New Neighborhood Voice

Newsletter - Edition 13 - Section 2

February 1, 2004

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Click on a thumbnail to view larger photos
Is this a Confederate
War Veteran?
Selestina Soto
de Gonzales
a metate?
La Polka?
Naiche Vidal
carrying food
pans for the
JLHS Death
Valley Trip
Group photo at
Artist's Palette -
Students do "field
studies" in the desert
It was an
to dry out
Death Valley
snowball fight!
Some kids brought
snow back home!
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What’s In a Name: A Family Chronicle

The Ribbs family – an Eastside plumbing dynasty

By Heather Ribbs (with thanks to Sandra Davis for being the catalyst for this story)

This is an account of why and how Henry Ribbs came to San Jose in the 1920's and is the culmination of many conversations with surviving children and relatives. There is no information from anyone involved directly as all these people have since passed on.

There are at least two accounts of why Henry left Louisiana, but it is an agreed fact within the family that both Henry and Nora, his wife, were loath to mention the details of what happened because it was traumatic to recall and they did not want their children to be burdened with the harsh reality of the treatment of Blacks at that time.

I will begin with a few facts that are common threads in all accounts gleaned from Alma Ribbs, Evelyn Ribbs Hutchinson and William T. ("Bunny") Ribbs, who are the only three surviving children of five. Alma was 2 years old at the time Henry left his home in Louisiana. Henry's son, Felix, was an infant and their cousin, Eugene, the oldest Beck now living, was five. This brings in the history of the Beck family before they changed their name.

Henry Ribbs was born in 1899, youngest son of Felix and Eliza Beck. The Becks were reputed to be the richest black family in all of Louisiana because of oil royalties from their land and, as Felix was a good businessman, he invested his capital by being a mortgage holder for many black families who wished to buy their own houses. It was impossible for a black person to obtain a loan from a bank then. It was also most unusual for a black family to be prosperous enough to own a car in 1920, as did Felix Beck. He was the first person in the parish to purchase a car.

Given the political reality of the Black experience in the Deep South, it isn't surprising that the Becks attracted some negative attention. One can imagine the question on the lips of the white society, "Who do they think they are?"

William had been sent to Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, from which he was expelled for "misbehavior" and from there he attended Southern University in Scotlandville near Baton Rouge. Upon hearing that he was to be again expelled, his father, Felix, brought him home to work on the ranch. His job was to cut timber and make railroad ties which was a lucrative occupation then when railroads were being laid across the country and vital for commerce. While still a teenager, William met Nora Luke and when they were 18 and 17 respectively, they were married on November 22, 1917. Nine months later, Alma Beck was born on August 20, and her brother Felix followed on March 18, 1920, a fitting birthday present for his father, William.

William's older brother Benjamin returned around that time from service in the trenches of France, shell shocked and glad to be home again with his family. He told his family, having seen black people in France treated humanely and decently, he was not going to work for anyone in Louisiana, knowing how he would be treated there. So he became a landowner and started to farm to support his young family.

By 1920, as winter approached, an incident occurred which changed family history and caused the family to disperse. This is where the accounts of what happened differ. All those surviving now were under five at that time. All agree that Uncle Benjamin had to run from his home to avoid a lynch mob, but the details of why he had to leave differ.

There was an altercation between Benjamin and a white neighbor, during which Ben was shot and the neighbor was blinded and/or killed. Even though Benjamin acted in self-defense, he knew that he would have to run to save his life, and so he took to the swamps and didn't look back until he crossed the Oklahoma border. Eventually, he ended his journey in California, having hopped a freight train heading west.

When word spread that Benjamin had shot a white man, the Beck family had to hide as best they could, knowing that local justice would be meted out at the hands of a local posse which was determined to use this opportunity to put this family "in their place."

While William was on his way home, he was met with a posse who beat him and left him for dead. There are as many versions of the details as there are people to tell them so I will stick to one for this account. The womenfolk and children left behind on each Beck's farm hid as well as they could, while their property was looted and burned. Miraculously, they all survived with the help of a few sympathetic white neighbors, one of whom was a local physician, who hid them in their houses until the hunt eventually died down.

Nora at first thought that her young husband was dead, but, when he revived somewhat from the beating, he sent word to her that he would also have to flee to avoid paying with his own life for what Benjamin had done and, that when he was established somewhere, he would come back for her and the children. He also hopped a train with the intention of relocating in the Hawaiian Islands where he had heard that a black man could homestead land and prosper without fear. When he reached Los Angeles, he decided to go north to San Jose. By then his brothers, Benjamin and Phillip, were working on a ranch on Cottle Road so he came to San Jose to see them before his intended trip to the Hawaiian Islands. He fell in love with the verdant Santa Clara Valley and started working on the ranch too, and that was how he first settled here.

To protect his identity from bounty hunters, he changed his name to Henry William Ribbs. His brother, Benjamin, had already changed his name to Charlie Carter, while Phillip Beck became Clyde Ribbs.

While working on the ranch, Henry attended Antioch Baptist Church on Julian Street (where it still stands as of this writing in 2003). There he met Theodore Moss, a local black plumbing contractor. After some discussion, Theodore agreed to teach Henry the plumbing trade in exchange for room and board. During his apprenticeship, he took side jobs at night to earn money and saved for a trip to Louisiana to bring Nora and his young family out to San Jose. He had arrived in San Jose, California in 1920, and went to Louisiana to fetch the family in 1922. Some time in 1923 he had saved enough to buy the property on the corner of Alum Rock and Jackson for $1500. In 1927, he opened his own plumbing business, Ribbs Plumbing.

This business is 76 years old now and still thriving under the ownership of its third generation of Ribbs. Stephen Ribbs, youngest son of William Theodore Ribbs, owns and manages the business. William Theodore is Henry's youngest son. William (or "Bunny" as he is affectionately known to all) ran the business after Henry retired to his ranch in Yolo County in 1960.

Bunny's middle name is an homage to Henry's mentor, Theodore Moss. Bunny and his brother, Felix Ribbs, worked the plumbing business together after Henry retired, until 1968 when they decided there was enough business for each to run his own company. The late Felix Ribbs, when he retired, passed his business on to his son, David. Bunny worked his business with his two other sons, Phillip, William T. Jr. ("Willy T") for a time and retired in 1987. The business was turned over to Stephen who had already worked for his dad for over 10 years by that time. Phillip now is the Chief Plumbing, Mechanical and Electrical Inspector for the City of San Jose. As most eastside San Jose residents know, "Willy T" didn't take to plumbing and decided that racing cars would be much more exciting. His twelve-year-old son, William T. III ("Theo") carries on the family name. There are many Becks scattered over Northern California and other places, but the only Ribbs known to the family are descendants of Henry and Clyde.

Henry and Nora Ribbs survived the Depression years and prospered in San Jose. They had five children in all, Alma, Felix and Juanita (conceived before Henry's departure), all born in Louisiana, and Evelyn and Bunny, born in San Jose. Both parents believed in the virtues of hard work and taught their young family that if a thing was possible to be done, then each of them was expected to learn how. By their positive attitudes and fine example, they created a bright future for their heirs.

Henry, though small in stature at 5' 4," was a giant by reputation, known as an astute businessman and a man of his word who feared no one. He stood up for his rights and wrote letters to many presidents when he needed support for a social problem or to express his opinion and received positive responses from them. For example, President Truman helped him obtain admission into the plumbers union for his two boys when they were refused (not on merit but on the basis of race). There are many stories to illustrate how he conducted himself, regardless of the obstacles he faced, as head of one of the few families of color in the area at the time, but they are beyond the scope of this article.

