to get to school in Los Altos. At Cesano and El Camino, there is a traffic light.
"It'll be nice and safe and well-lit," Monroe Park resident Randy Popp said.
Currently, for Monroe Park residents who want to cross El Camino on foot or on bike, "it's dangerous no matter what way you do it," said Sue Diederichsen, who is secretary of the new neighborhood association.
Neighborhood Association President Linnea Wickstrom added that she plans to meet soon with city planning staff to talk about how to discourage cars from speeding through the neighborhood to get to El Camino.
For three hours on Sunday, adults gathered on Miller Avenue to bring each other up to speed on neighborhood news while small children played near the swings in Monroe Park and picked flowers from the grass.
"This is nice. We didn't realize how many children were in the neighborhood," Deolinda Avila, John's wife, said.
The event was also a chance for more neighbors to add their names to the newly formed neighborhood association's e-mail list, which Wickstrom said has been heavily used.
The block party also served as a reminder that Monroe Park is not just a Palo Alto neighborhood but a Mountain View one, too.
Neighborhood emergency preparedness representatives from Palo Alto's PANDA (Palo Alto Neighborhood Disaster Activities) and Mountain View's CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) programs set up booths.
They consider the neighborhood's borders to be San Antonio Road, El Camino Real, the Caltrain tracks and Adobe Creek.
"If we have an emergency, it's going to be together," said John Reinhardt, Monroe Park's PANDA representative and resident since 1961.
An hour into the event, Chang took the microphone to tell his neighbors that the last time Monroe Park had gathered for a block party was in 1975.
"Let's not make it the last," he said.
He said he thought the momentum from the school and redevelopment issues was just the start of a unified Monroe Park.
"We have enough of a critical mass that this neighborhood association will continue," he said.
"Just as 30 years ago they had a tradition, we're starting a new one."
Staff Writer Molly Tanenbaum can be e-mailed at email@example.com.