Janet McGovern

Janet McGovern has 4 articles published.

Climate magazine editor Janet McGovern has had a long career writing about Redwood City and San Mateo County, as a newspaper reporter and columnist and as an author of several local history books. She covered Redwood City for many years for the Redwood City Tribune and its successor, the Peninsula Times Tribune, and later drew on that experience and knowledge to collaborate on two local history books about Redwood City: “Redwood City” (2008) and “Redwood City Then and Now” (2010), and one on Menlo Park (2015). She also worked for many years in marketing and communications for the San Mateo County Transit District and is the author of another local history book, “Caltrain and the Peninsula Commute Service.” The Redwood City resident was heavily involved in the 150th anniversary celebration in 2017. She and Climate Creative Director Jim Kirkland contributed their time to the creation of “Redwood City 150,” a 140-page magazine about the city’s history which has been made available to the public as a free memento of the sesquicentennial year.

There He Is Mr. Redwood City Contenders a Hit with the Misses – and Audiences Too

in A&E/Community by

Kevin Bondonno’s boyhood dreams never once involved a triumphal parade ride through downtown streets waving to Fourth of July crowds from an open convertible. “Especially not wearing a sash” says the unlikely pageant titleholder. When he found himself vying a year ago for “Mr. Redwood City” the realization that “I don’t have a talent” could easily have been a showstopper.

“I always wanted to play the ukulele,” Bondonno adds, “so I thought, ‘I’ll go ahead and make that my talent.’” He bought one and learned enough to pull off a solo performance of Bob Marley’s reggae ditty, “Three Little Birds.” Though the judges named auctioneer Frank Bizzarro Mr. Redwood City, Bondonno took home the “Mr. People’s Choice” title, which includes votes from the audience. “I joke with people and I say that Frank may have actually gotten the Electoral College,” Bondonno says. “I got the popular vote.”

To anyone who in 2018 says “beauty pageants” are passé, or for that matter that chivalry is dead, the men-only offshoot of the Miss Redwood City-San Mateo County Competition offers a gentlemanly rebuttal. Launched three years ago to raise both awareness and funds for the “Miss” program, the light-hearted Mr. Redwood City event that is coming up April 28 is scoring top marks in both categories.

“Every time we do this, it’s just a hoot,” says Allison Wood, executive director of the Miss Redwood City organization. Not only that, “it’s truly become our major fundraising source.” Every dollar helps because  the reigning queen receives a scholarship of at least $1,000, and the local pageant is unusual in giving each participant a stipend. Sponsorships from the Peninsula Celebration Association, businesses and others also help fund pageant-related expenses.

The 60-year-old Miss Redwood City-San Mateo County competition is a preliminary to Miss California and Miss America. The Mr. Redwood City event mirrors their judging criteria but instead of swimsuits, the men don leisure attire and there are no age limits.  (Miss California sets eligibility at 17 to 24.) There’s an evening wear promenade in tuxes and other uptown attire.  Men who may never have given a thought to how to bring about world peace find themselves having to articulate cogent responses under the hot lights of the Veterans Memorial Senior Center stage.

And then there’s “the talent.”

Ralph Garcia, who owns a vacuum cleaner store on Main Street, has competed two years in a row and did walking stand-up, pushing a vacuum around the stage. He didn’t win – “The comedian never wins,” he reasons – but enjoyed the fun backstage with the pageant brotherhood and will return if organizers run short of men.

“I call myself the two-time loser,” Garcia quips. “. . . A great platform would be a three-time loser.”

“We all come together for a lot of fun and a good cause, and we had a blast,” Bondonno agrees, noting that all the Miss Redwood City contestants get a scholarship. He too would be willing to take another shot at the title if he’s needed, but says “it’s time to pass it on.”

On the distaff side, of course, competing is serious business, and young women who want to wear the crown work hard and may enter multiple times at pageants around the state.  Brooke Muschott racked up eight losses before being crowned Miss Redwood City/San Mateo County 2018 in November. Losing may be discouraging, the Pepperdine College graduate and national roller skating competitor concedes, but each event is a building block.

