News

Residents mourn loss of community garden

For decades, Midtown Shopping Center had served as meeting place for green-thumbed residents

Where once there were fresh tomatoes and a thriving gardening community, there now exists only a barren dirt lot behind the Baskin-Robbins in the Midtown Shopping Center. The decades-old Palo Alto community garden was razed following the sale of part of the shopping center to CWKT E&R Investment Properties for $15.26 million in December.

Local gardeners are feeling the loss.

"Our son, now 20 months, loved going to the garden," Shandor Dektor said of the Middlefield Road space. "His favorite part was getting to eat fresh tomatoes straight from the vine. ... Not many kids get that kind of opportunity. It's sad to think that we won't be able to continue this tradition."

The land, owned by the Haley family since 1956, has also been home to various local businesses, such as the Palo Alto Cafe and Baskin-Robbins. While the future of these businesses are unknown, the Haley family is hopeful the new owners will retain the stores, they told the Palo Alto Weekly in December.

Susan Stansbury, who had worked in the garden since 1994, said the garden was subsidized by Haleys.

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"The relationship with the Haleys was a win-win situation as the owners had no plan to develop it, and we maintained it," she said. "Through all that time, the Haley family generously leased us the land at $60 per month, which was covered by gardener plot fees."

The new owners asked for thousands of dollars per month for the same plot of land, other former gardeners said.

Many of the gardeners had built lasting friendships due to their work together and considered the garden an important part of their lives.

"I've been a gardener at Midtown for at least 10 years," said Palo Alto resident Caryn Huberman, adding that it was a place she would spend time with her granddaughter. "I wanted to be part of the joy of having people around you and sharing food. ... It meant a lot to a lot of people."

"My granddaughter and I used to call it 'the secret garden.' ... For something that was so full of life, it now looks like it never even existed," Huberman said.

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When asked if there were plans for a replacement garden, perhaps at a different location, Stansbury said, "No."

"It was a labor of love, and I don't know of anyone who has the motivation to start again from scratch," she said.

Jacqueline Raine, a former gardener, said she still can't walk by the empty lot.

"(It is) a terrible shock to see it now. ... What was once a beautiful garden is now mud, soon to be covered with concrete," she said.

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Residents mourn loss of community garden

For decades, Midtown Shopping Center had served as meeting place for green-thumbed residents

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sun, Mar 5, 2017, 7:30 am
Updated: Mon, Mar 6, 2017, 8:21 am

Where once there were fresh tomatoes and a thriving gardening community, there now exists only a barren dirt lot behind the Baskin-Robbins in the Midtown Shopping Center. The decades-old Palo Alto community garden was razed following the sale of part of the shopping center to CWKT E&R Investment Properties for $15.26 million in December.

Local gardeners are feeling the loss.

"Our son, now 20 months, loved going to the garden," Shandor Dektor said of the Middlefield Road space. "His favorite part was getting to eat fresh tomatoes straight from the vine. ... Not many kids get that kind of opportunity. It's sad to think that we won't be able to continue this tradition."

The land, owned by the Haley family since 1956, has also been home to various local businesses, such as the Palo Alto Cafe and Baskin-Robbins. While the future of these businesses are unknown, the Haley family is hopeful the new owners will retain the stores, they told the Palo Alto Weekly in December.

Susan Stansbury, who had worked in the garden since 1994, said the garden was subsidized by Haleys.

"The relationship with the Haleys was a win-win situation as the owners had no plan to develop it, and we maintained it," she said. "Through all that time, the Haley family generously leased us the land at $60 per month, which was covered by gardener plot fees."

The new owners asked for thousands of dollars per month for the same plot of land, other former gardeners said.

Many of the gardeners had built lasting friendships due to their work together and considered the garden an important part of their lives.

"I've been a gardener at Midtown for at least 10 years," said Palo Alto resident Caryn Huberman, adding that it was a place she would spend time with her granddaughter. "I wanted to be part of the joy of having people around you and sharing food. ... It meant a lot to a lot of people."

"My granddaughter and I used to call it 'the secret garden.' ... For something that was so full of life, it now looks like it never even existed," Huberman said.

When asked if there were plans for a replacement garden, perhaps at a different location, Stansbury said, "No."

"It was a labor of love, and I don't know of anyone who has the motivation to start again from scratch," she said.

Jacqueline Raine, a former gardener, said she still can't walk by the empty lot.

