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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Heightened diversity in local government to inspire diversity of issues

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Here at the Political Climate International News Center, we have talked a lot about how change is affecting our region, because, you know, it is.

But the recent election and subsequent reorganizations of our various city councils is another demonstration that a more fundamental and profound change has taken place, bringing the prospect of what can be termed a political revolution.

In short, the burgeoning diversity of our community is reflected increasingly in our most basic, grassroots-level politics.

There are 20 cities in San Mateo County. Among the councils that represent those cities, 10 have a woman mayor, nine have a mayor from an ethnic minority and eight of the councils have a majority of women. Add in the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, which just elected Carole Groom as president, and 11 of the county’s political jurisdictions are led by women (not to mention the fact that two women also represent the county in Congress).

Not that long ago, the election of any woman to any city council or as mayor was a noteworthy occurrence.

When Pacifica elected an all-woman council in 1992, it was national news as the first such body to achieve that milestone.

Now, Pacifica has four women on its five-member council. So does Colma, and Redwood City’s seven-member council has six women. The extraordinary has become that status quo.

Look deeper at who is holding office and it might well be time to retire the phrase “ethnic minority” since the county now is a “minority majority” county, where Caucasians, while still the largest ethnic group, are outnumbered by the combination Latinos, Asians, African Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Indeed, consider the lineup of mayors and vice mayors of color: Daly City, Mayor Ray Buenaventura, Vice Mayor Glenn Sylvester; Colma, Mayor Joanne F. del Rosario; South San Francisco, Mayor Karyl Matsumoto; San Bruno, Mayor Rico Medina; Millbrae, Mayor Wayne Lee; Belmont, Mayor Davina Hurt; Redwood City, Mayor Ian Bain; and Foster City, Mayor Sam Hindi, Vice Mayor Herb Perez.

And then there is East Palo Alto, a council made up of three African Americans and two Latinos, led by Mayor Lisa Gauthier and Vice Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones.

If you added in Millbrae and Foster City, there would be 12 cities with woman mayors, except in both those cities, some serious behind-the-scenes maneuvering and public snubbing denied mayor positions to two women who looked to be next in line had councils followed the customary rotation.

Ah, the job of mayor. It’s a job that, at most, is symbolic. In every Peninsula city except San Bruno, the mayor is selected by council colleagues. It’s a one-year job, except in Redwood City, where it’s two years.

It’s a job that as substantial as cotton candy. Big, puffy, colorful and tasty, but largely air, signifying nothing more than it’s one council member’s turn.

Still, some city councils manage to pick a fight over this job because some of them don’t like each other. I suppose we would have to describe that as impressive.

SO WHAT? What is the significance of all this diversity I’m ranting about?

We are opening up the halls of power to more people – specifically those who have been denied access. They will bring a different sensibility to the job and a different perspective.

Mary Hughes, leader of a statewide campaign to recruit progressive women to run for legislative office, said that expanding the range of those who hold office means a bigger agenda of issues, such as early childhood education, extended parental leave, more and easier access to college.

Women are “more likely to put issues forward having to do with real-life challenges,” Hughes said. “Women lead with a 360-degree perspective about life. There hasn’t been a consideration of the home life as part of public policy. What we see is women look at their whole lives when it comes to public policy.”

BUT NOT EVERYWHERE: Sometimes, the old lineup stays intact and it has got some people hopping mad in Redwood City.

A month ago, at its meeting to swear in recently elected members, Redwood City Council members looked to a year disagreeing civilly and to an abiding effort to work together.

On Monday, faced with their first symbolically significant decision, the council voted to appoint two middle-aged white men to the Planning Commission, which now has only one woman in its ranks. One decision apparently was easy – Rick Hunter, who narrowly lost last year’s council race, was appointed unanimously.

The other, Bill Shoe, was appointed by a 4-3 vote. Shoe is a former principal planner at Santa Clara County and he has had a low profile in Redwood City affairs, if he had one at all.

His appointment appears intended to satisfy those who want to slow the rate of growth in the city.

In the process, there are some people who are furious that the commission now is less than diverse.

And some are upset that another Council candidate, Jason Galisatus, was passed over, even though he had been assured he had the votes to win the appointment. The other significance is that while 40 percent of the city’s residents are renters, there are no renters on the Council or the Commission, a point Galisatus made while running for Council. There still isn’t.

