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Political Climate with Mark Simon: 3 candidates, 3 different approaches in District 7 race

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The following is the third of four columns covering the November election for City Council of Redwood City. This installment reports on the District 7 race. Previous coverage includes the District 4 election here and the District 1 election here.

Already the longest continuously serving member of the current Redwood City Council, Alicia Aguirre, if elected to her fourth full term on November Nov. 3 has the chance to serve a total of 19 years, which would make her the longesttenured councilmember in the modern, term-limits era. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that Aguirre’s longevity is a central issue in the District 7 city council race, whether as an asset, as she asserts in her own campaign materials, which say the mid-Covid crises that face City Hall call for “tested leadership.”  

Or whether her longevity calls out for change, as her opponents assert. Former Redwood City police officer Chris Rasmussen says in his own campaign materials that “it is time for NEW leadership in Redwood City.” And nonprofit program facilitator Mark Wolohan promises to bring to city government “a fresh perspective.” 

“I think we’re going through really challenging times,” Aguirre said, but the council is a positive balance “of folks who have been there a while and a lot of new people coming on the council. … I’ve been there through the (2008-09) recession, all the changes, housing concerns, transportation challenges.” 

At a time when the city went through some upheaval to create two council districts that are minority-majority, and predominantly Hispanic, Aguirre notes that she is the only Latino on the council and the only Latina on any city council in the county. “I believe that my district and the city respect diversity and inclusivity,” Aguirre said. 

“People in my district want change,” said Rasmussen, whose 30-year police career included a lengthy tenure as the department’s lead community officer, which brought him wide contact with the people and issues of the city, particularly in working with the homeless. Change, he said, takes the form of “thinking outside the box, challenging the status quo and not just rubber-stamping things that could be better or different. They want to be listened to and I’m hearing (from them) that the council isn’t listening to them. I’m a real person and not just a politician.” 

As a prime example, Rasmussen cites the city’s failure to resolve its housing crisis. “Decades of inaction have only exacerbated the problem,” he said. 

Wolohan, a lifelong renter in Redwood City who works at the Riekes Center in Menlo Park, described himself as a “fresh candidate without ties to any people or organizations acting out of self-interest.” He will wage an entirely grassroots campaign and accept no financial donations. “I think I could be of tremendous service to the community. It’s not like I’m doing this for status or power. … I want to channel a lot of voices that are maybe overlooked. … Being a person who doesn’t have any affiliation with local government is an actually an advantage. It gives me a more unbiased, clear perspective.” 

District 7 is the city’s westernmost district, essentially covering all the area from Alameda de las Pulgas to the western hills, including the Farm Hills neighborhood. It is the least diverse district – 70 percent White, only 9 percent of residents speak Spanish. It is the city’s second-wealthiest district and has the highest percentage of residents with household incomes over $200,000. Eighty-seven percent of the residences are single-family homes and 79 percent of residents are homeowners. 

Aguirre argues that her experience is precisely what is needed to see the city through the Covid-driven financial crisis that has been devastating to the local economy and caused a substantial city budget shortfall. 

As a sitting councilmember, she is participating in the discussions, spearheaded by city staff, about how the budget must be cut. “It’s difficult to say (where to cut) without knowing the (staff) recommendations,” Aguirre said. Reducing staff compensation “should be one of the last resorts,” she said. “If we’re not looking out for them, who is?” 

Rasmussen said “taking care of our people” should be the first priority. “Take care of our employees,” who are charged with taking care of the city and its residents.  He acknowledged he is “not well-informed” on where cuts must be made in the budget. “There are no easy answers.” 

Like his two opponents, Wolohan also offered no specifics. “We’ve got to look at inefficiencies and minimize them, make things more cost-efficient across the board. He said it’s unnecessary to increase taxes because the financial downturn probably means less demand on city services. And employee compensation has to be part of the discussion over cuts. “To say we’re not going to look at 70 percent of the budget is malpractice,” Wolohan said. 

Given the nature of the district’s housing, dominated by single-family homes and home ownership, It iwould be understandable that the issue of housing would be pre-eminent.  

The housing shortage cries out for converting the office buildings constructed and approved in the last decade to residential, Wolohan said. “Converting is a cheaper form of construction than starting from scratch,” he said. Cheaper also means more affordable housing for more people. “People are willing to live in units that don’t have washers and dryers, pools and granite counter tops,” Wolohan said. Such a redirection of policy will “alleviate the affordable crisis without a fiscal burden on the city.” 

