August 28, 2007 > Bob Livengood: 32 Years of Serving Milpitas
Bob Livengood: 32 Years of Serving Milpitas
By Mekala Raman
The city of Milpitas has flourished for 53 years and during this half century, many men and women have contributed to its growth and development. At the very beginning of its incorporation, numerous strong leaders were called upon to turn the small town into a successful city and they worked hard to make the necessary changes. In 1975, Bob Livengood joined their ranks when he was elected to be a councilmember-at the tender age of 18. He was the youngest city councilman in all of California. However, some diligence was required in order to attain this honor. "I had to prove myself because when you're that young, people think you won't be able to do the job," explains Livengood. Always interested in politics, Livengood had done his homework preparing for the job.
The future councilmember started early by becoming the student body president at Samuel Ayer High School in his junior year. Then Milpitas mayor, Joe House, had previously been Livengood's advisor and called upon him to work on several city commissions. "In 1974, I started working on some commissions, the Bi-Centennial Commission and the Community Advisory Commission and I really enjoyed it," says Livengood. "However, I was very young at the time - only 18 or 19 years old - and everyone else was much older."
When Livengood left high school, Joe House told him that he wanted to see more of the same thing, only this time, he should be in the city government. Livengood felt that he had proven himself as a capable community leader by serving on city committees and serving as an advisor to the council so when there was a vacancy on the city council, he decided to run. "I had grown up in Milpitas and lived in Milpitas since I was in the third grade and I was very interested in politics. I just wanted to see whether the voters were ready for someone as young as I was." Apparently the voters were ready because he was voted into office.
Over the last few decades, Milpitas has undergone many significant changes. Livengood has been present and contributed to many civic transformations. One of these achievements he is most proud of is the Milpitas Redevelopment Agency, which helped to build an infrastructure to support Milpitas' industrial growth. "When I first came onto the council in 1975, Milpitas didn't have much in the way of business; all it had was the Ford Motor Plant. Beyond that we didn't have much industry," comments Livengood. Over the years the Milpitas Redevlopment Agency has helped and provided funds to build millions of dollars worth of projects throughout the city. Some of these projects include a new City Hall, fire stations, police department, and improved transportation systems. "You can't grow your community business-wise if you don't provide the infrastructure for them. They will go somewhere else if they don't feel they can be successful," says Livengood.
This infrastructure proved essential when Milpitas became a leading city in the Silicon Valley; it was able to become a home to some of the largest companies in America. In the late 1960's and 1970's the city also introduced a significant planning tool in their housing projects called park towns. This meant that there was a park at the end of every street; no matter where you lived, you would be within a block of a park. This and other amenities served to attract many residents to Milpitas.
The element of transportation has always been a challenge for Milpitas because it is bounded by I-680 to the east, I-880 to the west, Montague Expressway to the south and Dixon Landing to the north; Hwy 237 goes right through the middle. The presence of these freeways can cause much unwanted traffic spilling into residential areas. The city has made special changes to the roads - "no turning zones" for example - to prevent commuter traffic from clogging up the streets. Other challenges have included the sudden change in demographics that accompanied the "dot com" technological boom. A predominately Caucasian population was ethnically transformed to a population with less than 25% Caucasian and more than 55% Asian citizens. Milpitas has embraced this diversity and accommodated many different cultures. "If you want to be in politics and you want to continue to contribute, you're going to have to adjust and know that the needs of your constituents are going to change. Their cultural backgrounds and their needs in services from the city might change over time and for the city to be successful you have to change with it," states Livengood.
Over the years, Livengood has enjoyed serving on the council as a councilmember and twice as mayor. He feels that Milpitas has treated him well. Having spent all his life in Milpitas, he has a strong bond with the city and has no thoughts of leaving. "I used to wander around with my dog through the open fields where all these buildings are now so this place has a lot of sentimental value for me," he says. The people have also treated him just as well. "I've been very fortunate, I ran 12 times and I won all 12 elections. I feel honored that the voters would elect me time and time again," he says. With a smile he adds, "People ask how it's been for the past 32 years, and I say it was fun and I have had the time of my life! I have told myself that if it ever got to the point where it wasn't fun, I wouldn't do it anymore."