As for who had been promised votes, Janet Borgens, who found herself in the middle of that little controversy, denied committing her vote to anyone and she subsequently wrote to Galisatus, indicating “after our last conversation, I made that clear.”

Who knows? Even better, who cares?

Perhaps it’s a holdover from a divisive campaign and all this will settle down when real issues come before the Council. Perhaps it’s a harbinger of more 4-3 votes and that the promise of working together in January was wishful thinking. We’ll find out soon enough.

We’ll leave the last word to Borgens, who told me, “We’re going to butt heads and that’s a good thing because we can learn from our differences.”Contact Mark Simon at

Turf renovation coming to fields at Hoover Elementary School

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The turf is set to be renovated at two heavily-used playfields at Hoover Elementary School in Redwood City.

At Monday’s meeting, Redwood City Council voted to approve a $1.6 million contract with Fieldturf USA, replace the turf on both fields.

The existing turf was installed about eight years ago and has reached the end of its functional life, according to city documents.

Construction is expected to begin early next month and conclude within 60 days. The city says it will give notice to residents, businesses and community organizations affected by the construction, including signage with project information at the construction site.

The fields are used for soccer, baseball, softball, and other field sports and they host tournaments.

Teen arrested for alleged sexual battery at Woodside High

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A 17-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of grabbing a girl’s buttocks on the Woodside High School campus, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

The alleged sexual battery occurred about 6:45 p.m. Monday, the sheriff’s office said.

The victim reported the suspect, who she did not know and who is not a student at Woodside High, was seen riding a bicycle around the campus at 199 Churchill Ave. for about three hours before the incident, according to the sheriff’s office.

“As the victim and her friend were walking on campus, the suspect rode his bicycle between the two, momentarily slowed down, and grabbed the victim’s buttocks,” the sheriff’s office said.

The victim rode away, while the victim and her friend ran the opposite direction, the sheriff’s office said.

Investigators identified the suspect and arrested him Wednesday night, deputies said. He was not being identified because he is a minor.

Bay City News contributed to this report

PHS/SPCA waives adoption fees for guinea pigs

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PLooking for a new furry friend? If not, now’s the time.

That’s because the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA has waived the $15 adoption fee for guinea pigs through Jan. 31.

Interested? Then visit the PHS&SPCA at 1450 Rollins Road in Burlingame in order to meet the guinea pigs available for adoption.

Adoption hours are Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A Look Ahead at What the Future Holds for Redwood City in 2019

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After back-to-back years of frenetic downtown construction, after a contentious City Council race that ushered in two newcomers, after convulsive meetings about school closures that left board trustees in tears, some might ask why the next big thing in Redwood City couldn’t just be a timeout.

In a sense, that is what Mayor Ian Bain is suggesting for the year ahead, in the form of a community-wide “vision process” so residents can weigh in on what they’d like for the city before the next wave of construction expands beyond downtown. Similarly, the Redwood City School District will be reaching out to parents at all schools in 2019 as the district downsizes to the “right size.”

“Part of the reason I want to do this,” Bain said of the visioning work, “is because we will face changes. That’s a fact.  It’s not a matter of ‘if.’ It’s not a matter of ‘We can’t freeze RWC as it is,’ although I know some people who would like to do that.  And there are a lot of developers who are interested in doing things. What I want to do is to get ahead of whatever the developers are going to come with and I want to make sure that the developers’ plans align with the city’s vision and not the other way around. I don’t think we can afford to wait until some big things are plopped on our plate and then try to scramble to figure out the path forward.”

The newly constituted City Council includes former Planning Commissioner Giselle Hale and community activist Diana Reddy, replacing incumbents Jeff Gee and John Seybert, who decided not to run. Vice Mayor Diane Howard emphasized the need for experience and history in her successful bid for re-election. Bain has been sounding out all six other council members about their interests, which will be used early in 2019 to develop priorities and a work plan.

Added to the political mix, Redwood City is slated to move from citywide to district elections in 2020. Next year, the community will be able to give input on where to draw the district boundaries, Bain said, adding that the work that has gone into redefining and reactivating neighborhood associations should prove beneficial. Four seats will be up in 2020, three in 2022, and in between a new U.S. Census will be taken in 2020. “So the districts will have to be redrawn between the 2020 election and the 2022 election,” Bain said. He also wants the council’s governance committee in 2019 to look at campaign finance reform and a rotation policy for the mayor. Bain is in his second in a two-year term as mayor.