Rasmussen was much more critical of the city’s “inaction” on housing. “There’s nothing happening as far as affordable (housing),” Rasmussen said. The whole city has not come out with creative ideas and moved on them. Homelessness is on the rise. What we are doing to protect our community and not drive (people) away?” The city needs to actively encourage more workforce housing and “to support the affordable housing we have” instead of “knocking them down and building monster homes for millions and millions of dollars.” He supports multi-unit buildings, approving single-occupancy units that can be placed in backyards or above a garage.” 

The race for District 7 is uniquely situated for the discussion about the city’s police, future funding, conduct and shifting of priorities. As the only Latina on the council, it is expected that Aguirre will bring an additional perspective on how the police department interacts with the city’s substantial Latino community. And Rasmussen, as the only candidate with a law enforcement background, would seem to have an additional perspective on what can be expected of the police department facing pressure to make changes. 

Rasmussen said the city needs more community policing, a law enforcement policy that puts police more directly in touch with neighborhoods and residents, beyond simply responding to emergency calls. And the department needs more standards and training, he said. 

Rasmussen said he supports the push for a citizens police oversight commission, but he is adamant that it needs to be run by an outside agency, not the city or a group of council appointees from Redwood City. It has to be run “by someone not aligned with the police department, someone completely objective, not appointed by the city manager to just brush over stuff, Rasmussen said. 

“Change is going to come from the top down. It’s going to have to be cultural. I’ve spoken up in my department about excessive force complaints. We need more officers to speak up and we need not have officers retaliated against when they do speak out,” Rasmussen said. 

Aguirre, who serves on the council ad hoc committee studying policing in the city, said, “Our community has spoken pretty loud on how we need reform and what that looks like,” she said. That would include a citizens commission and greater transparency about complaints of excessive force, she said. 

“I’m really open to looking at what oversight looks like and having the community involved in that,” Aguirre said. And she understands the push to shift away from police duties that might fall under the heading of social services. We’re looking at different options and everything’s on the table. Let’s set the model,” she said. 

Wolohan said he is “open and receptive” to a citizens oversight commission. “It could potentially create more transparency.” But, he cautioned, “I’m definitely not an extremist who thinks the police is an unnecessary entity.”  

He also suggested a higher fitness standard might decrease the need by police to use force. An officer on the force for 20 years might not have the necessary level of fitness to respond incidents that require physical action, making the officer more inclined to use undue force. “If they’re more sound fitness-wise, they might have a little more confidence in handling situations, if things go south,” Wolohan said. 

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. 

Can’t trick or treat, but can trunk or treat in Redwood City

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With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advising against trick-or-treating this Halloween due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Redwood City is offering an alternative, drive-thru option.

On Oct. 31 from noon to 4:30 p.m., community members are invited to wear their costumes and drive-through the Red Morton parking lot for a Trunk or Treat event, held by Redwood City Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

“Your family will marvel at our decorated cars and tricked-out trunks, play a ghoulish game of I Spy, and enjoy a bag of treats and prizes upon departure,” city officials said.

Participants must pre-register to enter the parking lot for a 30-minute time slot. They must stay in their vehicle at all times due to safety protocols and must wear a mask.

Admission includes car-entry and one treat bag for $10 per child. All additional treat bags for children are $10. The event is best for children up through age 10.

For more information and to register, go here.

Pet ducks that survived wildfires for 11 days up for adoption

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Two pet ducks called “true survivors” of the CZU Lightning Complex fires are available for adoption, according to the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA (PHS/SPCA).

The pair, named Forest and Meadow, survived for 11 days in the active fire and evacuation zones.

“They lived with their owner who was evacuated due to the fires, but he wasn’t able to evacuate with them,” said PHS/SPCA spokesperson Buffy Martin Tarbox. “For eleven days the ducks avoided the fire and smoke, foraging for food and water sources until we were able to rescue them on Aug. 31 with the assistance of other agencies who provided an escort into the evacuated zone.”

The owner of the ducks lost his home in the fires, so he surrendered the pair to PHS/SPCA, which pledged to find a new home for the bonded pair. Forest is a male Mallard duck and Meadow a female Peking duck.

The adoption fee for the pair is $20.

“It is truly a miracle these birds survived everything. Since they are pet ducks, they are not used to having to fend for themselves in the wild, and especially in the middle of a raging wildfire,” Tarbox said. “They were covered in soot and ash, dehydrated, underweight and quite hungry when they arrived at our shelter. But Forest and Meadow are doing much better now and ready for a new home.”

