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San Carlos School District set to return full time in Fall, Trustee Carol Elliot Resigns

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The San Carlos School District School Board gave direction to return to school full time in Fall while also abandoning any additional advancement to return this school year. The District has opened up for some in person instruction this year, but far from full time and less than enough to satisfy parents seeking a full return.

Board President Neil Layton seemed to resign himself to the staff recommendations, but advocated that staff look to pilot some additional back to school to advance the progress made. Superintended Dr. Michelle Harmeier was less than enthusiastic about the possibility due to staff fatigue and equity concerns.

The take away from the meeting is that the District will go about addressing staffing levels, operational concerns and furniture acquisitions for a full return in the fall. The added expenses to the District will exceed $1 million for the next school year and could be paid for by a combination of state and federal school relief funds and bond money available for capital improvements.

While the direction has been firmly established, members of the parent group Reopening San Carlos Schools where less than satisfied with the outcome and were not giving up their advocacy in pursuit of a full return to campus this school year.

Earlier in the day, the District announced that Trustee Carol Elliott will be resigning from her SCSD School Board seat effective May 6, 2021. Carol has been a longtime member of the SCSD School Board, having served for nearly 11 years.

As a Board Member, Carol helped guide the District in its creation of a strategic plan through their Strategic Plan Committee and their design through its Strategic Facilities Master planning committee. Not only was Carol a Board Member, but she served as Board President twice.

Carol has been, “a lifelong advocate for public education and I have personally watched her push County and State leaders to properly fund public education and commit to equal access for all” said Neil Layton San Carlos School Board President.

“The simple way to put it is the San Carlos School District is better off for having Carol’s dedication to our kids and our schools. Carol will be missed, and the Board wishes her the best in her next endeavors, but knows she will always continue to play an active role in the San Carlos School District,” said Layton.

The Board, at its regular meeting on Thursday, April 22, we begin the process to fill the impending board vacancy. Per Education Code, the Board must either order a special election or make a provisional appointment within 60 days.

The California Texodus

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A wave of corporate departures raises concerns for Silicon Valley’s future.

In December 2020, as the curtain drew closed on an extraordinary year in Silicon Valley history, the region suffered a final shock when Oracle Corporation and HP Inc. both announced the relocation of their headquarters to Austin, Texas, in quick succession. When legendary investor Peter Thiel and entrepreneur Elon Musk also disclosed that they had decamped to Texas, some political and economic observers reacted with profound concern, seeing a “red tsunami” rolling toward the Lone Star State.

Others dismissed the moves as unimportant ripples in California’s vast ocean of economic activity. Could such significant corporate flight out of the Bay Area be explained by the boisterous election cycle, in which the sharp divide in economic and policy models of Texas and California came into sharp focus? Why did California state leaders fail to foresee these exits and take steps to prevent them? Does Silicon Valley face the start of a long-term exodus and decline? How should individual cities respond?

Answers to all these questions are complex and, it turns out, have been concerns in policy circles for decades. Competition between California and Texas long predates today’s battle of sound bites between the states’ governors, Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican Greg Abbott. For progressive-minded California tech executives, Texas—formerly a slave state of the Confederacy, formerly an independent republic with a reputation for insular ruggedness, for decades solidly Republican in choices for most state and national offices—seems an odd choice to call home.

Yet between 2010 and 2018, at least two dozen large California companies moved headquarters to Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, or other cities, including the former Silicon Valley stalwart Raytheon. Texas was the top destination for corporate moves nationwide in 2019 and 2020.

Not a New Rivalry

Government professor Dr. Kenneth P. Miller of Claremont-McKenna College chronicles the states’ long rivalry in a 2020 book titled, aptly enough, “Texas vs. California,” pointing out that since 1990 a surprisingly large number of companies have left California, and not all in tech: Toyota USA; Occidental Petroleum; McKesson, the nation’s largest pharmaceutical distributor and sixth-largest company; Fluor Corporation and Jacobs Engineering Group, two major international design and construction firms; Charles Schwab & Co.; Jamba Juice; Omnitracs, a company that manages operations for the trucking industry; Core-Mark, a convenience store supplier; and at least two dozen more. As important as these companies were to California, the loss of an iconic name like Hewlett-Packard, and a local landmark like Oracle, hurts even more.

“I am deeply concerned about corporate flight,” said Jim Wunderman, President of the Bay Area Council, an association of local businesses formed in 1945. “This is not the way to go in a strong economy, and it’s hard to tell how deep and how far it will go. Post-pandemic, all bets are off, and no one can say whether companies will continue to value California’s advantages or pursue growth elsewhere. The decision to move a headquarters is huge for a company, and it means not only direct losses of employees, but also movement of growth and philanthropy.”

According to Wunderman, the council has responded by starting to build a statewide coalition to address policy changes to improve the California business climate. While the council has not traditionally advocated for changes in state tax policy or labor policy, now those concerns loom large.

A Cycle Repeated

Countering Wunderman’s concerns is California’s remarkable overall economic resilience in the face of losses of entire industrial sectors. Oil and gas, aircraft and aerospace, auto manufacturing, and financial services all once dominated the California economy. Lockheed Missiles & Space in Sunnyvale and General Motors in Fremont once were the area’s largest employers, long before Google and Apple. But virtually all auto plants and aircraft plants have closed, energy production is weak compared to other states and continues to decline as a target of the progressive politics of Sacramento. Even semiconductor development and fabrication, which bestowed the Silicon Valley moniker on the region, have moved offshore. Is information technology the next industry that California will lose wholesale?