Born in 1899, Henry Ribbs saw the social fabric of America change slowly each decade until his death in 1996. His life was both a microcosm of the Black experience of the 20th century and an uncommon response to the times during which he lived.

Click here for photos of Henry and Nora Ribbs and their children.

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State of the County Address

Achieving a sustainable County - the best long term solution

"Humane" workforce reduction of 1,000+ positions foreseen

By Santa Clara County Supervisor Pete McHugh, District 3

On January 13, 2004 I delivered the annual State of the County address as incoming Chair. In my speech, I called on the County to establish by 2008 service levels and a work force that are sustainable. Achieving a sustainable County represents the best long-term solution to the County's General Fund structural deficit.

The latest General Fund five-year financial forecast has the costs of our current level of services growing at an average annual rate of 7%. Revenues will be only growing at an average annual rate of 5%. These trends result in a cumulative structural deficit of $200.6 million by fiscal year 2008. Coupled with potential cuts from the State and Federal governments, we have a major structural problem.

I believe the County's brightest future lies in transforming our financial challenge over the next four years into an opportunity to structure a sustainable County. A sustainable County:


Spends money at the same general rate as the County earns it.


Provides services that have high value to the community.


Has a work force whose size and cost structure fit within the County's expected revenues over a number of years.


Judiciously expands programs and new initiatives while realizing that at some point it must stop increasing the size of the organization.


Provides long-term stability, predictability and restored public confidence.

We will not and should not achieve a sustainable County in one year. The impacts on our stakeholders have the potential to be immense. We must deliberate with great care and compassion.

For this year the Board has already approved a framework for reducing our ongoing costs. It has set reduction plans for $90 million and $175 million. At $175 million, the plan calls for 38% to come from Countywide ongoing savings and one-time funds. Departmental reductions that affect programs and jobs will make up the remaining 62%.

Using this framework, the Board will approve in early February a budget strategy statement. This statement will guide the County Executive in developing a Recommended Budget that he will submit in May. In the statement, the Board should direct the County Executive and our State lobbyist to work on a smoothing out of the PERS* rate changes. This action will minimize the severe short-term fluctuations we are now subjected to. I will oppose including in the statement borrowing to pay for current liabilities or pensions. Such a process will only defer and increase costs.

The Board will also have to make decisions about which services to reduce. We will use various tools that we have developed, including the span of control study and a report on mandated services. Unfortunately, these tools lack the information on consequences to the community of significant reductions to a particular function. The Board will use its policy committees to develop the best information available on consequences of these reductions by the time the Board adopts a budget in June. The net result will be the identification of reduced services that we will provide in fiscal year 2005.

After passage of the fiscal year 2005 budget we must look to the years ahead. We must continue to move forward toward a sustainable County. To achieve a sustainable County by 2008, I propose the following key actions:


Reduction of the County General Fund work force over four years from its current level of 9,770 positions to a number our revenues can sustain. A preliminary analysis indicates that number in the area of 8,670 positions.


Adopt at the appropriate time a retirement incentive program to achieve a humane work force reduction.


Increase in stages each year the one-time Contingency Reserve from 2% to 5%.

bulletSet aside $1 in ongoing reserve for every $1 of existing program expansion or new initiative.

I believe the course of action I have described will bring the County through this storm and into a safe harbor. I believe that while we will continue to be creative, we must confront reality and make our own future. We must be responsible stewards of the public trust.

Pete McHugh 

Click here for a photo of Supervisor McHugh delivering the State of the County address.  Click here for the complete presentation (large PDF File).

* The California Personnel Employee Retirement System (PERS) calculates each year the amount of money an organization has to pay to meet the estimated future liabilities of every member already retired and those who are employed as of a given day.

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Barbara and Larry Caskey – NNV Founding Sponsors

Hillcrest residents have long term love affair with each other – and the neighborhood

Caskey Country Club Properties' office sits prominently next to Antipastos Deli on McKee Road near the intersection with Toyon. Larry and Barbara Caskey, the friendly owners, invite you in for a chat when you're in the neighborhood - even if you're not in a real estate mood or mode.

They've been selling real estate for more than thirty years and they've been in their current location for more than twenty. Their first real estate selling experience was selling new homes for Ponderosa Homes. Before they evolved to their current business, Caskey Country Club Properties, they were known as Century-21 Caskey. They say they love their location and "really enjoy the people in the area." Many neighbors (not just clients) pop in to shoot the breeze or just say hello.

The Caskeys sell commercial properties, multi-family and residential real estate in Sacramento and Chico as well as in the Bay Area. However, most of their business is right here in the East hills.

Larry and Barbara have been married forty years and have three grown daughters and six grandchildren. Larry is the past president and an active member of the San Jose East - Evergreen Rotary Club which meets every Tuesday at the San Jose Country Club. They have been longtime supporters of St. Victor's Parish and Presentation High School.

They are enthusiastic catamaran sailors and enjoy sailing in the Caribbean especially. They stay enviably trim by making time for walking and fitness - and interacting with those six young grandchildren. They are members of the San Jose Country Club but, with their busy lives, they "just do not have time to play golf!"

Click here for a photo of Caskey's.

Editor's note: Barbara and Larry are great supporters of the neighborhood and jumped on the NNV Founding Sponsor bandwagon just as soon as the opportunity arose. Your editor has personally witnessed the warm friendships they have developed with neighbors. Their kindness and generosity are well known.

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Eyes in the Sky

"Eyes extraordinaire, vise grips for feet, the perfect predator"

By Dorothy "D.J." Johnson - Youth Science Institute

NNV Note: This story links to many other Web sites where you can see photos of the birds (and other animals) and, in some cases, listen to their songs. Use the Back button on your Web browser to return to this edition. Some of these photos may take a long time to download unless you have a broadband connection.

There is sun in the park on this mild December morning. White puffy cumulus clouds are sailing over the hills, replacing the low dark stratus that bring our winter rains. Maple and Sycamore leaves lie soaked and forlorn on the ground no longer needed by the trees that birthed them. Ruby-crown Kinglets and Oak Titmice are chattering and feeding in the oak trees and Black Phoebes are intently hawking insects. Every couple of minutes a human runs by relieved to be out and moving around after a weekend of rain. The park is busy making up for lost time.

Above the hills against the blue sky there is also life - soaring, watching, waiting for the slightest movement in the scrub below, movement that signals a potential meal for a bird that may not have eaten for a couple of days. The bird is a Red-tailed Hawk, top of the food chain hunter, eyes extraordinaire, with vise grips for feet, the perfect predator.

Well adapted to roam the lofty heights, Red-tails and their brethren can detect movement and detail from over a mile away. Diurnal (active during the day) birds of prey have the most acute vision of any living creature. They can see color into the ultraviolet spectrum and are equipped with two focusing centers or foveae in their eyes. These areas are densely packed with nerve cells that allow the bird to scan the ground with one portion of their eye while using another for close up detail. Built in sunshades protect their eyes from the glare of the sun.

In addition to their exceptional vision, these birds are armed with sharp claws called talons and extremely powerful feet. It is the feet that deliver the final blow to a variety of prey including insects and other arthropods, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and other birds - depending on the species of hawk. This attribute also enables these birds to defend themselves quite successfully! I know from my experience as a wildlife rehabber that when one "shakes hands" with a red-tail, it is the red-tail that will let go first.

