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September 24, 2008 > History: Tom Kitayama

History: Tom Kitayama

By Myrla Raymundo

Former Union City Mayor Tom Kitayama occupied the positions of planning commissioner, councilman and mayor of Union City for 32 years. He is considered the prime moving force behind the formation of Union City.

When California began to experience incredible growth, Southern Alameda County developed quickly and the cities of Fremont, Newark and Hayward began to eye the townships of Union City, New Haven, Alvarado and Decoto for inclusion into their city boundaries. To preclude such an event, a citizen's committee composed of Tom Kitayama, John Ratekin, Oscar Dowe, Kenneth Garcia, Joseph Lewis and Elvin Rose, was formed. They petitioned for incorporation, and on January 13, 1959, the City of Union City came into being. Tom Kitayama became its first mayor - the first Japanese-American to hold public office in California - just 14 years after the end of World War II.

Tom Kitayama will be remembered as the mayor with the longest political career in Union City with a 32 year political career. He was also a successful businessman who was the head of a multimillion-dollar empire growing and wholesaling fresh-cut flowers for 43 years.

Tom Kitayama moved his family to California in 1947. He and his wife Heidi and three brothers bought land in Alvarado in 1950. They reared six children. His son Tom Kitayama Jr. died in 1983 in a hang gliding accident and a daughter, Susan, died in infancy in 1953.

He retired in 1991 and enjoyed his favorite pastimes, fishing and stamp collecting. He traveled with Heidi everywhere, attended Lion's Club events, kept active as a member of the County Fair Board, different committees at Washington Hospital and other county activities. Although troubled with the adult form of Muscular Dystrophy, he was able to drive which enhanced his retirement life. Kitayama continued to follow the politics in Union City and sometimes helped with city events.

Once dubbed the "King of Carnations", Kitayama was instrumental in the growth of Union City. An elementary school is named in his honor and his nursery has been transformed into a beautiful residential community. He was amazed by the big changes in the city such as the Union Landing, new homes in Decoto and the new school; most of all by the business that came to the city as a result of the growth of Silicon Valley.

His family now enjoys the fruits of his labor when he and his brothers first established the business that now has plants in Watsonville and Colorado, as well as fourteen wholesale outlets throughout the country.

Today, the 15 square-mile city of Union City is growing rapidly as new residents and companies turn to the attractive environment of the City of Union City.

Tom Kitayama passed away in 2007 leaving a monumental legacy behind him. He will always be remembered by the people in Union City.

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