"(It is) a terrible shock to see it now. ... What was once a beautiful garden is now mud, soon to be covered with concrete," she said.

Comments

Jayson
Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 5, 2017 at 9:08 am
Jayson, Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 5, 2017 at 9:08 am

The buildings will be torn down. A new 2-3 story building will be built with retail on the first floor and residential above. Sign of the times.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2017 at 9:30 am
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2017 at 9:30 am

This is a heartbreaking sign of the times. Destruction of the heartbeat of the town can't be replaced by building stack and pack housing over designer retail.

The town will survive, but the threads that cause community are being strained to breaking point. The heart of a town is in its people and how they take time to build community. We may end up with a town full of people, but I doubt we will end up with a close community who take time to smell the roses.

So sad; very sad.


farmer
Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 9:48 am
farmer, Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 9:48 am

The Haley family should have given the new property owners a break on the price if they maintained the community garden. I can understand how the new owners couldn't afford to continue that charity if they were forced to pay full market price for the land.


Any chance?
Community Center
on Mar 5, 2017 at 10:10 am
Any chance?, Community Center
on Mar 5, 2017 at 10:10 am

Any chance Council could suggest and ask developer to make even a small tiny space for a garden? Or to allow the use of other creative spaces in the project for it?

The issue may be upkeep but what if neighbors or an organization step up to maintian "something" even if symbolic.

I would think it would add attractiveness for people investing in the housing and even for businesses.


Yay gardeners
Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 11:13 am
Yay gardeners, Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 11:13 am

Isn't there a Midtown neighborhood association that can speak about this?
Perhaps they have and I didn't see it.


musical
Palo Verde
on Mar 5, 2017 at 11:47 am
musical, Palo Verde
on Mar 5, 2017 at 11:47 am

Wasn't there a community garden near the corner of Middlefield and East Meadow? I see that last open space is going for $6M as an empty lot, to be subdivided for three new McMansions.


farmer
Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 12:13 pm
farmer, Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 12:13 pm

The city council could ask for a concession if the developer wanted a zoning change to rebuild the property. My guess is that the city council would rather use their leverage to preserve retail shopping on that site.


Destruction of PA
Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2017 at 1:14 pm
Destruction of PA, Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2017 at 1:14 pm

I imagine a hideously designed oversized modern building will be built on the site. [Portion removed.]


No More Community
Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 1:45 pm
No More Community, Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Vegetable gardens have been deemed inconsistent and incompatible with the desires of techies and millennials in the new Palo Alto Office Park.


YIMBY
Mountain View
on Mar 5, 2017 at 2:01 pm
YIMBY, Mountain View
on Mar 5, 2017 at 2:01 pm

As a Millenial Techie who likes vegetable gardens, why not build the garden on top a building?


Charlie
Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 2:12 pm
Charlie, Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 2:12 pm

The rats now have one less place to forage. Three cheers to the new owners.


Tim
another community
on Mar 5, 2017 at 2:13 pm
Tim, another community
on Mar 5, 2017 at 2:13 pm

The above comment by Jayson is spot on. Just look at San Jose and Santa Clara. 3-4 story condos being built all over. This is what the Millennials want. Working 50-60 hours per week, they want a home (condo) with little maintenance and shopping/dining within walking distance.


Another Evelyn
another community
on Mar 5, 2017 at 5:07 pm
Another Evelyn, another community
on Mar 5, 2017 at 5:07 pm

The bottom line is always money, and the former owner asking the new owner to do something would have to have been in a legal contract. Having been raised on a farm and spending my entire childhood with plants and animals, I know first hand what a loss this is. I believe that growing things to a child is one of the most satisfying things there is. A few schools are able to do that. All I can say is, bless each of you who enjoyed this wonderful garden for as many years as you did and treasure your memories of what once was. Perhaps you could gather together near the site and each of you relive with the others those memories that were so dear to you. Put in some humor if you can and just sharing this loss all together may help you to be able to accept it and be able to move on. My wish is that someone in the area would have a place for you to start another garden, but that seems nearly impossible in this day and age.


GenXer
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2017 at 6:18 pm
GenXer, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2017 at 6:18 pm

It's really sad to see the loss of a community garden. It's unfortunate people weren't given the opportunity to band together and buy it from the old owner before it was razed.

That said, it seems perverse for some commenters to blame the loss on "millenials and techies" who just want a place to live, the same as any of us did when we were young. The reason people are building condos in Midtown is because we don't let them build tall buildings in downtown anymore. A couple more buildings like the Marc would provide much more housing than all these three-story condos on top of retail.


