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Menlo Park filmmaker focuses on plight of pregnant homeless women

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About five years ago, Laura Ferro chanced to be watching the television news and saw a segment about a pregnant homeless woman in San Francisco, who was facing the prospect of giving birth at a bus stop. The woman’s desperate circumstance troubled Ferro, a filmmaker living comfortably in Menlo Park – who happened at the time to be expecting a child too. “I didn’t have a connection to the homeless community until that point,” she says. That unlikely moment was the inspiration for a documentary which Ferro has been working on for the past three years, “Pregnant on the Streets” in the San Francisco Bay Area. The expectant mothers, who are almost invisible on the fringes in an area brimming with wealth, are shown as they experience the difficulties of life on the street, either navigating social service agencies or lost in a fog of mental health issues and drugs, Ferro says.

A native of Argentina who came to the U.S. eight years ago, Ferro connected with Tony Gapastione, founder of the filmmaking nonprofit called Bravemaker, and told him about her project. He put her in touch with Pastor Dave Shearin and his wife Shawn of Street Life Ministries, a Redwood City-based organization with an extensive meal and outreach program to the homeless community. Shawn Shearin provided the entrée to Ferro to go to homeless camps and find pregnant women willing to tell their stories. At an earlier period in her life, Shawn had been homeless and pregnant too (in Seattle), but was able to get into a shelter and turned her life around. Through the Street Life ministry, Shawn already had a relationship with most of the women she introduced Ferro to, “and I was able to explain what we were doing and they were very open to it.”

The documentary, a color film which will be 30 to 40 minutes long, follows three homeless women over three years, from the time when they were pregnant until after their babies were born. One of the women was determined to stop using drugs for the sake of her child, Ferro says. She accepted help that has enabled her to get a job and today is providing for her son. Another woman, unfortunately, is back on the street and had to surrender her child. Ferro says the women she interviewed appreciated the opportunity to be heard and that anyone would think their stories are important.

About 60 percent of the documentary has been completed, and Ferro plans to do more interviews with experts on homelessness including doctors and social services providers. She has established a GoFundMe account at https://gf.me/u/y82g26 to raise the estimated $66,000 needed for completion and is also seeking other individual and organizational supporters. Bravemaker, which is a 501(c)( 3) organization, is the fiscal sponsor to receive donations. Ferro does videos for corporate clients—to get an idea about her work, visit Rebelmonk.com—but “Pregnant on the Streets” is her first documentary. After it’s completed, she plans to submit it to film festivals and, once Covid-19 allows, to screen the film for local audiences. She hopes people who see her video will be encouraged to reach out and build relationships with homeless people rather than just walk on by. “Many people,” she says, “don’t want to look. Through the documentary, we have a tool to show that there are women like us that have the same values. They want to do what’s best for the child and fight for them.”

Thirty-plus years ago Roy Klebe was making a sales call at Muir Woods for his company, Hike America, and bought a redwood burl to put in water at home. Very few take-home burls will actually take root and become a tree, but “this one rooted,” Klebe says, “and the rest is history.” Today the little burl is all grown up, towering 100 feet in the backyard of his home at 321 West Oakwood Blvd. in Redwood City. With the Christmas holidays approaching in this year of turmoil, Klebe decided it would be a good time to top his improbable survivor with a lighted star. A friend who is licensed to climb trees attached the PVC pipe creation to the top of the tree, and the white lights came on in early November. “It’s five feet wide and it does look pretty cool, even if I do say so myself,” Klebe, 69, says. “It’s one of the things I’ve been talking about the last 10 years, and the way the world’s going, there’s no guarantees there’s any tomorrow,” he says with a laugh, “so you’d better do it now.” His goal was to give people a lift when they see the star atop his tree, and that’s exactly what’s been happening. “When everyone’s kind of melancholy, it just puts a smile on people’s faces.”

Restaurant owners who have retooled for takeout and then created outdoor dining spaces have certainly been battle-tested this year. So extra points for bravery seem in order for Zareen Khan, who in mid-October opened a restaurant on Broadway in downtown Redwood City. “Zareen’s,” as it is called, features Pakistani and Indian cuisine and is the third restaurant the Saratoga resident has launched (the others are in Mountain View, in 2014, and in Palo Alto in 2016.)

Khan and her family hail from Karachi, Bombay and Punjab. All the women in her family are “amazing cooks,” she says, and she learned how to cook growing up. She came to the United States 28 years ago and got into the food business after 12 years in corporate America. Khan says she’d been looking for a location for a third restaurant for two years, from Santa Clara to San Mateo, before finding a spot at 2039 Broadway. “I just like the downtown,” she says. “It’s very high energy.”

At least it was before the Covid restrictions arrived, and Kahn admits that taking the plunge to open was stressful. “But it took me so long to find a place in Redwood City that I didn’t want to let go of this opportunity,” she says. “I think long-term it will be fine … just kind of lie low for the next six months and hope we can survive the pandemic,” she adds laughing. Zareen’s is a bright space with high ceilings, and eventually she hopes people can come to hear independent artists, such as at open-mike evenings; see films or gather socially. The menu features gourmet kababs, samosas, curries and more—and a delicious Chai tea. Kahn says part of her mission with her restaurants is to generate funds to support nonprofits in keeping with her values, such as for civil rights, women’s empowerment and education. When customers come in and have a great time, she adds, “you’re not just serving just food here. You’re in the business of making somebody’s day better. They come here. Maybe they’ve had a bad day and they have a good time. Then it’s mission accomplished for us.”

