By Len and Julie Ramirez
If anyone ever doubts the commitment of Alum Rock neighbors to improve their community and their ability to defend it, let them hear about what happened tonight. "I left excited and ready to roll up my sleeves," said one long time Alum Rock resident after attending the standing room only meeting at the fellowship hall of Foothill Presbyterian Church on McKee Road. About 150 residents packed the room for the Alum Rock Neighborhood Coalition's regular March meeting. Community spirit was reborn and special commissions were set up so neighbors working in small, cohesive groups could tackle some of areas of concern:
- Graffiti Removal
- Neighborhood Watches
- Roads and Traffic
- Schools and Education
- Community and Business Relations
- Public Relations/Media
Interest over the PEO property exploded during the last 10 days while talks of a women's prison surfaced and later fizzled. Intense emails and phone calls flooded the in-boxes of local officials, news reports aired, and tempers flared, while neighbors rallied. "Calls went from nothing to 50 the next day over this issue," explained Darcie Green of Assembly Member Joe Coto's office. Applause broke out as ARNC President David Sanchez proclaimed, "What's the latest on the PEO home? Nothing--it's over!!"
The sigh of relief was short lived; however, while neighbors realized the future of the property is still a big question. Todd Trekell, representing property owner and developer Barry Swenson, also noted the overwhelming response of neighbors to his office over the prison plan. "We heard you loud and clear," he said. Trekell also assured the community that Barry Swenson will work with the community in the future. Trekell tried to gain credibility with the skeptical crowd by citing his own family ties to the East Side as well as Mr. Swenson's (he graduated from James Lick High School). Trekell told neighbors that the site is an excellent location for an assisted living center, and that his company is working with a couple of entities in that regard, but noted that the land is for sale, and thus could be sold and developed by others.
Neighbors also heard a presentation by Greg Lippman, of ACE Charter Schools, over his company's interest in the PEO site as a potential charter middle school. Citing its beautiful grounds, good driveway access and ample classroom and meeting areas, Lippman said the site is an excellent candidate for a school of about 400 students. But he also noted that his company is not yet ready to move forward with formal plans.
The owner of Miss Cafe on Alum Rock Avenue faced a large and skeptical audience of concerned East Siders.
Some of the most heated discussions of the night centered around two of the newest members of the Alum Rock business community: Miss Cafe and Thien Y, which are Vietnamese cafes that feature short menus and even shorter skirts and skimpy tops for their waitresses. Attorney James Barrett, who represents Miss Cafe brought up the businesses owner (who was not named), his wife and two toddlers and said "these are the faces of Miss Cafe." The audience gave a collective chuckle, but bit its tongue on voicing more pointed comments until after the wife and children had left the front of the room. Miss Cafe attorney James Barrett fielded questions and criticism from neighbors while Miss Cafe's owner and manager stood by. Barrett said "I want Miss Cafe to be a part of this community."
"This is an issue of appropriateness and its impact on this community," said neighbor James Cape referring to the dark, reputedly smoky environment and skimpy outfits. Maureen Behlen pointed out how she currently avoids using the Wells Fargo ATMs next to its entrance after her 12 year old son was shocked by what he saw during their last visit to get cash. "Would you take your children there?" she asked the owner. To her surprise he admitted he took them to work with him and his wife. As the audience gasped, she snapped, "Shame on you!"
Attorney Barrett said he would meet with ARNC's newly formed community and business relations commission next week, while insisting he wants Miss Cafe to "be a part of this community."