History of North Fair Oaks
By Henry Nibbelin: District 4 intern, summer 2017
North Fair Oaks (NFO) originally was a part of the town of Atherton, known previously as Fair Oaks. In 1863, wealthy citizens began constructing large estates on the Peninsula following the construction of the railroad. A new railroad stop called Fair Oaks was constructed in the area north of present day Menlo Park in 1868, and this area would later become Atherton.[i]
Huge estates dominated the area until the early 1900’s. Over time, the nearby villages of San Mateo and Menlo Park grew into cities, and many of the estates were subdivided into small plots of land.[ii] In 1909, newly subdivided lots located between Redwood City and Atherton sold for $25 each, and this attracted many new people who quickly moved to the area.[iii] The remaining wealthy landowners quickly realized that they would need to incorporate to preserve their old way of life.
The incorporation of Fair Oaks as the town of Atherton in 1923 left the North Fair Oaks community unincorporated. As a result, taxes and real estate prices were lower, and the area experienced an influx of new settlers, including refugees from the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s.[iv]
Mid-20th Century Developments: The Issue of Incorporation
North Fair Oaks would face many challenges throughout the 20th century due to the lack of building codes and zoning regulations early in its development. These challenges included securing public services, providing affordable housing, maintaining streets, and a lack of community services and facilities.[v]
Beginning in the 1950’s, some North Fair Oaks residents proposed the idea of incorporating with nearby Redwood City to address these issues.[vi] However, the overwhelming majority, fearing higher taxes, voiced their opposition to this idea at various public hearings. Proposals to incorporate would continue until the 1980’s.
Challenges of the 70’s: A Community Center and Representation
In 1972, the County Committee for Community Development (CCCD) presented a report to the Board of Supervisors identifying the challenges facing NFO.[vii] These included inadequate programming, staffing, and funding of the neighborhood community center; the Southern Pacific Railroad dividing the area in half; a lack of parks; widespread drug use; and poor medical treatment facilities. In an effort to address these issues, the NFO Citizen’s Task Force, a local community initiative, along with the County of San Mateo and Redwood City established the North Fair Oaks Community Center[viii] - and local residents formed the North Fair Oaks Municipal Council.[ix]
To address the dearth of public services available to the area, the NFO Citizen’s Task Force worked with the County of San Mateo and the City of Redwood City to establish the North Fair Oaks Community Center in 1974. The center continues to provide services to the community, such as subsidized child care, a senior nutrition program, a variety of social service programs, and various youth recreational programs. In addition, the Fair Oaks Library (now a part of the Redwood City Public Library system) was another major service offered to the NFO community beginning in the 1970’s.[x]
In 1976, residents formed the North Fair Oaks Municipal Council to foster greater communication between county officials and North Fair Oaks residents. The Board of Supervisors, however, did not recognize this new council as an official body because the council’s first election was not officially sanctioned. Without the proper funds and administrative support, this advisory council disbanded in 1979.[xi]
Challenges of the 80’s: The North Fair Oaks Community Plan
Following the collapse of the NFO Municipal Council, the County Planning Commission worked with NFO residents to develop a community plan to address the challenges facing the community. The principal challenges of the late 70’s and the 80’s included: illegal disposal of garbage in public places, dilapidated rental housing, high rental rates, outdated sewage systems, and a lack of affordable housing.[xii]
This plan, approved in 1979, promoted and maintained low density housing; provided low-interest housing loans to rehabilitate old homes; made parking/street improvements; provided landscaping programs; made storm drain improvements; and instituted garbage cleanup programs. In addition to the Community plan, the County sponsored several subsidized housing projects and a garbage collection program. Local residents also worked together to establish Selby Park.[xiii]
Progress in the 90’s: The Establishment of the NFO Community Council
In June of 1987, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors authorized the development of a committee to research economic strategies for NFO. Two task forces were established, and developed short-term economic strategies for the community. In February of 1988, the Board of Supervisors decided to form a permanent entity to develop long-range economic plans for NFO by partnering with the private sector and community members. On December 11, 1990, the Board passed Resolution #54597, which officially established the North Fair Oaks Community Council.[xiv]
The establishment of the NFO Community Council in December 1990 led to many improvements throughout the 1990’s by facilitating greater communication of NFO issues to the Board of Supervisors. Improvements included the Fair Oaks Clinic established in 1991 and a financial assistance program for low-income residents to improve their properties. In addition, County officials floated a proposal to increase commercial diversity on Middlefield Road by encouraging neighborhood-oriented businesses and preventing the development of new auto-repair shops. North Fair Oaks also made significant progress on reducing the sale of drugs and reducing the amount of trash illegally dumped in public places.[xv]
New Progress and New Challenges
Spearheaded by Supervisor Warren Slocum, the Board of Supervisors, has taken steps to address the challenges facing the NFO community today. Supervisor Slocum initiated NFO Forward, an organization whose mission is to develop a better neighborhood for the neighbors and in collaboration with the NFO community. Supervisor Slocum continues to promote economic development and improve the quality of life for NFO residents. For example, in conjunction with the Fair Oaks Beautification Association (FOBA), Supervisor Slocum supported the establishment of FOBA Park, which joins Friendship Park and the NFO Community Park as the main parks serving the NFO neighborhood.