PHS/SPCA is open for adoptions by appointment only. Call (650) 340-7022 to schedule an appointment.

PHS/SPCA provided safe shelter for 98 companion animals for fire evacuees in San Mateo County. Many of these animals have since been reunited with their families, according to the agency.

Photo credit: PHS/SPCA

Climate Magazine takes home 11 Press Club awards

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Climate Magazine was honored with multiple prizes for writing and photography in the 43rd annual San Francisco Peninsula Press Club Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards, collecting 11 awards including six first-place prizes. Climate’s Creative Director Jim Kirkland led the way, garnering six of the awards in the magazines and trade publications category for his distinctive design work and photography for Climate.

In a departure from years past, the awards were presented Sept. 17 in an online ceremony in accord with current Covid-related restrictions. A total of 226 entries was received, and the judging was done by four press clubs in other parts of the country.

Kirkland won awards for design or photography to illustrate stories on cruising, making it in radio, ghost hunting, California’s mounting pension problem, and tattoo art.  Kirkland’s striking layout for a story about managing pain won second place for cover design.

In the feature story category of a serious nature, writer Vlae Kershner received first place  for his story on preparing for the possibility of wildfire on the Peninsula.  Second-place in that category was awarded to Don Shoecraft, for his feature about longstanding issues surrounding immigration to America.

Climate Editor Janet McGovern won first place in the environment/nature report category for her story about the evolving contribution of sewage treatment plants to creating a cleaner San Francisco Bay.

Food writer Emily Mangini collected a first-place award in the columns-features category, and history writer Jim Clifford received a second-place award.

A magical playground awaits a bridge to opening

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Construction is nearing completion on the Magical Bridge Playground at Red Morton Park, but how soon Redwood City will be able to throw a ribbon-cutting event has a big Covid-19 question mark after it. “For the opening, we are at the will of the state,” says Chris Beth, the city’s director of parks, recreation and community services. “The order now is to have all playgrounds remain closed due to the gathering and touching of equipment issues.” When the state says it’s okay for parks to reopen, Beth adds, any required safety protocols such as wearing masks will be followed.

It will be worth the wait. Project Manager Claudia Olalla recently provided a sneak peek tour of the playground for this column. The playground is being constructed where a 40-by-100-foot picnic and play area used to be, between the Veterans Memorial Senior Center and an old armory building. First developed in Palo Alto, the Magical Bridge concept is designed to allow children and adults of all ages and varying physical and cognitive abilities a chance to play and enjoy the outdoors. That sounds like a nice concept. But in person this playground with its slides and its musical harp, its private hideouts and its two-story playhouse with adjoining treehouse are an imaginative embodiment of how much fun “accessibility” can mean. For anybody.

“The playground is built for all ages, all abilities and all are welcome,” Olalla says. “So the gamut is basically from 2 years old to 99. That’s kind of the way we see it.”

Providing all the gently sloping ramps with switchbacks to allow easy wheelchair access requires land, and the playground covers an entire acre. At the center is the Slide and Spin Zone, where five different slides mounted against a wall of green artificial turf funnels kids (or adults) down to a rubberized floor “carpeted” with beige and blue swirls representing the sand and the ocean. Amid all that: play apparatus including a wheelchair-accessible carousel and a “dish spinner” to lay down on and let gravity start the spinning. The whole area looks a bit like Disneyland without the teacups. Next to that is a colorful playhouse for storytelling, magic shows, concerts, plays and science demonstrations.

This story was originally published in the September edition of Climate Magazine. To view the magazine online, click on this link.

Responding to community desires, there’s a large Tot Zone with spring toys, a bucket swing and water slide that kids can turn on themselves. That area has one of several custom-built “retreat zones” throughout Magical Bridge where children who may be a little overwhelmed and need space can sit by themselves. Another area of the playground – the Swing and Sway Zone— offers a “sway boat” that an entire family can board and ride back and forth, and two-seater swings for kid-parent swing time. One of the last elements to be completed is an arch-shaped harp, which plays music when people walk under it. Floor lights will also illuminate when stepped on. One of the complications to finishing it, OIalla says, is that the artist lives in New York and could encounter a quarantine after she returns home. Covid again.

By mid-August, playground construction was approaching 100 percent completion with some separate projects including installation of a mosaic and donor tiles still to be done. The playground has four entrances, one of which is from a new picnic area that the parks department staff will be landscaping, in-house. In addition to an accessible restroom, more than 80 parking spaces will be added as a result of Magical Bridge.