In the visioning process he’d like to launch, Bain would involve neighborhood associations in a strong community outreach to project what the city’s infrastructure, transportation and quality of life should be like as long as 20 years out. He’d like to get some outside views from the private sector for some innovative fresh perspectives about possible ways to do things differently, pointing to energy-efficient retrofits as an example. “I want to look at more things like that that are good for the city and save us money.”

The Downtown Precise Plan, which set in motion the building boom downtown, is in the home stretch for the allowed office and residential space. In the heart of downtown, Lane Partners will be completing an office building at the corner of Broadway and Jefferson Avenue, which will become the home for the Chan Zuckerburg Initiative started by the Facebook founder and his wife. The 250 members of the nonprofit’s staff have already been working out of three other offices in the city in advance of the planned move in January 2020.

Hundreds of apartment and other residential units are being constructed near and along El Camino Real. Greystar’s latest development, Elan at 1 Franklin St. next to the Caltrain tracks, will be ready for tenants this spring. South of Woodside Road, the first phase of Stanford University’s Redwood City campus is nearing completion in the spring. Well over a dozen other projects around the city are in various stages in the process, from discussion to construction,  and sure to be grist for the visioning discussions.

Caltrain’s preparation work for the electrification of the rail line is becoming increasingly visible as a few hundred poles and overhead wiring are being installed. A total of 104 poles are going up next to the tracks in Redwood City, 56 of them in the North Fair Oaks area, and an overhead switching station will be installed in the track materials yard south of Woodside Road. Test trains are to run for about a year before service is to start in 2022.

Starting Jan. 1, Redwood City has a new local minimum wage of $13.50 an hour. A half-cent increase in the 8.75 percent sales tax that voters passed in November goes into effect April 1;  another half-cent increase for San Mateo County transportation kicks in July 1.

The tax increase avoided cutbacks that would have, for example, reduced library hours citywide by 23 percent. Instead, unfilled positions that had been in limbo pending the vote can now be filled. The popular Human Library Program will return in April. It allowed patrons to meet and query people outside their normal sphere (last year these included a Muslim, homeless and transgender persons, and, a seeming outlier in this area, a political conservative).

The installation of a sculpture called “The Pirate Ship” could take place toward the end of 2019 near the Redwood Shores Library, according to Librarian Derek Wolfrgam. Students from D-Tech High School on the Oracle campus are helping with ideas about how to update the library’s interpretive center and make it more interactive.

The usual round of entertainment and festivals on Courthouse Square and in the parks will continue as well. Meanwhile, construction on the accessible Magical Bridge Playground, which is under way at Red Morton Park, is expected to be completed by early winter, if not before, according to Chris Beth, parks department director. Depending on securing approvals, the first phase work on a combined Veterans Memorial/Senior Center and YMCA facility could get under way before the year’s end too.

On a cultural front, the historic Lathrop House is to be moved to the parking lot behind the San Mateo County History Museum on Marshall Street. Rotating Redwood City history exhibits are to be exhibited inside the old mansion. Meanwhile, a San Carlos-based nonprofit called Brave Maker is organizing its inaugural film festival June 1 and 2, featuring a wide range of indie films that will be shown in downtown Redwood City, according to founder and film maker Tony Gapastione. For information, go to www.bravemaker. com.

The Redwood City School District board will have a new look in 2019 with the addition of Cecilia Marquez, the first trustee chosen under the election-by-district system that replaced at-large voting. She represents Area 5, which includes Fair Oaks, Hoover and parts of the Hawes, Garfield, Selby Lane and Taft attendance areas. She is the only one of the five trustees who lives in the heavily Latino North Fair Oaks neighborhood, and she keeps the Spanish-speaking presence on the board at two. The district Latino percentage is 70.

Marquez, a McKinley Institute of Technology and Sequoia High graduate who is senior administrative secretary at Sequoia Union High School District headquarters, has her hands full as a trustee right away, as the Redwood City district implements the reorganization plan that calls for the closing of four campuses and the reassignment of some 1,900 students.