People are right to worry, says Wunderman. “We are in a new era and the post-pandemic world will be different than the Fourth Industrial Revolution that we thought had just started. California took 10 years to recover from the 2001 dot-com bust and lost 400,000 jobs over the next two years. We needed six to eight years to recover from the 2008 mortgage meltdown.

“It is far easier to lose jobs than create them,” Wunderman continued. “We face tremendous competition from Texas and others and with remote work, it’s not clear that California’s geographical, climate, and cultural differences will win out. So why would we be our own worst enemy?”

Backfilling for Losses

One reason, Miller suggests, is just because the state can be. “California has seen constant reinvention in response to the loss of industries,” Miller said. “Policy makers, having seen this time and again, seem willing to stress-test the economy in ways that other states would not attempt.” Simply stated, the governor and other state leaders may think they can ignore the issue and other businesses will fill any gaps.

What’s the root cause of corporate flight? In interview after interview for this story, commentators all mentioned the same thing—housing—because when workers can’t afford to live near their employer, the business must go elsewhere to find talent.

As Miller observes in “Texas vs. California,” the state housing market has become profoundly stratified—accessible for the top-paid tier of workers who can afford to buy at what would be luxury prices in any other state, somewhat available for the lowest working class who may benefit from government support or affordable projects, but virtually impossible for the middle class.

No wonder city streets up and down the Peninsula are lined with recreational vehicles as drywall workers, tile installers, cooks, cleaners and other trade workers have been forced into non-traditional but affordable quarters.

There’s no question that housing units have failed to keep pace with Bay Area job creation. In 2019 the median cost of a home in San Francisco hit $1.7 million, a stunning amount in any market. And the region has made land use choices over decades that artificially constrain supply Every acre bought and warehoused by the Peninsula Open Space Trust, for example, has become another acre on which affordable housing can’t be built.

Lowering Housing Costs

The mention of housing problems gets Wunderman up in arms. “We need to build what we need. We need to totally reconsider whether all existing housing regulations are appropriate. We have to create a clear path so builders don’t face endless lawsuits whenever they want to build. We’ve got to revamp cost structures to slash all the exactions and fees that impose such high costs before a shovel ever reaches the ground.”

Corporate flight could benefit the housing situation, of course, by reducing demand. Renters may see a long-term decline in lease rates. Rental costs in San Francisco already have dropped about 15% in the past year, and while the primary effect has been employers’ long-term willingness to accept remote work and keep offices closed, job losses attributable to corporate moves will have to have some effect eventually.

Meanwhile, selected Bay Area cities have adopted far more business-friendly tactics than others and have not shied away from incentivizing housing. Both Miller and Wunderman note that cities have limited options because they are incapable of directly changing tax policy or labor policy—yet they have a key role to play in creating housing, changing land use policy, and reducing rules and costs that hold up development.

Redwood City Housing

Redwood City Mayor Diane Howard commented that the city has seen over 2,000 residential units added in recent years and has aggressively required commercial developers to concurrently build housing units as conditions for large office projects. “We continually talk with developers about the need to build middle-income and lower- to very-low-income housing.”

She pointed to the Sequoia Station project, which was significantly revamped when the city pushed back against the developer’s original proposal for only a small number of low-income housing units. Howard also noted that a city’s pursuit of different industry sectors can significantly affect quality of life.

“The city has been clear that it needs more housing and less office, and more life sciences companies,” she said. “The life sciences sector requires fewer employees for the same square footage, which means fewer cars and less congestion.” Abbott Laboratories is a notable pharmaceuticals company with a large presence in Redwood City.

Permanent Changes

Even if large company departures have grabbed the headlines, Howard pointed out that small business starts have remained strong. “In 2020 we issued more business licenses than we saw businesses close,” she said. The city continues to explore several business-friendly tactics such as the permanent closures of selected downtown streets to support dining and other services and permanent outdoor parklets.

In February the city held roundtable business meetings in the interest of improving dialog with business owners, resulting in strongly positive response and a request to hold similar meetings more often. “Maintaining communication appears to be the key to retaining companies in the area,” Howard said. Incentives also may help: The city is developing a “shop local” marketing campaign that appears to target consumers’ large-scale shift in basic shopping to powerhouse online sources like Amazon.

While these steps sound positive, Miller noted that some cities may need to consider a far broader change in attitude, providing a reminder that pre-pandemic, San Franciscans showed a measure of outright hostility to the technology sector—protesting gentrification, changing neighborhoods and cultures. Miller suggests that cities may have to become more accommodating in response to the sting of a corporate loss.

Thorny Labor Issues

Beyond addressing housing costs, Miller thinks California labor policy represents the major inflection point for corporate relocation decisions. As the state attempted to advance Assembly Bill 5, to force gig-economy companies like Uber to classify workers as employees rather than independent contractors, organized labor faced off against high-tech in an uncomfortable conflict between institutions that otherwise are aligned with progressive values.

AB5’s author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, a strong ally of organized labor, escalated a personal conflict with tech sector leaders including Musk, on Twitter. In so doing, the Oceanside Democrat pitted the state’s dominant political force against one of its best-known technology leaders. Only Musk knows if a dispute of that sort catalyzed his Texas move. As the tech sector faces increasing pressure to make changes in labor policy, it may become increasingly dissatisfied with California.

More Than Prestige at Stake

The loss of a headquarters can have cascading consequences. Losses are reflected when the federal Office of Management and Budget changes the government’s list of “metropolitan statistical areas,” or MSAs. The greater the number of large employers and employees, the higher a city may rank in MSAs. Cities that can tout their position in a growing MSA can have a marketing advantage in attracting conventions, new businesses, and relations into the community.

