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April 3, 2007 > The (Un) Civil War of Milpitas

The (Un) Civil War of Milpitas

In the early 1950s, Milpitas was still very much an agricultural area. Residents loved their community and the decision to incorporate was made as a way to protect their resources. Milpitas officially became a city on January 26, 1954.

The population was growing steadily and when the Ford Motor Company decided to move their assembly plant, they chose Milpitas as the perfect location, building a factory here in 1955. More housing was needed for workers and developments started to spring up in an orderly fashion. Schools were built and care was taken to make Milpitas an efficient city.

John and Betty McDermott moved to the area in 1956. John was in the Navy and had been transferred to Moffett Field. Milpitas seemed the perfect place to raise their family. The housing tract had not been completed yet so there was still a cow pasture across the street, but the kids were safe and could run around with their friends without getting into too much trouble. Life was good.

The first rumblings started in January 1960. The San Jose City Council had been approached about preparing a "Notice of Intention" to acquire Milpitas as part of San Jose but left if off their meeting agenda. Rumor has it that one member in particular wanted to merge all the towns in Santa Clara County into San Jose, much like San Francisco is both a city and county. Milpitas resident Cecil Hoff, who had unsuccessfully run for Milpitas City Council and the Fire Commission, spearheaded the campaign. All that was required to start the process was five signatures from Milpitas voters and the battle began.

A group of men, both long-time residents of the community and newcomers, came together to discuss the matter. These men included Harley Arrants, School Board member; Ben Rogers, Postmaster; Pete Rogers, Councilmember; Warren Schmid, City Manager; Henry Strickroth, School Board member; Police Chief Jim Murray; Jack Johns, Tom Cardoza, Al Carlo, Tom Evatt, Tom Whaley, Denny Weisgerber, John McDermott and Jerry DiSalvo, among others. They felt Milpitas offered everything they wanted and didn't need San Jose. McDermott saw a photo in his son's history book of the Minute Man and commissioned painter Joe Brown to create a logo. Decals were printed and supporters of Milpitas' independence placed them on their cars and in the windows of their homes. People had definite opinions regarding annexation. You were either for it or against it. Long-time poker buddies and neighborly friendships divided on the issue.

The community was growing, from about 1,600 in January 1960 to more than 2,500 in December. To force a Special Election, 25% of the registered voters would need to sign the petition. Massive voter registration ensued.

A debate was held at Ayer High School in August. It was standing room only. By October, enough signatures were gathered to force a Special Election in January 1961. Tensions ran high. Mayor Ed Edmunds was under fire for supporting annexation. Ford Motor Company issued a statement that reflected their stance: If we wanted our plant in San Jose, we'd have put it there. Western Pacific Railroad was getting squeezed by Southern Pacific Railroad. The corporations were in the midst of the battle.

Finally, January 31, 1961, the residents had their say. The lines at the four polling places in Milpitas were crowded the whole day. Milpitas Towne Taxi offered free round-trip rides to the polls for any voter who needed a lift. The polls closed at 7:00 p.m. and by 8:00 p.m., volunteers were tabulating the results at City Hall. Milpitas would stay independent! The vote was 1,571 in favor of independence to 396 against. By 9:30 p.m., the celebration had begun in earnest and an impromptu parade made its way through the city. John McDermott hooked up a sound system to his old "Henry J" and blasted out "The Charge of the Light Brigade." John had taken a month's leave from the military to work diligently for the cause and was ecstatic about the victory.

The night of the Special Election, Ed Edmunds resigned as Mayor. Another Special Election was held in June 1961 and Denny Weisgerber was elected Mayor. In April 1962, John McDermott became a City Council member. The original Minute Man painting can now be seen at the Milpitas Community Library. The City of Milpitas slightly modified the logo and uses it as the City's seal.

In February 1961, Alviso residents opposed annexation with San Jose by a vote of 193 to 120 but later lost their bid on March 12, 1968 following a 189 to 180 vote in favor of annexation.

(Ironically, Cecil Hoff, the man responsible for starting the campaign, was arrested in June for driving while intoxicated with an expired license. He refused to take a blood alcohol test and later pled guilty, fined $250.00 and moved back to Canada before the Special Election was held.)

Special thanks to Betty McDermott and Denny Weisberger

Karen Werkheiser Kolander
2007 President
The Milpitas Historical Society

For more information on the history of Milpitas, please join us at the next meeting on Wednesday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m at the Milpitas Community Library in the Josephine Guerrero Room.

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