Curmudgeon
Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2017 at 7:16 pm
Curmudgeon, Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2017 at 7:16 pm

"The reason people are building condos in Midtown is because we don't let them build tall buildings in downtown anymore."

Naivete, no matter how profound, solves no problems. Tall buildings downtown won't stop property owners from turning a buck by building condos in Midtown, or anywhere else.

You like gardens. How about other people? Why do you want to stuff people into highrise warrens while denying them the chance to have a garden, community or otherwise?


Overrated
Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2017 at 7:32 pm
Overrated, Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2017 at 7:32 pm

Every time I walk through the community garden behind the library, I feel like it is such a waste of outdoor space. It benefits about 30 people, many of whom already have gardens. The gardeners pay very little to have a space that is used by only a few dozen people and yet thousands of the rest of us have to make do with the other park space. We can't even get a dog park in north Palo Alto. There are hundreds of dogs that would use such a space and it would be used ALL DAY long, ALL YEAR long. Community gardens are used really only six months a year by so very few people. I wish the city would repurpose all of the community gardens and make them part of park space that the rest of us could enjoy too. Why are we subsidizing such valuable and scare land for so few people? It doesn't make sense in this city.


Dasha
Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 10:57 pm
Dasha, Midtown
on Mar 5, 2017 at 10:57 pm

I can see people feeling sad about the loss of a gardening space right in the neighborhood. This sort of transformation is sadly going to be an inevitable trend as Palo Alto gradually becomes a denser community. I can think of two interesting solutions from other larger cities. Well-off Russians have a dasha (a small lot in the country - see Wiki) where they retreat in the weekends. The other solution is for the city to set up community gardens. For instance, you can rent a garden right inside the city of London. I like the latter solution as it is not affected by the increase in the city developments. Presumably, the city government can protect the land regardless of the population and growth pressures.


musical
Palo Verde
on Mar 6, 2017 at 1:48 am
musical, Palo Verde
on Mar 6, 2017 at 1:48 am

The metaphor here borders on the biblical.


Priceless
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2017 at 8:21 am
Priceless, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2017 at 8:21 am

The City code requires open space for the public with development. While running, Councilmember Filseth had already found the City owed the public around 22 acres. It's probably time for residents who care about quality of life to sue and push back. This town has too many companies and employees in a space that was never designed for it. Cities like San Jose and Concord are inviting companies that need to grow to go there. Palo Alto should enforce its codes and encourage companies that have grown too large to move on, the way Facebook did, instead of trying to bully the residents into continuing to pay for their expansions. This will not happen unless individual residents decide a reasonable quality of life is worth fighting for and band together.

Another thing residents could do is stop being surprised by what is lost when companies that want to grow decide that they like taking over what the public has paid for - infrastructure, decades of hard-won policy, City staff time, etc - residents should band together to create a Community Foundation like in Los Altos, that can buy up properties like the Midtown Shopping center when it went on sale. Instead of fighting to retain even a modicum of quality of life for our kids, we could be ensuring balance a resident-focused services into the future. Alma Plaza, Edgewood, JJ& ,h, Cal Ave, could have been saved by a Community Foundation and improved as vibrant commercial centers serving residents. But residents have to decide to stop expecting someone else to do it. There is enough capital in this town to do it, but who will take the initiative?


Grdngrlz
Palo Verde School
on Mar 6, 2017 at 10:42 am
Grdngrlz, Palo Verde School
on Mar 6, 2017 at 10:42 am

"Pave paradise. Put up a parking lot."


Time is a Weapon
Midtown
on Mar 6, 2017 at 11:16 am
Time is a Weapon, Midtown
on Mar 6, 2017 at 11:16 am

I was not surprised that the the rent was jacked up to a ridiculous level and the very moment the new price was not agreed to, the bulldozers scraped the lot clean.

Now, here's the deal. The guys that purchased the property have no experience in Palo Alto.

The WORST thing to happen to a developer is to stall and stall and stall the project. Every month they bleed money until they give up or sell.

Hit em where it really hurts neighbors. Show up at EVERY planning, ARB, and Council meeting and push for revision after revision. Persistence and loud neighborhood voices are the key.


Chris
University South
on Mar 6, 2017 at 11:46 am
Chris, University South
on Mar 6, 2017 at 11:46 am

Palo Altans should get over their 50-foot obsession. Visit some other university towns that have blended in some 8-12 story buildings. See Evanston.