Those reclassified as “micropolitan” areas look weaker and less competitive. And several housing, transportation and Medicare reimbursement programs are tied to communities being metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs, so a change designation can cause direct losses to future city budgets.

And is Texas really the Western Shangri-La that Thiel, Musk, and corporate CEOs apparently believe? Two recent visits to the Austin area revealed an imperfect paradise. People in the airport, retail stores, and other public areas reflect a friendliness, optimism, and level of community concern that seem hard to find in the hyper-competitive, locked-down, tech-focused Bay Area.

But during a weeklong series of winter storms starting near Valentine’s Day this year, much of the area lost power as ice took down power lines, froze wind turbines, and burst cooling pipes across Texas. Utility regulators, who control a grid not connected to the rest of the nation, saw wholesale rates skyrocket, saddling some consumers with massive bills just for maintaining basic services.

Lots of Land

The supply of flat, buildable land with water is huge, so opportunities for enlarging key Lone Star cities abound. Even so, demand in Austin far outpaces supply as highly paid California workers rush in and compete for purchases. One property recently offered at an upper-middle price point received what the listing agent could only guess to be “80 to 100 offers,” leading her to advise a hapless buyer, “Don’t bother submitting another.”

Lacking an extensive freeway or rail network, Austin is struggling to build out transportation options to keep pace with growth. Now the nation’s 11th largest city, in normal times Austin suffers difficult commute-hour traffic jams. It isn’t free of homelessness driven by drug culture; groups of tents and have appeared near many highway intersections and other chunks of open land.

Still, Texas has succeeded in forming at least two significant clusters of related companies, in petrochemicals (centered in Houston) and aerospace (Dallas-Fort Worth). These clusters trace roots to the Texas oil boom of the early twentieth century, and the need for massive numbers of aircraft to fight the Second World War. And they are similar to the Silicon Valley ecosystem—exchanging labor talent over time, spurring innovation followed by spinoffs, and attracting a concentration of capital that ensures new ventures can invest in emerging technologies. If Texas can sustain two non-tech engines of industry, why not a high-tech one?

Miller writes that Texas has clear cost advantages as California’s high tax rates and regulatory costs long ago became comparatively non-competitive. When California grabs 13.4% of corporate capital gains, and Texas takes nothing, incentives to invest in Silicon Valley are diminished.

A Tale of Two Cultures

Yet at the state level, Miller notes—in likely an understatement—”there is an imperfect fit between California tech culture and Texas statewide culture.” Others have characterized Austin progressive politics as “a blueberry floating in the tomato soup of Texas.” The cultural clash of Silicon Valley and conservative Texas came to the forefront when Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook personally lobbied the Texas legislature to kill a law confining the use of public restrooms by transgender persons to the facility associated with their birth gender, with Cook threatening to pull Apple labor relocation and capital investments. According to Miller, battles like this could cause central Texans to question “whether our values are more important than their dollars.”

So the failure of Texas to manage cultural changes could be the one way for the state to fumble the opportunity presented by corporate moves. And maybe the persistent refusal of California progressive politicians to cut taxes, reduce housing impediments, and address labor policy problems will continue to drive business movement out of state.

Or, perhaps both states have a unique moment for synergy, or even that most elusive of political goals—unity. Say California’s true-blue progressives bend a little on taxes and regulations, and red-dyed Texas conservatives give a little on social issues, with the result that workers across classes achieve housing affordability and businesses draw from a broad available labor pool. The state making the best choices wins.

Two Paths Forward

Refocusing on moderation in this manner, or seeking replacement industrial clusters if December’s departures are the harbinger of a broader Silicon Valley exodus, look to be California’s main choices. For Miller and others, the loss of HP and Oracle wasn’t surprising, looking only at cost of living and cost of labor. California always will have a superior climate, great cultural amenities, and the proximity of like minds culturally and professionally.

But the Golden State may have become, in the words of Elon Musk, an overconfident sports team. “If a team has been winning for too long, they do tend to get a little complacent, a little entitled, and then they don’t win the championship anymore,” Musk has said. “California has been winning for a long time… and they are taking it for granted.”

Leaders like Redwood City’s Mayor Howard appear dedicated to working to maintain a local edge, keeping businesses from feeling neglected or even unwanted. Without those steps, and others at the state level, more departures seem inevitable.

And the moves by HP and Oracle spurred a vocal backlash: Just a day after those announcements, CEOs at Airbnb, DoorDash, and Twilio all recommitted to staying in the Bay Area, including two who acted after concerned calls from Gavin Newsom. For now, Silicon Valley is left to wonder to what extent policy emanating from Sacramento threatens the economic prosperity of the state, and to what extent California’s industrial engines will continue to generate.

Christopher J. Palermo is a Silicon Valley native who works as a patent attorney in Palo Alto and has worked with high-tech clients for 30 years.

Renovation proposal would restore historic Sequoia Hotel

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Alyn T. Beals realized a dream about 10 years ago when he became one of the owners of a building he’d admired since he was a small boy. Riding in Redwood City’s Fourth of July Parade past the Sequoia Hotel, the child—and future commercial contractor—told the grown-ups in the car that someday he’d like to own the place.

Beals got that wish all right, along with one of the biggest challenges in his 53 years in construction. In late February, the partnership he and his wife Dani Gasparini manage presented the city with a proposal to redevelop the 109-year-old city landmark, currently a single-room-occupancy hotel. They’d keep the exterior, build a supporting structure inside it, and add a basement and four new floors above, plus a restaurant, wine room and rooftop terrace and bar.

All on a 100-by-100-foot square footprint.

“It’s complicated,” Beals says. “It’s almost like building in Manhattan or building in downtown San Francisco. It’s tight quarters.”