“I was not ready to win and I was not ready for the job all those times that I lost,” the 22-year-old Menlo Park resident says. “And every single time I competed, I learned something new.  I got better at interview. I got better at hair and make-up, which is not something I do on a regular basis. I became a better skater. I’ve gotten so much better at stage presence, and all of these things are really important qualities in life, I think, too.”

To enter the Miss Redwood City/San Mateo County title – classified as a “structured” or “closed” competition under the Miss California rules — young women must live or work in the county or be a full-time Stanford University student. An outstanding teen category is also available in Redwood City to girls from 13 to 17 years of age. Some competitions in the state are “open,” which is why Muschott could also try for Miss LA County/Culver City and Miss Orange County/Orange Coast.

Muschott never remembers a time when the Miss America program wasn’t on her radar screen. Her mother and her aunt were Miss Arizonas (1986 and 1989 respectively.)  During visits to Muschott’s grandparents, “there were pictures of my mom on the wall and a crown. And at age three or four that seems like the coolest thing in the world, especially because I loved Disney and was a princess-obsessed little girl.”

Two years ago she entered her first competition, Miss Beach Cities in El Segundo. “I had no idea what I was getting into at the time,” she says, laughing.  “But it was a good experience and I think everyone who enters their first competition either they get hooked or they decide it’s not for them. And I got hooked.”

Too tall at 5’ 11” for a partner, Muschott honed her skills as a teen-ager in both ice skating and roller skating. She executed a roller routine to the tune “Shake It Off” for her Miss Redwood City win, but is currently practicing a retooled dance for the larger stage at the Miss California pageant in June. The biggest challenge, though, is preparing for off-stage interview sessions with the judges, during which contestants field rapid-fire questions for almost 10 minutes. They need to be up on current events, able to respond to hot topics and also explain their “platform” and why they want to win.

A creative writing major who has collaborated with bestselling author Ridley Pearson on his Kingdom Keepers series, Muschott’s wants to help high school girls “write their own path,” and she’d like to develop a writing mentorship program with the library. Since being crowned, she has made nearly two dozen appearances as Miss Redwood City and gotten to know city officials.

“Redwood City and San Mateo County, they love to see their titleholders go to events,” Wood says. “It’s an awesome opportunity that our girls get to have that is not uniform throughout the state . . . Redwood City makes everything into a party. It’s a fun place.”

Jeri Daines, who came in second runner-up to Miss Teen California All American in 2002 at the age of 16, competed twice for Miss Redwood City but wasn’t chosen. Now 35 and a partner at Sequoia Realty Services, she’s part of a “sisterhood” of former contestants and other supporters who serve on Miss Redwood City’s organizing committee. Daines sees the program as empowering for young women, as well as an opportunity to make lifelong bonds.

“Each pageant I walked away feeling good about myself,” the Redwood City resident says. “Whether or not you win, it gives you confidence. It gives you life skills. Public speaking. Performing talent.”

And the often-derided swimsuit element, supposedly to assess physical fitness? Some hope the recent election of former Miss America Gretchen Carlson to the national board will usher in a change. Daines, on the other hand, says she knew some fellow contestants were uncomfortable with the swimsuit competition, but “that was my favorite part. I’m not a shy person and I had fun with it.”

Muschott, who has ordered one of the four made-for-the-stage swimsuit options for Miss California contestants, has mixed feelings about that required element. The experience walking on stage in a swimsuit can be energizing later for job interviews and other challenging situations, knowing that if she can do that, “I can do anything. And I think there’s a certain value to that that we tend to forget when we get caught up in the objectifying women mindset.”

If the manly competitors choose to model swim trunks, so be it. Bondonno played it safe with khakis and a cardigan. City Librarian Derek Wolfgram’s leisure wear choice was a kilt and a “Trust Me, I’m a Librarian” tee shirt. (He got a once-in-a-150-year honor of being chosen “Mr. Sesquicentennial” for 2017.)

Wood isn’t sure whether the Mr. Redwood City event was a first, but representatives from other cities have inquired about doing their own parody pageant. Though the event gets lots of laughs, no one is made fun of, Wood adds. “The men had a ball, and the audience loved it.”

When Garcia was asked to participate, he could hardly say no: His wife, Theresa, had been active with Miss Redwood City for several years.  He thought it was a great idea and was glad to help raise scholarship funds.  “A lot of people just don’t like pageants at all, but there are some ladies that have gotten some serious money for their education.”