So when coronavirus restrictions ease and this supercalifragilisticexpialidocious new playground finally get its grand opening, will it be the biggest thing since Chick-fil-A’s high-traffic debut? Olalla expects that the novelty “is going to be a little crazy” at first but notes that the city updates all its parks to keep pace with changing times and demographics. The Magical Bridge Playground is so different, in fact, that volunteers—especially teen-agers—are being recruited to show people around.

But from there, imagination at this very imaginative park will take over. “That’s the most amazing part of any design is that you never know how people will use the space,” Olalla says. “There’s an intention. There’s an idea. But people will always surprise you.” Of the total cost, it should be noted, more than $3.3 million was raised by the Magical Bridge Foundation and the remainder of the $6.8 million is from the city’s park impact fee paid by residential developers.

Kaiser Permanente’s Redwood City hospital was among 12 Northern California medical centers singled out in Newsweek magazine’s recent “Best Maternity Hospitals 2020” report for providing exceptional maternity care. The national designation, awarded to only 231 hospitals in the United States, identifies leading maternity care programs that have met or exceeded rigorous quality and safety standards. Kaiser Permanente has a total of 22 hospitals in the nation that received the elite designation, representing nearly 10 percent of those named to the prestigious list – and nearly 50 percent of those listed in California, according to Kaiser. For 2019, 2,213 babies were born at the Redwood City hospital, and by July this year, there were already 1,261 deliveries.

A colorful mural that has been painted at Roosevelt Plaza shopping area is the work of artist Talavera-Ballón. Shopping center owner Maria Rutenberg had admired the mural across the street at Key Market and approached the Redwood City Parks & Arts Foundation about working together on another mural for her center. It was commissioned by the foundation on behalf of the Redwood City Sesquicentennial Committee, according to foundation board member Cary Kelly. An historic theme was selected, and Talavera-Ballón’s mural includes scenes from Redwood City’s early days as a port, the Frank Tannery leather factory—as well as the period when the city was known for its floral industry and many Japanese chrysanthemum growers.

Elevated high above the parking lot via a lift, Talavera-Ballón started painting in June, putting in full days six days a week. For many of them, his wife, Mariela, was down below lot talking to passers-by and giving her husband from-the-ground feedback. She’s the reason, in fact, why the Peruvian artist is in the United States painting murals, he says. They met in his country when she was visiting and attended one of his exhibitions. She liked his painting so much that she bought one. After she got home, their connection continued via the Internet and eventually developed into a long-distance relationship. They got married and live in San Francisco’s Mission District. Mariela works for the Redwood City School District.

Though Talavera-Ballón is a fine artist, he says his wife wanted him to paint murals too, which he’d never done before. Then one day he saw a friend of his working on a mural on a building at Van Ness Avenue and Market Street. Talavera-Ballón, 46, wanted to give it a try and volunteered to take a 9 a.m.-to-noon shift. The time flew. “What?” he protested when he was told it was noon. “I just came here. Twelve o’clock?” So he asked to take the afternoon shift too. Since then, he’s painted about a half dozen murals and loves having a jumbo canvas.

“For an artist, for a painter, it’s the same thing I think to be a musician and give a concert, a big big concert,” he says, waving his arms for emphasis. “It’s the same feeling. People are watching you. They say hi. They talk to you and the interruption with the people as you are painting something so, so big is a challenge. It’s everything. … If I were a musician and I played every day in a little bar and then somebody came to me and say, ‘Tomorrow you going to give a big concert in Central Park New York.’ It’s the same thing.”

Kelly says this is the fourth mural in Redwood City that has been created through Community Advocacy Through Art, an organization under the Parks & Arts Foundation umbrella which works to use art to raise awareness of social issues and participated in selecting the artist.

Rutenberg, who paid half the cost, is delighted with the mural. “I think it’s gorgeous, and I like the proportion and the color. I like everything.”

Zoppé Circus set for drive-in format in Redwood City

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The Zoppé Italian Family Circus is set to return to Redwood City next month, but with a new location and with a drive-in format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At its meeting Monday, the City Council of Redwood City is set to approve a live performance agreement with the circus that has traveled to the city to perform annually since 2008. Last year, over 12,250 tickets were sold through 36 shows held at Red Morton Park over four weeks, the city said.

Due to COVID-19, the city determined a drive-in option is the only viable way to proceed with shows in 2020. The Port of Redwood City has agreed to use their main parking lot as a drive-in venue, the city said. Shows are set to run from Oct. 1 to Oct. 25.