She is well backgrounded for the task, having raised three children in the district, including a current fourth-grader at Adelante, and serving for the past four years on Supt. John Baker’s advisory board. She came to Redwood City from Mexico at age 11 and has lived in North Fair Oaks for 20 years.  “When the board went to district elections, I saw the opportunity to play a role in helping parents get involved in school success for their children,” she said.

She takes a moderate’s view of the often-heard criticism that the reorganization burden falls most heavily on the Latino community. “The district serves a diverse socio-economic community, and there are disadvantaged students at every campus,” she said. Also, “closing smaller schools allows kids to have access at larger campuses to programs that they don’t have at smaller ones.”

She raised the issue of transportation for students who must change schools, saying she “looks forward to hearing Dr. Baker’s plan.”

In addition to transportation, Baker, Marquez and her colleagues will be dealing with other preparations related to the displacement of students resulting from the closing at the end of this school year of the Fair Oaks, Hawes, Orion and Adelante campuses and the moving of the Adelante Spanish Immersion program to Selby Lane and the Orion parent-participation program to John Gill. New boundaries will be drawn for several schools that will accommodate displaced students from Selby Lane, Fair Oaks and Hawes and affect incoming students.

Other projects on Baker’s blueprint for “a better, right-size district:”

• Forming committees with representation from all schools to help decide on K-8 vs. K-5/6-8 grade configurations, and to weigh options on the future of North Star Academy, the grades 3-8 accelerated learning alternative housed at McKinley Institute of Technology (grades 6-8).

• Renting the current district headquarters and moving the offices to a school campus; renting the closing Adelante, Orion, Hawes and Fair Oaks campuses.

• Moving the district’s three charter schools to one campus.

Baker’s top priority is meeting with every family that is being forced to move and helping them get their first choice of new school. He asks the community to stay involved and to promote enrollment in district schools. Parents are urged to bring their children to school unless they’re sick, and to write to state legislators about California’s funding formula.

“Our office has not received a lot of calls or e-mails,” said Susan Kennedy, media contact for Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, Redwood City’s representative. “While it hurts now,” Mullin added in an email, “it would hurt the district even more if they were to wait on the school closures.”

Mullin held out some hope for the future. “Recent state budgets have seen a steady increase in education funding,” he wrote. “There is a significant need for a restructuring of California’s tax structure, and when that finally takes place, the way we fund various programs and entities may change from their current format. Until that time, we are left with making our best efforts to fill in the gaps.”

Redwood City Education Foundation Executive Director Kathleen Harris said some of that gap was recently filled by a $50,000 grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “We’ve structured it as a matching grant so we could encourage end-of-year giving,” she said. “So far we have raised about half from parents and friends and are aiming to get in the rest in before the end of the year.”

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

Woman who entered ocean with infant suspected of murder-suicide attempt

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A 36-year-old woman was arrested Tuesday after authorities say she attempted to kill herself and an infant by entering the frigid ocean from a Half Moon Bay beach.

San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies responded to Poplar Beach about 3:10 p.m. on a report of a possible suicidal person. They arrived and found Chisato Chiyoda, 36, of Cupertino, holding an infant. Both were soaking wet in the 56-degree weather, deputies said.

“Minutes prior, Chiyoda was seen entering the ocean waves with the infant in what we later learned was an attempted murder-suicide,” the sheriff’s office said.

Chiyoda and the infant were treated for hypothermia and taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.

“Detectives spoke with Chiyoda further about the incident, and when she was released from the hospital, Chiyoda was arrested for attempted murder,” sheriff’s deputies said.

After being treated at the hospital, the infant was released to Child Protective Services.

The investigation is ongoing and anyone with information is encouraged to contact Detective Velasquez at 650-363-4062 or at Alternatively, you may also remain anonymous by calling the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Tip Line at 1-800-547-2700.

Fit, Healthy Kids: A community Challenge

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Redwood City may once have been considered the physical fitness capital of the United States, considering the nationally recognized program developed by Frank Griffin at Sequoia High School.

Griffin, who taught physical education at Sequoia from 1920 to 1960, developed a color-coded, incentive-based ability grouping system, then added an obstacle course that would have challenged Tarzan with its climbing and swinging apparatus in the many campus trees. Physical education teachers came from near and far to study, then copy. The Army, Navy and Marines asked him to design programs to whip their recruits into shape for World War II. 

