The atmosphere in the Cibo Restaurant bar was convivial and relaxed. A small group of Barron Park residents sat at a round, elegantly covered table sipping wine, beer and the occasional cup of tea.
Sunlight infused the room as the residents chatted about issues and the latest family news. Far from the formality of a community meeting, the Barron Park Association Community Happy Hour on April 21 gave the residents a chance to put their heads together about neighborhood problems and creative ideas and to infuse the conversation with new voices. The happy hour is the latest in a series of ideas meant to build community, association President Markus Fromherz said.
"Yes, we have the mailing lists, and we have (the) Nextdoor (website), but there is nothing like discussing new ideas in person," Fromherz said.
And the association is even buying everyone their first drink at the new monthly gatherings.
There's no set agenda, but everyone is invited to discuss topics relevant to the neighborhood, he said.
The early-evening event, which is scheduled for the third Tuesday of each month from 5 to 6 p.m. at Cibo on El Camino Real, has already garnered a few intriguing ideas. An informal January gathering attracted 15 people and birthed the Barron Park Association Meet and Learn. Now neighbors gather to share and teach their special skills, from making fancy desserts, knitting and gardening to preparing homes for sales and senior care, Fromherz said.
At Tuesday's gathering, someone suggested monthly meetings with the police chief.
"In the old days, we used to meet with the police department over breakfast and talk about crimes," Bob Moss recalled.
Someone mentioned a community meeting about bike routes next week at Barron Park Elementary School. Ann Knopf, who attended with her husband, Peter, said she doesn't want Barron Park streets painted green, the newest method for demarcating bike lanes.
The conversation then turned to an old neighborhood standby.
"I hate Arastradero Road," Knopf said.
"I like Arastradero," Lynnie Melena said.
"What is it you like about it?" Knopf asked.
"The wider bike lanes," Melena said.
The atmosphere and perhaps the mellowing effect of the wine seemed to create an air of civility often missing at Palo Alto's public meetings over such hot-button issues. But if anything, happy hour is meant as a time when people can hear and understand each other's points of view in a way they don't at a formally facilitated meeting or through social media.
"It's better talking face-to-face because emails can get acrimonious," Melena said.
The discussion turned to saving Buena Vista Mobile Home Park; the benefits of the senior lunch group; the dearth of free Palo Alto Shuttle stops serving the neighborhood; and, finally, the Grand Boulevard plans along El Camino, which could change the entire character of Barron Park by bringing high-density development, Moss said. Look no farther than the city to the south.
"Mountain View is a garbage pail," he said, advising the residents where they could view the boulevard plan.
As the hour ripened, the residents turned to homier conversations the kind that link neighbors as human family: questions about the welfare of friends and neighbors not seen for a while and excited discussions of family and vacation plans. Everyone listened attentively to Fromherz's planned hiking trip in the Spanish Pyrenees. Then, slowly and cheerfully, they went home.