Family-First Fairhaven - San Jose - Page 3

Newcomers to the tiny, obscure San Jose Eichler neighborhood aren't just welcomed—they're adopted

Back in 2006, Suzanne Regul did spearhead the formation of a community group, the Moreland West Neighborhood Association. But the association takes in more than the 57 Eichler homes—its boundaries take in 520 homes, and more than 100 have joined. The organization deals with general neighborhood issues, not matters that are Eichler specific.

The group formed when the local school district closed the nearby elementary school and planned to almost double the size of the middle school that borders the neighborhood by consolidating it with another school. Neighbors feared noise, vandalism, crime, gangs, parking problems—and the loss of a long-popular community garden on the grounds of the school.

Regul, a retired physician who is known in the neighborhood for her inspired tap-dancing at the fourth-of-July talent show, put together a group that worked closely with the school district and accomplished many of its goals.

fairhaven common garden

The school did increase in size, although serious crime problems never followed. Nor have noise and vandalism been bad. And as for parking, Diana Lubliner says, "At school board meetings we said we would rather have people parking on our streets and have a garden than turn it [the garden] into a parking lot."

Neighbors won—in part, by bringing to meetings cornucopia of fruit and vegetables grown in the garden. The school district built a parking structure rather than pave the garden.

The garden, with 40 plots, features vegetables, fruit trees, and a rose garden. Ron Burton brags about his three varieties of squash, which he sautés most every night with tomatoes. "It's almost addictive, it's so good," he says. The garden provides the neighborhood with another social outlook, with potlucks and communal work parties.

One topic the neighborhood association has never addressed is architectural preservation—and not just because the association includes more than Eichler homes. It is a sensitive subject.

bumgarner kitchen

Several years ago Regul brought the matter up because she was afraid the monster homes that were popping up among some Sunnyvale Eichlers might migrate to her neighborhood too.

"People rose up against it," Dick King says. "I was against it. People were afraid houses would be torn down for big two-story houses. I was willing to take that risk to maintain the price of the houses. It's a free world, you know."

This is, after all, a neighborhood that dislikes disputes. As Ann Thompson puts it, "We said, look, we want to be friends more than we want a historical designation."

Photos: David Toerge, Bill Bumgarner

• Fairhaven is an enclave of three streets—Student Lane, Mossbrook Avenue, and Mossbrook Circle. It occupies a wedge in the western portion of San Jose sandwiched between Campbell and Saratoga. It is not to be confused with another Eichler neighborhood named Fairhaven in the Southern California city of Orange.

Better living through electricity

volvo guy

The 1978 Volvo was advertised on Craigslist for $150 with a blown engine. How could a Volvo guy resist? And who needs an engine?

Starting in mid-2007, Fairhaven's Mike Ahern spent 100 hours over 14 months turning his new purchase into an electric car. "I used to be a Ford guy and I was into muscle cars in school," Ahern says. "Then I became a Volvo guy. Then I became an electric Volvo guy."

"I was already working for a company that made electricity," he says, of Solyndra, which hit the news recently for installing an array of its tubular photovoltaic solar panels atop a Cineplex in Livermore.

"It's more mechanical than it is electrical to do the conversion," Ahern says, adding, "It helps to be a car guy to do a project like this. Like any car, it has brakes and suspension. But doing the conversion is really, really low tech. If you can understand ohms, amps, and volts, you can do it."

To spread the word, Ahern takes neighbors and friends for rides. About half of his Eichler neighbors have peered under the hood. The car goes 40 miles on a charge, and it costs him about 60 cents to charge it. That will drop to zero cents once Ahern installs a photovoltaic array on his roof.

Mike and wife Tanya have another Volvo, and Mike recently bought a third for his daughter, Dee Dee, who helped on the conversion. Neither is electric.

A native of Minnesota, Ahern has lived in California for nine years and in his Eichler for three. You won't find a bigger fan. The houses, he says, appeal to scientists and engineers.

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