The ubiquitous Red-tail is probably best known in this area for sitting on top of street-lights, telephone poles and fence posts along Hwys 280 and 680. Although it spends a large portion of its time sitting, it is a member of the genus Buteo or soaring hawks. The Red-tail can often be seen riding on thermals (rising columns of hot air) during the summer and on warm winter days. This is the easiest way to spot them in the park. Known as a generalist when it comes to diet, these birds will eat anything they can catch including small mammals, snakes and occasionally birds. If you are lucky you may here the Red-tail call, a harsh descending Keeeeer.

Red-tails have one of the most varied plumages of any bird of prey in the U.S. Depending on what part of the country in which you reside, adults can be almost black (in Alaska) to almost white (in the Midwest). Our typical adult Western Red-tail has a light orange wash on the breast and of course the orange-red tail visible while soaring, especially if back lit by the sun. Just to confuse matters a little, the immature birds can look like a separate species, sporting a brownish tail and white chest. One of the distinguishing Red-tail field marks is a dark "belly band" very obvious in the young birds and also present in the adults. Immature birds molt into adult plumage at one year of age.

The Red-tail is the largest Buteo found in the park. Its smaller cousin the Red-shouldered Hawk is certainly the noisiest, usually heard well before they are seen. Listen for the high clear keeyuur keeyuur that will reveal their presence. Red-shoulders frequent areas with trees and water where they hunt for amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and birds. They are most commonly seen and heard at the lower end of the park near Quail Hollow, Rustic Lands and in the vicinity of the Log Cabin. The Red-shouldered Hawk is one of the most beautiful of the birds of prey. Watch for the black and white banded tail and trailing (rear) edge of the wing when flying or soaring. The shoulders and breast are a deep orange-red in the adult, less so in the immature bird.

The most sought after of the big birds of prey, of course is the majestic Golden Eagle. More than twice the size of your average Red-tailed Hawk, a small male can weigh six to eight pounds. Large females tip the scales at ten to twelve pounds or more. That's right: in the bird of prey world, females are larger, up to 1/3 larger in some species. This is known as reverse sexual dimorphism as males of other bird species and other animals are usually larger. Although the jury is still out, possible reasons for this are nest protection and the ability to take larger prey to feed their young during nesting season.

The easiest method of finding eagles in the park is to watch for soaring birds. Overall they are very dark and soar with a straight wing as opposed to the vee shaped posture of the Turkey Vulture, with which it is commonly confused. The eagle is larger and less likely to soar in groups than the vulture. If the sun is in the right position, golden feathers can be seen on the head of the adult bird. Immature birds have white at the base of the tail and under their wings. It takes four years for an immature bird to gain its adult plumage. Golden Eagles are creatures of open country and rangeland where they hunt ground squirrels and their favorite prey, jackrabbits. A drive up Sierra Road or a stroll along the rim of the canyon with its optimal views is the best way to view these powerful birds.

Years ago before the 1983 El Nino toppled it, there was an eagle nest in an old Foothill Pine high on the hillside above the canyon floor. One summer we were treated to the presence of a young eagle, which came of age in the main use area of the park, around the YSI. Mindful of the fact that large animals take some time to mature, we watched with amusement at the antics of this rather large fledgling. He no doubt "cut his talons" on the numerous Beechy Ground Squirrels that are sooo common in the park. He first announced his presence by cruising up and down the creek bed like a small airplane, no doubt testing his considerable wings. When finished with this endeavor, he would sit calmly in the Vinca on the side of the creek and watch the world go by, like an avian Ferdinand the Bull. Often he was seen perched on a branch over the Creek Trail low enough to be seen by all passers by. We enjoyed his attendance for many weeks, until one day he disappeared, hopefully to join others of his kind high above the hills of Alum Rock Park.

A group of smaller hawks found in the park are the forest hawks or Accipiters. Very adept at the art of skulking and ambush, these birds lurk behind tree trunks and branches and then sprint after unsuspecting prey. Powered by short rounded wings, a long rudder-like tail and hair-trigger reflexes, these agile hawks can pursue small birds and occasionally mammals through the forest like a slalom skier on a racecourse.

Our most common Accipiter in this area is the Cooper's Hawk. About the size of a crow, this hawk is a year around resident in the Bay Area. If you live in an old neighborhood with large trees you may have a pair set up housekeeping. If you are a feeder of small birds you may not feel quite so fortunate, as this is the ideal restaurant for a hungry "coops." These birds can be found in the park, and are most easily seen soaring above the hills. They are much smaller than a Red-tail and fly with a flap, flap, glide pattern. Look for a very long tail and short rounded wings. Otherwise you may see a brown streak zipping into or out of a grove of trees in pursuit of sparrow to robin-sized birds. If you get close enough, you'll see that adults have a red eye and horizontal orange streaking on the chest. Immatures have a yellow eye and vertical brown streaks on the chest.

Probably the most unusual bird of prey in the park is the White-tailed Kite, formerly Black-shouldered Kite. This dainty small hawk hunts by coursing low over grassy areas searching for voles and house mice. When prey is located, this little hawk will hover and then dive to grab it in its talons. These seemingly delicate birds are found in the more open portions of the park and can be viewed from the Creek Trail in the Quail Hollow, Rustic Lands area or on the North Rim Trail. Look for a slender, long-tailed hawk, very white over all, with black shoulders.

If the soaring hawks and eagles are the "B-17's" of the bird of prey world, the falcons are certainly the "fighter jets," fast, agile and powerful. Slender pointed wings and long tails combine to produce one of the fastest groups of birds around. Classified differently than other diurnal birds of prey, Falcons are in an order all their own. Their beaks are equipped with special notches used to crush or sever the spines of their quarry unlike other birds of prey. Most Falcons are bird hunters. Some are exclusively so - like the famous Peregrine and the Merlin. Others will also take mammals and insects. Falcons do not build nests but rely on hawks, crows and other birds to provide them. The large falcons will use cliff faces and cavities for their nests.

Alum Rock Park is home to the smallest of the North American Falcons, the American Kestrel, formerly the Sparrow Hawk. Very common in the Bay Area, Kestrels can be found in the upper reaches of the canyon on the grassy, open hillsides. It is here that they can be seen perched on a treetop or pole, patiently watching for food. If perches are lacking, Kestrels can hover if there is sufficient wind. Although they can and do hunt birds, the Kestrel's primary diet includes lots of insects and small mammals. Kestrels are cavity nesters and rely on woodpeckers such as the Northern Flicker to create holes for them. Using a man-made nest box is not beneath them and with old-growth trees becoming more scarce, this can be their only recourse if they are to breed. Kestrels have their own version of sexual dimorphism. The males are smaller, of course, and have beautiful blue-gray wings and head with a bright red-orange tail. Females are a rich brown with black streaking. Both male and female have two dark stripes on a white face. Listen for their shrill killy killy killy.

These are some of the hawks and eagles found in our area. Winter is a great time to go "hawking" as there are many migrants in the area as well as year around residents. The next time you get a chance, check out the open areas of the park and surrounding hillsides and keep your eyes to the sky. You never know, you may see a red-tail staring back at you!

Click here for the Alum Rock Park YSI Web site.

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NNV Newsmakers: Assemblymember Manny Diaz

Assemblymember Diaz Recognized By Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California

Assemblymember Manny Diaz (D-San Jose) is being honored this year by Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California (PPAC) for his 100% Pro-Choice voting record on reproductive health. The group sponsors legislation designed to protect reproductive freedom and opposes legislation that attempts to erode existing reproductive rights.