Additionally, in December 2013 the Fair Oaks Health Center opened on 2710 Middlefield Road as a replacement for three older clinics – the Willow Clinic, the Fair Oaks Children’s Clinic, and the Fair Oaks Adult Clinic. The Fair Oaks Health Center is 30% larger than the all three of these clinics combined, and provides a variety of services including primary care, dental, optometry, OB/GYN, and a pharmacy.[xvi]
The main challenge facing many North Fair Oaks residents today is displacement. While the tech industry continues to thrive in Silicon Valley, 22.4% of the NFO population live in poverty, and many low-income residents in North Fair Oaks simply cannot keep up with the rising cost of living.[xvii] As a result, many low-income families are forced to leave their homes, and relocate to more affordable areas. Such was the case in late 2016 when Trion Properties, a Los Angeles private equity firm, purchased the Buckingham Apartments.[xviii]
The Updated North Fair Oaks Community Plan
With the significant changes in the North Fair Oaks community since the adoption of the original NFO Community Plan in 1979, the County Planning and Building Department, in conjunction with the Health Department, Housing Department, and Public Works Department, worked with various partners in the NFO community to develop an updated plan for NFO. This plan, adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2011, establishes policies for land use and development over the next 30 years, and includes programs to help meet the current needs of the community.[xix]
The North Fair Oaks Plan lays out policies and guidelines regarding land use, circulation, parking, parks and recreation, infrastructure, health and wellness, housing, and economic development. The plan aims to support a vibrant, safe community with adequate public services, housing, recreational and employment opportunities, and a high quality of life overall. Major goals of the plan include the following: promote a diverse mix of land uses in appropriate areas, revitalize vacant land in key locations, create safe, affordable housing for all residents, support the safety and accessibility of local streets for all types of transportation, and preserve community character.[xx]
Supervisor Slocum has made great strides in implementing the NFO Community Plan by undertaking various projects and programs. Specifically, the Supervisor spearheaded the implementation of the Middlefield Road improvement project. In addition, the Supervisor also supported various improvement projects, such as art projects (e.g. murals), the installation of entrance signs, and rezoning efforts.
The North Fair Oaks community has always been racially diverse with census data from the 1870’s indicating clusters of Latinos living in the Redwood City area. However, Latinos were not always the majority.[xxi] In fact, census data from the 1970’s indicates that 83% of the population was white and only 6.1% was Latino.[xxii] Since this time, the area has experienced a huge shift in demographics. Today, Latinos make up 73% of the total population, and African Americans make up 1.1% of the total population.[xxiii]
[i] Frank Stanger, ed., La Peninsula (Redwood City, CA: San Mateo County Historical Association, 1950).
[iii] Noguchi, Sharon. "North Fair Oaks area now is paying for lack of planning." Peninsula Times Tribune (Palo Alto), May 17, 1979.
[vi] Spangler, Ray. "Under the Courthouse Dome." Redwood City Tribune (Redwood City), January 11, 1950.
[vii] "Fair Oaks Housing Need Cited." Redwood City Tribune (Redwood City), May 31, 1972.
[viii] Fair Oaks 30th Anniversary. Redwood City, CA: Fair Oak Community Center, 2004.
[ix] "Only 436 vote as North Fair Oaks creates a council." Redwood City Tribune (Redwood City), July 31, 1975.
[x] Fair Oaks 30th Anniversary. Redwood City, CA: Fair Oak Community Center, 2004.
[xi] Arrieta, Rose. "North Fair Oaks residents face problems." Peninsula Times Tribune (Palo Alto), April 17, 1985.
[xii] Noguchi, Sharon. "North Fair Oaks area now is paying for lack of planning." Peninsula Times Tribune (Palo Alto), May 17, 1979.
[xiv] "North Fair Oaks Community Council." NFO Community Council | North Fair Oaks Community. Accessed August 14, 2017. http://www.nfoforward.org/about-north-fair-oaks/north-fair-oaks-community-council.
[xv] Burkhardt, Marc. "North Fair Oaks residents noticing a difference." Peninsula Times Tribune (Palo Alto), June 26, 1991.
[xvi] Eslinger, Bonnie. "New county health clinic to open in Redwood City on Dec. 16." The Mercury News, December 3, 2013. Accessed August 14, 2017. Eslinger, Bonnie. "New county health clinic to open in Redwood City on Dec. 16." The Mercury News, December 3, 2013.
[xvii] "QuickFacts." U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts selected: North Fair Oaks CDP, California. Accessed August 14, 2017.
[xviii] Lin, Siqi. "North Fair Oaks renters facing eviction as developer plans building upgrade." Peninsula Press. December 08, 2016.
[xix] "NFO Community Plan." NFO Community Plan | North Fair Oaks Community. Accessed August 14, 2017. http://nfoforward.org/about-our-community/nfo-community-plan.
[xxi] Redwood City: a hometown history. Belmont, CA: STAR Pub. Co., 2007.
[xxii] Walker, Keith. "N. Fair Oaks-- little rhyme or reason." Redwood City Tribune (Redwood City), November 4, 1976.
[xxiii] Demographics | North Fair Oaks Community. Accessed August 14, 2017. http://www.nfoforward.org/our-community/demographics.