The year of the Covid has imposed an open-ended pause on the events that made downtown Redwood City such a dynamic place, among them the annual Hometown Holidays festivities always held early in December. The event brought scores of families downtown for activities like arts and crafts, music, a chance to see Santa, a tree-lighting and a parade. The Downtown Business Group has come up with an alternative to give back to the community and it will be a parade of decorated cars on Saturday, Dec. 19 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. They’ll drive up to Courthouse Square where the kids can see Santa and get a bag of candy, donated by Grocery Outlet, according to DBG Executive Director Regina Van Brunt. The Chan Zuckerberg Foundation is sponsoring the music. Vehicles are to be decorated at home, and participants must sign up in advance since there’s a limit on how many will be allowed. “We’re lucky that we even get to do this. No one can stay on Courthouse Square to watch it,” Van Brunt says. “Everybody has to move along. We’re not letting large crowds congregate because of the virus.” For information, go to the hometownholidays.org website under hometownholidaysonparade.

This story was originally published in the December print edition of Climate Magazine.

San Mateo County funds additional ICU beds at Sequoia Hospital

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San Mateo County extended public health order eases some restrictions

San Mateo County has partnered with Dignity Health and AMI Expeditionary Healthcare to increase local intensive care unit (ICU) capacity by up to 10 beds amid a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The agreement, made possible thanks to a $4.5 million investment by the County, provides AMI licensed medical professionals to staff the additional ICU beds in Dignity Health’s Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City for at least 30 days.

“The increased surge capacity will serve not only San Mateo County but the Bay Area region as a whole,” the County said, adding the arrangement “is aimed at preventing those needing ICU-level care from not being able to get it due to the staffing constraints at hospitals across the Bay Area.”

The first 5-bed unit is expected to be staffed within a week, with the second 5-bed unit available by the following week. San Mateo County’s Medical Health Operational Area Coordinator program will facilitate the placement of patients into these supplemental ICU beds, the County said.

“When ICU capacity drops below 15 percent, every staffed ICU bed counts, especially for each individual who needs care,” said Travis Kusman, Emergency Medical Services director for San Mateo County, who also serves as the Regional Disaster Medical Health Coordinator.

Since the start of the pandemic, local healthcare providers like Sequoia Hospital have been collaborating with one another and with public health agencies to determine how best to respond to the crisis. That collaboration is needed now more than ever, with COVID-19 cases surging and with the Bay Area’s collective ICU capacity falling to 13.7 percent, per state data.

“We’re fortunate to be able to connect resources to key partners to support our local community and our neighbors during this crisis,” said County Manager Mike Callagy.

Where “Cutting Edge” is About the Knives

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Harry’s Hofbrau an enduring comfort food haven for generations.

Talk turkey at Harry’s Hofbrau in Redwood City and the conversation inevitably turns to numbers. Sixty-six years ago, Harry’s carved its first turkey sandwiches. In normal times, Hofbrau chefs roast 18 to 22 turkeys weighing 26 to 30 pounds every single day, seven days a week, 364 days a year. For Thanksgiving this year, Harry’s presold 150 turkey dinners with all the fixins’ for packing home to Grandma’s. In a pre-Covid year, the Hofbrau pushed out close to 2,000 meals on Thanksgiving Day for diners who chose to do their turkey self-stuffing inside the festively decorated eatery rather than at home.

As this unusually challenging year winds down, employees from Hofbrau pastry chefs to carvers will be just as diligent dishing up something that Silicon Valley people – in theory – should disdain: “the usual.” Yet through generations, Harry’s has outlasted fads, fashions and competitors by figuring out what customers like—and sticking with a tamper-resistant formula based on serving quality, affordable food in plentiful portions and a welcoming atmosphere.

“I’m not saying it’s 100 percent stagnant because it’s not,” Bob Paul, whose “director” title at the Hofbrau includes “protein procurement” and other tasks. “We do make changes. But you have to make changes very carefully because when you’ve been around since 1954, people anticipate that they’re going to come and get something they’re used to and they like.”

Daily Specials

That means Beer Braised Brisket for dinner on Mondays, Chicken Pot Pie on Tuesdays, Weinerschnitzel on Sundays, two kinds of soup daily and a choice of seven breads for a bulked-up carvery sandwich. That also means for dessert, customers can select among the nine-apple pie, the towering chocolate cake – or even rice custard and Jell-o. Ambiance? As regularty as the seasons change outdoors, Harry’s décor molts from New Year’s Day to Valentine’s, all the way to Christmas.

Both Paul and Operations Manager Mike O’Brien say it’s the customers who decide what’s on the menu—and they speak up when something goes missing. Adapting for fewer customers because of the Covid, for example, O’Brien briefly removed Manhattan clam chowder to reduce waste. He put it back on the menu when people complained. About 10 years ago when various factors significantly drove up the price of Miner’s Bones, Paul recalls, management decided it was better to take the specialty off the menu. “Well the outcry was so high, we put them back at the price it had to be for cost of the item, which is about $4 or $5 more,” Paul says, “and they didn’t say a word.”