That’s just the engineering and construction elements of the project, which will also involve obtaining two critical variances, providing relocation assistance to the hotel’s 17 current residents—and riding the economic waves as corporate life and travel patterns shift in a post-Covid environment.

Whither Corporate Travel?

“Now you can’t fill rooms,” says Beals, who knows whereof he speaks, having built a hotel in Sunnyvale 35 years ago. “So the big challenge is, where’s corporate travel going to be in three years?

“And by the same token (with) the office market in flux, there’s so many questions right now,” he continues. “They’ll be answered as we go through the process.”

He grew up in Redwood City the son of San Francisco 49er Alyn Beals, who had moved the family to town in 1949 and then, along with his wife, got very involved in community life. The football celebrity, who got into real estate, joined the Kiwanis Club and served for decades on the Parks and Recreation Commission. Betty Beals was PTA president at Lincoln School, where “Little Al” attended.

One year, father and son got to ride in the Independence Day Parade in the back seat of an antique Cadillac driven by Bob Frank, a local attorney who owned the hotel. Beals remembers his long-ago real estate epiphany this way: “We went by the Sequoia Hotel, and Bob said, ‘Little Al. This is my hotel.’ And I looked at it and I said something like, ‘Well I’d like to own it someday.’”

CEO of the Beals Martin, Inc. commercial contracting company he co-founded in 1973, Beals for all those years kept inquiring about the Sequoia Hotel. When it became available after Frank’s death, representatives of the family trust offered it to him, according to Gasparini. The couple assembled a group of investor friends for the Sequoia Main LLC. (Mayor Diane Howard and her husband, Steve, at one time were part of the partnership but have sold their interest. Six partners remain, Beals and Gasparini the largest single owners and the managing partners.)

Beals was determined that the property should be restored and redeveloped as a luxury hotel. A first-class hotel, in fact, is how the Sequoia Hotel presented itself when the doors of the grand establishment opened to guests in 1913. Every two rooms had a bath with hot and cold running water, and there were public restrooms on every floor. At least three comfortable parlors offered space for meetings and social events.

The city designated the hotel a historic landmark in 1981, as the only survivor of a grand era “when several impressive hotels graced the area around Main and Broadway.” Impressive it is no more, but the architects have presented concepts designed to regain that long-lost cachet.

Raising the Roof

An additional four stories would rise above the three-story hotel, which currently has 53 rooms. That number would increase to 82 and the total square footage to 71,500. The concept allows for retail on the ground floor, a restaurant and a bar, as well as another bar on an outdoor rooftop terrace. Once again, the hotel would have meeting space.

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

Two variances to the city’s Downtown Precise Plan rules which apply to historic properties would be needed. One is to raise the height limit (the new hotel would be about 79 feet high) and the other to eliminate a 40-foot setback requirement from the building. Because the hotel is on the corner and the setback counts from both sides, “We would end up with a 10,000-square-foot postage stamp on the top floor,” Gasparini says.

The hotel has no parking now and none would be added. Gasparini says it’s anticipated that weekday business travelers wouldn’t come in their own cars. The partners have leased 25 weekend spaces in the underground garage of a project proposed for the Wells Fargo Bank site across the street.

A basement would have to be dug out to allow for an elevator and for the heating and air conditioning, electrical, sewer and other essential systems. Preserving the red brick exterior—much of which has been painted over—is a priority for Beals and Gasparini, who are experimenting with how to get the paint off but save the brick, a very costly undertaking.

A concrete wall would be poured inside the existing hotel for the basement and the first three floors, and the exterior would become a decorative façade, not supporting the new upper levels. The construction will have to be done by going through an alleyway on the back side of the hotel.

“It’s very difficult because we have to preserve the bricks that are unreinforced,” Beals says. “Unreinforced masonry means there’s no reinforcing seal and there’s just bricks on top of bricks. It’s amazing that it hasn’t fallen down already since 1912.”

Notice to Tenants

There are five retail tenants, including Ralph’s Vacuum & Sewing Center and Gambrel & Co. butchers. All have known since they first rented space of the owners’ intentions, and they’ll get six months’ notice before they have to move, according to Beals.

By law, the owners are required to offer relocation assistance to the residential tenants, some of whom have called the hotel home for 10 years or more. The partners have retained a relocation specialist to help tenants locate options and put plans together. At Gasparini’s request, City Councilmember Diana Reddy, who is a tenant advocate, came to a March 4 meeting and offered the residents her personal help.

Gasparini says the tenants pay $700 to $850 a month and haven’t had a rent increase since the partnership bought the building. A typical room has space for a double bed and chest of drawers, a small closet and an adjacent bathroom. Tenants will likely need to find subsidized housing, which is why it’s important to get on waiting lists now, Gasparini says. A couple of tenants said they would just like to accept a check and go.

“The goal is to understand what their objectives and their goals are and try to devise a plan to help them get there,” she says. “And at the end of the day, we have a financial responsibility to help them get there.”

Depending on what’s required, Gasparini says the owners figure the approvals process could take 18 to 24 months

She too grew up in Redwood City, became the executive director of the YMCA right out of college and is a former mayor. The couple wants to be able to incorporate elements of the city’s history into the hotel, using local chefs and products. The rooftop bar might be named “The Eureka,” after the Eureka Brewery which preceded the Sequoia Hotel on the site.

“Did we buy the property so it might be a Holiday Inn? No,” she says. “We bought the hotel because we wanted to bring something of great value to Redwood City—and we also wanted to honor the design.”

“I want to be proud of it,” Beals adds. “I’ve got a lot personally riding on it. I just feel confident that it’s just what downtown needs—and do it right.”

