The neighborhood reaction to my "testing the waters" letter was phenomenal. All the issues and concerns which I broached provoked interest, but the subject which really resonated with the community was mail theft. For days I was inundated with horror stories about thefts our neighbors have suffered and the bitter feelings of violation which ensued.
We personally were victims twice in the summer of 2001. We polled our Neighborhood Watch neighbors and found that it was just us - no one else had been hit. When we reported the thefts to the Sheriff's Department we tried to determine whether other area folks had been victimized, but the deputies didn't seem to have the resources to tell us. Once they said that a thief had been caught stealing mail on Clayton Road, but they couldn't even tell us whether the man had been arrested or if this was "our" thief.
So I was shocked when I heard tale after tale which echoed our experience. One family on Edgemont Drive had a box of new checks stolen. I can't even imagine the scope of the damages a ring of thieves could inflict when they've gotten themselves carte blanche to totally raid a checking account. I can tell you that the ramifications of having just ten checks stolen, bleached, altered and forged kept me hopping (and hopping mad) for months!
A man way out on Crothers Road says that he and his neighbors were all victims of multiple thefts. So they installed a set of locked mailboxes. The thieves blithely broke the locks necessitating new locks and a new plan. These thefts occurred as late as this fall.
The folks in the townhomes at Country Club Heights, at the other end of Crothers, have had their locked mailboxes broken open and many had to cope with painful repercussions. A man on Enchanto Vista Drive learned the hard way not to put out anything valuable for the mailman to pick up. In his case there was at least a bit of closure - about a year ago, "his" thief was caught so the victim had the pleasure of filling out an affidavit which hopefully landed the thieving rogue in the pokey (but don't count on it!)
These experiences should be a real wake up call for the neighborhood. The thieves don't give up. We need to be vigilant in watching for transients plying our streets; we need to ask questions and we need to look out for one another (a lady on Chula Vista actually halted a potential theft by confronting a young woman poking around in her neighbor's mailbox). We need to change our trusting ways and reduce the opportunities for the people who would prey upon us. Don't put mail of value "out for the mailman," pick up your new checks at the bank, empty your mailbox ASAP after the mail is delivered, get a sturdy mailbox lock, buy a mailbox alarm from an electronics store, consider renting a post office box and, of course, keep your fingers crossed.
Click here for a related mailbox story.
Please send us a letter to the editor if you have other mail theft stories to share or pointers on theft deterrence and please tell us your experience with law enforcement response. Your input will enrich us all. E-mail us at JudyET@NNVESJ.org or fax to (408) 272-4040 to send us a letter on these or other topics.
Please limit letters to a few hundred words (shorter items are more likely to be used in the newsletter and read) and include your name and phone number in case we have questions. Letters may be edited for content and space requirements and used in either the newsletter or on our Web site.
We received many encouraging comments and e-mails from the letters we sent out and the Miguelito Bridge Traffic Alert. See Letters to the Editor for some of the comments. Thank you!
I applaud Judy Thompson for starting the New Neighborhood Voice Newsletter. The residents of the East foothills deserve a publication that focuses on local stories that are important to you but do not find their way into the pages of the San Jose Mercury News. With East ceasing operations, her newsletter will fill the void and will help build and maintain a sense of community among you. I look forward to submitting an occasional update on County activities that directly affect your neighborhoods. For this issue, I am pleased to report that walkers and bicyclists may now use the recently completed Miguelita Creek pedestrian bridge and that the County plans to complete the Creek's automobile bridge by early January 2003. Again my best wishes to Judy for a successful community newsletter and Happy Holidays to everyone!
http://www.pmchugh.org (Click here for Supervisor McHugh's Web site)
New Neighborhood Voice is pleased to introduce our first Founding Sponsors. We appreciate their donations and support. NNV will accept a few more Founding Sponsors, as well as advertisements for each issue. Please e-mail JudyET@NNVESJ.org or call (408) 272-7008 if you are interested. We hope you will support our advertisers and help keep e-mail and fax subscriptions free.