Redwood City residents Julia O’Leary and Sandra Riedy, who were settled into a padded booth for lunch on a day in November, are long-time customers and don’t come to Harry’s for the nouvelle in cuisine. Their meal portions were so ample that both of the retired Redwood City School District employees took home leftovers for dinner. “I like it because I can have whatever I want,” says O’Leary. “I can just get something small, or like today, I was starving so I had dinner at lunchtime.” Riedy was having turkey enchiladas for the first time and has never had a Hofbrau meal she didn’t like. “No,” she says with a laugh, “because we wouldn’t order it.”

San Francisco-Style Hofbrau

Change, in fact, has taken place at Harry’s Hofbrau but it’s been so gradual as to be easily forgotten. The restaurant’s founder and namesake was Harry Kramer, a native Austrian who got into the restaurant business in San Francisco in the 1940s, where restaurants like Lefty O’Doul’s and Tommy’s Joynt gave the German “hofbrau” a different spin. Kramer and Tommy Harris were original leaders in the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, according to Paul.

Kramer migrated down the Peninsula before opening his first Harry’s Hofbrau at 1700 El Camino Real, where Roosevelt Liquor & Grocery is today. He outgrew that space and 10 years later moved two blocks south, in 1964. Son Larry Kramer, who had worked in the restaurant in high school and college, bought the restaurant from his dad, who retired in San Diego, in 1969. Larry Kramer did a major remodel and expansion in 1988, and subsequently added six more “Harry’s” in the Bay Area.

He’s down to two Hofbraus (the other is in San Leandro) and splits his time between Redwood City and a Southern California office, where he is involved in real estate, restaurants and other business.

“But Redwood City’s home,” says Kramer, who has lived in that city his entire life. Working in his upstairs office, he can see friends coming into the restaurant on a television, so he’s up and down the stairs many times a day to greet them. “We just try and retain and keep a status quo that I think is so important today,” Kramer says. “Most places are so impersonal … I want to maintain that feeling that it’s a warm, friendly place to go to and you’re always going to see someone you know there. It’s not going to be something that’s just a place to get a meal and get the hell out.”

In the Kitchen

Like all restaurants, Harry’s Hofbrau has had to adapt to changing rules because of Covid, expanding takeout service and outdoor dining when indoor dining isn’t allowed.

Hours before the first lunchtime customers queue up and start to steer a brown plastic tray along the serving line, the morning shift has already been at work: Preparing 12-gallon pots of soup, steaming potatoes, trimming beef, baking bread, and dropping globs of cranberry sauce into scores of tiny plastic cups. O’Brien toured a visitor through the kitchen, where convection ovens were roasting four or five beef roasts and six whole turkeys for lunch. The next cook would be coming in at 2 p.m. and make an assessment for dinner.

“All our salads are made fresh,” O’Brien adds. “The food is fresh cut daily. There are no canned products. Everything is done for that day.” A walk-in refrigerator holds the jumbo quantities Harry’s requires: whole turkeys, two to a box; gallons of salad dressing; a garbage can-sized container filled with bread for stuffing. “Come Thanksgiving,” O’Brien says, “I’ll have five of these ready to go.”

Out of the same kitchen, Harry’s operates its catering business, which took a hit as a result of the Covid, when demand for weddings, parties and corporate events evaporated. O’Brien was busy nonetheless last month gearing up to deliver turkey, potatoes and gravy for industrial and commercial accounts. Prime rib roasts are popular with families who want to take them home to serve at home at Christmastime, O’Brien says. It’s sold by the pound and comes with au jus and horseradish.

A Cost Advantage

Meanwhile, another part of the Hofbrau operation is housed in a nondescript building several blocks away which serves both the Redwood City and San Leandro restaurants as a storage and production facility. The space affords Harry’s price advantages that come with purchasing in bulk or by the pallet, Paul says, where smaller restaurants don’t have space to store large quantities.

Upstairs, bakers turn out the cakes, pies, cookies, bread and other baked goods that are distributed to the two restaurants. Baking for both restaurants takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays, and cake assembly and decorating on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Downstairs, beef briskets are injected with a special brine, vacuum packed, cured and turned into corned beef for the other big holiday on the Hofbrau calendar. “During St. Paddy’s week, we will go through about 4,000 pounds,” Paul says.

His association with Harry’s Hofbrau goes back to the 1970s, when he worked for a meat supplier and Harry’s was a customer. After he retired, Larry Kramer asked him to come on board to help with procurement. But in a family restaurant, Paul says, “everybody wears a lot of different hats.” Kramer, for example, is hard-pressed to remember having Thanksgiving at home. Instead, Harry’s owner himself is doing whatever it takes, from saying “hello” to washing dishes and bussing tables. “One hundred percent,” he says. “I’m on the floor just like everyone else.”