For tickets to Mr. Redwood City and other information, visit


Emergency preparedness worth the effort

in Community/Education by

By Janet McGovern

Last year’s series of devastating natural disasters seemed almost Biblical in their fury: Hurricanes and floods first in Texas and then in the Gulf. Closer to home, wildfires swept through the North Bay last October, only to be echoed in the Los Angeles area holocaust before Christmas. Even closer yet, the Skeggs fire in September burned for four days along the Skyline and in the Woodside hills before it was stopped.

Bay Area residents, who get regular warnings about the coming Big One, were jolted awake Jan. 4 by a 4.4 magnitude earthquake centered on the Hayward fault line. More recently, news outlets carried a Colorado State University professor’s assessment that California has been in an “earthquake drought” for years, with the San Andreas Fault system particularly stressed to unleash a temblor to rival San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake.

Forewarned, theoretically, is forearmed. Emergency kits should be ready to grab, 72-hour water supplies stockpiled at home, and, a pair of shoes stowed under the bed to jump into if the windows shatter in a 2 a.m. earthquake. Yet, with apologies to Henry David Thoreau, the mass of men actually lead lives of quiet procrastination.

“It’s human nature,” says the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services’ Jeff Norris. “If something happens, there’s a brief flurry of enhanced preparedness. People get a little more ready, and then because it doesn’t happen all the time, they become complacent . . . It’s that project that you start that you never get finished. And preparedness for yourself and your family, especially in California – California is an act of God theme park, and you never know when we’re going to get that rollercoaster ride of the earthquake.

“But because it doesn’t happen on a regular basis, or it didn’t happen to me, or it didn’t happen to you, it’s easy to say, ‘Oh well, I’m prepared enough.’”

For someone not constantly aware of and planning for emergencies and disasters because of their job, figuring out how to get ready is easy to put off, especially contemplating catastrophes that, while assuredly real, may seem remote possibilities.

“Unfortunately, earthquakes are always there,” Redwood City/San Carlos Fire Chief Stan Maupin observes, “but they’re kind of at a low level. But they’re always there. The kind of fire that blew through Santa Rosa was so out of the norm that I think the public kind of says ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Oh, that can’t happen here.’  And then they’re back to day-to-day (living).

“What happened in Santa Rosa would be like a fire coming through Mount Carmel, through neighborhoods. It’s almost impossible for the public to even comprehend. How does a firestorm like that in the 21st century move through a neighborhood?”

From his vantage point of 30 years in the fire service, Maupin “was able to process it because you knew that there’s a time when the planets align and all those factors come together with the winds that they had up there, the dry vegetation, with the low humidity.  I was surprised but not shocked.”

San Mateo County possesses a robust emergency response system that relies on automatic aid kicking in for “borderless” assistance when it’s needed. If a fire breaks out in one city, for example, firefighters from the nearest station roll out, beyond the city limits. (The Redwood City Fire Department since 2013 has also provided service for the city of San Carlos under a contract. The two cities have seven fire stations.) The same principle applies to mutual aid at the next governmental levels up. Municipal public safety services and fire districts are members of a countywide operational organization, which in turn is part of six statewide regions.

When major incidents happen, such as the Skeggs fire or the San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010, Norris and his coworkers at the Office of Emergency Services are taking in information, developing plans, and predicting future needs. The same process is at work with larger-scale disasters such as the North Bay fires, where teams from all over the state – and beyond – were requested.

Every city in San Mateo County supplied people for the wide array of assistance that was needed, including an average of 50 police officers a day plus three fire strike teams. Each strike team includes,  five engines, a battalion chief, and four firefighters per engine, but additional crewed engines went too, Maupin says. Public agencies that could spare them sent staff with specializations such as logistics, planning and public information. Their time away ranged from two or three days to a month.

Firefighters bid to be a part of these seasoned strike teams and are well aware that they may be deployed for long-distance duty.  Usually the calls come with several hours’ notice, says Maupin, enough time to pack clothes and other personal items the firefighters will need. “But with Santa Rosa, they said we need them now.”  The chief is quick to add that when equipment is sent out of town, other firefighters are called to come to work so the stations don’t stay closed for long. “We always staff up,” he adds.  “We close these stations maybe a couple of hours at a time to staff these events and we get reimbursed (usually by the state) dollar for dollar for all the time our crews are at fires.”

