A front-row seat watching the city boom

Tom Gibboney reflects on his time at the Voice as he heads into retirement

As I retire from the Voice and reflect on the remarkable way Kate Wakerly went about establishing an independent newspaper for Mountain View, it is easy to see why the paper has been so well-received over the last 22 years.

Starting in her basement with co-founder Carol Torgrimson, Kate published the first edition of the then-monthly Voice in the fall of 1992. Coincidentally, that was also the year I began my own 22-year run with Embarcadero Media by becoming editor of the Palo Alto Weekly, then editor and publisher of The Almanac in Menlo Park, and then, in 2002, editor and publisher of the Voice.

Kate and Carol had a vision for a quality community newspaper that needed more resources than they could provide, so in 1994 they turned to Embarcadero founder Bill Johnson for help. Bill enthusiastically took on the Voice, converted it to a weekly and hired a staff to work with Kate, who remained on as publisher. It was a formula that worked until 2002, when Kate, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, passed the publisher's role to me, beginning a run of 12 years guiding the Voice through a period of intensive growth and development in Mountain View.

Along the way I have had the good fortune to serve with many talented journalists and watch the city blossom under the guidance of then-City Manager Kevin Duggan, who arrived in 1990 when much of Shoreline was taken up by a pig farm and landfill.

It was this young city manager's vision and luck to connect with Google early on, which began the high-tech boom that defines the city today. Kevin was a quiet leader, treating employees fairly and staying out of the thicket of local politics. He also made sure that the city kept Voice reporters and other media representatives in the loop about the city's business. His door was always open if we had a question or concern.

Luckily, I was able to work alongside Kate for a time before she stepped down. I learned about her passion for schools, civil liberties and many charitable causes, including the St. Joseph the Worker Center, now simply called the Day Worker Center.

It was a sad day for everyone at Embarcadero and the entire Mountain View community when Kate lost her battle with cancer and died in 2004. Her Mountain View legacy lives on as her husband, John, and her three children continue to support the Voice Holiday Fund every year with a gift through the Wakerly Family Foundation.

No recap of my years at the Voice would be complete without acknowledging the great work of many writers and editors who have passed through our doors. Justin Scheck, named managing editor in 2001, wrote extensively about the toxic solvent TCE, which some early computer chip manufacturers threw out the back door, contaminating the underground aquifer in a wide area of northeast Mountain View. The Voice won awards for Justin's coverage, and has continued to cover issues surrounding the lingering TCE plume. Stories written by Daniel Debolt in the Voice this year about TCE helped win an award for general excellence, the highest honor bestowed by the state newspaper association, a first place in environmental reporting.

After a stint as a staff writer, Candice Shih was named managing editor in late 2003. She served during a period of intense growth in the city and at El Camino Hospital. Don Frances came next. He stayed on top of the school beat and El Camino Hospital as the public tried to figure out the hospital district's complicated governing structure and high executive salaries.

When I came in August 2002, the Voice front page carried stories about the upcoming campaign for City Council, school board and hospital board seats. Eleven candidates declared for the council race, a near record, perhaps drawn in by the hot-button issue of whether the Chamber of Commerce and the city's firefighters and police unions should endorse candidates. Another story covered Democratic state Assembly candidate Sally Lieber, a former City Council member who was being attacked by Republican Stan Kawczynski for calling herself a "councilwoman" on the ballot.

Beyond the campaign issues, City Manager Duggan's Shoreline business strategy was to issue long-term leases to Google and other high-tech companies that today bring in more than $5 million a year to the city. It was also Duggan's idea to reinvigorate the Shoreline special tax district and use funds generated to build the golf course and a host of other amenities there. Today, the city shares a portion of the Shoreline district's tax revenue with local schools. A similar redevelopment district helped refurbish and enhance the downtown area.

Not far from Shoreline sits Hangar One, a major landmark and remnant of the brief period when the dirigible USS Macon flew out of Moffett Field to hunt World War I enemies in the Pacific. But shortly after arriving in Mountain View, the Macon crashed at sea, leaving the giant hangar empty. After many years the hangar's toxic siding finally had to be removed, and when NASA took over Moffett Field from the Navy, disagreements arose over who was responsible for cleaning up toxic debris from the hangar. It was a huge and ongoing issue covered in depth by the Voice. Finally, the Navy stripped the siding off Hangar One but refused to recover the structure, leaving its skeleton exposed to the elements in recent years. Thankfully, a deal was struck and Google has agreed to refurbish the huge building and will park some of its executives' planes there.

As I depart, it is comforting to know that Embarcadero Media is firmly behind the Voice, which survived the Great Recession and is profitable. Andrea Gemmet, who has been promoted to Editor, is an experienced journalist and will continue to make day-to-day decisions on coverage. Renee Batti, a longtime editor at the Almanac, our sister paper, will serve as the new associate editor and handle the Viewpoint pages, write editorials and help with editing.

As for me, I look forward to remaining in the area and to staying active in retirement by volunteering or consulting for organizations whose missions I support. With kids who are now both done with graduate school and embarking on their own careers, it feels like the right time to begin the next chapter in my life.

I want to thank all the friends and acquaintances I have made over the years. I have been extremely lucky to have started as publisher with Kate and to have watched the city through such a formative period. I enjoyed every minute.

Tom Gibboney has been editor and publisher of the Voice since 2002.


Like this comment
Posted by Ellen Wheeler
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 4, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Best wishes to you in your next chapter of life, Tom. I think you've done an exceptional job shepherding our town newspaper all these years. Thank you for your service to our community.

Like this comment
Posted by incognito
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 4, 2014 at 9:24 pm

That's a very informative and gracious essay. Thank you for your years of service to the Mountain View community and Happy Retirement!

Like this comment
Posted by Laura Macias
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jul 7, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Thank you for your service to the City of Mountain View, Tom. Having a local and physical newspaper like the Mountain View Voice is a real asset to our town. I know Kate and Carol must be proud as to the journalistic legacy that you both carried on in their names and then established on your own.
Enjoy your next chapter!

Like this comment
Posted by Valerie F
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jul 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Thanks, Tom! Good luck on whatever the future holds for you!

Like this comment
Posted by Rose Filicetti
a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2014 at 4:50 pm

As a former community member and continuing Voice reader, I congratulate you on a retirement well-deserved and thank you for your many years of service, carrying out Kate's vision for a community newspaper into the digital age.

Like this comment
Posted by Doug Pearson
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 7, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Well done, Tom. Enjoy your retirement.

Like this comment
Posted by Judie Block
a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Congrats Tom! Enjoy the next about acknowledging the advertising department at the Voice thst made it all happen!!!!
Best wishes, Judie

Like this comment
Posted by Scarlet
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jul 7, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Thank you, Tom, and everyone at The Mountain View Voice for the BEST local newspaper in the area. Your remembering the origins and Kate is much appreciated. Wishing you the best...

Like this comment
Posted by Marti
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Jul 7, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Laura, Rose and Ellen have said my sentiments exactly. I wish you well on the next chapter of your life, Tom. Know that the Voice is in good hands...

Like this comment
Posted by Susan
a resident of Castro City
on Jul 8, 2014 at 8:51 am

Thank you for the overview of the Voice. Kate and Carol were wonderful, talented, generous people who continue to keep on giving long after
leaving. I appreciate the journalism in the articles. Just the facts as presented to the reporter. Best wishes for a creative retirement!

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