Family Focus

O’Brien went all through school with Larry Kramer’s two sons, and started with Harry’s Hofbrau as a bartender at the Mountain View restaurant. He worked at other Hofbraus and currently oversees operations at Redwood City and San Leandro.

Redwood City’s features 28 varieties of beer of all styles and O’Brien does the buying. Craft beers have become a huge part of the business, according to Kramer, and brought in a clientele that is “not the old guard I grew up with in Redwood City and Atherton in the ‘50s and ‘60s.” That said, families dine in the next room, so raucous conversation coming out of the bar is discouraged. “You want to be a family-style restaurant,” O’Brien says, “you don’t need the wrong words coming out of the mouth and kids running around.”

Likewise, there’s an employee dress code calling for minimal jewelry, no visible rings or studs on other body parts, mustaches neatly trimmed and beards grown only on vacation or time off. Hair color must be “a natural shade” and body markings can’t be visible. “It’s just the policy of what we ask,” Kramer says. “No one portrays their own personal identity. They all sign up for it before they go to work.”

The Comfort Tradition

With the Hofbrau’s longevity, it’s not hard to find customers who were introduced to Harry’s brand of comfort food by their parents and then raised their kids to become customers. Or to find non-Peninsulans like Warren Hanson, a Pleasanton resident who sells construction equipment and regularly eats at Harry’s when he’s doing calls.

“I enjoy their turkey sandwiches and their pea salad,” Hanson says, pausing over lunch. “You can’t get pea salad everywhere … My mother used to make this.” When he tells customers, “’I’ll meet you at Harry’s,’ they know exactly where I’m going to be. A lot of my deals have been made here. I’ve sold a lot of machines because of Harry’s.”

In fact, Hanson eats at one or the other Harry’s locations three or four times a month. “I come here because the food’s wonderful, always consistent,” he says. “The guy that carves the turkey, he sees me and he knows exactly what I want.”

San Mateo County first responders raising funds with new cookbook

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Cook for a cause this holiday season. The union representing firefighters and paramedics in San Mateo County has released a new cookbook and plans to use proceeds from its sales to fund behavioral health services for local first responders.

Transport Medic Ruby Siero-Tanti led and directed the creation of the cookbook, called Code 7 Recipes For The Soul, Cooking with First Responders.

The compilation of recipes was submitted by firefighters, paramedics and dispatchers in San Mateo County. Recipes are divided into sections including breakfast, bread, appetizers, marinades, sauces, salads, side dishes, main dishes and desserts.

The book is available via Amazon, publisher Xlibris and can also be purchased directly from San Mateo County Firefighters IAFF Local 2400. The soft-cover is $32.99 and the hard cover is $40.99.

The idea for the cookbook came from the union’s Peer Support Group, a team of firefighters, transport paramedics and dispatchers working to provide stress management and behavioral health information to local first responders. Members of the Peer Support Group are not counselors but receive training in the basics of peer counseling and behavioral health issues such as suicide, post-trauma and substance abuse. They regularly visit stations to ensure first responders can access their support services.

Great Plates Delivered extended through Dec. 8

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San Mateo County’s program that pays local eateries to serve meals to older citizens during the pandemic has been extended another month, through Dec. 8, county officials said.

In the last six months, the program has served more than 850,000 meals to over 3,000 residents and involved over 65 local restaurants. The program provides three meals a day, six days a week, to older adults unable to obtain or make their own meals.

“Since its inception, the program has injected over $19 million into the local economy with 93 percent of the County’s cost being reimbursed by the state and federal governments, Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen said. “Thanks to the quick action and visionary response of our Board of Supervisors in April, we’ve provided critically-needed business to local restaurants, preserved nearly 900 jobs and avoided numerous restaurant closures.”

Program recipient Matt Slavik said Great Plates Delivered “has been nothing short of a godsend for me.”

“For a senior who lives alone and is supposed to shelter at home except for medical appointments, having these meals delivered is nothing short of a huge and wonderful benefit,” Slavik  said.

Older adults are eligible to join the program if they are aged 65 or older, or if they are 60-64 and are in a high-risk category. Applicants must be unable to obtain or make their own meals and must either live alone or with another older adult who fits the eligibility criteria. To participate, older adults living alone must earn less than $74,940, and couples participating in the program must earn less than $101,460. Older adults already receiving state or federal food assistance are not eligible for this program.

To learn more or apply, older adults and their families are encouraged to call the San Mateo County Health’s Aging and Adult Services division at 1-800-675-8437 or visit here.

Photo by Buenosia Carol from Pexels

Redwood City to join Wreaths Across America

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President Lincoln proclaimed in the Gettysburg Address that the world would not “long remember” his words about our nation’s bloodiest war. Maybe some places have forgotten, but not Redwood City where the Civil War is immortalized at Union Cemetery.

The cemetery will soon become part of a coast-to-coast drive called Wreaths Across America, a campaign by volunteers dedicated to honoring deceased veterans by placing wreaths on their graves. In a brief ceremony Dec. 19, wreaths will adorn the approximately 55 graves at Union Cemetery’s Grand Army of the Republic plot that is guarded by a statue of a Union Army solider at parade rest, a familiar sight to motorists driving by on Woodside Road.