BART to Return Land to Millbrae in New Agreement

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SamTrans adjusting several routes, adding service starting June 24

The City of Millbrae announced an agreement with the Bay Area Rapid Transit District to return several downtown parcels of land.

The agreement signed on April 5, returns land to Millbrae that BART had been holding as part of its extension into San Francisco International Airport. The agreement will turn currently underutilized land into a vibrant new development helping provide a catalyst for buildout of the City’s prime downtown land.

“This is terrific news and an important milestone for both the City and BART. New housing and a premier development on the transit corridor is one step closer to becoming a reality,” said Mayor Ann Schneider.

The agreement gives the City significant new opportunities to develop mixed-use housing and commercial units and to further leverage its demands that California High Speed Rail tracks be ungrounded.

The returned land located in four parcels located on the west side of the existing Millbrae transit station allows Millbrae to re-align California Drive to serve the already approved Serra Station project which includes 488 units of housing with 15% affordable units and 320,000 sq. ft. of office and commercial space.

The land agreement also gives Millbrae new leverage in its challenges to California High Speed Rail and its EIR and other approval processes, city leaders said. Millbrae is pushing High Speed Rail to underground its tracks because its current plans would pave prime real estate in downtown Millbrae and turn it into a parking lot.

The City of Millbrae has filed a strenuous objection to the environmental impact report filed by the California High Speed Rail Authority, noting that the document violates the requirements of California’s CEQA law.

Former Assemblyman Gene Mullin Dies at Age 83

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Former Assemblyman Gene Mullin passed away Monday, April 5 his son, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, announced.

After a three year battle with cancer, he passed away at his home in South San Francisco surrounded by his family. “His legacy on civic engagement lives on through the lives of his legions of students, as well as his children and grandchildren,” Kevin Mullin said. “He was our proverbial North Star and we’ll never be the same without him.”

Mullin was a was a lifelong Bay Area resident. In addition to his career in public service, Mullin was a civics teacher at South San Francisco High School and awarded San Mateo County “Teacher of the Year” in 1991.

He went on to serve on as a South San Francisco City Councilmember and Mayor. Mullin served six years in the State Assembly member proudly representing San Mateo County, leaving office in 2008.

The South San Francisco City Council issued a statement and placed a black wreath at City Hall in honor of Mullin, “he was a hardworking public servant who gave so much of himself, time, and heart to this community – specifically his devotion to the youth in South San Francisco and his role in getting them involved in government.”

“His enthusiasm for representing his City and then representing our County were inspiring. In South San Francisco, a city he loved, we were fortunate to count him as our own.”

Congresswoman Jackie Speier reflected on the news of Mullin’s passing and said in a tweet, “Gene Mullin was a man whose generous heart was always overflowing, whose ethics were those of a theologian and whose mind was like Sherlock Holmes, always probing, always asking tough questions about what is in the public’s best interest.”

Mullin’s funeral services and burial will be private.

Sequoia Union High School District welcomes back first students

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With two months to go until the end of school year, the Sequoia Union High School District today welcomed back the first students who chose to return for “in-person” teaching.

About 3,500 students district-wide opted to go back to their campuses, and they had to sign on to protocols about behaviors such as mask-wearing, bathroom use, socializing in the hallways and so on that were unheard of before schools were closed in March last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The students are returning in groups, the first attending April 5 and 6 and the second on April 8 and 9. The following week, two more groups will attend classes Monday and Tuesday and then Thursday and Friday, bringing no more than 25 percent of students to campus at one time both weeks.

The week of April 19, the four groups would combine to two, for up to 50 percent capacity at one time, on the same four weekdays.

About 800 of Sequoia High School’s 2,000 students have indicated that they are coming back, says Principal Sean Priest, whose staff reached out and connected with almost all families.

“We didn’t want the message to get lost on anybody,” he says. “We wanted to make sure they knew they had this choice. … One way or the other, they did give us this preference.”

There are about 9,500 students in the district plus another 1,500 in charter schools, according to Board of Trustees President Alan Sarver. Asked why the majority of students opted not to return, Sarver lists fear of infection, a need some families have for high schoolers to help out with child care or contribute to household income, and concern that the in-person “hybrid operations are not a complete return to school as it used to be. There’s a lot of wondering, ‘Is it really worth it?’”

A fair number of kids are doing quite well with distance learning, Saver adds. “They do great in a Zoom environment and it just seems a lot more attractive to be lounging in your bedroom in your pajamas. … It’s a mixture of a huge range of individual reasons for what works for you and doesn’t work for you. And I think the one-third opt-in (in the Sequoia district) is pretty representative of what we’ve seen around California as California really tries to get going again.”

Sequoia High sophomore Oscar Ponce was among those standing in line this morning waiting to be checked in. Going back to school, he says, “is pretty good. A little bizarre not having been for a year.” Ponce wanted to be back in order to see most of his teachers and particularly wanted in-person instruction for classes like chemistry and physical education. He also wanted to see how school will operate in case things aren’t back to normal in the fall.

The district is getting significant pushback from leaders of the community group Reopen Sequoia Union High School District, who sent an email March 23 asking for a meeting. Noting a judge’s recent ruling in a San Diego case, the group wants to discuss the district’s legal obligation to reopen for in-person instruction for upper grades.

In their email, the Reopen SUHSD leadership raises issues from the court case about the justification behind the spacing of desks six feet apart and requirements to keep discrete groups bunched together to minimize the spread of infection. The California Department of Public Health updated guidelines March 20 to only three feet between student chairs.