By the luck of the draw, some of the firefighters who were sent to Santa Rosa and Los Angeles were newer employees, “and they came back wide-eyed,” Maupin says. They were able not only to gain a type of firefighting experience they rarely get but apply lessons learned to their jobs in Redwood City and San Carlos.

Chris Rasmussen, a Redwood City police officer who handles the department’s social media outreach,  was staying with his family in Forestville, 18 miles from the Santa Rosa fires, but was affected nonetheless. Power was out and cellphone reception was spotty, but thanks to an old AM-FM radio that they scrounged up, the Ramussens were able to hear about evacuation orders. People in some areas were told not to drive, while others were told to get out, and it was hard to know what to do.

“You could see smoke and we had no information as to where it was,” he says, adding that the family packed up the truck and got ready to go. “I didn’t want to get the family out and get stuck in a big traffic jam.”

His takeaways from the experience:  Messages need to be crafted both for those directly and indirectly affected, but the social media tools he relies on every day to communicate with the public may not be available. “Our communication method may be broadcast radio,” he says, and encourages people to keep a portable radio on hand. “As a department, we need to make connections with local radio stations. That’s something in the police department that I plan to do.”

Of the big fires, Maupin says, “I think we’re to the point in the state of California where we’re going out relatively so often that they’re becoming not that unusual anymore. We’ve joked about it for many years but the reality is the fire season is year-round now.”

That’s all the more reason for the public agencies’ emphasis on prevention, planning and preparation, as well as public information so residents can better take care of themselves and even their neighbors in a crisis.

Much of the work isn’t broadly visible. Fire department teams contact residents in more heavily wooded areas such as Emerald Hills about the need to trim back overgrowth, and the department has become more aggressive about trying to get open space and other publicly owned areas such as Stulsaft Park or San Francisco Water Department easements cleared back.

Redwood City does emergency drills for city staff at least once a year, according to Battalion Chief Dave Pucci, and long before the North Bay fires was planning the update of the city’s emergency operations plan that has just begun. The county, for its part, is providing new super-hardened quarters for the critical emergency functions in a building scheduled for completion in 2019, in the government center complex. Dispatch services for the sheriff, countywide fire departments and ambulances, as well as OES, will be in the building, according to Norris.  It will have two of things that had better not go out in a disaster:  two generators for two sets of power, two sewer and water lines and two phone lines and two sets of fiber optic cables.

During the Skeggs fire last September, OES personnel worked on contingency plans if the conditions changed and the fire suddenly spread, says Norris, who is the emergency services coordinator. Had the worst happened and people needed to be evacuated out of harm’s way, notifications would have gone out several ways. The county’s three community colleges (including Cañada) and Half Moon Bay High School are outfitted as evacuation centers and can be set up in a matter of hours to shelter up to 500 people.

“They have certain features about them that make them ideal for evacuation centers and shelters,” Norris explains. “They have big parking lots. They have big gymnasiums with a big open space.  Gymnasiums have lockers and showers and restrooms and the colleges have kitchens.”  They also have their own generators.

The easiest thing people can do to prepare for a disaster, Norris says, is to register with the free alert notification system used to immediately contact the public about urgent or emergency situations. Alerts can be set to send emergency and non-emergency text and voice messages to email accounts, cell or smart phones and tablets, or voice messages to landline phones. To sign up, go to The site also has other information to help residents get ready.

Daniel Paley of Redwood City got his first taste of emergency training at work about nine years ago and had an appetite for more. He took a course through the fire department called the Community Emergency Response Team and has gone on to help train new enrollees with tasks such as trying out two-way radios or putting together pieces of wood (called box cribbing) to use, with a fulcrum, to free victims trapped under rubble.

“It’s a little bit of knowledge and the ability to act,” says Paley. “We learn some mechanics, how to crib and block, do a simple search and rescue, use a fire extinguisher.” In a major disaster that stresses infrastructure to the point that residents are left to themselves, “we can sit here and be victims or we can help ourselves.”