Making Redwood City a link in the 2,100 locations that belong to Wreaths Across America resulted from a joint effort by the Gaspar de Portola chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Historic Union Cemetery Association.

The first wreath-placing took place in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, found itself with extra wreaths at the end of the holiday season. These were placed at Arlington National Cemetery, in one of its oldest sections, which had fewer and fewer visitors each year.

This story was originally published in the May edition of Climate Magazine. To view the magazine online, click here.

The annual ceremony at Arlington continued quietly until 2005 when a photo of snow-covered headstones adorned with wreaths circulated on the Internet, suddenly drawing national attention. The Worcester Wreath Company was inundated with requests to help continue what was becoming a unique holiday tradition. The company returned the unsolicited money to donors, leading to the establishment of the nonprofit Wreaths Across America.

Sponsor a Wreath

Climate readers who wish to honor a family member or friends on Dec.19 can attend the ceremony at Union Cemetery but they can also volunteer. People can even sponsor one or more green wreaths, which feature a red bow and cost $15 each. To do so, go to wreathsacrossamerica.org/CA0578P. Organizers of the Redwood City observance hope there will be enough donated wreaths for all 55 graves.

The ceremony will be a subdued one, necessitated by Covid-19 social distancing and masks. Too bad. In normal times the event would have provided a great opportunity to recall Lincoln’s stirring words dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg. Among other things, the President’s words, emblazoned on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., noted “the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.” In words that could, or should, resound today, Lincoln called on living Americans to dedicate themselves to making sure that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

None of the men buried in Redwood City’s Union Cemetery plot died in the Civil War, but they certainly fought in it. For example, George Filkins fought at Missionary Ridge, Nashville, and Stone River. William Frisbie of the Wisconsin volunteers was a veteran of several famous battles, including York River, Suffolk and James River. Men who fought in units from several states are buried in the cemetery, including New York, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland and Illinois.

They Died for Union

The words on the statue erected in 1889 read: “To the memory of California’s patriotic dead who served during the War of the Union.” Near the base is an inscription which says “mustered out,” a military term meaning discharged or separated from service.

By 1887 there were six veterans’ graves to decorate with flowers. This led the Grand Army of the Republic’s veterans’ organization to buy the land for the plot. Decorating the graves became an annual event. In 1927 hundreds of people attended ceremonies that included bands and a parade in which four Civil War vets “rode in machines” and “occupied seats on the platform” at the cemetery, newspapers reported.

The last headstone was erected in 1984 to mark the grave of James Henry Baxter who fought at Gettysburg, where he was wounded in the neck with a sword. Baxter died in Redwood City in 1936 at the age of 92. He was buried at the foot of the statue of the Union soldier. His grave was unmarked until relatives put up the stone.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Notes, quotes and dust motes

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Notes, quotes and dust motes: 

WHO’S WHERE AND WITH WHOM: As campaign mailers begin showing up, you know, in the mail, their most prominent feature often will be endorsements from elected officials whose support carries meaning and influence. 

In down-ballot elections such as the three contested district city council elections in Redwood City, which are coming during one of the most energized political years in memory, there will be many voters who are unfamiliar with the candidates. All of which makes endorsements likely to be more critical than ever. 

Year after year, private polling shows that the most impactful endorsement is from Congresswoman Jackie Speier, whose popularity and reputation can sway voters. Right behind Speier are Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, state Sen. Jerry Hill and Assemblymen Kevin Mullin and Marc Berman, followed by current and former members of the Redwood City Council and current members of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. 

In the competition for names, Councilmember Alicia Aguirre, seeking re-election in District 7 (Farm Hills, west of Alameda de las Pulgas), has done well – getting the Royal Flush of endorsements: Eshoo, Speier, Hill, Mullin, and Berman, as well as all five Supervisors, and four members of the city council, Diane Howard, Shelly Masur, Janet Borgens and Giselle Hale. Aguirre also got endorsements from the San Mateo County Democratic Party and the county’s Central Labor Council. 

Aguirre’s endorsement list is a demonstration of the power of incumbency, although, since this is the first district election, she technically is not an incumbent. Nonetheless, the impact of her 15 years in office is not lost on her principal opponent, former Redwood City police officer Chris Rasmussen, whose own list of endorsements suggests he has been focusing on other areas. His prominent supporters include former Councilman Brent Britschgi, and a slim lineup of current officeholders, including San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Nancy Reyering and Pacifica Councilwoman Mary Bier. Rasmussen is endorsed by two former police chiefs, one from Atherton and one from Hollister. It has some significance, I suppose, that two other Redwood City councilmembers stayed out of this race, while endorsing in others – Ian Bain and Diana Reddy – but it’s hard to read too much into that. 

Aguirre’s other opponent, Mark Wolohan, has a handful of endorsements, none of them officeholders, and all of them personal, including Gary Riekes, founder of the Riekes Center, where Wolohan works, and local history and community activist and Climate contributor Jim Clifford. 

In similar fashion, (non)incumbent Councilmember Janet Borgens racked up a big lineup of endorsements in the race for District 3 (Friendly Acres, southern Redwood City) – Speier, Hill, Mullin and Berman. She also got endorsements from four of the county supervisors, with only Carole Groom staying off, and three Redwood City Council colleagues – Bain, Howard and Reddy. 

