By Ron Miller
ONCE you start thinking of Silicon Valley as the world's fastest and flashiest bullet train that everybody wants a ticket to ride, it's a little easier trying to picture what it might be like to be on board when it finally runs out of track.
Certainly, nobody wants to see that happen, but it's a viable vision of the near future that already has begun to stir many Santa Clara County community leaders into action.
You can get a peek at the alternative futures of our fabulous homeland tonight when San Jose's PBS station, KTEH-Channel 54, premieres ''Silicon Valley at the Crossroads,'' a thoughtful and challenging one-hour documentary written, produced and directed by Kristine Jensen and Bob Gliner, with Michael Malone of KTEH's ''Malone'' as narrator and host. Joint Venture: Silicon Valley was a partner in the production.
Most of what you're likely to hear about Silicon Valley outside of its boundaries is that it's America's late 20th-century version of the Gold Rush. This is the place where nerds can afford to buy platinum propeller blades for their beanies. This is where janitors who took stock options instead of pay raises are now millionaires. This is where new college graduates worry less about finding jobs than they do about finding open land to build their new companies.
In tonight's show, you'll meet Rolando Loera, a former Texan whose grandparents brought the family across the border from Mexico in a flatbed truck, covered with canvas. He now runs Touche Manufacturing. You'll meet some former Stanford students who didn't want to work for somebody else when they graduated, so they formed their own company -- Excite -- even though they weren't exactly sure what it was going to make when they started out.
They're proof that Silicon Valley is home base for daring entrepreneurs. As one observer tells us, it offers ''a healthy environment for growing new companies.'' Another reminds us so many have succeeded here that Silicon Valley has become ''the template'' for modern American industry.
Yet the lure of golden success also has brought many worrisome problems to Silicon Valley, carried by the thousands who flock here in answer to that siren call: soaring land prices, mounting traffic congestion, urban sprawl and the conflicts that always come when those moving in begin to force the original settlers out.
We meet a couple whose only hope of buying a new home was to get into a lottery drawing with 109 other potential buyers. When their names were drawn, they had 30 seconds to pick a homesite -- or lose their turn in line.
On the move
Sure, it means some longtime Santa Clara County homeowners are making big money selling out to newcomers, but it also means they have to move away to avoid spending it all buying a replacement home here. The result: Many of the people who work here can't afford to live here.
That means thousands must commute into Silicon Valley to their jobs, clogging the highways, and many others in low-paying jobs are either being forced out entirely or pushed into deteriorating neighborhoods.
Though there are exceptions, like Loera, tonight's program also tells us that Latinos, who represent a large percentage of the Silicon Valley population, are being shut out of the jobs that are attracting to many outsiders, adding to the growing friction between ethnic groups, between the haves and the have-nots.
All of this may sound very familiar. But unlike many documentaries that are content to just point out the problems, ''Silicon Valley at the Crossroads'' actually proposes a possible solution: an organized meeting of minds between the creative thinkers who are driving the Silicon Valley boom and the community people faced with handling its problems.
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