The circus recently completed a drive-in style performance in Ventura. Redwood City staff visited the performance to get an understanding of the requirements in place to hold safe shows, such as processes for attendee arrival, contactless ticket check, the addition of a jumbotron to aid viewing of closer-up functions, audio broadcasting and safety messaging to people in cars.

“Staff have coordinated the required services to complete the production requirements,” city staff said.

San Mateo police officers save choking child’s life

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San Mateo police officers are credited for saving the life of a child who had stopped breathing while choking on a grape on Wednesday.

At about 2:25 p.m., police were called to the 500 block of E. Poplar Avenue after a mother witnessed her child stop breathing. The responding officers — Michael Nguyen, Camille Cosca and Stephen Bennett (pictured above from left to right) — were first on scene and performed life-saving measures including CPR before the arrival of paramedics. Along with helping to revive the child, the officers provided Spanish translation from the family to the paramedics, “helping direct the type of medical care needed,” according to the San Mateo Police Department.

“The child is currently in critical, but stable condition,” police said.

Grapes are among the foods considered to be potential choking hazards by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. In fact, “grapes are the third most common cause of food related choking after hot dogs and sweets,” according to a case report published in the BMJ Journal Archive of Disease in Childhood.

You don’t have to be a cop to save a life. The American Red Cross is offering first aid and CPR training online. To learn more, visit here.

Photo credited to the San Mateo Police Department

County health officer declares health emergency due to fires

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San Mateo County’s health officer declared a local health emergency Wednesday in areas impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex fires, “after determining that hazardous waste that may be on site is an immediate threat to public health,” the County said.

Debris and ash from structure fires “can contain hazardous substances such as building materials or chemicals from household items,” according to County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow.

The declaration, set to be ratified at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting on Sept. 15, expands an Aug. 28 emergency regulation to allow temporary access to private property for damage estimates.

“The new declaration further clarifies that County staff and contractors can enter private property as necessary to remediate hazardous waste or waste that could become hazardous,” the County states.

The action could also free up additional funding to help local communities recover from the CZU Lightning Complex fires, which began Aug. 16 and have covered 86,609 acres across both San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. The fire is currently 83 percent contained and has destroyed at least 1,490 structures, including 59 in San Mateo County.

“The emergency declaration will help ensure the safety of our residents as they return home, as well as our environment, by facilitating the removal of toxic metals and hazardous materials from the burned areas,” said Environmental Health Services Director Heather Forshey.

For more information on the fire recovery, visit here.

Photo credit: San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office

Wallethub ranks College of San Mateo third best in nation

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The College of San Mateo ranked third in the nation and first in the state for Best Community Colleges in an analysis done by Wallethub.

Wallethub ranked more than 650 community colleges based upon 18 key indicators of cost and quality, including the cost of in-state tuition and fees to student-faculty ratio to graduation rate and career outcome. Skyline and Canada colleges were not among the 77 California community colleges analyzed in the rankings.

The College of San Mateo came in third in the U.S. with an overall score of 69.78, ranking 80th overall in cost and financing and 18th overall in career outcomes.

The State Technical College of Missouri earned the top overall score at 74.5, followed by Arkansas State University-Mountain Home at 69.78.

“During the 2019 to 2020 academic year, tuition and fees for full-time, in-state enrollment at a public two-year college averaged $3,730 per year versus $10,440 at a public four-year institution and $36,880 at a four-year private school,” Wallethub reported. “Students who earn their general-education credits at a community college before transferring to an in-state public four-year university can potentially save a lot of money.”

To view Wallethub’s full list of best and worst community college systems and to learn more about its methodology, go here.

Off-duty RWC cop pulls victims from burning car in Truckee

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An off-duty Redwood City police detective helped pull two juvenile victims involved in a fiery crash to safety in Truckee Thursday night, authorities said.

At about 11:22 p.m., Detective Matt Cydzik came across a solo-vehicle crash on Interstate Highway 80 near Donner Pass Road where the vehicle was becoming engulfed in flames, according to Redwood City police and the CHP.

Cydzik sprang into action and pulled two juveniles from the vehicle with assistance from a CHP officer.

“Both juveniles were transported to the hospital via two air ambulances and we are hopeful of their recovery,” the CHP said. No drugs are suspected in the crash, and the CHP believes speeding was a factor.

“When told earlier today that he was a hero, [Det. Cydzik] responded by saying ‘just doing the same thing we would all do!,'” according to the Redwood City Police Department. “He also mentioned that other bystanders were extremely helpful and he personally thanked them for their assistance.”

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