Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - June 8, 2012

Palo Alto Orchards

Where everyone knows your name

by Bryce Druzin

In a close community, residents know their neighbors' names, occupations, hobbies and what the kids are up to.

In the Palo Alto Orchards neighborhood, Heidi Stern goes a step further: She can recommend whom to visit to get a good cocktail.

"That's Dennis," Stern said as a black pickup truck drove past her home on Suzanne Drive. "His wife makes a mean margarita."

Palo Alto Orchards is nestled near the intersection of Arastradero Road and El Camino Real and is made up of a closed network of four streets, as well as Arastradero.

Stern has spent time in the Orchards since 1973, when her mom bought a modest single-story home that is typical of the neighborhood. Stern took over the house in 2000 and is not faint in her praise of the area.

"It's just like a little island where people move in and are surprised that all the neighbors introduce themselves," Stern said.

While Stern tended to her garden on a Tuesday afternoon, she identified drivers of passing cars ("That's Susan, she just got chickens.") and chatted with neighbors.

Lorrie Carrie and her daughter Alissa walked up with five dogs in tow and stopped to talk for 15 minutes. Stern opened up her gate to allow her own dogs to interact with their neighbors, as well.

Carrie has been in the neighborhood for 37 years and lives on the other side of Suzanne Drive, a U-shaped street whose ends are connected by Kelly Way.

"(It's a) great neighborhood to live in and I wouldn't ever leave," she said, jokingly adding, "Until I die, of course."

A small community meeting formed when neighbor Lisa Robinson pulled into her driveway and joined Stern and the Carries.

Robinson has raised three children during the 19 years she's lived in the Orchards. She said children from the neighborhood come to her front yard to use the swing and play with her four tortoises.

Robinson said the communal feeling there was unique.

"I lived one street over in Los Palos (Avenue), and that was not friendly," said Robinson, noting that cars drove much faster there than in the Orchards.

Stern said the neighborliness goes beyond making small talk and includes dog-sitting, giving rides and caring for each other during illnesses.

"A few years back I had cancer, and everybody looked after me," she said. "I don't have any siblings nearby ... (but) I didn't worry about being alone."

Stern did express some concern that newer "Taco Bell mansions" and some residents were at odds with the neighborhood vibe.

"There are people who close their blinds and their doors," she said. "We try to integrate them."

Boris Epstein has lived in the neighborhood for less than a year with his wife and two young children.

Epstein moved to Palo Alto from Los Angeles two years ago, initially living in Barron Park for a year.

"It's quiet, somewhat reserved, but it's not too far away from main streets," he said.

On a Sunday, kids tossed a football in the street, played soccer on a front lawn, and Epstein played basketball in a cul-de-sac with his 5-year-old son on a neighbor's hoop.

He said the family likes the neighborhood.

"(There's) a lot of kids, lot of young families in our demographic," he said.

Epstein also enjoyed the redwood trees that dot much of the neighborhood.

"A lot of people have to drive to national parks to see redwoods," he said. "It's pretty cool to have them in the backyard."

One negative residents mentioned was the large amount of traffic on Arastradero during morning and evening rush hours.

Stern said she can wait as long as 10 minutes to turn left from Arastradero to Suzanne Drive or McKellar Lane and blamed traffic-calming measures set in place in 2010 by the city, which included the removal of a lane from Arastradero.

"The traffic calming has really created a lot of road rage," she said.

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FACTS

CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS: Palo Alto Montessori School, 575 Arastradero Road; Palo Alto Preschool, 4232 El Camino Real; Young Life Christian Pre-School, 687 Arastradero Road

FIRE STATION: No. 5, 600 Arastradero Road

LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 4050 Middlefield Road (during construction)

LOCATION: includes McKellar Lane, Suzanne Court, Suzanne Drive, Kelly Way, Lorabelle Court and Arastradero Road

NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: John Spiller, rice49er@pacbell.net, 650-483-8815

PARKS: Juana Briones Park, 609 Maybell Ave.; Terman Park, 655 Arastradero Road

POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.

PRIVATE SCHOOL: Bowman International School, 4000 Terman Road

PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Juana Briones Elementary School, Terman Middle School, Gunn High School

SHOPPING: El Camino Real, San Antonio Shopping Center

Editorial Intern Bryce Druzin can be emailed at bdruzin@paweekly.com.

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