"I am honored to be recognized by this important women's advocacy group," said Diaz. "PPAC's work allows for women everywhere to have access to reliable reproductive health services. Without their advocacy, women of California would confront significant barriers to accessing these services."

PPAC represents the nine Planned Parenthood Affiliates throughout California on statewide governmental issues. The primary purpose of PPAC is to promote public policies that influence the provision of education, counseling and clinical services in the fields of reproductive health care and family planning.

"I will continue to be an advocate for women issues. Today, more than ever, a woman's right to choose is being challenged and it is essential that we stand together; united against legislation that threaten women's rights," said Diaz.

Click here for Manny Diaz' Web site.

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The Californio 

Rancho La Polka?  What happened to the Indians?

By Ed Allegretti

NNV Note: A less detailed version of this story appeared in the San Jose Mercury News in January. Ed has also shared more family photos with NNV for this version.

Most every child enjoys exploring around grandma's house and looking at the various curiosities that can be found there. Certainly this was true for me as a child when staying with my Grandmother Bernal. The closet in an upstairs bedroom was a favorite spot to explore as was the drawer with all of her father's ribbons and medals. Possibly, though, my favorite objects were the old Mexican style mortar and pestle and metate. As a boy, these stone "artifacts" were interesting and seemed very masculine. It wasn't until later that I learned that they once belong to a woman and were actually used for food preparation.

These stone objects actually belonged to my Grandmother Bernal's paternal grandmother, Selestina Soto de Gonzales. I knew something of this woman from several of the old photographs that my grandmother had. She was the older and heavy Spanish lady whose clothing and hair style retained elements of the pre-American Mexican customs. I also knew, from stories that my grandmother would tell, that she was married at Mission San Juan Bautista and had a fondness for smoking a pipe when nobody was supposedly watching!

It didn't take a lot of prodding for my grandmother to tell me more about her grandmother, who was born at Monterey when California was still under Mexican rule. As a child, she and her father would take their carriage from San Jose to Gilroy, where Selestina lived during her widowhood. Her house was near the center of town although previously her husband and she raised cattle on land that was once part of her aunt and uncle's, Julian and Isabella Ortega Cantua, Rancho La Polka. The trip would take one full day and they would spend a week with her. Once there, my grandmother would learn some Spanish, eat wonderful Mexican food, and learn manners. She was taught that ladies never whistle, to sit up straight, and more. She would also learn some about the lives of her extended family and see many aunts, uncles, and various cousins.

The old mortar and pestle and metate that I liked actually came from Selestina's father's rancho. Her father, Lazaro Soto, and their family resided in Monterey. In addition to his town house, he had the Rancho Canada de la Segunda in Carmel Valley. This 4,400 acre rancho extended from the ocean up into the Carmel Valley along the Carmel River. The local Indians served as house servants and tended to his herds of cattle. They even used the Carmel Mission, by then abandoned by the padres, for storage. Aside from being a rancher, Lazaro Soto was a soldier in the Mexican army of California. He was in fact the officer in charge of horses and munitions during the Battle of Natividad where the Californios routed Fremont and his invaders. Lazaro's father, Isidoro Soto, was an officer in the Mexican army at Monterey. His father, Ignacio Soto, had come to California as a Spanish soldier with DeAnza's expedition of 1776 and had served as acting alcalde (mayor) of San Jose for a time in 1794. One of Selestina's cousins was Juan Alvarado, governor of California.

On Lazaro Soto's Rancho Canada de la Segunda was an Indian rancheria (village). Numerous records show that Lazaro did much to help the local Indians obtain land and the records show the Indians held him in high esteem for his kindnesses towards them. After American rule, Lazaro sold the land where the Indians lived on his rancho. When the land was sold to Americans, there was a provision in the deed of sale that stipulated the Indians would never be disturbed and would always be allowed to live on the land. Sadly, this provision was ignored. Selestina's mother's father, Judge Jose Guadalupe Cantua, had the 4,400 acre Rancho San Luisito near San Luis Obispo. Census records long after the American rule show that some Indians still lived with him on his rancho at least until his death in the 1870's.

As a child I enjoyed these simple stone artifacts from the old rancho days. Now that they belong to me, I still enjoy looking at them and handling them. However, the story of their previous owners and the lives of these people are certainly more interesting to me now as an adult.

Click here to see Ed's ancestors mentioned in this story and the mortar and pestle and metate.

NNV Note: The naming of Rancho La Polka remains a mystery. Clyde Arbuckle's Santa Clara County Ranchos says, "this ranch, bearing the name of a dance, occupies 4166.78 acres of hill country northeast of Gilroy … It reputedly got its present name from Bernard Murphy who acquired it in 1849 …"

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NNV Briefs

bulletLibrary Ballot Measure Set for March 2nd - Current funding is about to expire
bulletRafiki’s Wi-Fi Hot Spot beckons everyone who wants to stay connected
bullet Alum Rock Education Foundation - For the children of ARUSD by Gaye Dabalos
bulletSons of Confederate Veterans - The debate goes on! by Edward Allegretti
bullet110 Years Old - Lyndale resident lived eleven decades by Evalyn Martinez
bulletNNV Web Site Home Page Changes - More buttons under the banner

Important Library Ballot Measure Set for March 2nd

Current funding is about to expire

Vote to make sure that our libraries won't be forced to cut services!

Time is just about up for the November 1994 library measure which created a ten-year funding mechanism for our community library system. It provided 21% of the overall library budget or about $5.3 million annually. Without this large chunk of its budget assured, our libraries will again be on the same thin ice as they were before the measure was passed.

On March 2nd, voters will be asked to continue funding our library system by increasing current parcel taxes from $33.66 per year for single family homes/condominiums to $42 yearly (other rates are available by phoning 408-496-9330). These funds can only be used for library services and all money raised within a city is returned to that city to fund its community library. The new ballot measure automatically expires after seven years.

Without the funds provided in the new measure, library hours could be cut by as much as 21%. This could mean that a library could be forced to close an additional one or two days per week. The books and materials budget would be reduced by nearly $700,000 which would mean 35,000 fewer books would be purchased, popular books would not be available and important research materials would not be updated.

Click here for more information on this library measure.  Please vote YES for Books and Hours. Keep our libraries strong.

If you can help by walking a precinct in our area or if you're willing to put a sign in your yard, please call the Keep Our Libraries Strong group at (408) 496-9330.

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Rafiki’s Wi-Fi Hot Spot

Coffee Hut now beckons everyone who wants to stay connected  

From Liesl Violante

We now have wireless that was installed by a friend and it's free! It's faster than we have ever seen anywhere we've been online, and no one has complained yet. If your laptop has a wireless card or built-in wireless capabilities, you can come in and sit down, turn on your computer and your wireless software should be able to pick up the connection and you can go right to your browser to explore. If you have trouble, we have troubleshooting instructions available at the counter from a helpful customer.

Click here to see how students do their homework at Rafiki's.

NNV Note: Rafiki's is one of a small handful of places that offer free wireless connections in the San Jose area. You can use Intel's Web page at and click on "Locate a hotspot" to search for others in our area - but you won't find any others in Alum Rock Village!

