Palo Alto Tall Tree honorees announced

Awards recognize citizens, organizations for community work

Palo Alto's 2012 Tall Tree awards will recognize Alison Cormack, John Barton, Whole Foods Market and the Foundation for a College Education in April.

The awards, which are co-sponsored by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and the Palo Alto Weekly, honor community service and outstanding civic contributions in four categories: citizen volunteer, professional business person, business and nonprofit organization.

The outstanding citizen award recognizes Cormack's successful leadership of the $76 million library bond measure campaign in 2008 and the current, nearly completed effort to raise $4 million in private funds to furnish the city's new and renovated libraries.

Cormack and other library supporters achieved a near-miracle by passing the bond measure with a 69.5 percent margin in spite of the global economic collapse just weeks before the November election.

When the new Mitchell Park library opens later this year, it will be the first major new civic building constructed in Palo Alto in decades.

The Palo Alto Library Foundation announced in December that it had raised $3.6 million in donations for furnishings -- 90 percent of its goal. The funds will be used to provide furniture, new computers and other technology, and thousands of new books and electronic materials at Mitchell Park, the renovated Main Library and the recently renovated Downtown Library.

Barton is being honored with the Tall Tree for outstanding professional due to his extensive contributions to the community as an architect and business person.

He is director of Stanford University's Architectural Design Program and operates his own architectural firm.

He was a founder of the Community Working Group, the organization that proposed and built the Opportunity Center, which provides services to the homeless and people in transition and subsidized housing for individuals and families. He was instrumental in the approval of the 49-unit very-low-income housing development now under construction at Alma Street and Homer Avenue.

Barton served on the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education from 1997 to 2005, the Palo Alto City Council from 2006 to 2010, was president of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and participated in numerous community commissions and working groups.

Whole Foods Market won the Tall Tree Award for outstanding business for providing downtown Palo Alto with a vibrant market at a time when other markets had closed and for its extensive support of community events and activities.

Its community programs include Nickels for Nonprofits, which raises around $9,600 each year, and Community 5 Percent Days, during which 5 percent of the day's net sales go to nonprofits, raising around $24,000 each year. Whole Foods has been a strong supporter of the Downtown Streets Team, a nonprofit organization devoted to assisting the homeless that itself was awarded a Tall Tree in 2010, and helps many nonprofits by donating catering for events.

Nonprofit honoree Foundation for a College Education helps East Palo Alto-area students of color from high school through college with tutoring and other support. It works with the students and their parents to identify colleges that would be a good fit, prepare for major events such as the SAT, navigate the application process, attain financial aid and scholarships, and keep on track to graduate. Many of the students in the program attend Palo Alto high schools as part of the Voluntary Transfer Program.

Of the 122 students who have graduated from Foundation for a College Education's high school program since 1999, 89 percent have graduated from college or are on track to graduate. East Palo Alto Mayor Laura Martinez, who went to Whittier College, is a graduate of the foundation's program.

Foundation for a College Education issued a press release Friday about the award.

— Eric Van Susteren

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Like this comment
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Great news about Alison Cormack. She did an amazing job getting a new library for our neighborhood. I am excitedly awaiting its opening.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Sorry, but I disagree about Alison.

Sure she got a yes vote on the library bond, but I would have respected her much more if she had first taken the time to discover if people really wanted 5 libraries updated or would rather have just one library (plus Childrens). She never found that out and just followed through with her own idea of status quo updating.

Most of the people she conned into voting yes just wanted a better Mitchell Park library and it was the only way to vote for that one to be updated.

Like this comment
Posted by Diane Jennings
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2012 at 1:29 am

Dear "Resident" - It's unfortunate that you give Alison less credit than she deserves because she didn't need to "discover if people really wanted 5 libraries updated." That was the conclusion of the City Council after many years of reports, studies, focus groups, community meetings, opinion polls, and discussions by Library Advisory Commissions and City Councils.

As the Library Director when the 2008 library bond measure passed and a 24 year employee of the Library and resident of Palo Alto, I can tell you that several proposals over the years to reduce the number of libraries never received enough support for the Council to direct such a change.

Alison came on the scene after the Council decided the "discovery" period was over and it was time to move forward by spending capital funds to renovate Children's and College Terrace and asking the voters if they wanted to fund major improvements for Mitchell Park, Main, and Downtown libraries.

While you may not agree with the Council's decision, you should thank Alison and all the many other volunteers and generous donors who have made the new Mitchell Park facility and other library improvements a reality.

Congratulations to Alison for this Tall Tree award!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2012 at 8:53 am


I agree with you that she worked hard on the library and I won't disagree on the effort she put in.

If what you say about it being a done deal before she got involved then I wonder why she didn't mention it at a meeting I attended and asked about the choice. I, and others, were just told how wonderful it was going to be for our children to have all these great updated libraries all over town to walk to. My question was just glossed over, making me feel like a child asking the question "why?"

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2012 at 9:13 am

Sorry, I shouldn't be sounding so negative. I just felt I was hitting my head against a wall when I tried to speak up against the library bond.

Well done Alison.

Like this comment
Posted by Not impressed
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Alison is very very politically sophisticated. You cannot get a straight answer from her if there is a hint of questioning in your question. She is the darling of the monied interests in town, like Larry Klein and of course the Chamber of Commerce which is giving this award.
And giving an award to John Barton is truly ludicrous. He has made so many millions off of this town, not to mention that his wife is a developer who built the market rate Altaire development on Fabian Way, near the JCC but not connected to it.

Like this comment
Posted by paloaltotreewatch
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Feb 19, 2012 at 6:46 am

The ironic element of the Tall Tree Award for Alison Cormack is that 73 trees were removed at Mitchell Park library. It would have been one thing if the text of the library bond measured indicated the breadth and depth of the tree removal at Mitchell Park it did not. Was this mere oversight or intentional I do not know. So in fact as you accept your Tall Tree award remember that it really is a Low/Fallen Tree award for you.

I voted for the bond measure because I believe in our library system in its current configuration. Had i known how little caring there would be for natures wonders I would have worked to send it back to the drawing board.

I am extremely disappointed in all of the city's development program wrt to the preservation of existing trees. A building/road takes two years to build - a mature tree 50 years. Do the math what is really worth protecting.

Like this comment
Posted by Catherine Crystal Foster
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2012 at 10:35 am

Alison is the kind of person who makes me proud to live in this city, and whose hard work, selflessness, and vision benefits every one of us. Her insistence on focusing on the future rather than re-litigating the past is getting us a modern library and community center that will serve Palo Alto residents well for years to come. Alison, kudos to you! Enjoy this well-deserved accolade.

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