Publication Date: Wednesday May 31, 2000


Churchill works


During my 27 years as a Palo Alto resident, most of them as a newspaperman immersed in local affairs and their various controversial aspects, I have never come across a plan as sensible as the proposed location of the Jewish Community Center to the Churchill Avenue site alongside Palo Alto High School, to be vacated by the Palo Alto Unified School District.

It seems to serve everyone's interest with a minimum--if any--drawbacks. The scope of the JCC's programs, which reach thousands of people in all age groups for social, cultural, recreational and educational services, will be expanded and improved. The location, opposite Stanford's playing fields and football stadium, which draw thousands of spectators on more than 50 days a year, does not impinge on any residential area nor create new traffic problems.

Among the special benefits are:

A state-of-the-art fitness center easily accessible to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the surrounding downtown business community and the general population.

A day care center to be utilized by Paly High faculty and Stanford's community, as well as by others.

A modern auditorium that can be shared with Paly High.

Another centrally located facility available to the city of Palo Alto for recreational needs.

Opportunities for student employment, volunteer work and college preparation made available to the Paly High community.

By stimulating increased activity at the Town & Country Village shopping center, it would revive a vital neighborhood resource uniquely placed to serve the medical foundation, Stanford, two hotels, Castilleja School and the surrounding homes, which have no other adjacent commercial area.

In short, I know of no other project that can benefit so many in so many ways with so little disruption of existing patterns. I hope that it comes to fruition.

Leonard Koppett
Emerson Street
Palo Alto

Updating Mitchell Park


On May 18, the Palo Alto Parks Department and Reed Dillingham presented their revised scheme for renovating Mitchell Park. Working together with Robert Royston, the original landscape architect, they have managed to preserve all of the features which were considered unsalvageable last year.

The free-form play areas will be retained, including the "gopher holes." The wading pool will have the same shape but will not hold water; instead, it will have fountains and water jets the kids can control and splash around in. The Bears sculpture will stay, and they hope to add a new similar play sculpture nearby.

The unique lantern lighting fixtures will be reproduced, a little taller and sturdier and with a more efficient light source. The new structures and lighting bring the park up to code without losing the concepts of the original design.

Thanks to the local community, Steve Carothers' Connections class at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School and the Architectural Review Board for encouraging the Parks Department to take a creative second look and recognize a valuable piece of history in Mitchell Park. Thanks to the Parks Department and Reed Dillingham Associates for taking the extra time and coming up with a stronger, more contextual design.

It is to be hoped that the structure of the replacement restroom, arbor and social facilities will carry out the promise of the plan. Finally, thank you Robert Royston for donating your time toward the revitalization of the innovative park you designed 45 years ago.

K.C. Marcinik
Ben Lomond Drive
Palo Alto

The ghetto solution


I wasn't going to write another letter about the eruv, but some recent letters had been so intemperate that I felt compelled to respond, even though I disagree with the eruv concept. Does going to Israel make you Jewish? Does shopping in Beverly Hills make you Jewish? Then having an eruv in Palo Alto wouldn't make you Jewish either.

I would offer a solution I haven't seen anyone else mention. Many Jews of European descent, which includes many Orthodox Jews who want the eruv, are familiar with the concept of the Jewish ghetto. In Holocaust literature, the Jewish ghetto takes on a horrible significance. But just as the nuclear bombs of World War II have become the nuclear energy that powers some of our submarines, so the Jewish ghetto can be updated with a positive, 21-century spin.

In many European cities, a Jewish ghetto actually was a walled city, which, as we're constantly being reminded, is the definition of an eruv. While it would be physically impossible to build a walled city, the idea that all the Orthodox Jews in Palo Alto live in one area would be an advantageous solution.

There are many obvious advantages: A Jewish ghetto would obviate the need for the approval of the Palo Alto City Council and would alleviate the fears of those who don't want the eruv around the entire city. An area measured in blocks instead of miles would be much easier to maintain, and the need for an actual area marker might be eliminated. There could be all the Orthodox Jewish synagogues, shuls, yeshivas, etc., located within the Jewish ghetto area, as well as businesses that cater to Orthodox Jewish needs. ...