Borgens challenger Isabella Chu lists no endorsements on her campaign website and Facebook page. And the third candidate, Lissette Espinoza-Garnica lists only one officeholder, Santa Clara County Board of Education member Peter Ortiz, but she does have endorsements from SEIU Local 2015, a highly active union in Silicon Valley, and Planned Parenthood’s Peninsula chapter. 

The endorsements in District 1 (Redwood Shores), however, suggest, a race that might be closer than originally thought.  Former Councilman Jeff Gee has endorsements from Speier and Mullin and former City Council colleagues Jeff Ira and John Seybert, but no endorsements from current councilmembers with whom Gee served. His opponent, Planning Commissioner Nancy Radcliffe, has been endorsed by five councilmembers – Aguirre, Howard, Bain, Borgens and Reddy – and all the county supervisors but Dave Pine. 

As a footnote, Radcliffe’s campaign has been saying she will be a “fresh and honest voice,” and that her endorsers support her, “Because her character and integrity are unmatched.” Asked if she was implying a lack of integrity or honesty in her opponent, Radcliffe said no, indeed. Those were just some words her campaign team thought would reflect well on her, she said. 

WHEN THE GOING GETS WEIRD: As baseball great Satchel Paige* said, “The social ramble ain’t restful.” Neither is social media, which often can be a bit of a ramble. A recent posting on Next Door by the aforementioned Councilwoman Hale urging Latinos to participate in the 2020 Census apparently was removed – or it wasn’t – after some people objected – or they didn’t – that it constituted self-promotion. In other words, it’s a little hard to tell exactly what happened, but some people objected to Hale’s post and it was taken down by someone, and no one can agree by whom.  

They do agree one of the people objecting was Johanna Rasmussen, wife of the council candidate, who was singled out, at least in part, because she is the wife of the council candidate, in addition to being his campaign treasurer. She said in an interview, that she and 18 other “leads” on Next Door voted on the Hale posting. Rasmussen said there were objections to a “series of posts” by Hale that amounted to self-promotion, and “I was one of the votes to remove it.” Except nowhere in the Next Door policies is there any ban on self-promotion. And wandering into the thicket that is Next Door, I was assailed with a variety of opinions about Hale, my own inquiries and my skills as a reporter. Anyway, Rasmussen lately has been referring people to the city attorney. 

Yes, Hale is young and from the social media world, having had a pretty good job at Facebook, and that combination means she posts a lot on social media. In this regard, she is well above average. She also prevailed upon Assemblyman Mullin to carry a bill modernizing the laws governing public meetings and public official communications to reflect the changes wrought by social media. And, clearly, the frequency with which Hale posts annoys some people, although some of those people seem annoyed by her mere existence. On the other hand, there’s a fine line between letting people know what’s going on and making sure they know it’s you telling them. Ah, it is a brave new world. 

SPENDING, LTD.: The real reason Johanna Rasmussen called me was to respond to a brief note in another column that Chris Rasmussen had declined to accept the newly installed spending limits enacted by the city council in mid-March. On his website, he explains it at length. First, a spending limit puts him at a distinct disadvantage when taking on a 15-year incumbent with heightened name recognition and political connections (see above, endorsements). Secondeven the smallest mistake of a misplaced nickel or dime can result in “penalties quite harsh for first-time candidates who may inadvertently make a very minor mistake,” he wrote. That’s exactly what was concerning Johanna Rasmussen, who said she has never been a campaign treasurer before. “We didn’t feel it was worth the risk,” she said. And both she and Chris Rasmussen said they expect to be in the range of the spending limit anyway – around $25,000. 

CLARIFYING: Recent stories about the council races prompted two of the candidates to ask for clarification of comments attributed to them. I don’t think I misquoted them, but, what the heck, why not? 

Isabella Chu was comparing how city departments justify their budgets to the way grant applicants have to justify their requests and said the same level of scrutiny ought to be applied to the city. And, as a non-Latinx, she said she believes she can understand the concerns of that community, but she will “partner with organizations and individuals who have deep roots in the community. I would be arrogant to imagine I fully understand their experience and I would need to work hard to make sure I do.” 

Mark Wolohan said his plan for addressing the city’s significant budget shortfall includes reexamining the city’s policy of using the Utility Users Tax solely for capital projects and see if some of those funds can be redirected to operating expenses. He said the city should hold off on any capital and equipment improvement projects and should cut employee salaries only as a last resort. He said he expects the economic downturn to increase demand for city services and increasing taxes will only aggravate the problems facing business. 

Finally, he said, I do think the police are a necessary entity and I do not support notions of abolishing the police. However, there definitely are critical changes that must be made to create more equity, transparency, and accountability, and a citizens oversight committee can be a good start. 

*Yes, I quoted Satchel Paige in a column in August. I’ll probably quote him again. 

Contact Mark Simon atmark.simon24@yahoo.com. 

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online. 

County manager’s contract extended due to ‘stellar’ leadership amid COVID-19, wildfires

in Community/Featured/Headline by

San Mateo County Manager Mike Callagy’s contract has been extended by four years following a unanimous vote Tuesday by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, which touted his “exceptional” leadership amid the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis and during the recent wildfires.