Shortly after Griffin retired, a Redwood City Tribune editorial headed “This Area Leads in Physical Fitness” was written in response to President John Kennedy’s worry about an alarming statistic: one-fourth of the nation’s schoolchildren could not pass a simple fitness test. Not so in south San Mateo County schools, which the editorial writer noted had been fitness leaders for years.  As evidence, 30 Sequoia graduates became athletic directors in the service, and an average Marine fitness test score of 305 for Carlmont High School seniors outclassed the 205 average for Marine recruits before basic training.

But the obstacle course is gone, and the statistic that bothered Kennedy proved a troubling harbinger. In 2005, the American Heart Association reported that “If childhood obesity continues to increase, it could … cause our current generation of children to become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents.”

Today, 40 percent of Army recruits can’t pass the fitness test (a two-mile run, two minutes of push-ups and two minutes of sit-ups), and an additional 20 percent are ineligible because of obesity or other health issues, according to Sgt. 1st Class Renzo “Alex” Alzamora, the recruiting commander for the south Peninsula. “It’s a major problem for us,” he said. “We’re running out of recruits.”

Interviews with coaches, educators, health care providers and parents confirm that Redwood City youth are no longer in very good shape when it comes to fitness, neither the push-ups kind nor the healthy eating kind. On the other hand, the battle not only has been joined by myriad community agencies, there are actually signs of recovery. Several possible causes of failed fitness are identified, including some barriers to recovered fitness, as well as a host of attack strategies.

“Families don’t get involved with fitness,” Alzamora said. “There’s chips and soda all over the place. In New York, you walk; here kids are picked up and dropped off.  They are home in front of a TV or computer, not outside exercising and building social skills. There is a huge disconnect between generations. Not everyone wants to be a doctor or computer scientist, but that’s the direction kids are being pushed. Too many are stressed and depressed.”

Nutrition habits are somewhat culture related, Alzamora, a native of Peru, said. “But it’s not just an isolated thing, we see it at all economic levels.” He was overweight when he enlisted 14 years ago but lost 30 pounds in boot camp and hasn’t had a problem since.

 “We’ve been invited to help by some schools, particularly Sequoia, but often we’re seen as being interested only in recruiting, not helping the recruits,” Alzamora continued. “We’re offering job training, college credit, a chance for retirement benefits. That message doesn’t always get through, and that means eliminating an option for young people. I think the answer is better physical fitness education for students and parents.”

The state Department of Education requires schools to provide physical education but leaves it to the local districts to figure out how to do it. There is no state or federal funding for physical education. Low-wealth districts such as Redwood City have tended to spend shrinking dollars on academics rather than nurses and elementary school PE teachers.

In 2005, the state board issued a “call to action” against the obesity epidemic and adopted a “standards-based reform of physical education instruction.” The result has been a new look in PE classes, with drills and calisthenics being replaced by activities that promote fitness and are fun at the same time. A sixth-grader may not be able to score a touchdown in an 11 on 11 football scrimmage, but he can keep his heart rate in the healthy zone by keeping a Hula Hoop twirling as long as possible. She might not be able to do 50 sit-ups, but she might start with zero, keep a record, and work up to 20 by the end of the year. The drill instructor approach made those who couldn’t cut it hate PE and not participate, today’s coaches agree. Tarzan might have had trouble with Griffin’s famous obstacle course, but just about anybody can work up a sweat on the Kennedy gym’s rock-climbing wall.

“I can’t imagine that obstacle course getting approved today, because of the liability issue,” said Rob Poulos, physical education department chairman and varsity football coach at Sequoia High School. “The physical fitness testing style has changed. The standards give us a clear and unified regimen of cardio-fitness activity.” The training of a physical education teacher also has shifted, Poulos said. “Rather than sports specialization, it’s sciences such as kinesiology and physiology.”

There are more than 600 individual standards for grades K-12 in the state directives. Examples: “Bounce a ball continually (kindergarten); describe and record changes in heart rate (third grade); hang by hands with hips and knees at a 90-degree angle (fourth grade); list long-term benefits of regular physical education (sixth grade); abide by the decisions of the officials (eighth grade); develop a fitness plan for a family member (ninth grade).

In addition to laying out a new approach to PE instruction, the state board called on “families, businesses and community partners” to help out, and in Redwood City they have done just that.

