Old Palo Alto neighborhood resident Nadia Naik never saw herself as a community activist. But when the issue of high-speed rail emerged -- potentially affecting her Old Palo Alto neighborhood -- she wanted to get involved.
Naik attended a neighborhood meeting in the Southgate neighborhood, just across the Caltrain tracks to the west, at a friend's invitation. She soon realized there was something important missing in her own neck of the woods, she said.
"People asked me, 'Don't you have a neighborhood association?'" she recalled.
Naik and fellow resident Camelia Sutorius are now starting that neighborhood association to make connections with their neighbors, they said.
The Old Palo Alto Neighborhood Association, with the mellifluous acronym OPANA, encompasses the area bordered by Embarcadero Road, Oregon Expressway, Alma Street and Middlefield Road.
Naik, her husband and two young daughters moved to Palo Alto five years ago from Boston, Mass. Her daughters attend Walter Hays Elementary School.
Sutorius grew up in a tiny town on Grosse Ile, an island in Michigan where everyone knew each other, she said. She is a former school nurse.
"Every kid should know if their parents aren't home they can feel safe. They should know who they can go to," she said.
She is married to Scott Sutorius, son of the late former Palo Alto Mayor Jack Sutorius. The couple has four grown sons.
The Sutoriuses returned to Palo Alto after working as nurses in Shaker Heights, Ohio, for 25 years. They returned to help Scott's mother, Marilyn, who wanted to "age in place" in her Palo Alto home, Sutorius said.
Sutorius is working to organize her neighborhood's block-preparedness coordinator program.
Naik and Sutorius sat down last week to talk about what they hope to achieve with the new association for their 72-block neighborhood.
Weekly: What motivated you to start the Old Palo Alto Neighborhood Association?
Naik: I really think we're going to be here a long time. I want to sprout roots in my community.
Weekly: What do you envision?
Naik: First, I want people to get to know their neighbors. There are so many things an organization like a neighborhood association can do. Having worked closely with the city, I've found that ... people pay their taxes and have no idea about the incredible resources there. I've learned that things work if you get engaged.
Sutorius: I grew up in a community where I knew everyone. That was my norm. At our home in Michigan, we hosted a block party for 10 years in our back yard where 400 people showed up. Everyone felt they belonged.
Weekly: What are some neighborhood issues that the association could help with?
Naik: There is a concern about crime. ... You can't have a discussion with your neighbors if you don't know who they are. It's difficult if you can't start with the basics.
Sutorius: Yes, as an example, a neighbor was afraid to bother her neighbors, but she thought there was drug activity going on at a home. She talked to her neighbors and found out that's what was going on. They called the police, and the neighbors called the landlord.
Weekly: What are some surprising things about your neighborhood?
Sutorius: To see how much has changed. All of the big houses. There are big changes in the 25 years since we were here.
Naik: The celebrity neighbors we have. We didn't know how many amazing and interesting people live in our neighborhood. They are quiet and unassuming ... but you can go for a walk and you'll spot the same guy out there picking the gum off his shoe.
Sutorius: That in such an old and established neighborhood that people don't know each other better.
Naik: I know more people randomly than I know in my neighborhood.
Weekly: How many people have joined the (OPANA) e-mail list so far?
Naik: We have 145 members. Not bad for zero advertising.
Weekly: Have you always been an activist?
Naik: No. High-speed rail brought out the accidental activist in me.
Sutorius: I've always been an activist of a different sort. I've primarily focused my energies on the health realm. I've done a lot of teaching in the community.
Weekly: How have you been influenced to be a leader?
Sutorius: It started with my parents. I was the fourth of five children with three older brothers. I had to be a leader.
Naik: We have a sort of an inner core of people who keep volunteering for things. I think I've been inspired by them.
Weekly: Next steps?
Naik: We're having our first general meeting and social on March 30 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church, 305 N. California Ave. (cross street Bryant). This is a great chance to reunite with friends and meet new neighbors. We'll have light refreshments and some surprise "celebrity" visitors.
Sutorius: I hope we can have a simple-style block party. We're suggesting May 22.
Weekly: How can people join the Old Palo Alto Neighborhood Association?
Naik: They can go to roups.google.com/group/opana_news.