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The Alum Rock Education Foundation

Enhancing opportunities for the children of ARUSD

By Gaye Dabalos

The Alum Rock Education Foundation was established as a non-profit educational fund in 1999. The mission of the Foundation is to improve and enhance education for all children in the Alum Rock Union School District by funding grants and supplementary programs and to fund Teaching Excellence awards.

Our founding board was comprised of 20 volunteers representing industry, small business, education, and members of the community. Activities include managing and distributing money raised from several sources by our board. Those donations and grants have come from government agencies, corporations, Alum Rock district employees, individuals, service clubs, local independent foundations and charities.

Some of our projects have included: Funding after school programs, Even Start programs at San Antonio and Cesar Chavez Elementary Schools which support parents and children of low income families with ESL classes, parenting classes, school readiness programs for the children and computer classes for the parents. In 2003 we supplied over $30,000 to provide after school sports uniforms for all five middle schools. But there is still so much more we could and should be doing.

In 2001, embezzlement and a previous School Administration that did not support its success challenged the Foundation. And last year we lost one of our beloved founding members, Dr. Roberto Cruz, to cancer. Through all of this, with the determination of our President, Kathy Chavez Napoli, we have worked diligently to keep the foundation and its primary program, Even Start, alive. Our financial records are clean, our bank account is in good shape and we just received our second round of funding for the next four years of Even Start from the State of California. The Foundation is ready to begin new fundraising projects to support our community's children! That is where you come in!

We realize that for the Foundation to continue to create new opportunities, we need new members to aid in our work. We are currently doing an outreach for new board members to grow our vision and mission of supporting education in the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District. The time commitment will vary, to include four board meetings per year and your potential involvement in fundraising activities. If you or someone you know has an interest in working with our foundation, please contact Gaye Dabalos at (408) 595-0008. We will be holding a Board meeting in February (date TBD) to involve new members in the planning for 2004. We are excited to welcome champions for education from our community!

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Sons of Confederate Veterans

The “War for Southern Independence” debate goes on!

By Edward Allegretti

On Saturday January 17th members of Camp 1440, San Jose, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans held their monthly meeting at my home on Edgemont Drive. We honored Robert E. Lee with a birthday toast as January 19th was his birthday. In addition to sharing wonderful potluck food and electing new officers for 2004, the group engaged in its favorite activity - debating Civil War history.

Of course all of the members are descendants of Confederate veterans but some also are descendants of Union veterans. Overall, the group is interested in genealogy and history. Concerning history they like to discuss topics of course that relate to the "Civil War," or the "War for Southern Independence" as we Confederates prefer to call it. I've had discussions with members about why the War started (states rights or economics?), why Union soldiers were genuinely surprised that most slaves didn't revolt when the Yankees came down South and instead supported their white families, why General Lee and Confederate President Davis wouldn't allow their troops to harass innocent citizens when Southern troops were in the North - while most Union troops were held to no such humane standards.

The Bay Area isn't rich in historical sites involving the War. Aside from the Presidio at San Francisco which was a Union fort during the War, there are really no battlefields or other forts to visit. There are, though, many graves of War veterans. At Oak Hill graveyard in San Jose there is a designated section of Union soldier graves. Also, there are about one dozen known Confederate soldiers scattered throughout the graveyard. Our camp actually visited and decorated these graves on Memorial Day last year and one of our members, the great-great-grandson of one of these men, spoke about his ancestor. For some interesting photographs of this event please see:

The February meeting of our camp will be another potluck. Our speaker will be Rod Diridon, Sr., former chairman of the Santa Clara County board of supervisors and former Saratoga councilman, who will talk about the role his family played in the Confederacy and about their lives as prosperous planters in Virginia before the War. The date will be 2/21, the time noon, the place my house at 10981 Edgemont Drive. Our scheduled speaker for March is San Jose City Councilman Forrest Williams. Mr. Williams will speak about his life growing up in rural and segregated Alabama and the amazing values taught to him by his parents. The date will be 3/13, the time for this potluck will be noon, the place will be my house. Guests are always welcome to join us! Call me at 258-3269 if you would like more information or email me at

Click here for a few photos taken at this event.

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110 Years Old - Thirty year Lyndale resident lived eleven decades

She camps at Yosemite at age 109 

By Evalyn Martinez

Maria Zavala de Carrillo was born on September 2, 1893 in Sinaloa, Mexico. She passed away at home in Sacramento on December 1, 2003.

Maria had lived in the Lyndale Neighborhood in San Jose for more than thirty years - in the county since the 1930's. She moved to Sacramento after her one hundredth birthday.

She was active through her hundred and ninth years; camping in Yosemite that year! She based her good health on family remedies and always had that "Castor Oil" ready for anyone.

Maria became an American Citizen at 107 years old stating, "I have always considered myself a Democrat, but I don't like how our country is being run, and I am going to become a Republican, and vote for Bush" - which she did!

Her Carrillo marriage connected her to the Founding Families of California.

Nana to everyone leaves behind her loving family of three children, Carmen Rodriguez of San Martin, Fred Carrillo of San Jose and Dora Flores of Sacramento; 14 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren; 15 great-great-great-grandchildren and an abundance of nieces and nephews.

Lyndale Neighborhood - Now the home of Mark's Hot Dogs

I would like to introduce you to the Lyndale Neighborhood. We are one of the remaining county pockets. Our boundaries are different than most neighborhoods, as they are mostly commercial streets. Perhaps the new location of Mark's Hot Dogs, has already given a new awareness to our area?

The boundaries are Alum Rock Avenue, between Capitol Avenue and White Road, running south to Story Road. The now modest custom homes (valued around $500,000-$600,000) were built in the early 1940's and, after the war, a tract of homes was built in the north of Story Road area, at the huge selling price of $7,000 for a two bedroom. They are now valued at around $400,000. The neighborhood also houses several apartment complexes, which include special accommodation units for the handicapped, and a new Senior Complex. Most of the "old timers" are the original property owners.

The elementary school is Lyndale, and the Head Start Program/School is next door. The junior high school is Joseph George, and James Lick is the high school. Years ago, the north of Story Road area was in the Mount Pleasant School District. St. John Vianney is the Catholic parish (and school). Our neighborhood boasts several more churches, including Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and school.

The residents of the Lyndale Neighborhood can walk to shopping centers, restaurants, churches and schools, and there is transportation close by. Soon the Light Rail Capitol Avenue project will connect us to the rest of the Bay Area. These attributes are very important, especially to our senior residents.

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NNV Web Site Home Page Changes

More buttons under the banner

We've modified our Home page to group all the buttons just under the banner so you don't have to page down to find the rest of them. If you have any questions on the function of any of the buttons, you'll find an explanation on the lower part of the Home page.

As always, we welcome your comments on our Web site - just send an e-mail to

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You Dig It?

Area gardeners, both "Master" and casual, share their wisdom and experiences with East side gardening and related topics here.

