Looking back at history through the lens of news coverage reveals the contours of a community: historic events that defined an era, ideas that rose and then fell away, movements that seized people’s collective imagination and created change, annual traditions that marked the passage of time.
The Palo Alto Weekly, like all locally rooted news organizations, has borne witness to all of these things. Over the past 40 years, our reporters, photographers and editors have chronicled moments in time both small — the arrival of a new Barron Park donkey — and large, such as local residents’ reactions to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
We’ve compiled the timeline above to represent those distinct strands of community life. It was a difficult task to decide what to include and what to leave out. When possible, we looked for news that had consequences beyond the initial event.
Of course, there were the disasters: the arson-set Arastradero Road wildfire that destroyed 15 homes, the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 that rattled residents’ sense of safety, the San Francisquito Creek floods of 1998 that later spawned the Joint Powers Authority, the Cessna plane crash into East Palo Alto and attendant power failure in Palo Alto in 2010.
The city’s seen its share of tragedies, including the deaths of too many young people. Murders have periodically disturbed Palo Alto’s serenity. Some of those were, as is often the case, committed by persons closest to the victim: the husband, the boyfriend.
There have also been deaths at the hands of strangers, including a fatal gang-driven beating in downtown in 1997 and the fatal shooting in 2008 outside of City Hall in a robbery gone wrong.
Often, news was created by people debating differing visions of the future. Should Palo Alto stay small and suburban or respond to the regional demand for housing? Would a facility that converts waste into energy be the most environmentally responsible thing to build, and if so, should it really be placed in the Baylands?
Reactions to problems — or situations being viewed as problems — have made up a large part of what has happened in town. Old historic homes were threatened with demolition, new homes were being built “too big,” retail wasn’t thriving, neighborhood streets were becoming raceways.
Politics, that staple of national news, has likewise been the subject of ongoing reporting here. There have been more than a few tussles over city governance: who should lead; how the Palo Alto Process could be fixed; whether reports from consultants should be trusted.
Palo Altans haven’t been shy about mounting referendums when they think their leaders are on the wrong track. They’ve asked their fellow voters to override approvals of everything from a downtown condominium project, to the expansion of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, to a housing project on Maybell Avenue.
It should come as no surprise that education has been a hot button issue, with expectations for results set high. Philosophies have clashed over school closures, new textbooks and academic stress. The district’s failure to communicate with the public transparently at times has compounded problems over the years, from the handling of sexual-assault claims to changes made to policy.
Palo Alto’s moments of celebration created opportunities to focus on the city’s lighter side: the Palo Alto Centennial in 1994; the opening of new parks and the creation of the Stanford/Palo Alto Community Playing Fields; the Olympics at Stanford University in 1984 and the Super Bowl at Stanford in 1985.
As a community well-connected to the larger world, actions that residents have taken, for good or ill, often have bubbled up into the national consciousness: Witness Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about then-nominee for Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh, the 2013 arrest in North Korea of an 85-year-old Palo Alto man whose six-week detention became the subject of intense diplomacy, and a liberal’s tirade against a Jewish man wearing a Make America Great Again hat in Starbucks that went viral this spring.
All of this news, and much more, has gone into creating the story of Palo Alto. We hope you enjoy taking the time to reflect on where we’ve been as a city — and where we might be going.