The Sequoia Healthcare District. The Peninsula Community Center. The Police Activities League. The Sheriff’s Activities League. The Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District. 1 Grain to 1,000 Grains. The Sequoia YMCA. The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. Redwood City Parks and Rec. Latino Outdoors. My Digital TAT2. The list goes on.

 The biggest player is the health care district, which has contributed millions of dollars to the child fitness cause.

District Chief Executive Officer Pamela Kurtzman was directing its Heart Safe Program in 2005 when the death of a student in a PE class brought her to the Kennedy Middle School campus in Redwood City. “That sparked a discussion with several school principals who told me the problem is more than fitness,” she said. “They told of kids that come hungry, some with no soles on their shoes. Many families have to choose between rent and food. Some move in together. That leads to unhealthy conditions. A family might get food from Second Harvest but not have a way to cook it.

“I told the boss we need to do more in our schools. We realized they were underfunded. They were cutting physical education and nurses because the mandate was academics.”

The result was the establishment in 2010 of the Healthy Schools Initiative to provide school-based health and fitness programs in south San Mateo County in partnership with some 15 nonprofit organizations. The property-tax-funded district this year has budgeted $4.3 million of its $15.3 million total to the Healthy Schools Initiative. Close to $2 million goes to Redwood City elementary schools, including $283,160 for nursing services and $122,647 for the wellness director the program provides for each school district. Among their duties is helping find food vendors that offer healthy choices for school meal service.

Anchoring the Healthy Schools Initiative in Redwood City is the PE+ program run by the Peninsula Community Center and funded by the healthcare district ($816,000) with contributions from the school district and individual schools. PCC sends 42 coaches to all 12 Redwood City elementary schools to direct fitness programs for 5,300 students in grades kindergarten through five.

The coaches drill and test the students in mile run, push-ups, curl-ups (sit-ups) and stretch and reach, all standards set by the state education department, and conduct units on activities such as handball and dance. The classes allow the district to meet the state requirement of 200 minutes of PE every 10 days for grades 1-5.

The “plus” of the program comes in the weekly Health Huddle at the end of each class, where students discuss health tips designed to stick with them for life. Wash hands. Brush teeth. Water, not soda. Eat from all five food groups. Eat the whole piece of fruit. Be active. Other topics: walking and bike safety, benefits of sleep, drawbacks of screen time.

“The use of social media and anxiety have a direct correlation,” Kurtzman said. “A child may think  ‘everybody looks happy – not like me.’ Cyberbullying. My Digital TAT2 teaches that what you put out on social media can come back to haunt you. The aim is to educate parents and kids about the dangers.”

 All the elementary schools in the district have fitness-building programs that supplement PE+. At Adelante, Danny “Danny G” Giray of the San Carlos Children’s Theater keeps the students moving with dance rehearsals leading to a year-end, full-stage production at Sequoia or McKinley. The school parent-teacher organization pays him. The theater runs programs in other Redwood City schools as well as all San Carlos schools. 

Deanna Kainz, an outdoor education specialist who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, teaches nutrition classes and conducts an after-school garden club, where students gamely try exotic fruits and vegetables such as pineapple guava, persimmon and purple carrots. “The idea is to get them to try new things so they can make healthy choices,” Kainz said. “If a strange fruit or veggie is offered by a classmate, they’re more likely to try it than if parent says eat it, it’s good for you.” The healthcare district and the parent-teacher organization pay Kainz’s salary.

Many Adelante science fair projects also have nutrition-flavored projects. Charlie Douglas’ look at unsaturated fats grew out of a family discussion about cookies. He and his brother and sister now snack on roasted seaweed, edamame, trail mix and other healthy choices rather than chips and brownies. Charlie has since graduated to Kennedy Middle School, where he is working on lowering his time in the mile run.

Unlike the elementary schools, PE teachers at middle schools and high schools must be certificated, and the number of required minutes increases to 400 in a 10-day period. Theirs are the programs that focus on the “new” standards-based, fun-based PE.

An early practitioner was Kennedy teacher Bret Baird, a 30-year veteran of PE instruction in Redwood City schools who abandoned the old methods and substituted scooter boarding, rock climbing walls, gunnysack races and Hula Hoops. “I trick them into fitness,” he said. “They run non-stop, but they’re having fun. Under the old system, if you weren’t a good athlete, you didn’t like PE.”