Gardener
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2017 at 11:47 am
Gardener, Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2017 at 11:47 am

The city in fact has established a number of community gardens. The fees over the past decade have risen to 75 cents a square foot, with a required work contribution. Although the city provides no staff support to speak of (other than the annual billing!) they do in fact provide water. I don't know how large this garden is, but it was probably larger than the 1000 sf that $60/month would cover at one of the PA community gardens! They had a deal.


Mimi Wolf
Midtown
on Mar 6, 2017 at 12:05 pm
Mimi Wolf, Midtown
on Mar 6, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Besides individual plots, the garden featured many fruit trees: fig, mulberry, fuyu persimmon, apple, pear, apricot, plum. A treasure lost.
The 50' rule should be preserved. Look at what San Antonio in MV has become - cold, tall, unwalkable landscape.


ndn
Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2017 at 12:08 pm
ndn, Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2017 at 12:08 pm

The problem with community gardens is that those who were offered a plot a long time ago hang on to it forever exclusively as if the rest of us aren't also paying residents of PA. There isn't a rotation system by which we would know that either by lottery or rotation every few years ( 5?, 7? 10?) a new temporary tenant would share the joy of gardening. The situation is so dire that the city plots near me don't even have a waiting list. The city has to be fairer than this. Give those people who have had a city plot for over 10 years a couple of years warning and restart the cycle.

Then possibly within my lifetime maybe, just maybe I and others waiting for what looks like a lifetime have a chance.
Right now the monopolists have it all. When did that become fair?


allen
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2017 at 12:21 pm
allen, Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2017 at 12:21 pm

Pretty soon all the things that make Palo Alto a nice place to live will be but memories. Read the latest residential satisfaction survey. It is starting already.


gardener
Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2017 at 1:12 pm
gardener, Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2017 at 1:12 pm

There is a waiting list for gardening in any of the Palo Alto gardens (Eleanor Pardee Park and behind the Rinconada Library, as well). Plots turn over every year when people fail to cultivate, move, or grow weary of gardening's year-round chores. I had a plot behind the main library, but gave it up due to an injury. After recovering, I put my name on the list for the downtown garden, closer to my house. Took a couple of years, but I got a plot, and there were a few others available when I chose mine. To be successful there, you have to keep fighting tree roots and sparsity of sunshine. To get a plot, persevere. You may find that it's not the nirvana you thought it would be (last year gophers killed two of my tomato plants and something ate every single cucumber before it got more than two inches long). Then you can let someone else try their hand at it. Now I've got to go over and weed out the oxalis and haul wood chips to mulch the path around my plot.


Annette for Midtown Residents Association
Midtown
on Mar 6, 2017 at 2:42 pm
Annette for Midtown Residents Association, Midtown
on Mar 6, 2017 at 2:42 pm

MRA (Midtown Residents Association) has spoken with the property manager. The owners are are "income property investors"--not developers—who buy properties for the long-term. Their goal is to find tenants that will there for a lengthy time. As to the garden, there were multiple problems. The only option they are now considering is parking, not development. So apart from the garden becoming parking, no redevelopment is planned.


margaret heath
Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2017 at 3:35 pm
margaret heath, Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2017 at 3:35 pm

Does anyone know if the existing retail square footage in the midtown shopping center is a protected use? As is University Avenue and California Avenue where existing retail use is not allowed to be converted into office use? Not sure if the temporary city-wide moratorium on conversions approved by the previous council is still in effect.

Given council support for increasing housing, how long will it be before the new owners lobby council using "affordable housing" and/or "below market rate housing" as leverage to bargain for high density? It doesn't make sense that the new owners would purchase the property without a plan for a much larger return than the current land use provides.

Also, the property owners may be able to build in stages, as the canny Town and Country owners did, so no one project is large enough to trigger the required traffic assessment study or traffic mitigation measures. Although, of course, we will be told that few occupants will want or need to own a car so current traffic and parking will be minimally impacted.


margaret heath
College Terrace
on Mar 6, 2017 at 4:19 pm
margaret heath, College Terrace
on Mar 6, 2017 at 4:19 pm

PS: @ Annette for Midtown Residents Association

Describing themselves as long-term "income property owners" does not mean there are no plans for high density buildings on this property. Why would they be forthcoming and publicize their long term plans and risk generating organized neighborhood opposition at this point? More likely will quietly develop piece by piece with no one project large enough to fire up any effective resident objection. Besides, can't long-term "income property owners" mean long term residential, office and retail leases?


