On Deadline, Part the Second: My Top News Stories over 50 years | Off Deadline | Jay Thorwaldson | Palo Alto Online |


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By Jay Thorwaldson

On Deadline, Part the Second: My Top News Stories over 50 years

Uploaded: Mar 11, 2011

(Continued from March 9 column/blog.)

My number 7 top story I pegged as "Youth, Family LifeSkills" -- another topic that is still deeply relevant in our community and lives. In the early 1980s then-Principal Jim Shroyer of Palo Alto High asked the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (where I was then public-affairs director) to help do an anti-suicide program, following two student deaths.

I wrote a memo to our education VP saying I felt we needed a broader message than "Don't kill yourselves" to young persons. Besides, such programs then had mixed results, according to articles I'd read, or written, as a reporter for the Times. Instead, we should be helping young persons learn to make changes in their lives, communicate more effectively and take responsibility for their emotional well-being.

The upshot: I was put in charge of creating a collaborative program with Paly, which emerged 18 months later as the "Family LifeSkills" series of mailers to all students dealing with anger, blame, communication, negotiation and problem-solving skills -- the basis for a Weekly cover story in the mid 1980s. The materials, eight four-page mailings sent to all students, are still on the PAMF website, www.PAMF.org.

My Number 6 story was "the Revolution," or the Palo Alto/Stanford version of it with spillover to Berkeley, then considered the "Revolution Capital of the U.S." Palo Alto rated second.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s a series of weekend summer demonstrations occurred, most based at Lytton Plaza in downtown Palo Alto -- then a privately owned public plaza. They were not all anti-war protests, but counterculture clashes. (Some protested sound curfews, a ban on "communes" or the state of the nation and military-industrial complex generally.

This story continued for several years, with summer demonstrations and some riots and sit-ins. I covered most of them, including one night when about $28,000 of plate-glass windows were shattered within moments in downtown Palo Alto, before police could mobilize.

But the next week police were ready, and rounded up 263 persons just before the crowd split to head for other targets published that week in the radical Venceremos newspaper. They were herded into a group on University Avenue between High and Emerson, waiting for jail buses until 4 a.m.

But ultimately all charges had to dropped: Too many (including many longhairs) said they were there because the Chamber of Commerce had invited people to "Come see what's really happening. ..."

Number 5 was Palo Alto's own puma: As you all probably remember, in the early 2000s a young, hungry mountain lion wandered down San Francisquito Creek into the high-rent part of Palo Alto, along Newell Road -- launching a massive lion hunt that ended with it being shot out of a tree at Walnut Drive. Sad story, for the lion.

But it launched a concern about delayed announcements by city public-safety officials (police didn't report it for 18 hours) and vastly increased lion awareness.

But the best part of the story for me was when I called a longtime friend, the late Ed Ames, then in his mid-90s and a resident of Newell Road, and asked how he was doing on his neighborhood walks with the lion in the area.

"Oh, Jay," he replied, "it wouldn't take a lion to take me out -- any good-sized house cat could do that."

My Number 4 related to ambulance services in the area. In 1970 a young man I met when he was part of a Lytton Plaza demonstration approached me and said he trusted my coverage and thought I should talk to his older brother, an ambulance crew member, about troubles with the ambulance services.

A five-part series resulted in 1971 that exposed many problems with training and turnover -- ultimately resulting in the creation of the paramedics program in the Palo Alto Fire Department, 36 years ago. The problems ranged from completely untrained attendants rotating jobs every few months to avoid having to take a state-required First Aid class to firefighters getting dropped off a corners to guide ambulances into neighborhoods -- especially in "the circles" region of south Palo Alto.

The head of the Stanford Hospital emergency room talked about how many people came in paralyzed or injured by how they were picked up or treated by untrained or poorly trained ambulance crews.

A longtime Palo Altan, the late Joe Carleton, took up the issue and, based on the series, lobbied the city to create the paramedics program in the Palo Alto Fire Department, which became a model for other departments in the region. I was told that such a program would save about eight lives a year. If that's true, it's been 36 years.

It's also an example of the true "power of the press." That power lies mostly in the response of citizens and officials to information that is researched and presented in a careful, responsible manner. If we lose that symbiotic relationship our cities, counties, states and nation will have lost something of great value.

(Continued Monday, March 14, same place.)