January/February Hot Topics

By University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Bracey Tiede

Call the Master Gardener Hotline at (408) 299-2638 with your gardening questions or check out our website at

Moss and Algae Control in Lawns: Both moss and algae can impair lawn growth. They form a barrier to prevent needed water and air movement into the soil. Their presence may be caused by poor drainage, too much irrigation or rain, soil compaction, a thick thatch layer, low soil fertility (moss), acidic soil, heavy shade (moss) and high soil fertility (algae). Eliminate the cause(s) and keep the grass growing vigorously to control the problem. For moss control, fertilize the lawn as it doesn't grow well in fertile soils. Change the soil pH to between 6 and 7 if it is below 6 (acidic). Reduce irrigation frequency and amount if possible. Winter rains may make that difficult. Improve soil drainage by creating a slope or installing a French drain. Remove excess thatch. Selectively thin nearby trees and shrubs to reduce shade if moss is the problem. Reduce compaction by aerating the soil. Chemical treatments are a short-term solution and the problem will return if the causes are not remedied. For more information on Lawn Diseases Prevention and Management, see the extensive website at

Fruit Tree Pruning: January and February are the preferred months to prune most fruit trees. The exception is apricots that are pruned in July and August to avoid Eutypa canker infection. In mid-winter, the trees are at their most dormant. Pruning trees is needed to make fruit thinning, harvesting and spraying easier; to grow larger fruit; to balance fruit production from year to year; to allow light to penetrate into the lower branches; and finally to improve the tree's vigor by renewing the fruit-bearing wood. Fruit tree varieties are not necessarily pruned alike so research into the specific variety is needed. An excellent summary of pruning resources can be found at:

Peach Leaf Curl: Peach leaf curl appears in the spring when peach and nectarine trees begin to leaf out. Its red distorted leaves are ugly; the fungus can weaken the tree and also lower fruit production. Now is the time to prevent it. Spray a Bordeaux mixture or a fungicide that contains at least 50% tribasic copper sulfate once between mid December and February. A second spraying just before the buds start to swell is also recommended. Start checking for swelling in February. Some people remove diseased leaves or prune infected shoots, but this doesn't improve control. The new leaves that are produced are generally ok, but the vigor of the tree suffers some. Pruning in the fall can help reduce the fungus overwintering on the tree. More information is available at

Pruning Fuchsias: The last part of February is the time to prune fuchsias. There may be some frost damage so prune that out. Also take off some of last summer's growth. Leave at least two or three healthy leaf buds. As the plant grows, it has a tendency to get leggy. Frequently pinch the tips of the branches as this will force side growth, making the fuchsia bushier. Pick off flowers as they fade. Check out the American Fuchsia Society's website at for more information.

Planting Bare Root: There are still bare root roses, berries and trees available in the nurseries. The bare roots of these plants need to soak from an hour to overnight (large plants) in a bucket of water before planting. Trim roots of broken, dead or spongy bits and carefully pull the roots apart. Dig a hole that is fairly shallow and wide. You want to spread the roots out sideways and have the crown of the plant several inches above the soil level. This is necessary as the tree or shrub will 'settle' over time. Water in well and wait to fertilize until you see new shoots growing. Be sure to water regularly if the rains are sparse. An inexpensive water meter from the nursery is very handy to check soil moisture. Staking may not be necessary. More details can be found at

Pruning Hydrangeas: Remove old brittle canes on hydrangeas. Leave young canes with flower buds attached. Wait to prune camellias, forsythia, lilac, quince and other ornamental spring flowering shrubs until they finish blooming. Here's an article about hydrangeas from Channel 7 news.

Pruning Citrus: Now is a good time to cut back those branches that touch the ground or fences or other structures. Thin the tree to let more air into the middle. Trim out crossing branches and anything that looks dead.

All these steps will help control scale and aphid infestations. Using Tanglefoot sticky goo on the trunk will keep ants out of the tree. The ants 'protect' the scale and aphids. If you see scale (bumps on bark), thoroughly spray with Volk oil to suffocate them. Yellowing of leaves is normal this time of year as the iron that keeps the leaves green is chemically unavailable because the soil is too cold. When the soil warms up, check for yellowing. You may not need to apply a nitrogen fertilizer if the new leaves are green.

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Judging a Garden by its Groundcover:

Native Alternatives for South Bay Homes

By Arvind Kumar (

When considering landscaping options for an American home, a patch of lawn seems to be a must, and for good reason: nothing beats turf grass for functionality and looks. You can walk on it, the kids can play on it, and its lush appearance is soothing and pleasing to the eye. No wonder lawns are so common.

A bit too common, caution some landscape professionals. They say that even large lawns cannot mask a lack of creativity elsewhere in the garden. It is a home garden, after all, not a golf course!

If you are looking for landscaping ideas, consider groundcovers, low growing shrubs and perennials that can cover large areas and look good throughout the year. The plants I am about to introduce are all native to California, hence specially adapted to our climate and soils and easy to look after.

I should emphasize that these are not lawn substitutes. Nothing can substitute for a good lawn. If you need and want a lawn, by all means, get one; but if you are looking to introduce some variety into your garden, here are some alternatives. And don't forget, even lawns can look better when placed adjacent to a bed of contrasting groundcover.

Native groundcovers offer several other benefits besides variety and aesthetics. These native plants have evolved in our wet-winter/dry-summer climate, and they know how to survive just with natural precipitation (some of them will look better with some summer water). They don't need the feed-water-mow cycle of the turf grasses, nor do they require chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Best of all, they support a wide variety of wildlife, from insects and butterflies to native bees and birds. Compared to a native landscape, a lawn is just a green desert.

Click here for tables containing a partial list of native groundcovers and sources of these plants. There is not enough space here to talk about all 21 species, but I will comment on eight of my favorites.

Dwarf Coyote Brush: Lee Lenz of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden called this plant "one of the most desirable of our natives for use as a medium low ground cover." In my garden, it grows in full sun and clay soil. It retains its bright green appearance through the hottest parts of summer, with nary a drop of water. In late fall, it is covered with fluffy white flowers that light up its corner of the garden. Its deep roots are great soil stabilizers for slopes and banks. There are two varieties in the trade: 'Pigeon Point' mounds a bit higher than 'Twin Peaks' and its leaves are a bit larger, too. Experts suggest removing upright branches to maintain a low, compact appearance.

Yarrow: This is a perennial, not a shrub, with a wide selection of flower colors available in the trade. I use the local variety, the one with white flowers, in full sun as well as shade, both in clay soil. Its finely dissected, fern-like leaves develop into 6" bushy plumes. In spring, 1' tall flowering heads emerge with flat-top cymes of white flowers nodding above the green foliage. Bees and butterflies love to sip the nectar from the flowers. You may want to deadhead the spent flowers for a neater look. Scatter the seeds around the yard if you want to grow some more. I water it occasionally during summer. It spreads slowly by rhizomes: a 1 gallon plant planted 2 years ago now covers an area 2' x 2'. I encourage leafy growth by removing the emerging flower stalks as soon as they appear, so the plant's energy goes into vegetative growth rather than seed production. From a distance, the bed has the appearance of unmowed grass. Some say you can run a lawnmower over it, too. Very drought tolerant.

Foothill Sedge: This sedge was discovered in Cupertino by South Bay's own Jeff Caldwell. It looks rather like a mounding bunchgrass, with bright green blades spreading out from the base, arching gracefully. It grows to 1' high and 2' wide. You can plant it either as a specimen to contrast with other plants, or in a mass spaced 2' apart. Full grown, it maintains its neat green look and reseeds readily. A solid performer in both sun or shade.

California Fuchsia: Formerly called Zauschneria californica, this plant is as local as they come: you'll see it growing on steep hillsides in Alum Rock Park, at its noticeable best in fall when its trumpet-shaped red flowers contrast nicely with its linear gray leaves. A favorite of hummingbirds, this is a lovely plant to introduce into your garden. After the blooming period is over (late fall), cut it back to the ground; without this treatment, last year's stems can take on a raggedy appearance. It needs no additional water, and can survive even in poor soils. It spreads by rhizomes, and given good conditions, can take over entire beds. There are many selections available: 'Uvas Canyon' is a local variety.

