The Barron Park Association

Jun 022015
 

(This is an updated version of my Spring 2015 BPA Newsletter column.)

In February, Palo Alto Online published an article about the College Terrace neighborhood association that rang familiar: an organization that has been around for about four decades and which played an important role for many residents over the years has difficulty attracting new blood to its board and may be at risk of folding. As BPA newsletter readers know, the lack of new volunteers is something the BPA board has been grappling with as well over recent years.

Why is it so difficult to find more volunteers to organize events, watch out for neighborhood safety, interact with the city and developers, or publish the BPA newsletter? As our survey last year showed, it is not that residents don’t care about these issues. Quite the opposite is true: throngs of people come together for the May Fete and Movie in the Park, concerned residents attend city council meetings, and the newsletter consistently gets very high marks. The Barron Park community clearly values what the BPA has to offer. More than that, and more broadly, community gatherings, activism, and communication demonstrably lead to a more enjoyable, livable, and resilient community.

So why aren’t more folks stepping up to contribute? In the past, people joined the BPA board mainly for one of two reasons: either to simply contribute to the community they live in, or to get the BPA behind a specific cause they cared about (e.g., CPI). One obvious answer why there are fewer of the former is that people have less time to volunteer, both because more people work (and work longer hours) and because there are many more competing activities to choose from than decades ago. The latter — activists — still exist, but it’s easier than ever to voice your opinion or rally people using online tools and social media. While the BPA may provide more weight to an opinion, it also takes longer to act and has to be more considerate by its very nature (serving a large and diverse membership).

You may think of other reasons why fewer people make themselves available to the community. The effect is the same, though: most current board members have been in their roles for a long time, and new members are hard to recruit. As a result, several important committee chairs are vacant. Rather than just lament this situation, though, the board has been active to work out a “Plan B”: considering the outsourcing of some of its activities. For example, the fact that events bring neighbors together and thus lead to a vibrant and resilient community is not necessarily diminished by having events organized by professional event planners. While most of us would prefer to have volunteers from the neighborhood organize our events, it is more important to continue those events than to insist on free labor. This has in fact happened to the May Fete: our marquee event has become just too much for a volunteer group to organize, but by all accounts paying a professional to plan and run it for the last few years has done nothing to decrease its popularity. So that is what we are considering for other offerings from the BPA. We have some creative ideas, and I think some may change the BPA for the better. We’ll do it carefully, and certainly not for everything. We’ll also have to look at the financial impact, and perhaps we’ll have to raise membership dues (which haven’t changed in many years). None of this is decided yet, but this is the time to think about it. We are fortunate to have a solid organization with a strong history, which provides a good foundation for its next phase. (Since I first wrote this, a few people have stepped forward to volunteer and even join the BPA board. We still need more help in some of the departments. Check board meeting announcements for vacant chairs, or contact us with your interests. Even better: join us at a BPA Community Happy Hour!)

We’d like to hear your opinion on this issue. Send me an email to president at BPA palo alto dot org or post a comment here. We know that the BPA is a valued institution for many, but we can’t stand still if we want to remain relevant.

Dec 292014
 

posted by Markus Fromherz

Over the summer of 2014 the BPA ran a survey of the Barron Park neighborhood about interests and priorities in the community. We got a wonderful response. 172 people filled out the survey. The number does not describe the amount of write-in comments, though. Before I get into details, I’d like to draw attention to the informal gathering we have planned for January 7, 5-6pm, to discuss two of the top interests. Please see our email on BPA-News and RSVP if you’d like to help and contribute to the BPA.

In this post, I’d like to summarize the survey responses and comments. Full details can be found here.

First, there is strong support for the BPA’s activities. A great majority of the respondents find the annual meeting, May Fete, and casual/cultural gatherings important. There are good ideas on how to improve some of them and what other events to organize. For example, how about a teen event? There is also near-universal support for and interest in the newsletter, website, and email lists. The responses on general activities and interests were more differentiated and will help us understand where to put our energy and look for help. Emergency preparedness scores very high, while the ratings of the other interests (e.g., babysitter list, senior activities) reflect the local demographics.

We asked about a number of safety, livability, and environmental concerns. All safety issues rate high, with the relative exception of crime. Some people would like to see more sidewalks, others fewer bumps on their roads. There is strong support for cycling, but it is recognized that there are a good number of unsafe drivers and unsafe cyclers in the neighborhood. All livability concerns score high, especially (and not surprisingly) housing density, building codes, Barron Park’s rural character, and traffic. However, respondents have diverse ideas about how to address these concerns. On shuttles: “I want to see much more public transit and shuttles.” / “Keep shuttles out.” On sidewalks: The desire for more sidewalks comes up repeatedly, but others want to keep the streets unchanged. On CPI: “I really value that we can speak as one voice through the BPA on the CPI site issues.” / “The BPA has been noticeably absent in helping Chimalus Drive residents.” (Notice that several BPA board members and residents have provided detailed evaluations and recommendations that have clearly influenced city staff dealing with the issue. Some respondents seemed unaware of such valuable contributions.)