---------------------- New Neighborhood Voice Founding Sponsors ----------------------
Lifestyle Properties, Call Ellen Rauh at (408) 929-1925, www.lifestyleprop.com
Caskey Country Club Properties, Call Larry and Barbara Caskey at (408)
You may have heard that a brand new, state-of-the-art 26,000 square-foot public library is being built right here in our neighborhood. But did you know that the city wants our feedback?
The new library, planned for the southwest corner of Alum Rock Avenue and White Road (across the street from James Lick High School), is being funded by the San Jose Branch Library Bond Measure, approved in November 2000, which provides $212 million over ten years for six new and fourteen expanded branch libraries. The existing 7,000 square-foot Santa Clara County Library at 75 S. White Road will eventually be torn down to make way for the new, larger library.
The city has been holding a series of public meetings over the past several months to update the community on the status of the project, as well as give citizens the opportunity to provide feedback. The most recent meeting, about the proposed schematic design of the library, was held on November 21, 2002 at the existing Alum Rock facility.
The library, which will likely begin construction in October 2003 (and take about a year to complete), will house nearly twice as many volumes as the current Alum Rock library, and will have double the number of computers. Designed to be a fun and comfortable neighborhood destination, it will offer separate regions for children, teens and adults, and will feature a combination of quiet and noisy areas. Among the many planned regions are a storytelling area, an Internet Café with wireless Internet access and food and drink, a community meeting room with seats for 100 people, a "marketplace" area with new media, a family learning center, a languages library, a landscaped courtyard, and spaces for tutoring, quiet reading and group study.
If you'd like to attend future library planning meetings and offer your input, visit the San Jose Public Library website for meeting announcements and information at: http://www.newsanjoselibraries.com/.
Note: NNV will try to announce future library planning meetings as dates are available.
An eyesore of a corner is being spruced up! The corner of the James Lick High School parking lot closest to the intersection of Alum Rock Avenue and White Road will be striped for eighty-five to ninety parking spaces for the use of the clients of Alum Rock Village area businesses. The spaces will be available from 2:30 to about 11:00 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. School custodians will be on the premises until closing time. New landscaping and bright attractive lighting is being installed. The old fence is being replaced with a combination of dark green "powder-coat" wrought iron and green vinyl-clad chain link. Two gates will let out onto the corner near the crosswalks. These improvements are the result of a cooperative effort among the Alum Rock Business Association, the City of San Jose and the city's Redevelopment Agency.
Technically, "The Village" is just the block of Alum Rock Avenue between White Road on the west and Manning Avenue/Millar Avenue on the east. Its major draws include the renowned Peter's Bakery, the Youth Science Institute's Thrift and Gift Shop, the Eastside Planned Parenthood Clinic, Katengill's Karate Studio, White Rock Café and Las Delicias restaurants, Ducommon's Sporting Goods and the old step-back-in-time Alum Rock Feed and Fuel Store. Some of the storefronts have been improved recently with the help of San Jose Redevelopment Agency funds. The work is not a "freebie" from the city, however. The Façade Improvement Grants (FIGs) cover from 50 to 70% of the cost of the improvements. The balance is paid by the business owners and the property owners - who may or may not be one in the same. The funding may only be used for façades; the owners are responsible for any interior improvements. According to Bud LoMonaco of the Alum Rock Business Association, there are no current plans for façade improvement of the shops that haven't yet had a facelift. The pink building with the patchwork graffiti paintouts and the unintentionally whimsical "Parking in ear" sign on its side is the late, great Alum Rock Produce Market, which closed suddenly this summer after several years of offering the valley's very best prices on bananas and onions. The tag taped to the window of the little store says that the building is not safe to enter because of damage to the roof trusses and roof failure. It and its next door neighbor, the closed dry cleaning shop, are in some sort of limbo until the owner decides what he wants to do. An open and bustling Rafiki's Coffee House should inspire some new and welcome oomph to the block.
