Mike Baker steps around mud
puddles as he steers clear of a forklift, walks past a 20-foot-tall
jumble of car axles and takes proud stock of his junkyard.
"We recycle cars. There's a high demand for it. People are
constantly begging me to take their cars," he says, stepping under
a jacked-up Toyota being dismantled by grease-stained workers.
Baker's junkyard seems a world away from the economic dynamo of
Silicon Valley. But he's less than a mile from the perfectly
manicured Palo Alto front yards of such industry titans as Apple
Computer CEO Steve Jobs and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreesen.
Just across Highway 101 are the business parks of Hewlett Packard,
Xerox PARC, ETrade and AltaVista Co.
Between Palo Alto and its poorer stepsister, East Palo Alto,
lies the original chasm of the digital divide, the gap between
computer haves and have-nots that President Clinton is fighting as
part of his New Markets Initiative to encourage economic
development in depressed areas.
On Monday, Clinton's campaign will include a visit to East Palo
Alto and Plugged In, a computer training center.
In East Palo Alto, a city of about 25,000 residents on the edge
of San Francisco Bay, 65 percent of the schoolchildren have trouble
with English and 80 percent are poor enough to qualify for
subsidized lunches. Minorities comprise about 85 percent of the
"When you move here and ask where you should live, they don't
necessarily tell you where you should live. They tell you where you
shouldn't live," and East Palo Alto was one of those places, said
Tamara Nordby, a Palo Alto hair salon manager who recently moved
About 82 percent of Palo Alto's 62,000 residents are white and
the median home price is around $630,000. Four of the richest 400
Americans live there and the city is so flush with money it plans
to install high-speed fiber-optic Internet connections to every
Blacks and Hispanics are about half as likely as whites to own a
computer, according to the Commerce Department. Eighty percent of
families earning at least $75,000 had computers in 1998, compared
to just 35.8 percent of those earning between $25,000 and $35,000.
The towns' digital divide is apparent even on the Web.
Palo Alto's Web site has 251 sections. During storms, it
provides video of flood-prone San Francisquito Creek. Residents can
download forms from the planning department, read City Council
minutes, even search the city library's catalog.
East Palo Alto's Web site has just three pages of information,
little more than outdated population figures and City Hall's
Still, change is coming fast to East Palo Alto. Yuppie furniture
seller Ikea is moving into a new shopping center, there's a new
Home Depot and the pounding of hammers echoes from new homes under
Now residents have a new fear: that Silicon Valley's real estate
prices will drive out the very people Clinton is trying to get
Baker recently turned down a biotechnology firm's offer to buy
"This town is definitely changing but I hate to see it become
another high-tech campus town," he said above the whine of the
forklift. "I hope the city can find room for me."