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Issue date: April 28, 2000

Student Nick Perry has a special interest in Mountain View history. Here is stands outside Rengstorff House.

Mountain View youth assembles impressive city Web site Mountain View youth assembles impressive city Web site (April 28, 2000)

by Laurie Phillips

Mountain View still isn't on the map.

That's what 15-year-old Nick Perry discovered two years ago when he went looking for his hometown and couldn't find it. On each map Perry looked at, the affluent neighboring communities of Los Altos and Palo Alto were printed, but Mountain View was not.

Finding the experience unsettling, Perry set out to write a book and ended up with a Web site. It is as complex as it is comprehensive, with descriptions of city regions, maps and a topical history of Mountain View, including pictures Perry took himself.

Perry, now a 17-year-old junior at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, insists anyone could have done it. He was merely the person who took the initiative to do it, he said.

"This area is pushing forward; it's rushed," Perry said. "It's easy to forget this place had a history before the Silicon Valley that was nothing like it is now."

When he was a child, Perry used to take trips in the car with his grandparents to Morgan Hill and the Coyote Valley. There, while he and his family admired a landscape not yet touched by area corporations, Perry was told that area was what Mountain View used to look like. He heard about the Santa Clara Valley, he said, a place that used to comprise orchards and open tracts of land.

"I was always curious. I always wanted to know what was here before," Perry said, adding that conversation continues. "I'd ask them and they'd tell me."

At that time, the area's connotations were not synonymous with the term, "Silicon Valley." Since the Santa Clara Valley refers to a geographical location rather than an industrial one, Perry doesn't like to hear it interchanged with "Silicon Valley."

Santa Clara Valley contains industry for which it has become famous, but as far as Perry is concerned, it is not all there is. Use the latter term, he explains, and it's easy to forget about the people and beauty here long before the high-tech industries.

"People might think that this is a city that sprang up in a day, but it's been around since the 1850s," he points out.

Perry, a third-generation area resident, lives in a house in the Old Mountain View section of the city. It is the same one his mother's father built half a century ago, after he returned from World War II and brought his wife with him to settle in Mountain View. The pair took a bus across the country from Santa Rita, New Mexico, a mining town that no longer exists. They now live in the house next door to Perry, his younger brother and their parents. His father's father was born in the Bay Area and worked at orchards in Cupertino.

Growing up while downtown Mountain View underwent a facelift, Perry was able to see what things money can bring to an area. In some cases, it can preserve places, such as trails and open space, he said. Yet, money can also be detrimental, in that it adds people, which add traffic and urban congestion.

The stories threaded through Perry's family are of things taken away, and he wonders how much of that can be attributed to the city's expansion.

In 1969, Perry's maternal grandparents were given a few months' notice to find a new home. The city erected an overpass in its place. When his family now drives down Shoreline Boulevard, near Central Expressway, they joke about being in his mom's back yard, Perry said.

"It's really a shame, because this area used to be one of the most beautiful places in the world," he said, acknowledging urban communities, while beautiful in their own right, don't possess the same degree of beauty as those that are undeveloped.

Perhaps more striking and upsetting for Perry is the attempt corporations make to buy the rights to a name. The idea is one he explores at length on his Web site, which was linked to search engine Yahoo! two months ago.

"It's a trivial thing, but it's important," said Perry, who explained why Lycos should not be able to pay for the privilege to rename Shoreline Amphitheater. "You have to set a precedent. Names are priceless, and who's to say other companies can't do it?"

Perry said he gets no school credit nor financial compensation for his site, located online at Yet, he plans to pursue the ideas contained there professionally after graduating from college, something neither of his parents have done.

Perry wants to be an urban planner, and he has begun that work in the city's Department of Planning. An internship he began there last summer has continued indefinitely.

Whitney McNair, the city's deputy zoning administrator, works with Perry two days each week when he comes in after school. Before he got there, she said she learned of an "eloquently written" letter he wrote to the Mountain View Voice about the Home Depot issue. It was the luck of the department that he has come there, she said.

"To talk to him, you'd never guess he's 17," McNair said. "I think he's a very bright guy ... for such a young kid."

Two of the projects on which he works, said McNair, are researching properties to update a city zoning map, plus cataloguing city records on CD-ROM. By doing this, the public can bypass sifting through piles of paper and go directly to what they want online. The project is ongoing, she said, while the zoning map is almost complete.

Mountain View Mayor Rosemary Stasek, impressed with his work, appointed him to the city's Centennial Commission. He is the only high school-aged member of the group, which will plan the city's 100th birthday party in 2002.

"He is just one of those kids who has his act so totally together," said Stasek, who joked she asked his mother's permission for his participation, given his busy schedule. "He is just so involved in the community, and he really has a sense of place."

Perry also finds time to serve, with 13 other local high school students, on the city's youth advisory group. One of the ideas it has generated thus far is a study center, which recently was approved by the city to be housed in the staff break room in City Hall. In addition, Perry has worked with the owner of the Limelight to begin a Sunday dance night there for youth under 21.

"We're going to see his name somewhere down the line," said Eric Schill, the advisor to the youth advisory group. "He's an intelligent, hard working guy who cares about his age group."

Schill characterized Perry as a "doer," someone able to juggle many commitments successfully. Few people he knows who are Perry's age are able to do that, he said.

In the meantime, Perry said he enjoys finding new, unexplored areas on weekends with his family and friends. The foothills are one of his favorites. "Things have changed a lot. Farmers didn't expect this area to be Silicon Valley," Perry said. "We don't know what kind of transitions are going to happen next. I just hope they're good, promising."


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