A systems engineer who is also a ham radio operator, Paley has an earthquake kit at home and has taught his whole family how to turn off the water and the gas if they have to. “It’s kind of always in the back of your mind that you should be prepared,” he says.  “But no one does.  People will want to help out but if your knowledge is limited, you can’t help much.”

Robert Lameijn moved into Redwood City a little over a year ago from the Netherlands, where he’d had some medical training in the Army that he found fulfilling. He’d always been impressed by how willingly Americans go anywhere in the world to help people, and he wanted to do his part in his home-away-from-Holland. “I’m a very proud non-American,” he says, laughing.

But it was the Jan. 4 earthquake in Berkeley that prompted him to sign up for the six sessions of CERT training that month.  “I definitely want to be involved in the community,” he says.

The course is taught once or twice a year by the fire department’s community outreach coordinator, Christy Adonis, and several CERT volunteers.  The curriculum is under the auspices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and those who complete the program and get certified potentially could be called upon in an emergency to assist city forces.  Participants in the initial, basic course get instruction in such potentially lifesaving techniques as how to stop bleeding or care for wounds, how to create a splint from cardboard or whatever is at hand, or how to open the airway of someone who has stopped breathing.

Participants come away with some easy tips, such as storing a pair of shoes and a flashlight under the bed, or getting a paper map of the city, since the Internet may be down in a disaster. “Broken glass and cut feet are the number one injury after an earthquake,” Adonis tells her students.

Though participants gain useful knowledge for themselves and others, Adonis emphasizes that they must assess conditions carefully in a real event so as not to become a victim themselves trying to help. CERT graduates also have to wait to be called and cannot “self-activate.”

To get a certificate, participants must attend all sessions, which includes a final skills day at the downtown firehouse, where Paley and other volunteers who participate in ongoing CERT training and activities give them hands-on lessons. The CERT trainees get to see how to turn off the gas. They attack a small, albeit controlled, blaze with a fire extinguisher. They conduct a building search in the darkness, finding “victims,” noting their condition, and then posting the information on the door of the building so anyone who comes later knows it has been searched and what was found.

“You have to work as a team,” volunteer Jane Ammenti tells them.  “You’re constantly aware of your team. A lot of this is common sense, and if you need to do it, you will be able to do it.”

She signed up for CERT training in 2009 after moving to Redwood Shores and considers herself very well prepared to help herself and her neighbors in the bayside community. From first aid kits and gloves to pickaxes and hardhats, she and her husband, John, won’t be caught flatfooted.

“I know if the Big One happens, we’ll be cut off from everyone,” she says. “No matter where I am, I have (an emergency) bag in my car.”  If one or both of the freeway overpasses into the Shores goes out of service, she points out, clearing the freeway may take time. First responders may not be able to get there right away, but she and her husband have first-aid training so they can help others.

“God forbid if there should be a natural disaster,” she vows, “I’ll be prepared.

Redwood Shores has had a fire station since 1998, and Sandpiper Community Center could be opened as an evacuation center if needed. Chief Maupin says the department plans and drills for a variety of scenarios, but notes that if the Shores were completely cut off, “the magnitude of the disaster would be unprecedented.” The Holly Street interchange will be rebuilt to the latest seismic standards as part of a major freeway project that is tentatively scheduled to start in September, according to San Carlos City Engineer Grace Le. Completion would be in 2020.

Not everyone has 20 hours – or the interest – to take the full CERT training. The fire department also offers a free one-to-two-hour disaster preparation class called “Are You Ready?” Available to groups of 20 or more, the class offers a basic overview on subjects such as how to put together a portable disaster supply kit, to shelter in place and to make evacuation plans.

The department has taken an even shorter presentation out to a few neighborhood associations, according to Battalion Chief Pucci. The sessions give residents and fire personnel a chance to meet each other and also provide basic, localized information.  “We’re trying to condense it even more,” he says, “to hit the bullet points in about an hour.”

The fire department doesn’t have the staffing to take the CERT course to the schools, but thanks to the cooperation and support of Sequoia High School, CERT training began three years ago to be offered to students enrolled in the health careers academy. Greg Schmid is the current instructor, with assistance from Ashley Gray. They had to get trained so their students could receive CERT certification on completion of the course. About 120 students have gone through the program. Orchard Supply and Redwood City 20/20, as well as several other businesses, partnered last year so each kid could have his own emergency kit.