Paige Winikoff, a Menlo Atherton parent, says she and other parents can’t understand with recent court rulings and expanded vaccinations why the district isn’t allowing kids to go back more days per week. The group is also concerned that that the current “asynchronous day”— Wednesdays when students work on assignments on their own—will continue into the fall.

Winikoff says her son is “just grinding away at a computer screen all day” when he needs to be engaged with his teachers and fellow students. “We don’t understand why, with all the barriers being removed—the vaccine, the physical distancing and all the court cases that we’re closely following with great interest—why are they continuing hybrid education and the asynchronous days into the fall?”

Sarver responds that the difference between three feet and six feet hasn’t been a determining factor in how many students who have opted in can be in a classroom. Though the school board hasn’t met with the Reopen Sequoia group, their input is being received and heard, he says.

During the past year, staff members have said they particularly like the opportunity they’ve had on Wednesdays for “greater collaboration” and would like to be able to continue this in the fall. Sarver notes that there are many times when students are out of class—for testing, assembles, rallies, special events and so forth. If there were a way to build a schedule that would allow for that while giving students the same hours of instruction in the classroom, time could be carved out for faculty to work together as they have done on asynchronous days.

The logistics might not be simple, he agrees, but that’s why public education “is not quick and nimble.” A change would also have to be negotiated with staff and unions.

Sarver says that while district staff is planning for a full return to normal, they must also plan for the unexpected.

“We want to have our students on campus in classrooms fulltime from Day One of the 2021-22 school year in August,” he says. “We are actively planning to operate in that mode. We are also actively contingency planning for a continuation of the pandemic at some level.” Hopefully, with vaccinations becoming available for young people, things will look a lot different by August, Sarver adds.

To prepare students for their return to Sequoia, school principal Priest and other staff put together an online video. The kids were told to park only in the James Avenue lot and then report to the entrance of school to check in and get stickers to wear. They’re not allowed to use lockers, aren’t supposed to stop in hallways to socialize and can only go to the restroom when “absolutely necessary.”

Lunches will be provided free but are to be eaten outside. The kids can’t sit in their cars between classes or use water fountains, since they’re not touchless.

“We’re all in this together,” Priest says on the video. “… We’re going to do the best we can.”

Some teachers at a late March board meeting also voiced unhappiness because very few applications were granted for special accommodations because of family and health care problems or other extenuating circumstances. They complained that the district wasn’t showing flexibility and concern for teachers or acting in good faith.

Sarver says there were no “blanket denials” but those who were turned down were referred to their high schools so administrators could continue to negotiate with the teachers, all the way through spring break. That said, Sarver adds, exceptions could only be granted in cases where “it is absolutely impossible for you to come in and do your job in the classroom, not if there are good reasons why it might be better for you to be continuing to work from home.”

Photos taken by Jim Kirkland.

The other epidemic

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There’s an epidemic right now, and it’s not Covid. Virtually all humans experience it at some point. It is found the world over; in every country, class, age and demographic. Its stories echo through literature and history; it ranges from vague emptiness to crippling despair. It may be chronic or fleeting, but either way, it can wreak havoc on human health.

Loneliness is the existential human condition. But what is it exactly? Who is at risk, and what is its cure? Do society, culture, technology, and now—a killer virus—combine to make it inescapable?

Most psychologists describe loneliness as negative emotions associated with perceived social isolation. The word “perceived” is important: One person’s sad isolation is another person’s blessed peace. How many human connections does it take to create a rich, satisfying life? The introvert will answer that differently from the extrovert. So will the widow, the newly divorced man, the high school student who has a lot of friends but still feels alone, and the senior citizen who has been shut in since March.

Alone but Not Lonely

Covid’s cancellation of just about all in-person contact not just in San Mateo County but throughout the state has exacerbated loneliness. For some. Many introverts (who constitute about a third of the population) find the pandemic a huge relief. With in-person socializing off limits, the pressure to perform is reduced. Covid has “de-stigmatized loneliness,” says Dr. Jeremy Nobel of the Harvard School of Medicine and founder of the Foundation for Art & Healing. “In a sense,” he said in a November interview with Next Avenue, an online affiliate of PBS, “We’re all lonely because we’re facing a common enemy.”

Relief is not everybody’s reaction.

“Being with other people is oxygen for extroverts,” says Joe Gutierez, an associate at One Life Counseling Center in San Carlos. “Their energy comes from being with others. Right now, if they do that, they risk getting a deadly disease.” Depression and anxiety have increased by 20 to 25 percent among his clientele, estimates Gutierez, who trained in marriage and family therapy and substance abuse counseling. Admissions for drug and alcohol treatment are 10 to 15 percent higher than pre-pandemic. “De-tox centers are full. Psychiatric emergency clinics are full. It’s really bad, and the holidays—already a hard time for many people, made it worse.”

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

The isolating effects of the pandemic fall more heavily on some groups than others. “Loneliness has increased in our youth,” says Kae Papula, program director for Outlet, an LGTBQ+ youth program of Adolescent Counseling Services in Redwood City. “They miss engaging with their peers in person, they have virtual fatigue, and they find it harder to develop new friendships online.” Support they usually get from school-based GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) are largely missing now. The problem is especially acute, says Papula, “if their families are not affirming.”

But there’s another effect in play right now, she believes: The socio-political climate in the country. “If you hear ‘Your identity isn’t valid; your existence isn’t valid; you don’t deserve to be protected,’ it is isolating,” she says.

“We are seeing a lot of depression, anxiety, suicidality,” says Papula. The trend is national. In a recent survey by the Trevor Project (a national crisis/suicide intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth), 86 percent of respondents said that recent political events have negatively affected their well-being.

