There’s so much news and interesting information in today’s newspaper that it feels like you need a tour guide to get through this edition. I’ve always wanted to wear an all-khaki outfit, so consider me that person today.
Before doing that, though, I’d like to share a story about a trip my wife and I recently made.
Earlier this year, I wrote about our visit to Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. As if 2017 hasn’t been rough enough, we’ve made two trips to Stanford to visit an incredible surgeon who took great care of Meghan. Yes, we’re in Houston with the greatest medical community in the nation, but when the doctors at Memorial Hermann suggested this Stanford surgeon, we listened.
For those of you who sent notes when I first wrote about this, all is wonderful with Meghan now. But that’s not why I’m writing about our second trip to Palo Alto.
The week before Thanksgiving, we had some extra time on our hands scattered between her appointments. That meant we had a chance to drive by the gold-plated driveways of this amazing little town, where the price tag on an 1,800 square-foot house is somewhere close to $2 million.
Our normal drive in Palo Alto took us down a major street called El Camino Real, which splits Stanford University from the inhabitants of those $2 million ranch homes. And as we approached the school, we noticed a row of RV campers, all of which looked like they first hit the streets in the early ’80s.
We saw those campers back in June during Meghan’s surgery, but we just thought it was Parents’ Weekend and the hippies had overtaken the town. Almost six months later, those campers were still in a row, and during one early morning drive, you could see blinds closed inside the front windshield.
By trade, I’m a questioning journalist, so I wanted to know more. Were Stanford University students living in campers on a public street?
I dug around online and found the best source of news in the Silicon Valley area: The Palo Alto Weekly. That’s right; it’s a newspaper.
What I learned was that the city of Palo Alto has a real problem on its hands. You aren’t buying a home anywhere near the school if you’re a student. If you want to rent a home, the cheapest I found was 1,600 square-feet and costs $4,700 a month. That amounts to a 30-year mortgage on a $650,000 home in Houston.
And the apartments? Forget it. A 1-bed, 1-bath, 820 square-foot apartment on Sand Hill Road, a few blocks from campus, costs $3,120 per month, and the exterior of that complex looks like it was constructed a decade before the ’80s camper.
It turns out the city has put a plan in place where those camper dwellers cannot stay in one spot for more than three days. So dwellers have skirted the laws by moving those clunkers around the block. It’s like musical chairs for motor homes.
And Stanford isn’t the only place where people can’t afford to live. I read that Facebook announced an expansion in Menlo Park that will nearly double their staff size and further drive up home prices and the horrible traffic there.
And speaking of Facebook, I discovered that CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who lives in Palo Alto, has his neighbors in a tizzy because he has bought four adjacent homes on a block, and he’s turning one into a pool house, another into a guest house and another into an extension of his current 1,800-foot, $2 million home.
You may not be catching the irony here, so let me explain. My wife and I have now spent a month of 2017 in the land of digital behemoths. We’ve driven by the new Apple headquarters, which looks more like a spaceship Steve Jobs envisioned 20 years ago. (And if you’re wondering, my iPhone had terrible service there.)
We drove by Facebook and watched people swarm around the entry sign to snap selfies. Earlier this year, in one of the days leading up to Meghan’s surgery, I got to play golf at a public course that overlooked Google’s office at Stanford Research Park.
If you take a walk down any street in this Silicon Valley hotspot, you don’t find oil business off-shoots or wanna-be phone providers. Out there, the small businesses are MacAfee, LinkedIn, PayPal, Symantec and Yahoo!.
This is literally the land where the interaction among humans is being changed on a daily basis. This is the place where our entire communication system has changed. This is the place that spends billions of dollars each year developing robots so humans don’t have to work so hard.
I suppose if you live in the Silicon Valley, you don’t think too much about those things. It’s kind of like visitors to Houston who stand amazed that you can find BP, Shell and Exxon campuses here.
But for someone like me, someone who has spent his entire professional career in the business of communication, you can understand how awe-struck I might be seeing the place that has changed the way we share information.
And I guess you can understand how proud I was to know that in the land of tech titans, if I really wanted to find the information I needed, the best source was still the community newspaper.
Seems like I took you on a guide of Palo Alto, not today’s newspaper, but that’s kind of the point. In this edition, you’ll find some of the things we do best at The Leader. I hope you’ll spend time reading The Guide, our annual publication telling you all about our community.
I also hope you’ll take time to see the diverse selection of news we offer each week, from public safety to high school sports. From opinions like mine and Ashby’s, to stories about new businesses and old friends we’ve lost.
And last, I hope you’ll have time to read the letter I’ve inserted in this week’s edition. This is the week we ask our readers to help support our newspaper. Your donations mean a lot to us. Having you as readers means more.