Menlo Park: Don Brawner, slow growth advocate, dies at 84


Don Brawner, a longtime advocate for slow growth in Menlo Park, died Dec. 10 at age 84.

A memorial service is set for Jan. 27 at the Menlo Park City Council Chambers (701 Laurel St.), followed by a reception at the Arrillaga Recreation Center.

Known for his jeremiads opposing "Manhattanizing" Menlo Park and turning it into a "concrete canyon," Mr. Brawner was for several decades a vocal and reliable opponent of development in Menlo Park in the City Council Chambers. He also served on the city's transportation and housing commissions.

"His strength was sabotaging any project," said Brielle Johnck, a proponent of the 2014 slow-growth voter initiative Measure M that Mr. Brawner also favored. "There was nothing he supported."

Patti Fry, also a slow-growth advocate in Menlo Park, recalls him as "quite an institution."

"I saw him mostly oriented toward caring about the quality of life," she said. "He loved Menlo Park and loved our community and he was just very passionate about what he thought was best for it and us."

Anyone who knew Don, said his wife Julianne Brawner, would say "Yes, he was quite the character."

"He was a very smart man, and it was hard to get to know him," Ms. Brawner said. "The guy didn't want people to know how sweet and vulnerable he could be. That's my guess."

Don Juan Brawner was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1933 and moved to San Francisco when he was 10. He graduated from Lincoln High School and San Francisco State University, where he was president of the Sigma Pi Sigma fraternity for a term.

Following college, he served in the Army and Air Force Reserve and attended graduate school for business. He worked in the real estate and insurance industries.

He and Ms. Brawner met in San Francisco in February 1967. By May, they had plans to marry. "We met and married very quickly in the Summer of Love," Ms. Brawner said. "It was one of those very whirlwind romances."

Even in his older years, Ms. Fry said, it was evident that Mr. Brawner loved his wife. "He'd just sparkle when they were together," she said.

The couple moved to Menlo Park in 1973, and their son DJay was born in 1981. They purchased a 10-unit apartment building at the corner of Willow Road and Waverley Street in Menlo Park's Linfield Oaks neighborhood, and Mr. Brawner managed it throughout his career.

In 1987, Mr. Brawner took on the role of slow-growth crusader when a development near St. Patrick's Seminary was proposed that would have included housing, a skilled nursing facility and a convenience store.

"Back in the day, it was just a scruffy band of residents, and not even that big a band of residents. We got out there and papered the neighborhoods," Ms. Brawner said.

Ultimately, the so-called residentialists won through a voter referendum, and the development was defeated, she said.

In the years following, Mr. Brawner grew more involved in City Council campaigns, and spoke often against developments, particularly of below-market-rate housing.

According to former mayor Steve Schmidt, Mr. Brawner was a "steadfast protector of his vision for a static suburban environment," and his voice of opposition extended to a number of public proposals at the Civic Center, including a new children’s center, an undercrossing of the Caltrain tracks, a skate park and bigger playing fields.

"He never let his guard down," Mr. Schmidt said.

"If you were a developer, you didn't like Don Brawner," Ms. Brawner said.

When he wasn't railing against development at City Council meetings, Ms. Brawner said, Don Brawner kept up his health with a routine of daily exercise at the Y, followed by a milkshake at either McDonald's or Jack in the Box. He also enjoyed playing and coaching soccer, dancing and golf.

Mr. Brawner is survived by his wife, Julianne, son DJay (Alexis), granddaughter Brixton, brother-in-law Don (Joyce) Schwegel, and nieces and nephews.

A private burial at Golden Gate National Cemetery was held. The Jan. 27 memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. in the Menlo Park City Council Chambers (701 Laurel St.), followed by a reception at the Arrillaga Recreation Center.

Donations may be made to the Salvation Army, Peninsula Humane Society or Alzheimer's research.


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10 people like this
Posted by Mark D.
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 11, 2018 at 8:23 pm

Mark D. is a registered user.

Rest in peace, Don, and my sincere condolences to Julianne and family. Don was a wonderful neighbor, a true character and I enjoyed our conversations about how best to make Menlo Park a better place to live. Not everyone agreed with Don, clearly, but he always spoke his mind (perhaps a little too succinctly for some), with none of the equivocating heard from so many others when discussing suburban growth and issues round quality of life. He will be missed!

Mark D.

6 people like this
Posted by Alternanac
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 12, 2018 at 8:31 am

Don't forget, Don led the fight against the lovely low-density development at 75 Willow Road, located behind his less-lovely, high-density apartments: Web Link

If 75 Willow is 32 units on 4.5 acres, that comes out 7.3 units per acre. Meanwhile, the Almanac-reported address of Don's property at 200 Waverley is 10 apartments on a 13,139-square foot site, that's 33.2 units per acre!

Remember this the next time his fans Brielle, Patti, Steve, etc. claim to be all about housing- this crowd does NOT have any ideological consistency. "Mr. Brawner... spoke often against developments, particularly of below-market-rate housing." Plus he campaigned against "a skilled nursing facility"? My goodness!