Callagy, who was appointed to a two-year contract as county manager in 2018, oversees a $3.7 billion budget and over 5,500 County employees who provide safety net, health, parks, public works and public safety services to a county of over 760,000 residents.

Such services have been particularly critical amid the pandemic, during which time Callagy has also served as the County’s Director of Emergency Services. Under Callagy’s leadership, the County installed the state’s first no-cost COVID-19 testing site through Verily at the San Mateo County Event Center, stockpiled personal protective equipment, secured hotel rooms to house homeless and those needing to isolate outside the home, launched a countywide recovery initiative and implemented several Board-funded programs to help renters, landlords, immigrants, students and other vulnerable communities. Similarly, the County swiftly rounded up and delivered resources to support victims of the CZU Lightning Fires, officials said.

The supervisors described Callagy as forward-thinking, hands-on, with strong communication skills and an ability to multi-task.

“He seems to juggle a lot of balls in the air and does it quite well,” Supervisor Don Horsley said. “Nothing gets dropped, nothing gets missed.”

Supervisor Carole Groom said county residents are “fortunate to have you leading the County at this particular time.”

Callagy previously served for five years as deputy county manager and assistant county manager under retired former County Manager John Maltbie. Before that, he spent 29 years with the San Mateo Police Department, retiring as deputy chief where he ran day-to-day operations.

Callagy holds a law degree from Santa Clara University, a Bachelor of Arts and Master’s degrees in public administration from Notre Dame de Namur University and a Master’s degree in homeland defense and security from the Naval Postgraduate School.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: 3 in race to rep District 3 on Redwood City council

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

The race for the District 3 seat on the Redwood City Council may put to test the longstanding political truism that all politics are local.

It is one of two districts that are minority-majority – 71 percent Hispanic. It is the home neighborhood of Councilmember Janet Borgens, raised in East Palo Alto and a resident of the district for 37 years. She notes that she is not Hispanic, but argues she is deeply ingrained in the community and that her own working-class background has kept her in touch with the challenges and concerns of District 3 residents.

“This is the kind of community I was raised in. I may be White privilege, but I wasn’t raised White privilege. … My community has known what I’ve been doing for many, many years and they’ll either want that to continue or they won’t,” she said.

She is being challenged by two candidates who contend that the district residents want more bold and non-establishment leadership.

Isabella Chu, a Stanford public health researcher and founder of Redwood City Forward, has been a high-profile advocate for dramatically more housing in the city. “We need more housing,” she said. “It should go all over the city. Yes to higher density. Yes to more height.” Like Borgens, Chu is not Hispanic. “I don’t think you have to be Latino to understand them and to represent them,” she said. Her goal, she said, is to “disrupt the status quo.”

Lissette Espinoza-Garnica is a professional caregiver, self-designated as nonbinary gender and the only Hispanic in the 2020 city council race seeking an “Hispanic” seat. They grew up in Redwood City and North Fair Oaks and moved to the district’s Friendly Acres as a child. “I’ve grown up here. It’s not Jim Crow era segregation, but it’s still very segregated – where the wealth is, where the people of color are,” they said. The answer is to completely remake the status quo. “I see that the people running right now are very much establishment … I’m running because it’s a crisis and I really want to ensure security for my community, especially those who have been neglected for so long.”

District 3 is at the southern edge of the city, bounded by Woodside Road, Maple Street, Bay Road and Broadway. It includes the neighborhoods of Friendly Acres, Stambaugh-Heller and Redwood Village. Forty-six percent of residents are immigrants, 65 percent speak Spanish at home and 40 percent say they speak English “less than very well” – all categories that are the highest in the city. Forty-two percent of households have an income under $50,000, and renters outnumber homeowners almost 2-1.

If the fundamental political question is who best represents the residents of District 3, the fundamental policy question is housing. All three candidates agree that the district struggles with housing insecurity, overcrowding and housing costs that force multiple families to live together, or that force them to leave the city.

Chu wants sweeping changes to the city’s housing policies and practices. “Our built environment looks like it did in the 1950s. In the last 70 years, Redwood City has tripled in population,” Chu said. “I’m willing to see our neighborhoods adapt to the 21st century. Homeowners should be able to change their homes, have smaller setbacks” and additional stories. “Things have changed. The buildings have stayed the same.”

As an example of the kind of sweeping change she would support, Chu said the 17-story proposal for Sequoia Station, at El Camino Real and Jefferson Avenue, “is extremely modest. Come on, it’s 2020, we’re in Silicon Valley. … This is some of the most valuable land in the world. If the city had been allowed to develop organically, based on need, we’d have a ton of high-rise buildings. … most residences would be 3-5 stories.”

The city’s “shortness of buildings” is “emblematic of tremendous resistance,” she said. “There’s an idea that because a small group of people is very vocal and good at wielding power that they’re the majority. … Half the city’s population is renters. The other half own homes – 25-30 percent would be happy to add on to their homes, 25-30 percent just wouldn’t care.”