“It’s pretty empowering to the students,” says Schmid, of all the training. “They’re engaged and they’re super excited.”

Over two days in February, his students got a chance to bring classroom instruction to life during a mini disaster drill, with classmates daubed in “blood,” or buried under chairs, playing the part of victims.

“Ohhhhhh,” the agonized moans sounded through the classroom door.  “Momma!”

Axel Mendoza got into the health careers academy on a counselor’s recommendation.  He has learned CPR and how to treat injuries, information he finds valuable even though Mendoza plans to be an architect, not go into medicine. “But I can build the hospitals,” he quips.

Alecxa Rodriguez, a junior, was a very convincing bleeding victim with a realistic-looking cosmetic gash to her arm. “I’m in this class because I want to be a plastic surgeon,” she says. “I thought the health academy was right up my alley.”  Rodriguez says was able to put her training into practice last summer when a cousin had to be pulled from the water by his uncle. She administered CPR until the fire department arrived.  “They teach us very useful things in this academy,” she says.

Her dad, Guillermo Rodriguez, is understandably proud of what she did and thinks the training is “wonderful.” He works with kids at his church and would like to learn some of the same things his daughter has: “It’s important to me because I can help more people.”

With the ravages of last year’s fires all around them, North Bay communities are dealing with the aftermath at the same time as they plan for the next fire season. Mill Valley, whose fire chief lost his Coffey Park home to the Tubbs fire, is looking at tougher fire prevention regulations for vegetation. A new proposal would regulate plants near residences and highly flammable varieties such as bamboo, acacia, cypress and juniper would have to be 15 feet away from the house.

Norris, of the OES, says the idea of “defensible space” is to ensure that trees aren’t growing under the eaves or that vegetation can’t “ladder up” and consume a house. But that doesn’t have to mean bare ground. “There is a very reasonably defensible space that is both aesthetically pleasing but also a firefighter looks at it and says, ‘Okay, that’s a house we can save.’”

At least as big a concern locally, Maupin says, is with a fire starting inside a building near open land and then spreading out courtesy of the vegetation. Though it’s certainly possible San Mateo County could, under the right conditions, be faced with the fires that broke out in Wine Country, aid from other agencies, plus Calfire’s aerial and other resources, would converge to fight fire with firepower.

“That’s one of the things that helps me sleep at night is that I know we’ve got enough of an initial punch to stand a solid chance of taking care of whatever we’re faced with,” Maupin says.

Norris assures people that preparedness starts in small steps but is definitely worth doing. “The vast majority of people survive absolutely every disaster,” he says.  “But the ones who are prepared can restore their lives more easily.”

Ready to get ready?

Local filmmaker releases provocative mini drama

in MicroClimate by

Redwood City filmmaker Tony Gapastione was profiled in Climate last August, at a time when his short film “Neighbor,” a provocative mini drama about human trafficking, was released. Gapastione entered it in the Silicon Valley Film Festival and “Neighbor” was accepted and shown at local high-tech campuses in mid-December. (Check out for details.) In real life a pastor at Peninsula Covenant Church, Gapastione, 42, is channeling his creative energies into two new productions. One is another indie film, “SELF I.E,” which will debut in February. The story about what happens to a rather shy young girl who composes a glamorous Instagram identity for herself was shot over three days in early November at Canada College, on a SamTrans bus and other local locations. Fundraising is also going on for a feature-length film he’s involved with about a San Francisco man on a mission to help the poor. If you want to see “SELF I.E.” for yourselfie, go to Screenings and other updates will be posted.

Redwood City 150 movie DVDs are available

in A&E/Community by

Redwood City’s 150th anniversary year may have wound down with the coming of 2018, but the recently released movie about the city’s history isn’t about to turn into a pumpkin.

The 40-minute documentary called “Redwood City: A Voyage of Innovation” had its premiere Dec. 3 at the Fox Theatre. Hundreds of people at the two screenings had an opportunity to see the film, which takes the city’s story from the 1850s to the present. The video was produced for the Redwood City sesquicentennial celebration by Kingston Media.

Copies of the DVD are still available for purchase for $20 each (postage is additional). The film can be ordered online through the Redwood City Parks and Arts Foundation (


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