 Baird is the last of the facilitators of a $209,000 federal grant the Redwood City district received in 2004 to improve fitness in the district’s three middle schools.  It paid for stationary bikes, skate equipment and heart-rate monitors.

Baird and the rest of the grant team visited Naperville, Illinois, where Madison Junior High “was testing off the charts,” he said. “It was featured in the ‘Super Size Me’ movie. The key was heart-rate monitoring. You determine your target heart rate based on a height/weight formula (Body Mass Index). You’re graded on how many minutes you spend in your target rate. Keep the kids moving is the goal. I’ve tried to model my program on what we learned. I have 90 activities, all designed for fun and fitness.”

The standards allow the students to self-motivate by charting their own progress, Baird said. “It’s great to see my students go from zero push-ups to 10-20 by the end of the year. My message to them: Try to be the best version of you that you can be, and the healthiest.”

Baird’s take on factors that work against kids achieving good fitness: less walking and biking as open enrollment replaces neighborhood schools, and “many latchkey kids with working parents who make them stay home after school for safety or babysitting. They watch TV and eat poorly. It’s not natural. They’re growing. They need to be active. They like to be active.”

A factor working in favor of fitness is the advent of girls’ athletics after the 1972 Title IX civil rights law mandating equal opportunity for girls and women in high school and college.  With women taking combat roles in the military and female participation in sports teams about equal to males at Sequoia,  the era of “throws like a girl” is long over. Co-ed physical education, which followed Title IX in gender equity, gets more of a mixed review, Baird said. “For one thing, girls often can do more than boys because they are about a year and a half ahead in development.”

At the next level up the educational ladder, Sequoia High has a stronger dollar support to offer choice, innovation and flexibility. Poulos said the school’s education foundation bought floating belts (just what it sounds like) so non-swimmers could learn water polo skills.

In the elementary district, Redwood City Education Foundation Executive Director Kathleen Harris is hitting up donors for support for the PE+ program. She said she is in negotiation with several businesses and foundations, including the San Jose Sharks.

The PE standards can’t be covered 100 percent, Poulos said, “but we lay out a basic curriculum with flexibility to tailor programs to teachers’ particular skills. We don’t have field hockey, but we have a very strong dance program. Men’s volleyball will be added in spring. The program has to be tailored to the facility – we’re field poor and gym rich (the campus has three). We offer as many choices as we can and hope to expose students to activities they’ll come back to in later years.”

Standards-based PE is one attempt at a solution. Another is the focus on healthy food offerings at schools. “We used to have the most profitable soda dispensing machine in the county,” Baird said. “It’s gone now.” Other solutions are offered by the many community agencies and nonprofits that have gotten involved.

Operating in the community center it built next to Taft School on Bay Road, the Police Activities League partners with the nonprofit 1 Grain to 1,000 Grains to educate parents on healthy food choices.

“Nutrition is about getting parents to think twice about what they buy at the store,” said Ivan Martinez, PAL’s executive director and a former Taft student. “My strategy is I just don’t buy the chips and other junk food, so my family doesn’t see it.” His elementary school son’s favorite snack is fresh cucumber.

Coordination of effort among agencies is another key, Martinez said. “We have a lot of little players but not enough collaboration,” he said. “We work with the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula on academic and enrichment programs. We have cadet programs for kids interested in law enforcement. The Fit Kids organization supplies us with athletic equipment. We partner with Parks and Rec on basketball, volleyball, soccer and in summer PAL Junior Giants baseball team.”

The city Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department has a dozen partners such as the PAL and last year enrolled 2,500 in after-school programs, according to Erin Niemeyer, youth sports supervisor.

The PAL, started in 1995 with the initiative of Redwood City Police Chief Carlos Bolanos, now the San Mateo County sheriff, today enrolls 160 children and their families.

PAL board member Debbi Jones-Thomas recalled that the idea for the community center came in 1995 at a city public hearing In the Friendly Acres neighborhood. “Most of the kids in the community did not have transportation necessary to get them from their schools to community centers and Parks & Recreation programs across town,” she said. “The Police Department identified a donor who contributed money for a center.” PAL made an agreement with the school district, built the center on the Taft campus and moved in in 2005.