Espinoza-Garnica supports a corporate “head count” tax to raise revenues to build more housing, including public housing and more low-income housing. “It’s not enough to have only market-rate housing. We have to have secure housing, mixed, subsidized housing and definitely provide housing for all,” Espinoza-Garnica said. That includes workforce housing so “the people who work here are able to live here.”

Borgens said, “Housing needs to be built where the need is. … Look in my district, you have 3-4 families living together. Build affordable, for-sale housing in any district across town. If we can help our most vulnerable communities buy housing, that’s housing security.”

She envisions a broad range of housing – duplexes, triplexes, small units that can be added to a second story or a backyard. “Build housing where it’s needed and my district needs it,” she said, and the specific need is for family-oriented housing. “Why do we think low-income people all want to be crowded together in a high-rise apartment building?” she said. “I don’t support public housing. I support mixed housing – mix all levels of income together.”

Perhaps more than in other districts, the issue of policing is of paramount importance in the tight-packed, minority-minority District 3.

“I’m an abolitionist,” said Espinoza-Garnica, “and this platform is looking to defund the police so they’re not required to respond to the community as much anymore.” If the money spent on policing was spent on more and improved housing, higher employment, universal child care, rapid rehousing of those who lose their homes to economic difficulties and essential support services, it would reduce crime and reduce the need for police presence in a community that feels estranged from law enforcement, they said.

“I’m for descoping and divesting and defunding the police and try to limit the amount of interaction of police with residents,” Espinoza-Garnica said. “Policing is inherently racist, corrupt and is only there to punish people for being poor, black, brown, and having to survive a capitalist system. I’m all about defunding the police in order to address ways to reduce harm.”

Defunding the police is a means to end “centuries of anti-Black racism and oppression of gender and the working class” and bias toward “high-earners, business owners, land owners.”

Borgens said, “I am not a defund the police [supporter], but I understand that is the wrong phrase. I do support revisiting how we provide policing services and if those services are best served by an adding on in the mental health component.” Her focus is on transparency and cracking down on police officers who repeatedly use excessive force, but she wants to see how a citizens oversight commission might be structured before taking a position.

“I have no problem holding our police accountable and if a citizens oversight committee is the right way to go, I’m not against it. If you’re following the rules, there’s no reason you should be concerned about oversight,” she said.

“We have to weed out the bad apples.” Borgens said. “We can sit here and say with naivete we don’t have any bad apples, it’s been dealt with in-house.”

Chu said a number of police duties should be reassigned or reinvented. Traffic enforcement can be fully automated, for example, which would eliminate what she called “income bias.” The social responsibilities handled by the police – mental health issues, homelessness, domestic problems – can be handed off to the state or the county and more effectively managed by agencies designed for those purposes. “I’m perfectly willing to look at what (police) do, whether it should be done by an agent of the state and whether it can be done more cost effectively,” she said.

Chu said she supports more citizen oversight and more transparency, including tracking how police personnel are deployed. “Most police have nothing to fear from that. If they’re policing fairly, not hurting people, they have nothing to fear,” she said.

The issue likely to dominate the attention of a new council almost immediately, however, will be the city’s large budget deficit, driven by the economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and associated loss of sales tax revenues and local business declines.

Responding will require more efficient use of available resources, Borgens said, citing as an example how the parks and recreation services were reinvented during the shelter-in-place requirements. She said there is likely to be a hiring freeze, although she said, “I don’t think any of our police and fire are overstaffed. Both can come to the table.”

Corporate partnerships to support some essential services may be a constructive next step, along with the possibility of finding a way to tax revenues generated in online sales, she said.

Chu said the city needs to do more to measure the effectiveness of its spending and to require city departments, in essence, to apply for their funding and justify their budgets.

“Are we getting the most value,” Chu said. The city is going to have to look for additional sources of revenue, she said. And her proposals for greater housing density allows more concentration of city services, which can save money.

Espinoza-Garnica’s view on the budget stems from a fundamental conviction that the city needs to be radically changed. The budget is a statement on the city’s priorities, they said, and the focus should be on affordable housing for all and making sure every resident is making a living wage.

“We need to reprioritize the budget to think about the most vulnerable,” Espinoza-Garnica said.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Devil’s Canyon Brewing Co. beer garden set to reopen

in Featured/Food by

For the first time since March, the Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company Beer Garden is re-opening on Sundays starting this weekend, with safety modifications.

The Beer Garden will open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays, and its new entrance will be the San Carlos Farmers’ Market, which also recently re-opened in a new location at Bayport Avenue at Varian Street. The farmers market used to be located on Laurel Street, which is now being used for outdoor dining.

“Tables are first come first serve, so put your name down at the new entrance at the back gate and browse the Farmer’s Market until your table is ready,” the brewery stated on its Facebook page.

To maintain strict adherence to state and county public health guidelines, rules are posted at the entrance, on the brewery’s website and below this story. The rules limit capacity to six guests per table, all of whom must be present before being seated, require at least 6 feet of social distancing and mask-wearing except when seated at your designated table.

Also, state guidelines require that anyone drinking beer must also purchase food.

This Sunday, Mozzeria will offer wood-fired pizzas to pair with Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company brews.

Photo credit: Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company

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