Almanac

Viewpoint - July 2, 2014

Farewell: Guiding the Almanac has been a rewarding adventure

by Tom Gibboney

As I retire from the Almanac after more than 20 years as publisher, it is rewarding to look back at what a fascinating job it has been and how warmly I was received by the staff and the communities we serve.

When I arrived in September 1993, the Almanac was running smoothly on the course set by publishers Mort and Elaine Levine and editor Richard Hine. The paper deftly covered Atherton, Menlo Park, Portola Valley and Woodside, and in large part managed to connect in a personal way with each community. With Richard at the helm of the newsroom I was left to write editorials and balance the sometimes conflicting needs of the editorial, production and advertising departments. All of this was done in a tiny office on Oak Grove Avenue in Menlo Park, where on occasion nearly 30 staff members managed to squeeze into less than 2,000 square feet. It was a miracle that no one was trampled on production days.

As a relatively new homeowner in Menlo Park and editor of the Palo Alto Weekly for more than a year, I was no stranger to the forces that moved Midpeninsula residents. In what we call Almanac country, there was no mistaking the difference between what was important in Atherton vs. Menlo Park, and the same went for Portola Valley, which treasured open space, and Woodside, where open space was a given so the horses had a place to roam. Luckily we had reporters who not only knew their way around — most lived in one of "our" communities, and were eager to share their knowledge with me if I needed an angle for an editorial. I could also rely on Bill Johnson, CEO of our company, who grew up in Portola Valley and attended Woodside High School. His insights into the flow of life in the communities that we covered was invaluable and continues today.

No recollection of the mid-90s at the Almanac is complete without mentioning a host of reporters who knew the 1965 founders — Hedy Boissevain, Jean Heflin and Betty Fry — and had stayed on to carry the torch with the Levines. Staff writers Marion Softky, Marjorie Mader, and Jane Knoerle, who remains on a reduced schedule, became fixtures in the community through their insightful and consistent reporting. Editor and reporter Renee Deal (now Renee Batti) is another key writer who has always given the Almanac an edge in arts reporting and predates me at the Almanac. She will inherit the job of writing editorials for the Almanac. And Woodside resident Barbara Wood was well on her way to becoming the go-to reporter in her community when I arrived and later began a long stint as a columnist. Now she has come full circle and will return to the Almanac as a staff writer this week. No look back would be complete without recognizing the fine work of photographer Carol Ivie, who was a presence at all the significant occasions covered by the Almanac.

For me, the 20-plus years flew by, as have the issues that sometimes roiled local residents over the years. In Menlo Park there was a longstanding difference of opinion between "residentialists" or environmentalists, and residents who were more inclined to give developers the edge. These forces remain in play today as debate continues on the initiative to revise the downtown specific plan.

The future of Douglass Hall on the Menlo School campus was among the stories covered in the Sept. 8, 1993, Almanac. The school wanted to knock down the historic 52-room mansion, but an Atherton Planning Commission vote to deny a demolition permit was overruled by the City Council. Sometime later the building won a reprieve and ultimately was restored by the school and remains a centerpiece of the campus today. In Woodside, a hot 1993 issue was the formation of a parking district. An Almanac traffic survey that received more than 900 responses also made headlines.

Over 20 years there have been hundreds, if not thousands of issues debated by residents who felt passionately about their point of view. Many of these topics became editorials in the Almanac, offering the newspaper's position for everyone to see.

At this time it is appropriate to mention the free rein I was given by what is now the Embarcadero Media Company to write about the news as I and the staff saw fit. Perhaps the most memorable difference of opinion was when the Almanac and sister paper Palo Alto Weekly took different positions on the Stanford housing development along Sand Hill Road near the Stanford Shopping Center. The Almanac, reflecting the views of residents who lived along nearby San Francisquito Creek and did not want the property developed, editorialized against the project, while the Weekly supported it. Both papers were simply reflecting the views of their readers and that was that.

As I leave, it is comforting to know that the Almanac survived the Great Recession and is good financial health. Finally, I want to thank all the friends and acquaintances I have made during my tenure here, many while Kathe and I brought up Jeff and Kyla in the Las Lomitas School District before they attended Menlo-Atherton High School. Jeff, a mechanical engineer, was recently married and Kyla just graduated from Hastings Law School. We plan to live in the community and I hope to stay active by volunteering or consulting for organizations whose missions I support.

Richard Hine has been promoted to editor of the Almanac and is the person to contact if you have a question. Renee Batti is now associate editor and will edit the Viewpoint pages and write the editorial. I say with certainty that all our readers are in good hands with Richard and Renee, whom you should contact if you need assistance. So long.

Tom Gibboney stepped down as editor and publisher of the Almanac on June 27.

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