Mountain View Voice

News - October 8, 2010

Victor Calvo, longtime public servant, dies

Former mayor and legislator instrumental in developing Shoreline, Cuesta, Rengstorff parks

by Daniel DeBolt

Former Mayor Victor Calvo, one of the city's most accomplished residents, died last week in his Mountain View home surrounded by his family. He was 86.

Calvo was selected as mayor of Mountain View three times during the 1960s and went on to be a Santa Clara County supervisor, a state Assembly member and state public utilities commissioner, finally retiring from political life in 1989.

Services will be held Oct. 18 at 1 p.m. at the Rengstorff House at Shoreline Park in Mountain View.

Calvo spent his whole life living in Mountain View, where he grew up on a ranch at the corner of San Antonio Road and El Camino Real that was owned by his parents, immigrants from Spain.

Many of his colleagues remember Calvo as an environmentalist ahead of his time, and an unflinching advocate for his less-powerful constituents in both Mountain View and Sacramento.

"His work in Mountain View was the thing he was most proud of," said former City Manager John O'Halloran, who remained close friends with Calvo after working with him throughout the 1960s on such projects as the creation of Shoreline, Rengstorff and Cuesta parks.

All of the parks had to be paid for by voter-approved bonds, which required a two-thirds yes vote to pass. O'Halloran said Calvo was instrumental in getting those bonds approved.

Even in his final days he was helping the city deal with the problematic geese and coots at Shoreline Park's golf course, where he loved to golf, said City Manager Kevin Duggan. Some of his proposals for dealing with the birds were acted on by the City Council.

Calvo was "well respected" while on the 1960s City Council, as a lifelong resident and as an expert on any matter he chose to study, O'Halloran said.

"Once he got on a commission or something he really studied or understood it," O'Halloran said. When he chaired the board for what is now known as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, "he knew the air pollution control technicalities better than almost anybody I knew and he was only on it for a month," he said.

Early accomplishments

Calvo was valedictorian of his class at Mountain View High School in 1942, the same year he volunteered for the United States Army. He flew 25 bombing missions over Europe with the Army Air Force during World War II. After the war he earned a degree in political science from Stanford University.

He married Nellie Catherine Quintero-Calvo, his wife of 62 years, in 1948 and they had five children. He owned and operated the De Anza lumberyard in Cupertino from 1959 to 1985.

Calvo started his political career in 1957 by joining the city's new Environmental Planning Commission, the first commission of its kind in the region, O'Halloran said. Home construction was booming and Fairchild Semiconductor was one of the city's largest employers as Silicon Valley was being born. It was the first time the aesthetics of development were discussed by a city commission. The word "environmental" was included in the commission's title so that the commission could weigh in on almost anything, even a parking lot, O'Halloran said.

Calvo left the commission when he was elected to the City Council in 1961. And in a fashion unique to the time and to Calvo, he was selected by his fellow council members to be mayor three times before he termed out in 1968.

Shoreline Park controversy

He was a staunch advocate for the creation of Shoreline Park, which pitted him against his fellow environmentalists and bird lovers, as he was a member of the Audubon Society, O'Halloran said. He reconciled that conflict with a belief that the city was protecting the area from development even though some of the original marshland had to be destroyed to make way for the Shoreline Lake and the contours of today's park, made with landfill.

"There was nothing to stop it from developing," O'Halloran said of the Shoreline area, which was eyed by housing developers. "That preserved a lot of that land."

Calvo left the council in 1968 after being elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, where he served until being elected to the state Assembly in 1974.

When Calvo's closest colleagues and friends were asked for comment, many mentioned his advocacy for the state's wetlands, forests and greenbelts, and his unwillingness to bend to the influence of special interests.

"He was a straight arrow in a sea of ego and ambition, with the temptations of power nearby," said John White, who served as a consultant to the Assembly on air quality and alternative energy. "He was low key and quiet, but razor sharp and tough as nails when facing a tough decision. He was an environmentalist before the word came into use."

Environmental legacy

Calvo was recognized in 1979 as "Environmental Legislator of the Year" by the California Planning and Conservation League. As chair of the Assembly Committee on Resources, Land Use and Energy he blocked pieces of legislation that would have hurt the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Coastal Act and air quality laws.

After establishing himself as an environmental expert he left the Assembly in 1980, selected by then-Gov. Jerry Brown to serve on the California Public Utilities Commission, which Calvo called "a very difficult job that requires full dedication." Among his accomplishments was initiating the removal of 100-car freight trains that backed up mid-day auto traffic in San Jose as they lumbered from Oakland to Los Angeles at 10 miles per hour. The trains were allowed to run at night instead.

Republican Governor George Deukmejian replaced Calvo with a republican in 1986, and Calvo joined the California Coastal Commission in 1987, where he continued his environmental advocacy before retiring from politics in 1989.

Calvo suffered from prostate cancer before he passed away, said his granddaughter, Alyssa Crittenden in an e-mail.

"If I had to pick one word to describe my husband I would pick earnest," said Nelli Calvo in an e-mail. "He was earnest in everything he did from his actions to his speech; everything he did was done with a deep sense of intention and sincerity. He was kind and gentle and a wonderful life partner. He had a deep affection for family and friends and a tremendous sense of humor. He will be greatly missed."

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