If every Orthodox Jew in Palo Alto sold his or her house, they could easily raise $100 million and buy some rundown apartments near Highway 101. (Even a 21st-century Jewish ghetto needs a little suffering). They could create subsidized housing for new arrivals. Calling it a commune or a kibbutz might evoke the wrong idea, but if the Orthodox Jews of Palo Alto want a walled city, this may be their best option.

Paul Mendelowitz
Chestnut Street
Redwood City

Still waiting


According to Palo Alto City Attorney Ariel Calonne, to validate an eruv in Orthodox Jewish law, the City Council must have eminent domain power over private property. But in California only courts possess such power. Calonne has also reported that Jewish law requires the council to assert consent for an eruv on behalf of non-Jewish eruv district residents. Would consent expressed by such a tiny minority be valid in Jewish law? (There are nine council members.)

A council committee has initiated several investigations by city employees into how the council's civil power can make special provisions of Orthodox Jewish law become effective. To activate the provisions, the council must evidently enact an ordinance that effects the conversion of the whole eruv district into private Jewish space. The ordinance, it seems, must use eminent domain authority, or perhaps other powers, to defeat Fourth Amendment security and privacy rights of some 50,000 non-Jewish inhabitants.

An eruv proponent has publicly insisted that "...the religious practices and requirements of Orthodox Jews ...is their business and no one else's." (Letters, Dec. 1, 1999). If so, then unless the council consists of Orthodox Jews, establishment of a 12-square mile religious eruv is none of the council's business.

As a potentially affected home owner, I have submitted several questions to the council about eruv policy, beginning in early February. But no member has replied.

Daryl Reagan
Moreno Avenue
Palo Alto

Parochial notions


Like my esteemed colleague Elaine Haight, I am a strong advocate for constructing buildings in a manner that is environmentally responsible (Letters, May 17). That is why I am looking forward to the results of Santa Clara County's impartial environmental impact report and the public hearing that is scheduled to review the proposed structure to house the Carnegie Foundation near the Stanford campus. I trust that whatever decision is made will be made on facts, and not on inflammatory innuendo. I therefore feel compelled to correct some of the misconceptions in her letter. ...

It asserted: "It is clear that by being off campus, away in the Stanford foothills, the foundation's researchers will not have an easy time creating community. Not only will chance encounters in the Quad never happen, but these researchers will have to drive just to meet with a Stanford faculty member or to have lunch among the faculty and students. ..."

As a Carnegie Scholar myself who is a member of one of these research communities, I must stress that the foundation has a much, much larger vision of community than that which gathers on the Stanford University campus. The foundation is committed to developing communities of teachers that stretch across the county, the state and the nation. I would hardly have "chance encounters in the Quad" with my fellow Carnegie Scholars who come from every conceivable educational institution across the United States. Stanford University, as wonderful as it is, represents only one small fraction of the rich and complex world of American educational institutions.

Perhaps what is most disturbing to me is the parochial notion that everything that matters is strictly local. Education in this country is facing serious challenges, and educators representing all kinds of institutions must work together to find ways to strengthen it. The Carnegie Foundation is generously supporting real efforts to help real teachers improve their teaching and their students' learning.

I hope the public conversation about the building project enters a new and possibly more rational stage, and certainly one that is built on facts. For if it is found that the proposal is environmentally sound, what a treasure it would be to have the foundation housed in our own valley so that we can join them in thinking globally, while we continue to act locally for the benefit of teachers and students across our nation.

Elizabeth F. Barkley
Faculty member
Foothill College

A valuable asset


The Jewish Community Center, currently located on the Terman site, has been a valuable asset to the Palo Alto community since 1981. The JCC provides community services to 8,000 people of all ages, from those in diapers to the elderly, and to people of all faiths. Its child care has been recognized for being the best. In addition, many people depend on the JCC for after-school care, cardiactherapy, senior and emigre programs, as well as for fitness, and cultural events. The JCC must be kept in Palo Alto, without any interruption of service, as too many lives depend on the JCC for their physical well being and rehabilitation.