20 people like this
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 12, 2018 at 9:42 am

My dear whatever-your-real-name-is Alternanac

With all due respect, sir, it is the height of incivility and insensitivity to use this current condolence blog to vent your political position in order to thereby denigrate that of someone just deceased.

Don would respond to your claims, but, unfortunately, is no longer able to do so.

What you have done here is embarrassing to all his friends and loved ones, and shameful. An apology would not be amiss.

The fact is that Don was a good and honorable person. He was loved by many of us.

10 people like this
Posted by Clunge
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 12, 2018 at 10:37 am

Thanks for your service fighting to keep Menlo Park a beautiful small town. I hope the members who fought with you can continue the fight. Rest in Peace.

4 people like this
Posted by Don admirer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 12, 2018 at 1:22 pm

While I did not always agree with Don, I deeply admired and respected his diligence to understand proposals and issues, and to speak out. Don studied projects and objected to specific aspects of them...and asked for changes...rather than simplistically declaring that a project was good or bad. I learned a lot about the nuances and longer-term implications of project components from Don's comments. Again, I didn't always agree with him, but he did his homework. I suspect that some projects would have won his support if modifications of concern to him had been adopted. Rest in peace, Don.

5 people like this
Posted by long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 12, 2018 at 3:13 pm

Don Brawner should not have an article devoted to him. Over the years he was rude and divisive in public hearings and study sessions. I remember him insulting a woman who was on the planning commission for 12 years at a visioning work shop for the El Camino/downtown specific plan. She had to leave the table in tears he was so verbally abusive. His group represented 'the end justifies the means' school of thought. Alternanac is being polite about his conflicts. We are fortunate he and most his group are no longer so active or influential.

7 people like this
Posted by Brielle Johnck
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 12, 2018 at 6:09 pm

Good Lord, let the man rest in peace. When asked by the Almanac for my memories and opinion of Mr. Brawner, I took the high road, but did not mince words about his not supporting any private developments or public projects he encountered.

Unlike Mr. Brawner,except for St Patrick's Seminary, I supported every housing development proposed in the city. Council Member Steve Schmidt encouraged residential development in the city and voted to approve every one that came before him.

Measure M was an effort to reduce the size of office developments on ECR and downtown, an effort that would today probably be thought as a wise move. We won't know for another year or so.

Of course, I would have preferred that there was an undercrossing of the train tracks at Willow and Alma. Mr. Brawner won that one but at the end of the day, the concept will come to fruition. In most instances, Don Brawner lost most of his battles. Thankfully those who live at the residential projects Summerhill Properties on Willow, Classic Homes on Laurel St, and the housing development on Linfield Dr. have homes today, despite Mr. Brawner.

I ask those who have failed memories or a need to be make up stories to check yourself. Leave your unpleasant digs for your anonymous postings under articles that are addressing development, zoning, and political differences. A man has died. He was, as we all are, a flawed human being but loved by his family and friends. Show some respect.

18 people like this
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 12, 2018 at 6:48 pm

DEAR ALTERNANAC and Long time resident, and anyone else who wants to post an insensitive comment,

My name is DJAY BRAWNER. I do not not hide behind a screen name. I’m here. My phone number is 714-878-2358. Call me. Let’s talk about your extremely incentive remarks about my father.

I understand if disagreed with him. I understand if you felt he was stubborn. I understand if you felt was too outspoken in his opinions. The one thing my dad does not deserve in the wake of his death, is rude, insensitive comments about his attitude in regards to trying to service the town he loved.

This man, was a true advocate for Menlo Park for the bulk of his life. He truly loved his city, more than most people love the town the lived in. He loved it to a fault. Sure, he was bold. To say he was "verbally abusive" in a comment about his death, is simply not the forum to do so.

Have respect. Show class.

Call me if you want to vent every one of our issues with his actions. I'll listen.

Thank you very much for your time,

DJay Brawner.

8 people like this
Posted by Mcbt
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 12, 2018 at 7:14 pm

Living a few blocks away from Don, my husband and I engaged quite often with him! With both of us, whether together or individually, he smiled a lot! We actually related on many levels and my husband and I always thought that we must have reminded him of the loving relationship he had with his bride! ;-)
He often bragged on her and his eyes shone with love for his life and family, as ours’ did.
He will be greatly missed and we will remember his always!

12 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 12, 2018 at 10:58 pm

Don was one-of-a-kind, a man who cared deeply about this city and was unafraid to stand up and express his concerns. Unlike a few self-entitled souls, Don did not stand to profit financially or professionally, but spoke up -- frequently and passionately -- to try to maintain the quality of life for residents. When the El Camino developments are complete, many people will realize just how prescient Don's warnings were.

Unfettered growth seems to be the city's new goal, and almost everyone who believes otherwise has been bullied into silence. Don would always face up to those bullies, and I often admired his character and resolve.

Djay and other family members: I am so sorry that you have to read these rude comments, which can only exacerbate your grief. I would still like to believe that most residents of this city are kind people who care about their neighbors and want Menlo Park to remain livable. Don would have relished letting some of the nastier posters know just how misguided they are. We will miss him.

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