Creeping Sages: The first three sages listed in the table are what I call creeping sages, all of which grow well in San Jose. What makes the sages special is that they all have intensely fragrant foliage: a colleague calls it the smell of California. These sun-loving plants grow fast, their stems rooting as they come into contact with the soil, and require little by way of irrigation once established. In spring, they put forth 6" spikes of flowers which draw hummingbirds and bees of all stripes. You can see beautiful beds of these at the Tilden Botanical Garden in Berkeley. The gray-leaved species contrast nicely with the green-leaved one, or next to Dwarf Coyote Brush. When planting, keep the final size in mind, so the plants don't start crowding each other out after just one season.

Hummingbird Sage: This sage is different from the previous three creeping sages. Its arrow-shaped leaves are nearly 6" long. Its flowering stalks can be 2' tall, its flowers a shocking pink that are sure to draw hummingbirds. It spreads by rhizomes. Although it is found in sunny locations as well, it does best in partial shade. Extremely drought tolerant, it looks a bit dry during summer and fall, but with the onset of rains, grows new leaves. Cut it back to 1" above the ground at the end of fall to force fresh new growth.

If you are thinking of trying these plants, it helps to keep in mind that natives are drought tolerant only when fully established. A common mistake people make is to forget about the plants once they are in the ground. Young native plants need the same care and watering regimen as other plants. Fall and winter are the best time to plant, when the soil retains a lot of moisture and the low temperatures ensure minimal water loss through transpiration. It takes two to three seasons for a native plant to develop a root system big enough and deep enough to make it on its own.

The local chapter of the California Native Plant Society ( is a useful resource, as is its Gardening With Natives subgroup (

Landscaping for Fire Safety

If you live in an area of fire risk, pay particular attention to landscape maintenance. According to "A Homeowner's Guide to Fire and Watershed Management at the Chaparral/Urban Interface," a booklet by Klaus Radtke published by the US Forest Service and the County of Los Angeles, the area around the home should be divided into three separate zones of defense for fire maintenance purposes:

  1. 0-30 feet: year-round maintenance

  2. 30-100 feet: seasonal maintenance

  3. 100 feet or more: periodic maintenance with annual inspection

Adjacent to the Home: The area within 30 feet of the home should include non-flammable landscaping such as lawns, flower beds, vegetable beds, pools, non-flammable decks, etc. Shrubs and trees in this area should be regularly pruned to keep the plant volume small. They should also be watered more often to increase the plant moisture content. You don't want a tall, flammable tree like a eucalyptus in this zone.

Greenbelt: The area that is between 30 and 100 feet from the home requires seasonal maintenance. Dead wood must be removed, trees and shrubs must be pruned, and weeds removed. Native plants are best pruned during summer, the time of dormancy for California natives.

Beyond the Greenbelt: Beyond 100 feet from the house, the amount of vegetation should be reduced, and the most flammable species should be removed. A "feathering out" approach can be adopted which means trimming older vegetation while favoring younger plants, thus maximizing root systems for soil stability while reducing the fuel load.

As long as one follows these guidelines, native plants can be used in all parts of the home landscape. Remember, all plants are flammable beyond a certain temperature. Most native plants do not pose a greater fire risk, and some non-natives like eucalyptus pose an extremely high fire risk. Some favorites like ice plant do have high water content, but their shallow root systems contribute to soil erosion. By comparison, almost all native plants have deep root systems, and are great for bank stability.

Click here for photos taken by Arvind Kumar in his garden near White & Tully Roads.

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James Lick Death Valley Field Studies Program Photos

Now you can see what the trekkies and their mentors saw

In the November edition of NNV, we ran a story written by Nella Henninger about the annual week-long trek to Death Valley taken by a group of James Lick High School's juniors and seniors each November. Nella detailed the experiences of the students and their advisors and chaperones. Now we have a wonderful bunch of photographs taken by Emanuel Sousa during that magical week to share with our readers. Click here for the photos.  Click here to refresh your memory of Nella's story.

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One Last True Kitty Cat Tale

Simon slips away

Was his friend the fox waiting?

Something had been tugging at Simon for months. Mornings would find him yowling hollowly with vacant eyes - until he would snap out of it and embarrassedly acknowledge that he was safely at home in the bosom of his family on Highland Drive. Dr. Lu said it was "a cognitive problem" because Simon was a very old cat.

Simon was indeed in his geriatric years, and after a life of docile compliance with his annual veterinary check-ups, he decided at age 16 that he had endured enough indignities and attempted to bite Dr. Lu. This from a cat who never bit or scratched anyone, ever. This from a cat who was content just to watch birds and never caught even one. This from a cat who loved to smell the sweet scent of the flowers in the garden and eschewed startling little lizards into their crevices in the wall.

Early in December, Simon lost interest in smelling flowers and no longer could be enticed to play with string - which had been his passion. He yowled more and grew ridiculously finicky about the food which was put before him. Despite being tempted by the finest of kitty-cat delicacies, he became a flimsy shadow of his once robust self. He was proud that he was still able to leap onto the kitchen counter in a single athletic bound, however.

On Christmas, Simon did not play with Schuster in the discarded wrapping paper or tangle himself up in the snarled ribbons. He let Schuster have all the catnip socks. He grew more and more distracted. He became weaker. The tug grew stronger.

One day during the week before New Year's, Simon lay by the living room window watching listlessly as the hummingbirds zipped around the feeder outside. Suddenly a great hawk alit gracefully on a utility wire exactly centered in Simon's view. Could Simon's tired old eyes see this rare visitor?

Perhaps two mornings later, a nearby pack of coyotes sang an unusual sunrise concert. Was the song for Simon?

On the Sunday before New Year's Day, when Dad left his easy chair momentarily, Simon climbed with rubbery legs from the footstool onto the seat of the chair. This would be the last time that he would execute this favorite joke on Dad. Dad allowed the old cat to usurp this favored warm seat, of course. The tug had found its way to Dad's heartstrings, too.

On Monday night, December 29th, as a pair of great-horned owls somberly dialogued outside the windows, Simon yielded to the irresistible pull. The spirit of beloved Simon left his raggedy body. Perhaps his sweet spirit joined up with that of the friendly fox who, so many years before, helped him, lost in the East Highlands, to find his way home.

The world has lost a gentle creature. He was 18 ½ years old.

Click here for a painting of Simon at his bird-watching window.  Click here to read about Simon and the fox if you missed it in the last edition.

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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

bulletWhat was all the construction going on at McKee Road at Toyon?
bulletWhat's happening with the closed portion of poor old Crothers Road?
bulletWill you bring us up to date on the old, closed Alum Rock Stables?
bulletWhat's happening now with the Alum Rock Feed & Fuel store property?
bulletWill the Alum Rock Branch Library ground-breaking happen on schedule?

Q. What was all the construction going on at McKee Road at Toyon? The road was torn up for weeks!!

A. According to Larry Caskey of Caskey Country Club Properties which is located right in the midst of the uproar, some of the utility wires between Kirk and Toyon were "undergrounded." Larry didn't have an answer as to why this particular stretch would be getting such treatment, but he thought it might have something to do with the recently installed traffic signal. Is it possible that the new work will allow some further adjustment to the cycling of the light which has proved problematic to all but the left-turners going east on McKee from Toyon? Stay tuned.

Click here for a photo of the undergrounding project near McKee and Toyon.

