Community leaders and public servants were recognized on Sept. 19 for their distinct contributions to the community of Menlo Park at the Chamber of Commerce's 43rd annual Golden Acorn Awards, held at Hotel Nia.
The 2019 ceremony was an event, as described by Mayor Ray Mueller, "that celebrates what it means to be here in Melo Park and honor those who make it a special place to live."
The Golden Acorn winners are:
● Cafe Zoe: Business Excellence Award.
● Tour de Menlo: Community Service Award.
● MidPen Housing: Professional Leadership Award.
● St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room: Unsung Hero Award.
● Tarlton Properties/West Bay Sanitary District/Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club: Environmental Stewardship.
The event was kicked off with a keynote address by Santa Clara County supervisor and longtime public servant Joe Simitian, who talked about the different criteria voters use to pick the people they elect to office. His criteria, he said, are a set of questions: Do they share my values? Do I think they have the ability to make those values real and tangible? And do they have a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected?
But there are plenty of other valid factors people use, he noted, and that's their prerogative in a democracy. He explained some of the pros and cons of judging a candidate based on his or her legislative achievements, leadership skills, identity, religion, ability to articulate a vision, or ability to identify and combat political opponents.
Ultimately, he argued, politics and government should be about helping people and solving problems, creating opportunities and making one's city, state and nation a tangibly better place for all of its residents. He urged attendees to be cognizant of these factors at play the next time they vote, and to resist the temptation to engage in what he terms the "otherization" of politics – to turn small differences into polarizing positions and to weaponize people's identities for political reasons.
Candidates should also be willing to talk about what they're for, not just what they're against, he added.
"I think if we can do that, we can reclaim a politics that is practical, productive and unifying," he said. "God knows we could use it."
The cafe, which is located at 1929 Menalto Ave. in the Willows neighborhood, is run by Kathleen Daly and her daughter Zoe Sharkey. It celebrated its 10th year in business last year. As a Menlo Park proclamation declared, it is a "little independent shop with big community spirit."
Sharkey, in accepting the award, talked about the many roles her mother fills at the cafe – crossing guard, impromptu therapist, donor, guardian of lost neighborhood dogs and community leader. "With Kathleen, it's never a marketing tactic, it's just pure heart," she said. "Golden hearts like yours deserve golden acorns and much more."
Tour de Menlo
Tour de Menlo is an annual fundraiser sponsored by the Rotary Club of Menlo Park Foundation and The Almanac. It raises funds for initiatives the Rotary Club supports and The Almanac's Holiday Fund, supporting scholarships for college-bound high school seniors in need and local community-serving nonprofits. The tour invites participants on several bike loops from Menlo-Atherton High School up to 100 kilometers.
Event co-founder Tom Gibboney, former publisher of The Almanac, said that the event draws upon the support of the Rotary Club's members, who voluntarily take on the work of registering participants, marking the course and running the event.
According to a city proclamation, the event raises about $50,000 a year, and over 15 years the Rotary Club has distributed about $1.5 million in college scholarships.
MidPen housing is a nonprofit housing developer that built Sequoia Belle Haven, a senior affordable housing development, in 2017, and is working on a project to redevelop old affordable housing on Willow Road into 140 new affordable housing units for families.
According to Matt Franklin, president and CEO, the nonprofit provides about 213 units of affordable housing in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, housing more than 600 residents. He added that his group needs three things when it pursues affordable housing projects: money, land and political support.
"This award gives me great hope," he said. "I look forward to working with you all for many years to come to create more affordable homes in Menlo."
St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room
The volunteer-run program, which has been operating since 1974, provides up to 500 people hot meals six times a week.
The program has provided over 5 million hot meals since it started, according to a city proclamation, and relies on about 35,000 hours of volunteer service each year as well as donations and local grants.
Max Torres, who has worked at the dining room for 37 years, told The Almanac that the program has changed significantly since he started, from serving just a few people to now satisfying the needs of the local community.
Jim Bramlett, who has volunteered for years with the organization and now serves on its board, said the financial support the program receives has enabled it to put money toward capital improvements to rehabilitate aging facilities in recent years.
Tarlton Properties, led by property owner and developer John Tarlton, was awarded for environmental stewardship because of the environmental efforts taken at the city's business park, home to many of Menlo Park's life sciences businesses.
Tarlton Properties has bike and car share programs, runs shuttles from neighboring cities, has EV charging stations and uses energy-efficient materials. Tarlton has also been an active participant in City Council discussions about how to make proposed green building policies work with his life science buildings.
In accepting the award, Tarlton said, "Let us not kid ourselves; the only truly sustainable initiatives must also be financially sustainable. Thank you to the team and community members who help us to operate in that intersection between environmental sustainability and financial sustainability."
West Bay Sanitary District & Sharon Heights Golf Course and Country Club
The West Bay Sanitary District and the Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club were also given an environmental stewardship award for their partnership to bring the city's first recycled water system to the golf course, which uses about 164,000 gallons of water a day.
The project, when completed, is expected to save about 50 million gallons of potable water a year by using treated wastewater for the golf course, said West Bay Manager Phil Scott. The step will allow that much more Hetch Hetchy water to go directly to local residents instead of being used to water the private golf course.