People are also divided on the role of the Barron Park Association in these matters. Some want the BPA to take an even more active role in addressing these issues, while others think the board is too activist and anti-change and want it to stay out of politics. The comments remind us that not everyone is against increasing housing density, for example, if it can be done in a reasonable way. Yes, many are siding with this sentiment: “Population density will destroy this area. Barron Park will be the only quiet, graceful, safe place for family’s to live in peace. Stop the madness!” But a noticeable number of respondents expressed this opinion: “The number one problem in Palo Alto is the shortage of affordable housing. That should trump all other concerns.” As one person wrote, “There are many different points of view in the community.” It is an ongoing challenge for the BPA to represent all residents in these matters.

To my delight, there is quite a bit of interest in a Barron Park community center. What would it be like to have a place with meeting rooms, a BBQ patio, perhaps even a swimming pool in Barron Park? A sentiment by more than one respondent was, “This would be AWESOME to have here in the neighborhood! I don’t know where we would put it – but I would LOVE it if we had such a place!” While not everyone agrees there is a need, there are many ideas for location and features.

We also got several pages worth of comments on our request for the top five items of priority for the BPA. I can’t possibly do them justice here, and many fall into the hot topics mentioned previously. As intended, the responses will help us prioritize our efforts. There are many ideas we will have to pass on to the city or county. Clearly, all residents like this neighborhood and would like the BPA to foster community and preserve livability. One respondent reminds us to “Make Barron Park more friendly AGAIN – know, greet and help your neighbors.”

As you have seen in my recent newsletter columns, the BPA board has been quite active on many of these concerns. Most of the work happens outside board meetings and often out of sight, e.g., when Nancy Hamilton and Patrick Coyne spend countless hours assembling the newsletter, Richard Elder manages the mailing lists daily, Lydia Kou prepares for a multifaceted movie in the park evening, and many board members attend regular housing development, traffic, CPI, and Palo Alto Neighborhoods meetings.

However, it is important to remember that the BPA is not a separate entity with paid staff. You are the BPA. The BPA is a group of neighbors volunteering to get things done, and we are all volunteers with families and day jobs. So if something is important to you, please join the board and contribute. More community services via the BPA are very much needed and appreciated.

Looking for ideas? Emergency preparedness got a 95% importance rating, but we need a new chair! Housing development appears in every other comment, but we lost our housing chair to the startup life. There are votes to revive social meetings like the holiday party or the welcoming party, but we need those caring people to organize them. The community needs you! A good way to check out opportunities to help is the aforementioned gathering on January 7.

Thanks again for your input to the BPA. Please consider volunteering for the BPA and working on one of those important issues.

(This is an updated version of my Fall 2014 BPA Newsletter column.)

Dec 232013
 

It has been a privilege to have been the President of the Barron Park Association during the past eight months. The BPA Board updated the BPA Bylaws this year, setting a one year term for the President. So, in that context, my period of service is not unusually brief. But, I’ve decided it’s time for me to move on and to let someone else pick up the reins of leadership. At the November BPA Board meeting, Markus Fromherz was elected President and Peter Mueller as Vice President.

I want to thank the Barron Park community for the opportunity to serve and hope that I have provided some clarity to you on some of the issues facing our community and our City.

To recap, during this year the BPA Board took some positive actions for the neighborhood.

  • The Maybell-Clemo project was controversial and so the Board decided to first ask our membership by a survey/vote whether to financially support the signature gathering effort to put the measure to a referendum; the response was an overwhelming (but not unanimous) yes.
  • We altered our bylaws to establish an annual election cycle for the BPA President and Vice President.
  • We responded to the comments and concerns of our members and developed guidelines for subscribers and also (for the first time) guidelines for the list manager of the BPA email lists.
  • We also responded to comments from members and voted to sever our relationship with the Boy Scouts of America as a BPA chartering organization next year because of their discriminatory policies on adult volunteers. In actuality, there hasn’t been an active connection between the BPA and the scout troop for some years.
  • We worked with City officials and the bicycle community and convinced the City to install ‘share the path’ signs along the Bol Park Bike path as safety reminders to both walkers and bicyclists.
  • With the energetic involvement of Dick Placone, we were able to have the City complete the multi-year effort to convert the space alongside the Matadero Well site into an attractive pocket park.
  • With the participation and expertise of Dick Whitmore, we helped facilitate an agreement between the Acterra/Donkey Handler group and James Witt over the use of use of his property as donkey pasture for the Barron Park donkeys.
  • And we’ve continued our ongoing activities; we produced quarterly issues of the BPA Newsletter under the editorship of Nancy Hamilton with articles contributed by Doug Graham and others; used our website, www.BPApaloalto.org, to regularly publish posts with news and information of interest to the neighborhood along with events on a community calendar; organized several social events during the year, including a highly successful repeat (the 36th edition) of our May Fete coordinated by John King, and added some new events – a Chinese New Year’s celebration with Lion Dancers and a Movie Night in the Park – both organized by Lydia Kou.  Our Membership Chair, Lisa Landers, has compiled the Babysitting list and distributed to those who requested it, and our Welcoming Chair, Gwen Luce, prepared and delivered information packets to newcomers. And during the year I voiced the concerns of the Barron Park neighborhood on the pace of development and the concerns about traffic at numerous neighborhood and City meetings.