The Sheriff’s Activities League is another PAL partner in offering health and wellness programs to underrepresented and underserved communities. Eighty-eight percent of SAL youth have demonstrated knowledge of making healthy food choices, and 79 percent of youth increased their physical fitness, according to the organization’s website.

Young people also are finding fitness on the trails of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

“We’ve got waiting lists for our youth hikes,” said Ana Maria Ruiz, the district general manager. “When the kids get out on the trail with the bay tree aroma and the sun filtering through leaves, they become alive; imaginations run wild. And, without really thinking about it, they are physically active.”

The district is in partnership with Latino Outdoors, the San Jose Conservation Corps and Save the Redwoods, among many other organizations, and subsidizes buses to overcome the transportation barrier. “Some kids are not allowed to go outside to play,” Ruiz said. “We supply comfort and safety.” Ruiz said she regards the young open space enthusiasts as stewards of the land, and tries to foster that dynamic.

“We had 12 high school students from East Palo Alto out mapping invasive plants this fall,” she said. “We’re in partnership with East Palo Alto on developing Cooley Landing. An outdoor amphitheater and new pathway are in the works, and a connection that will open 80 miles of the Bay Trail.” Now there’s a workout.

Sequoia’s Poulos said he sees plusses and minuses in progress toward healthier, more fit young people. “There definitely is increased awareness of healthy food choices,” he said. “Fitness is more a roller-coaster. The rush for better English and math scores has had a definite negative impact. The high school PE requirement has shrunk from four years, to three years, to two.”

That’s not exactly in keeping with the state Board of Education’s “call to action” on physical fitness. The ball, perhaps, is in the community’s court.

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

San Mateo Consolidated Fire Department begins operations

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On Sunday, the San Mateo, Foster city and Belmont fire departments officially merged, becoming the San Mateo Consolidated Fire Department (SMCFD).

Consisting of 152 fire personnel, the consolidated agency provides the same services to the three communities in a more cost-effective way, fire officials said. The merger has been in the works for the last few years, with a joint powers agreement signed in late 2017.

The three departments have been sharing fire service responsibilities for years. The partnership between San Mateo and Foster City began in 2010 and expanded to include Belmont in 2013. The sharing of service has been credited with cost savings and service level improvements, officials said.

The new consolidated agency, SMCFD, has 10 engines and two trucks operating out of nine fire stations serving nearly 161,000 residents daily, with a daytime population of around 230,000. Fire officials are planning a commencement celebration for the new agency on Feb. 2. More information about the event will be released in the near future.

Palo Alto piano teacher arrested on suspicion of molesting underage relative

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A 34-year-old Palo Alto piano teacher was arrested last week on suspicion of molesting an underage relative.

On Thursday, Nicholas Robinson was arrested on 17 counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 and one count of dissuading a witness.

Palo Alto police say they are raising awareness about the arrest of Robinson — who teaches piano to children in his home — looking into the possibility that there may be additional victims.

Nicholas Robinson

On Sunday, Jan. 6, Palo Alto police received information from a mandated reporter that a girl had allegedly been sexually abused over the past several months. An ensuing investigation revealed that an elementary school-aged girl had been inappropriately touched by a relative identified as Robinson.

Detectives are not aware of any additional victims. Anyone who believes that their child may be a victim is asked to call the Palo Alto Police 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413.

Anonymous tips can be e-mailed to or sent via text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through our free mobile app, downloadable at or

*Photo courtesy of the Palo Alto Police Department Facebook Page

Redwood City Library to open new Bee Wall Interpretive Center

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The Redwood City Downtown Library is inviting the community to celebrate its new Bee Wall Interpretive Center on Feb. 5.

The event will run from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and will include music by The Corner Laughers, honey-flavored snacks and honey for sale by the Friends of the Redwood City Public Library.

Two honeybee colonies live on the roof of the library at 1044 Middlefield Road. Cared for by beekeeper Kendal Sager, the bees produced about 20 pounds of honey in the first six months of their residency at the library, according to library officials.

Now, the Library is unveiling a new Bee Wall Interpretive Center, which features hands-on educational pieces for library patrons.

“You can see pieces of a real beehive, beekeeping tools, and the inner workings of the beehive,” Library officials said.

Patrons will learn about the life cycle of a bee, how bees collect pollen and see flowers, three castes of bee and how honey is made.

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