Q. What's happening with the closed portion of poor old Crothers Road? Is anything going on which will mean that the road can ever be stabilized and reopened?

A. The road, which has been closed now for six years (!) between Alum Rock Avenue and Miradero Avenue, continues to gently moulder away. The neighborhood it served quietly waits, hoping that the landslide and the economy will stabilize sufficiently that repairs can be made and the road restored. NNV noticed that the big bite out of the road (not so fondly nicknamed "the PacMan bite") has been well protected this winter with many sandbags around its edges and that several other areas of the road below the bite have strategically placed sandbags along them as well. We asked Mike McClintock, the supervisor of Alum Rock Park, who we should thank for the sandbagging as well as for an update on the work going on in the park. His response follows. (Mike's allusions to the work on the park entrance refer to the new parking lot and other enhancements at the Penitencia Creek Road entrance into the park. His mention of the work to secure approvals by the Department of Public Works refers to the work planned for the toe of the landslide at Penitencia Creek which, given lots of time and Mother Nature's cooperation, might begin to stabilize the slide. Getting the slide stopped is what it will take for the City to ever revisit the closed roads.)

Mike said: Thanks for the recognition on the sandbagging efforts. The maintenance staff at the park felt that in addition to placing the sandbags at the "bite" that it would be beneficial to place a few additional bags in a couple spots in an effort to slow down and redirect the stormwater flow down the road to catch basins and away from the road edge. There was some minor erosion starting to occur downhill from the bite that they wanted to curtail.

The demolition and rough grading have been completed on the park entrance project. The contractor, HRB Construction, is currently working on underground utilities (electrical, telephone and water), roadway preparation and concrete curbing. They are scheduled to start laying asphalt for the new roadway within the next month. There have been some delays due to the weather but we are still hoping the project will be completed in late February/early March.

The City's Department of Public Works and the consultant, Swanson Hydrology, are continuing to work with the various state and federal regulatory agencies to secure approvals on the preferred option that was proposed by the consultant for protecting the toe of the slide. This option includes re-directing the water flow away from the toe of the slide during times of high water flow. DPW and the consultant are currently waiting for the agencies to respond to their last submittals. As soon as they get the necessary approvals they will start on the actual plans and specifications for the project.

Click here for a photo of poor old Crothers Road.

Q. NNV mentioned that "things are happening" at the old, closed Alum Rock Stables. Will you please bring the community up to date?

A. Barbara Weitz of Bay Area Barns and Trails Trust (BABTT) has really made great progress toward assuring the preservation of the old stables property near the Alum Rock Avenue entrance to Alum Rock Park. She encourages us to forward her "E-News" regarding that progress to "persons interested in supporting purchase, restoration and a new beginning for Alum Rock Stables." Please let us know if you would like to receive her very positive, exciting message in toto and we will send it on to you. Meanwhile, here is a synopsis:

An entry road easement agreement is being prepared for consideration by the City of San Jose and the Miller family (neighbors to the property). The stables owner, Mr. Hamilton, is generously allowing as much time as is needed to "address all the issues." Our suggestions for appraisers are invited. Pro bono would be a blessing.

Mr. Hamilton will allow fundraising events at the Stables! BABTT would like the community's suggestions for ideas for such projects and says that "help will be welcome."

A grant writer has been hired to identify funding sources for acquisition of the property; restoration of buildings, lands and trails; and implementation of programs.

Here is the draft Mission of the Alum Rock Stables Steering Committee (ARS):

BABTT, in partnership with ARS, public agencies, neighborhood groups, equestrians, and historic preservation advocates, plans to acquire, restore and re-open Alum Rock Stables for public use. ARS will restore the historic barn constructed by the Breuer family in 1936 and place an easement on the entire property so that its permanence as an operating stable can be assured. Alum Rock Stables will offer horseback riding lessons, an environmental education program, and public horse boarding for 15-20 horses or ponies. The (stables) trailhead will provide access to public trails in Alum Rock Park and to the Bay Area Ridge Trail planned connection to Joseph Grant County Park and Ed Levin Park.

Click here for BABTT's Web site.

NNV thanks Barbara Weitz, BABTT, landowner Mr. Hamilton, the Miller family and the members of the Alum Rock Stables Steering Committee for caring enough about this unique neighborhood resource to wade through the morass of red tape involved in a project such as this. Obviously, it takes a lot of negotiating, compromising, generosity of spirit and plain old grunt work to make good things happen. We hope the NNV community will respond generously when fundraising gets underway. It will be good to hear the horses' hoofbeats echoing around the hills again.

Q. What's happening now with the old Alum Rock Feed & Fuel store near the corner of Alum Rock and Stewart Avenue in Alum Rock Village?

A. The old business is part of a three-quarter acre parcel on that corner which is now for sale - for $1.3 million. For many years the Silva brothers ran the store which sold all manner of things in a quirky, dilapidated, never-updated wooden structure reminiscent of the 1920's or 30's. One could buy such disparate items as cat food and live baby poultry, gopher traps and garden tools. There were bins of bulk animal feed situated on floors so uneven that the unsuspecting shopper risked an attack of vertigo. About the only "modern conveniences" in the place were the electric lights and the telephone!

A death in the family brought an end to the unusual old business last year and the Silvas have decided to liquidate their holdings on that corner. The 25,013 sf lot is also home to Foothill Printers and Brasil Auto (formerly known as Binky (?) Brothers' Shell Station). All three buildings are in poor condition and will most probably be razed.

Christine Silva Burnett (no relation that we know of to the Silva brothers!), District Five Councilmember Nora Campos' Chief of Staff, tells NNV that the property lies within a Neighborhood Business District, is designated General Commercial and specifically zoned "CP" or Commercial Pedestrian. This designation supports "pedestrian-oriented activity at a scale compatible with the surrounding residential neighborhoods." At this point, the eventual development of the property is unknown, but Councilmember Campos "continues to support revitalizing the retail aspects of the Village and her priority is to meet community retail needs and (to) support small business development." She also "will continue to work to have a continuity of design and upgrading of buildings to enhance the appearance of the Village (since) it is the gateway of the area."

Many NNV readers have suggested that the area needs more restaurants to complement White Rock Café and bring diners into the neighborhood in the evenings now that there is parking available in the Lick High School parking lot from 4 PM. Councilmember Campos assures NNV that there will be "opportunities for community input …… as early as possible in the development process." NNV will publicize any information regarding dates and times of public meetings.

Click here for photos of the Alum Rock Feed & Fuel corner.

Q. Will the Alum Rock Branch Library ground-breaking happen on schedule?

A. Dominic Onorato, the library branch guru downtown, says that Saturday, February 21st at 11 AM is still a go. This space at the southwest corner of Alum Rock Avenue and White Road will be the spot to watch for a while - as we see an old hodge-podge of rickety worn-out shops demolished to make way for a dream of a City library branch. Watch our Community Bulletin Board for more information on this and other events. 

Click here for the architects' renderings of the new Alum Rock Branch library. Click here to see Councilmember Nora Campos and other photos of the demolition and here for Councilmember Campos' press release on the demolition (pdf file). Click here for the San Jose Branch Libraries Web site. Then click on "Latest News" at the right of that page or select "Alum Rock Branch Library" at the bottom. 

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Copyright© 2004 by Judy Thompson, 16174 Highland Drive, San Jose, CA 95127 
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Copyright© 2004 by Judy Thompson.  All rights reserved.  Updated 7/18/04.

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