While it is understood that there is a need for another middle school site, it behooves the Palo Alto Unified School District and the City Council to ensure that the people of Palo Alto do not lose the valuable services provided by the JCC when such a loss would be totally unnecessary and detrimental to the community. It behooves the City Council to question the decision of the school board in choosing the Terman site, and seriously question the school board's not choosing other options, such as Cubberley, for the additional school site. Alternatively, if it is deemed absolutely necessary for the JCC to move, another site should be found for the JCC in Palo Alto, and the JCC should be made whole.

Millie Chethik
Ely Place
Palo Alto

Gifts to students


Charlie Breitrose's article on teachers who cannot put a decent roof over their heads was, above all, a gift to the city's kids (Cover story, April 26).

Teachers, who by and large do what they do because they want to give to the community, feel keenly the community's response--or lack of response--to them. I suppose it is a quality of our work that distinguishes it from other (very necessary) endeavors to make a product or market it or sell it in the aisles of a store. What teachers fashion is, if you will, handmade, and we give it to our kids not so that its packaging can be removed and it can be plugged in to make their lives more exciting or glamorous or comfortable, but because we hope it will help them to live with increased perspective and joy, and so that in this odd niche we're all forced to share (Planet Earth, the 21st century), they'll feel secure in one another's presence rather than frightened, will feel a sense of belonging rather than estrangement.

Because many have treated me as anything but a stranger, I know that people in the community share this goal and feel the same goodwill toward kids. To help teach my freshmen and sophomores about iambic pentameter, the owner of Draper's Music Center loaned me a metronome, no questions asked. A cell-phone company gave me phones and calling-time to help me teach my kids in "Communications" about finding their way in the big wide world of faceless and recorded voices and being put on hold.... These kindnesses, as much as anything in my professional life, have given me a rich sense of inner reward. They are gifts given through a teacher, straight to our kids.

Perhaps in this housing crisis the community will rally around its teachers in exactly the same spirit. Helping teachers to settle down here would be chiefly a gift to the kids. The overriding, inapparent tragedy of the loss of local teachers--working in our schools for only a few years then fleeing to far places where they themselves can marry and raise families--is the loss to our youngsters who thrive best in a stable adult world. Gunn High School freshmen who "bond" with a favorite teacher feel happy to have that person still around to give them a hug or handshake at graduation. ... Through the tumultuous, exploratory, socially unnerving years of teenagerhood, kids needs adults who don't pack up and go. They need grown-ups who are somehow still there, in an office at lunchtime, in a classroom at brunch, in the parking lot after school, or even just rushing by in the melee between bells, if only to notice and respond to their moods, if only with a wave or a hello. The current housing market is ripping this fabric to shreds.

The Weekly's chart showing teacher longevity in the Palo Alto Unified School District should shock anyone who studies it. Our schools have become way-stations; teachers drop in for a few years, then move on. Of the teachers spending their first year in the district, the chart suggests that 50 percent will be gone by their third year here; and after six years, 80 percent will have vanished. It is unconscionable when students are spending more years in high school than their teachers are! It is a foolish waste of time and money for the District to travel far and wide to recruit good teachers, lure them with competitive salaries, give them a rich infrastructure of support and mentoring in their fledgling years, only to witness, after barely an eye-blink, our departments and schools throwing sad farewell parties for these very same people.

Appearances deceive. A causal observer at Gunn easily sees that the buildings are still there, are even increasing in number and suitability, and that there's a computer in every classroom. It's harder to notice what isn't there: the teachers gone to greener pastures, and those getting ready to do so. The causal eye sees a campus that is apparently becoming more substantial, settling in, thickening with portable classrooms. What it fails to see are the increasingly portable teachers.

Those who, at tremendous expense, have purchased real estate that puts their kids in our schools now face a cruel irony. Those same housing heights that they've scaled, seeking the best for their kids, are now putting that best out of reach-sending it packing. Nobody knows what to do about his; we all feel helpless. Teachers feel helpless; administrators don't want to get into the real estate business; landlords or developers are unlikely to take it on themselves to devise relief. The Weekly has lived up to its community responsibilities in pointing out the problem.

I place my faith in the only place I can: in those who want security, felicity, and wisdom-a true place in the world-for our kids.

Marc Vincenti
English Department
Gunn High School

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