By Murray Schneider
On July 13, District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee put aside his legislative pen and picked up a pair work gloves and assisted 20 Sunnyside volunteers collecting litter and pulling weeds along Monterey Boulevard’s thirteen street medians.
“The idea is to let my interns experience first hand a successful City and neighborhood project,” said Supervisor Yee, who came dressed in jeans and running shoes.
A half dozen Yee high school interns worked along side Sunnyside neighbors. All were protected by DPW road cones stretching from Ridgeway Avenue to Circular Avenue.
“It’s so cool to see the community come out,” said, Mekdelawit “Maggie” Beruk, a high school intern who’ll be a senior this fall at the International Studies Academy.
Throughout the morning Beruk witnessed confirmation that at least some politics is local, and that a correct response to the Civics 101 question, “What have you done for me lately?” is answered, at least on this Saturday morning, by handfuls of candy wrappers and discarded soft drink cans being bagged and waiting for DPW to haul away.
“The best results are those accomplished when we work together,” said Matthias Mormino, Norman Yee’s Legislative Assistant, who worked along side Beruk and who, like her, donned a bright yellow safety vest.
“It’s so much more refreshing now to drive along this street than it was just a few years ago,” said Yee, who lives in Westwood Park, a mile or so west of where he now kneeled along one of the City’s busiest thoroughfares.
“My office often gets calls asking ‘what are you doing for us,’ he said, “and I point to a neighborhood partnership such as this and show what’s possible.”
“Karen and Bob Abra took it upon themselves to get involved,” Yee continued, as a phalanx of automobiles crawled past, funneled into a single lane inching toward Interstate 280. “My office simply connected them to DPW.”
Keren and Bob Abra have lived on Judson Avenue since 1984 and have been committed to the Sunnyside beautification since 2010, if not longer. The Monterey Median Project began simultaneously with the freshly minted Sunnyside Conservatory in 2009. Even today the Friends of the Sunnyside Conservatory Gardening Committee maintains the medians directly in front of the remodeled building, a popular venue for music events and marriages. However, the remainder of the heavy lifting is done by the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association Greening Committee, which convenes on the first Sunday of each month for work parties.
“The entire stretch of Circular Avenue from the freeway exit at Monterey to Havelock Street near City College, and two triangles have been weeded, cleaned of trash and planted and maintained since 2010,” said Keren Abra, who retired in 2012 as an elementary school teacher at Convent of the Sacred Heart. “Our monthly work is either there or on Monterey.”
“I got roped in by Pat Moore, who served as chairperson of the Greening Committee,” Abra continued. “Pat began by cleaning the Circular roadside ‘ribbon’ and the two triangles with a small group of neighbors, and she finally brought us all together.”
Come together they did, and now as far as the eye can see ranks of senecio, livertia, yarrow, flax and propea stand at attention along the traffic calming Monterey Boulevard medians.
“DPW and horticultural advisors Steven Brown and Mike Gonzalez suggested the flax be small varieties so drivers could see over it,” said Abra. “All of the plants are Mediterranean, chosen specifically because they’re drought tolerant.”
The plants didn’t come cheap.
“Nicole Nanista, the president of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, applied for a City Challenge Grant and received $20,000,” said Abra. “It all comes to down to beautifying a public space, and we know that people love it because they hoot their horns when they pass by.”
Rita Evans, who is a Judson Avenue neighbor of Keren Abra, surveyed the Saturday morning labors.
“It’s wonderful and such a different neighborhood now,” said Evans, who has lived in the Sunnyside for 27 years. “I can’t believe we actually had sun in the Sunnyside for the interns!”
The Saturday work party continued making fast tracks, out distancing the glacially-paced vehicular traffic.
“We began at the crack of dawn,” smiled Bob Abra. “We’ll go as far as we can before DPW has to leave.”
Norman Yee eventually gathered the group and thanked everyone, acknowledging each individual’s contribution.
Mandy Hicks, who lives on Monterey Boulevard and is a member of the Monterey Heights Homeowner’s Association, played it forward and buttonholed Keren Abra. Hicks fished out a smart phone and began plying Abra with questions.
“I came over today because we want to clean up our medians,” she said, “and I’m inspired.”
Mekdelawit Beruk stood next to her mentor, Supervisor Yee. “It all about role modeling leadership,” she said, offering her slant on municipal governance.
Rita Evans, a bit older than the wide-eyed intern, put a different slant on matters. “It takes tenacious and patient leadership over time because the wheels of city government grind slowly,” she said.
Nevertheless, splitting the difference, one thing the volunteers could agree upon, as they concluded their march to the freeway, is if you plant it they will come. “Neighbors will turn out,” smiled Rita Evans, putting an Alexis de Tocqueville spin on matters.
As for Mekdelawit Beruk, well, she’ll simply have to mark time until she sits in the front row of her ISA government class in two months, raises her hand and asks her instructor about the Frenchman, the one who wrote Democracy in America.