After months of entertaining the tantalizing idea of having a real coffee shop in our little downtown area, we hilltoppers will finally be able to sit down and enjoy a fancy cup o' joe at Rafikis in Alum Rock Village. The small café will be open for business beginning Monday, December 9th, 5:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. The GRAND OPENING will be held the following Saturday, December 14th from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. We're invited (kiddies and all) to take a break from our holiday shopping and stop in for samples of the café's fare. There will be balloons and face-painting to occupy the children while we concentrate on reviving ourselves with some very special java and eats.
If we think it's been a tortuous wait, we need to consider the challenges which met Rafikis owners, Luke and Liesl Violante. Rather than being held up by having to jump through permit hoops as we supposed, the real stumbling blocks for Luke and Liesl were coping with the vagaries of a really old building. Every facet of the renovation revealed deeper layers of problems to be solved. Liesl says that the project has really helped her patience grow. (!)
Rafikis is more than what it seems. Luke and Liesl, who live on nearby Fleming Avenue, are missionaries of a non-denominational Christian church which has as its mission to "go to the nations" educating deprived people and helping them to overcome the hardships with which they struggle. They personally have visited the Philippines and Africa - thus the name Rafikis which means "friends" in Swahili.
The coffee shop has a mission, too. The profits from the business will go toward funding programs for poor people in developing countries. Liesl says that the hardest part of waiting for Rafikis to get underway was knowing that every day the café wasn't open was another day that they couldn't help feed starving children.
New Neighborhood Voice wishes Rafikis great success as they and we start our endeavors!
The first fall rains have allowed us to breathe a sigh of relief that our neighborhood has weathered another dry season unscathed by a big fire. However, fire should never be far from our minds here in our "Urban Wildlands Interface Area." The following article describes a near brush with disaster right here in our neighborhood. NNV
"There was no place you could look out this way and not see fire," Gary Rauh says, shaking his head.
Rauh is standing on his wrap-around balcony facing the sprawling, wheat-colored foothills of East San Jose that loom majestically just beyond his backyard.
"There used to be a cluster of palm trees over on the ridge there," Rauh remembers, pointing to a barren section of dry hillside atop Penitencia Creek Road. "But of course, they're all gone now."
When the residents of Chula Vista Court talk about the October 2000 fire that threatened their neighborhood (and nearly forced a last-minute evacuation), it's easy to forget that more than two years have passed since the traumatic event that roused them from their beds without warning in the middle of night.
The fire, ignited by the combination of gale-force winds, fallen power lines and flying sparks in the hills near Alum Rock Park, clearly touched a nerve with everyone in its path, so it's no wonder that now, years later, discussion of the blaze is still capable of inspiring raw emotions.
"The whole experience was surreal," Rauh says. "Getting awakened in the dead of night was terrifying. The electricity was out, so our doorbell wasn't working. Our cordless phones (which also operate on power) weren't working either, so there was no way to reach us."
Ultimately, it was Rauh's friend and neighbor Mike Endris who was forced to pound relentlessly on his neighbors' doors to rouse them out of their slumbers. But if it weren't for his son's late-night curfew, Endris would have likely slept through the incident also.
"Our son Todd had been out at a school dance, and was driving up Alum Rock around 2AM when he noticed the hillside was in flames," Kathi Endris explains. "As he got closer to our house, he saw that the power was out, and everyone on our street was fast asleep, unaware."
After frantically waking his family, Todd and his father Mike began the process of rousing the rest of the cul-de-sac. One by one, the duo hammered on their neighbors' doors and windows until everyone was out of bed and alerted to the situation.
Residents spent the next few hours in tenuous wait-and-see mode, praying that the unpredictable winds wouldn't send the flames further down the hillside, closer to their homes. Making containment even more difficult were the flying embers that were sparking smaller fires throughout the surrounding areas.
