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

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Notes, quotes and dust motes: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Mark Simon 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Mark Simon at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company

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 

*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

in A&E/Featured/Headline by

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.

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