Anonymous
Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2017 at 10:35 am
Anonymous, Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2017 at 10:35 am

For everybody decrying the greedy developer who took away a community garden which was essentially given to neighborhood residents to use at the pleasure of the owner - this is how entitlement is bred. You give something to the community as a nice gesture, soon enough, the community comes to expect the indefinite use of private land, and when someone pays money to buy the land, all of a sudden the developers are the greedy ones.

Take a look in the mirror to locate greed - expecting something for nothing as if it is your own is the definition of self-centered. I've an idea - continue gardening in your own backyards. In fact, invite the neighborhood over to do the same and have a community gathering every day, week, month instead of bemoaning the loss of use of private land.

Surely the staunchest defenders of the community garden would open up their own homes and land for others to garden.


Long time Palo Alto home owner
Midtown
on Mar 7, 2017 at 11:13 am
Long time Palo Alto home owner, Midtown
on Mar 7, 2017 at 11:13 am
ndn
Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2017 at 3:53 pm
ndn, Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2017 at 3:53 pm

Had people complained and be distraught by the end of a city owned plot as a garden I would understand. But this was private plot land wholly owned by a private concern. I can understand that people lament the end of something they held dear but it's downright idiotic to suggest that new owners (or even the previous ones) should give away their valuable plot.

I know many people who have no gardens at all, so I understand their distress, but what do they have to complain about? It would be a fine thing to put pressure on the city to carve spaces here and there that could be used by those without appropriate plots as gardens. Maybe even get some plots in Foothill Park (certainly not local, but a good space). So, lament all you want, I'm with you, but please don't be so silly as to think that you right in your complains.


Grrrrr
Midtown
on Mar 7, 2017 at 4:00 pm
Grrrrr, Midtown
on Mar 7, 2017 at 4:00 pm

What part of " it's a nice break from the usual concrete and asphalt", and, "kids love watching things grow" do people not understand?

Many of us have such small lots that there is no room for a garden of any kind, so children and adults do 't get enough relief from the ever-increasing ( and depressing) effects of all that concrete going up around us!


Grrrrr
Midtown
on Mar 7, 2017 at 4:12 pm
Grrrrr, Midtown
on Mar 7, 2017 at 4:12 pm

I have been to Evanston Township, Illinois about a dozen times. I had family there....

However, once it was no longer a lovely suburban town with good schools, rather like the old Palo Alto, and became more of a grayish office park, my fame tended family left.

Evanston is now suffering from the exodus of middle and upper-middle class people. AKA white flight


Greenmom
South of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2017 at 9:28 am
Greenmom, South of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2017 at 9:28 am

As for community gardens, I have had my name down on the waiting list to be able to have a parcel in the community garden since 2006! Nobody has called to give me a turn. How do they wok> Who has access to them? I want my turn!


Anonymous
Downtown North
on Mar 8, 2017 at 11:29 am
Anonymous, Downtown North
on Mar 8, 2017 at 11:29 am

It's great that kids love watching things grow. I too enjoyed AP Biology class where we grew plants and learned about photosynthesis and the biology of plant growth. You know what wasn't required to have that occur? Somebody else's private property. We grew it at school.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2017 at 12:13 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Looking at this today, the weeds are beginning to come through and there's trash. This is only going to get worse. Cars (looking at the ruts and dirt) are already using this for parking as I could see one parked there while the driver went off to buy coffee, or lunch!

If this is going to be made into a parking lot, let us at least transfer it into a parking lot rather than an eyesore of weeds and trash.


C.L.Tayor
Midtown
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:40 pm
C.L.Tayor, Midtown
on Mar 9, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Hi all,
We had four plots in the garden at one time. Renting the first plot with Daffy Dave our close friend and neighbor from Midtown Court Apts. Then a year later we rented three more plots. What a wonderful time and memory.
Glad we took lots of photos . If anyone cares to see our photo journal of Midtown Gardens just send an email to [email protected]

It would be great if the shopping center landlord could figure our a corner of space to keep that community benefit alive.


michael
Community Center
on Apr 10, 2017 at 11:23 pm
michael, Community Center
on Apr 10, 2017 at 11:23 pm

Looking at this today, the weeds are beginning to come through and there's trash. This is only going to get worse.


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