American Culture a Factor

Stories abound about Covid’s links to loneliness. But national research suggests a more nuanced picture. Several 2020 studies, including one by Florida State’s College of Medicine, show that Americans were not reporting significantly higher levels of loneliness compared to the pre-Covid time. What research does say: Americans were lonely to start with, and culture itself may be to blame.

Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz, authors of the 2009 book “The Lonely American,” see Americans as worshiping at the twin altars of busyness and self-determinism.

“People in our society drift away from social connections because of both a push and a pull,” they wrote. “The push is the frenetic, overscheduled, hyper-networked intensity of modern life. The pull is the American pantheon of the self-reliant heroes who stand apart from the crowd.”

In the past 60 years, the number of Americans living in one-person households rose from seven to 25 percent. Americans are not as likely to live in multi-generational households as in other countries. In the Cigna U.S Loneliness Index published last year, 61 percent of adults in the U.S. reported that they “sometimes” or “always” feel lonely.

Certain life events are likely to kick-start loneliness, at least temporarily. The death of a spouse. A divorce. The last child leaving home. Moving to a new community. But loneliness ebbs and flows with the seasons of life, according to social scientists, and in fairly predictable ways. Data from the UCLA Loneliness Scale, among others, reveals the patterns.

Youth is a time to seek out one’s identity; make choices about friends, partners, and careers. Interacting with a lot of people makes sense for this kind of experimentation, so young people may feel a need for many relationships—and suffer if they perceive their number is too low.

Quality Friendships

Once established with families and careers, middle-aged people often winnow the quantity of their friendships and focus more on quality. They build deeper connections with fewer people, often around interests that dominate that time of their lives— the young mothers group; the golf club; professional organizations.

Loneliness often becomes prevalent in older people, as they suffer declines in health and mobility, and friends die. Covid has been devastating for this group.

“Before the pandemic, we were doing 25 lunches a week,” says Bruce Utecht, who directs the senior lunch program as one offering of Redwood City’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. “Now, it’s 400 per day.” In normal times, the program offers clubs, classes, and social events, in addition to the food service. These are a lifeline for local seniors.

Today, it’s mostly virtual, except for the lunches. “Now, it’s curbside pickup or drop off at their homes,” says Utecht, whose staff and volunteers managed the herculean ramp-up. Parks & Rec redeployed staff and volunteers from all over to pull it off; from March through early January, they had delivered 63,000 lunches. “We take a lot of pride in what we’ve been able to do,” says Utecht, “getting our seniors what they need.” Staff tries to make meal service fun, with costumes, holiday celebrations, take-home games, favors, exercise guides—-all within pandemic protocols.

Making time to talk with seniors is one of the biggest challenges. “Sometimes, we are the only human contact they will have all day,” he says. “We try to visit—when they drive up, on their front porch at the drop off, on the phone. Some of them just need to talk.”

The digital divide is a huge problem, Utecht adds. “We have a lot of people who don’t have a computer or a cell phone. We use Zoom some, but there is a huge amount of services they don’t receive.” Right now, city staff is trying to figure out how to help seniors with tax season—usually a big demand. After that? “Maybe vaccine delivery,” he muses.

Technology: Blessing or Curse?

In 2021, technology irrefutably fuels human interaction. Online dating (there are roughly 2,500 such sites in America) has eclipsed other methods for meeting romantic partners. Seventy-seven percent of Americans have some kind of social media account. Websites like Meetup, EventBrite and Groupspaces connect millions of people every year, often around common interests, and usually for in-person interactions. Today’s Gen Z-ers (born 1997-2015) are the first generation to grow up fully wired and fully mobile. They are voracious consumers of social media and online gaming.

Is all this connectedness a panacea for loneliness?

Sherry Turkle doesn’t think so. An MIT sociologist and clinical psychologist, Turkle has published extensively on technology and human interaction. “We are tempted to run away from the people we are with to the pleasures of our phones,” she writes in her book “Alone Together; Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other.”

Turkle writes, “It might be a text or a game. It might be an Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter feed. … We content ourselves with a text or an e-mail when a conversation would better convey our meaning. … We settle for less empathy, less attention, less care from other human beings.” She points to research that documents a 40 percent drop in the markers of empathy among college students over the past 30 years. “Since most of that decline occurred in the last decade of the work, it makes sense to link the empathy gap to the presence of digital communications.”

Others insist technology is a blessing, especially when used to enhance existing relationships or forge new ones that are meaningful.

Meeting Up Online

Erin Dahl of Pacifica joined her first Meetup group almost 10 years ago. A school district data support specialist, Dahl was clear about her motivation. “These groups are not for desperately lonely people who have no lives,” she says. “I did it to supplement the great life I already have.” She loved the experience, and when she moved to the coastal city a few years ago, she started her own Meetup group—this one for women over 50.

“Our group is about making friends,” Dahl says, “not just attending events. I wanted women who were at a certain stage in life—looking ahead at a next chapter, after careers, after kids.” The group now has about 70-80 members, who hike, have dinner, see movies, and go on outings throughout the Bay Area (or did, pre-Covid). Friendships have formed; the members see each other outside the events.

Right now, the group “is a lifeline for some of our members,” says Dahl, “especially those who don’t work.” Except for socially distant walks, the programs have gone virtual.

Gutierez, of One Life Counseling Center, thinks now is a time for parents to “lighten up on restricting screen time for their kids.” He believes technology can deliver connections they desperately need for mental well-being and normal development. He also sees a difference between “one-way” media like Facebook and Instagram, and interactive media, like Discord (a live chat platform).