I have tried very hard to represent the interests of the membership as a whole, to respond to your comments and concerns, to provide information to you about the Board activities and the measures the Board deals with and votes upon, to support initiatives that I feel are of benefit to the community and oppose those that conflict with our mission as a community organization.  In short, to make you – each member of the BPA  – aware of the issues that come before the Board and hopefully interest some of you , especially new residents  or older residents who haven’t been active before, in participating in the Board activities. It can be a very rewarding experience.

To keep BPA Board vital, it needs an infusion of new faces , people with new ideas about how and what the BPA can do to enhance our community life– and with the energy and drive to carry them out. Please step forward and devote some of your time and talent to our neighborhood association.

Posted by Art Liberman

Oct 152013
 

Update – At its meeting on October 15th, the BPA Board voted, 8 to 1, to adopt the following resolution:

“The Barron Park Association will discontinue its charter of Pack 52 and Troop 52. The Pack 52 charter shall be discontinued as of November 30, 2013 and the Troop 52 charter shall be discontinued no later than November 30, 2014, or sooner should they obtain a new charter organization”

The Cub Scout Pack 52 has tentatively already found an alternative organization that would be its sponsor.

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The following is the personal opinion of Barron Park Resident and BPA Board member Art Liberman. It does not represent the position of the BPA or the BPA Board. However, this item will be discussed and acted upon at the October 15th BPA Board Meeting.

Should the BPA continue to be a Chartering Organization for the Boy Scouts of America?  My answer is NO.

For some years, the Barron Park Association has sponsored a Boy Scout troop and a Cub Scout pack affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. I have come to the conclusion that we should sever our connection with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) because of their discriminatory policies. We should encourage the troop and pack leaders to find other organizations as sponsors  to minimize the effect on the boys currently active in this program.

The BSA terminology for an organization that sponsors a Boy Scout troop is a “chartered organization.” In practice, a BPA Board Member signs a piece of paper at the end of each year from the BSA that defines the responsibilities of the sponsoring organization. By signing the Charter AgreementAnnual Charter Agreement with the BSA, the BPA agrees to “Conduct the Scouting program according to its own policies and guidelines as well as those of the Boy Scouts of America.” In effect, this says that in conducting or supervising the scout program, we – the BPA – are bound to follow the policies of the BSA, including their discriminatory policies, whether we personally approve them or not.

The BSA of today is not “your grandfather’s” Boy Scouts. For most of its history the BSA allowed individual troops to define their own rules, but this changed in recent decades. The national organization of the BSA has recently updated its membership policies to allow gay scouts but reaffirmed its policy that does not allow gay adult troop leaders. To fulfill its requirement in the Charter Agreement, the BPA Board member must affirm that scout troop leaders and other volunteers are not “open or avowed homosexuals.” The BSA couches its policy in terms of protecting the scouts, but this policy doesn’t target pedophiles but just all adults of a certain sexual orientation – it is discriminatory and unacceptable.

The issue before the BPA Board is not to assess the value of scouting to the participants. That’s a separate question. What the BPA Board needs to decide is whether it’s appropriate for the BPA to be affiliated with the national BSA given its current membership and volunteer policies.

There is a second reason why the BPA should disengage from the BSA. The BPA does not fulfill another requirement of a chartered organization, which is to “Include Scouting as part of its overall program for youth to meet the developmental needs for every age level.”  Unlike some churches or other community organizations that sponsor BSA troops, the BPA does not have any youth development programs as part of its objectives or in any of its activities.

Art Liberman

Sep 262013
 

The Fall 2013 issue of the Barron Park Newsletter is out and should have reached the mailboxes of all BPA members. If you have not received your issue, send us an email. This issue features the following articles:

President’s Message by Art Liberman – on the surge in development all along El Camino and the need for City planning staff and policy makers to have an overview of all this activity and to consider the consequences of all the additional traffic before gridlock arrives on the main arteries and the residential roads are besieged with cut through traffic.

A New Pocket Park: The Matadero Well Site by Doug Graham – on the newly  landscaped area with two benches (one donated by the Henshel family) alongside the Matadero Well Site, the history the Matadero Well itself as source of water exploited by private water companies until 1953, and efforts in the last few years by several determined Barron Park residents to create this new pocket park.

Art in the Park – featured artist: Nancy Lewis of Kendall Ave

Immersion Spa: Korean Spa culture in the Bay Area by Markus Fromherz (Business Liaison) – a new business in the former Blockbuster store: a Korean-style spa with American influences. They are offering first-time Barron Park residents 25% off through end of October.

Business Beat by Bob Moss – an update on businesses and business vacancies along the Barron Park section of El Camino

BPA Newsletter Survey Results by Nancy Hamilton – on the results of the survey in last issue of the BPA Newsletter, asking members their thoughts about the importance and the content of the Newsletter and for their input on ideas or willingness to participate in the Newsletter staff.