"Things were really touch and go, because so much depended on the wind that night," says Rauh. "It must have been blowing at least 50 miles an hour, and it kept changing direction."
Meanwhile, local police set up a makeshift command center on the service road between Chula Vista Court and Enchanto Vista Road to keep watch on the firefighters' progress and let neighbors know if a forced evacuation would be necessary.
"Several of us went ahead and packed up some belongings, like home videos, photo albums, and other things we wanted to save," Endris says. "I left one car at the house in case we needed to clear out, and parked the other one at the Sav-Mart with all of my stuff."
Adding to the neighborhood's plight was a seemingly non-stop convoy of onlookers, desperate for a chance to view the tragedy up close.
"There must have been about 15 carloads of people throughout the night, people who just wanted to park on our cul-de-sac and watch the blaze," Endris explains. "It got to be a bit much because the power was out, so it was pitch black, and you had all these strangers milling around."
"We knew we might need to evacuate at any moment, so getting down the hill and past all the cars of gawkers could have caused congestion problems," Rauh adds. "Eventually the police asked everyone who didn't live up here to leave."
Although in the end the homes on Chula Vista Court were spared by the fire, it's clear that the event was a life-altering experience for everyone involved, as well as a grave wake-up call.
"We were very fortunate that the fire didn't cross Penitencia Creek Road," Rauh says, pointing again from his back balcony through the trees to a just-visible street below. "If the winds had shifted and it had come up this way, we would most likely have lost our homes."
Their neighbors on Dorel Drive, less than a mile away, were not so lucky. One house was destroyed, others were damaged, and altogether more than 25 acres of nearby hillside were blackened.
"More than anything, the fire was like a big warning to us," Endris says. "The danger of fire in these parts is very real, and we all need to stay alert and prepared."
"The biggest thing this fire taught me is that you need to have a plan," echoes Rauh. "You need to know what you'd do if a fire struck --where you'd go, what you'd save, and how you'd evacuate."
Beginning with next month's issue, Joe Carrillo, our San Jose Fire Department Wildland Urban Interface Officer, will be writing occasional articles about how fire concerns in our specific neighborhoods are being addressed. The County contracts with the SJFD to provide fire protection in our unincorporated areas. NNV
I never dreamed there would be so many wonderful offers to help when I started this. I appreciate all your offers and contributions. Special thanks to Meaghan Clawsie for the stories she wrote for this first issue of the newsletter, to Sonja Troncoso for her bountiful ideas and photos for the Web site and to neighbor Tricia S. for her photo of the new Miguelito pedestrian bridge and for her help on the Web site. Other writers are working on pieces for upcoming issues. My husband, Allan, helps with research, mail and e-mail lists and the Web site.
If you would like to write articles or essays or help in any other way, please let us know. The mission of New Neighborhood Voice is to keep you informed about issues relevant to our neighborhood and to provide a forum for the many points of view espoused by our diverse community. Your stories and letters will make the newsletter more interesting for all of us.
Yes, NNV does have a Web site. Right now, it's at http://www.NNVESJ.org and you can click on this address and/or copy it to your browser or AOL to see a few photos related to the stories in this newsletter or to read more stories. This month, the Web site features a great "Rosy Dawn Over East Highlands" photo from Sonja Troncoso to celebrate the dawning of New Neighborhood Voice. This Web site will also have the current edition of the newsletter, archives of our previous issues and letters to the editor. We welcome any comments on our Web site. Just send them to JudyET@NNVESJ.org. Obviously, this is just a preliminary version of the Web site and we plan to make it faster and better as the newsletter evolves.
Holiday Greetings from New Neighborhood Voice! Are you already contemplating the seasonal pudge that will augment your waistline (wasteline?) during these days of temptation? Contact Sonja Troncoso to join a group of like-minded neighbors for some rousing strolls (and conversation) in our unrivaled paradise. E mail: email@example.com
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Copyright© 2002 by Judy Thompson, 16174 Highland Drive, San Jose, CA 95127
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