He lauds games like Minecraft, “where it’s less about the game and more about the social interaction. They often stop playing just to chat. I would tell parents to be careful about taking that away. There’s already a big sense of loss among kids who have sacrificed the prom, graduation, and other milestones. They are losing the freedom to become themselves.”

Combatting Loneliness

Mental health professionals say it’s difficult to tease apart loneliness from depression and anxiety, and harder still to disrupt the cycle. But there are strategies that work. “Activation therapy” is one Gutierez uses. “Get outside,” he says. “Walk around the block. Do push-ups; something active, outside your room. Isolating is the worst thing you can do.”

Groups like Dahl’s are helpful for getting through isolating times, even if they are largely virtual. “We cannot wait to get back together,” she says. In the meantime, members continue to build connections with online offerings. (Meetup is just one platform for creating social connection; visit meetup.com for more information.)

Another recommendation: If virtual is the only game in town, don’t let perfection get in the way of good. “Zoom and Discord are essential right now,” says Papula of Outlet. “Our numbers are down because our clients have virtual fatigue. But those who do participate get a lot out of it.” She believes her organization will move forward with a hybrid of virtual and in-person options that will serve them well in the future.

Many mental health professionals—themselves at risk for stress while serving the lonely—find solace in an unexpected place: the strength with which their clients face adversity. “I am in awe of our youth,” says Papula, “their brilliance; their resilience; how discerning they are. They are wise beyond their years because they’ve had to be. Things will be different in the future and they have great ideas about that. It’s our job to listen to them.”

Living by Example

Utecht echoes this admiration for the older people he serves. “They really are the greatest generation. They are a shining example for volunteering, for helping. They don’t talk it about it much. But they are doers. They are frugal. They are stoic.”

Commenting on the toughness of the times, one man Utecht spoke to shrugged and offered the observation: “I saw the flag raised at Iwo Jima. I went through two World Wars.”

Difficult as the pandemic has been, now is the time to create new traditions, Gutierez contends. “Call an old friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Schedule Zoom sessions with family. Get in the car and drive down the coast. Host a virtual happy hour. Create a book club. Learn the ukulele. Make a list of 10 things you’ve always wanted to try. Look at this time as a gift.”

His advice to those fortunate enough not to be feeling the loneliness blues?

“Be on the lookout for people who seem isolated, anxious, depressed,” Gutierez says. “Watch for the signs. If you have not heard from someone in a while, give them a call. Check in. We should all be helping each other through this.”

Redwood City man was king of the pulps

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Many people think of a movie when they hear the term “pulp fiction,” but there was an era when those words meant fiction magazines printed on cheap pulp paper, a vanished publishing world in which a Redwood City man was a key player.

The 1994 Quentin Tarantino film by that name starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson drew its title from the magazines, many of them featuring violent crime and lurid, seedy characters and a good deal of sex. There was more than that, however. The so-called “rags” also were loaded with tales of adventure, the Old West, and science fiction.

Edgar Hoffman Price, who died in Redwood City in 1988, sold more than 500 stories to the pulps. His byline appeared in a broad range of widely popular fiction with a strong appeal to male readers, including Argosy, Black Mask, Dime Detective, Terror Tales, Speed Detective and Spicy Mystery Stories. He was, however, most readily identified as a writer for Weird Tales. Price’s stories even appeared in translation in Scandinavia and were pirated in Latin America. His work is still available for sale on the Internet, including mega packs of 14 stories.

Price was in good company in the ranks of fellow pulp authors, including Agatha Christie, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Dashiell Hammett. According to The Pulp Magazine Project study group, pulps were “one of the Twentieth Century’s most influential print culture forms,” a nearly 100-year period from the 1880s to the mid-1970s. A good example was Blue Book, which lasted from 1905 to 1975 and is said to have reached a readership of over 200,000. The 1947 movie comedy “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” captured the colorful world of pulp magazine publication with tongue-in-cheek lines akin to “You killed him on page 30 and he comes back on page 50.” (A personal aside: This writer remembers, as an eighth grader, sitting in the living room reading Blue Book’s Tales of the Foreign Legion, while my father and uncles avidly consumed pulp fiction Westerns.)

Price’s life reads like pulp fiction. Born in Fowler, California, in 1898, he became a professional soldier, graduating from West Point and going on to serve in Mexico, the Philippines and in World War I. Science-fiction author Jack Williamson called Price “a real soldier of fortune.” He was a fencer, boxer, a student of the Orient as well as a student of Arab language. Price’s memoirs include “Trooper of the 15th Horse” and “The Book of the Dead.”

According to blogger Joshua Buhs, in the 1950s Price saw the handwriting on the wall (sounds like a line from a pulp fiction story) and knew his market was ending. He took a job with San Mateo County as a microfilm technician, a position he held long enough to receive a pension. He still did occasional writing and died sitting at his typewriter, Buhs told Climate.

Interviewed by the Redwood City Tribune in the 1960s, Price blamed conformity and regimentation for the death of the pulps. “Used to be each magazine had distinctive style and flavor – a personality of its own,” he told reporter Gail Granzow. “Then one editor began taking over five or six magazines, and they soon all looked alike. It was like a Ford assembly line. Then, too, reading habits changed. People began to buy more and more inexpensive paperbacks.”

Price, who started writing for pulp magazines in 1932, estimated that about 95 percent of his writing was fiction, but he also “wrote some historical novels. When I say novels, I mean six-part serials for the pulps.” During his 20-year full-time writing career, he wrote science-fiction, whodunnits and adventure. Stories, getting fresh ideas simply by reading the daily newspaper.

“I’d read over the world events – about a spy or some other story of international intrigue,” he explained before saying something he probably would regret today: “Then I’d create a hero, always Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”

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.

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