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Be The Best Neighbor You Can Be

Do you know what's happening outside your own neighborhood?

Last year I wrote a column about neighbors. I wrote that although we live in close proximity the distance between us seemed to have widened. That distance is becoming even greater.

In our fast paced, technological world, the ways to be a neighbor may have changed—communicating by email and list servers rather than in person—but the definition remains unchanged: a neighbor is a person living nearby. Neighbors make up neighborhoods, the local vicinity in which people live and usually share common values.

Work and family demands leave little extra time. We have a tendency to encapsulate and operate within individual circles. The concept of being a neighbor has blurred. I can’t help but speculate—as our community continues to change and the landscape becomes denser, will the concept of neighborly interaction someday disappear?

I hope that never happens.

Caring about one another, not just the person in the house or condo next door but the community at large, is one way to preserve a sense of neighborhood. That means caring about what happens in someone else’s immediate neighborhood as well as our own.

The truth is we need each other. We need our neighbors and to be aware of the greater community. We need to be aware of the process to protect our neighborhoods. We need passion to make this city and all its neighborhoods the best possible—for all, not just a few.

I usually know what’s happening in my corner of the world, but I’m as guilty as the next person about falling into the NIMBY syndrome. A problem in someone else’s neighborhood, outside my everyday interaction, may not register as needing my attention. But not paying attention can lead to unwanted results that ultimately affect me.

When’s the last time you walked or drove beyond your immediate neighborhood and really looked at changes happening? I mean really looked—especially in the downtown area?

After reading several impassioned emails about proposed changes in a few neighborhoods, I looked. I used to pride myself on being aware, but after my little excursion I realize I’m not as aware as I thought.

I’m a newbie to Mountain View. I’ve only lived here three years, but the change I’ve seen in that time is amazing—some of it in my backyard. I attend community meetings and discussions but mostly when it affects me directly. I wrote about change at the and I was labeled Henny Penny and warned that the ‘sky was not falling.’ (The individual making that comment missed my point.)

Change isn’t always what causes people to react. It’s the process.

The aftereffect of change on an existing neighborhood and the seemingly cavalier attitude from city officials in making the change is what causes reaction. There's almost a David and Goliath aspect to proposed development projects. Developers flex their muscles asking for the moon and stars (variances and exceptions) and get them regardless of the concerns of residents in the existing neighborhoods. Homeowners versus deep-pocket developers dangling carrots of revenue have less success. Sadly, it seems a slingshot does not have the same result against Greed as it did against Goliath.

The powers-that-be in the Planning Department often are not only deaf (deciding in favor of developers despite overwhelming neighborhood concerns) but also blind. It seems they only have eyes for the color of money. When that happens it’s hard to believe they have any awareness of the good of a neighborhood.

Take Chez TJ for example.

Chez TJ, in business for almost three decades, is housed in a historic Victorian-style house on Villa Street. On the grounds are herb and vegetable gardens created by Louise Christy that provide the basis for many of the restaurant’s menu selections. A Los Altos developer is proposing to build a 61’ office building five feet from Chez TJ’s fence line. The design and height of the building will result in loss of sunlight required to maintain the gardens. This may benefit the developer, but it will seriously impact the edible garden area of the restaurant.

Hmmm. Green (garden) vs. green (money). Speaking of green - I wonder where the Green Mountain View Community Group stands on this issue. Development is gobbling up every inch of open space downtown.

In another part of town a carwash is being proposed. Yes, it’s part of an existing gas station on a busy street, but it’s adjacent to residential properties. Do we really need another car wash? But, hey, with all the development in town there’s surely going to be an increase in the number of cars, and cars get dirty, right? So what’s another blight on El Camino Real.

Still not enough?

The developers at the San Antonio site want to include an eleven-story office building to the next phase of the project.

Give an inch, and they’ll try to take a mile.

Where does it stop? I don’t know. I do know the neighborhoods in question need support. They need each of us to be sensitive to their concerns and be willing to speak up. (Look what happened in Egypt when people spoke up.)

Change is inevitable. But with change should come an element of compromise to ensure that when change does happen it is for the betterment of many in the wider community not merely a vehicle for increasing the bank accounts of a few.

Take that walk or drive like I suggested, and really look around. You might be surprised at what’s happening in your own neighborhood. It might enable you to better understand neighborhood concerns and participate in improving the process to make our community—our city—the best it can possibly be.

Maybe in the future The Voice can add a new category to their “Best of” vote: Best city for integrating new development into existing neighborhoods.

randy albin June 28, 2012 at 05:33 PM
you can't choose your relatives, but you can choose your friends. bad neighbors are insufferable. what this all means is to stay away from all of the homeowner associations. disliking strangers and neighbors in an understatement
Louise Christy June 28, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Anyone who is interested is invited to walk into the garden at Chez TJ to have a look around (during daylight hours, of course!) It is a lovely place to spend a few minutes, especially this time of year.
Louise Christy June 28, 2012 at 06:21 PM
The building will seriously impact the menu, too. The chefs use the garden constantly. It is not just a "feel good" thing, it is a material part of the restaurant's operations.
Claudia Cruz (Editor) June 28, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Before reading this Louise, I didn't know about the garden at Chez TJ. I will definitely visit!

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